Suffice to warn you now, there are SPOILERS ahead, through to Rogue One.
- The top movie is easy: Empire Strikes Back. It’s got everything: adventure, humor, romance, solid space action that still holds up after all this time, and outrageous reveals. I never get tired of watching this one. I couldn’t count how many times I’ve seen it.
- A New Hope runs very closely to the number one spot – clipping its heels, as it were. It started the whole mythology and adventure in a well told opening story. It’s almost perfect. But the “official” name, A New Hope, is just lame. This movie will always be Star Wars to me. (And here I show my age. Yes, I was 12 in the theaters for Star Wars, and waited in those huge lines to see it over and over again.)
- The Force Awakens – I was so impressed with TFA. I wanted to cry and fly with happiness. It was Star Wars to me, finally! After a long few decades of slogging through disappointment from the prequels, the joyous universe I first fell for was back. The new characters were fantastic, the humor worked, and everything was oh-so-pretty. I’m an absolute fan. While some say – correctly – this is a rehash of A New Hope, I see that as a plus. The fun was baked in, and it felt like coming home.
- Rogue One – Unlike the previous movie, Rogue One was not fun, joyous, or happy. I mean (SPOILERS), everyone dies. Honestly, “I had a bad feeling about this” going in (of course no one makes it — we never see them in the OT), but the sad part is that I kind of didn’t care. Jyn, Cassian, Rogue’s ragtag crew…we didn’t get to really know them. The reason this has a 4th place mention is that the story simply works in the Star Wars universe, while providing clues the rebels weren’t as squeaky clean as we’d imagined. And sarcastic, sociopathic K2SO is probably the best droid we’re likely to see. I liked the force sensitive “Space Husbands” (Baze and Chirrut). The Vader fight scene at the end, the desperate pass-off of the data tape, the lead-in to A New Hope: worth the price of admission, right there. The Death Star destruction sequences were extremely compelling, making that weapon truly frightening in a way the other movies didn’t.
- Return of the Jedi – I wish I could place this higher. The cold open of the rescue of Han from Jabba’s palace is pure gold. After that, it starts going downhill fast. Han becomes like an anti-version of himself, Leia is pensive and moody, Luke is inscrutable (and not in a intriguing way). It doesn’t really work, and the Ewoks still piss me off. The jokes are stale, the action sequences middling…but it’s still better than the prequels. Damning with faint praise? …Giving this another thought, I think I would rank the original RotJ in 4th place, and the Special Edition version at 5th. The changes really stuck out in a bad way and dragged this installment down. I still have to think about this. I am sure The Last Jedi will shake everything up anyway, so I’ll just move on.
- Phantom Menace – Many people probably list this one last. And to many, it “ruined” Star Wars. I was hugely disappointed with this when it came out. Over the years, though, it’s taken on a nicer sheen. I love Qui-Gon, young Obi-Won was perfect, and there are amazing set pieces. The Pod Race scene is great, Naboo is beautiful, the Padme/Queen storyline was compelling, and the Duel of the Fates scene with Darth Maul is the best lightsaber fight in the entire saga. As for the hated Jar Jar, the terrible Midiclorians, and that poor Anakin kid with the terrible Yippee lines: I learned to ignore them, and just watch the moments that that had the right feel for the SW Universe. It’s a really pretty movie and Liam Neeson’s Qui-Gon is the best Jedi we see throughout the series.
- Revenge of the Sith – I honestly don’t remember much about this entire film. Maybe that’s a good thing. I never put it on re-watch. It played like a war documentary…and only felt like Star Wars in the last half hour. But it was a great last half hour, with the long-awaited payoff on the lava planet (Okay, good except for the wretched”Nooooooooo” after “Where’s Padme?”). And the dying from sorrow bit? It doesn’t work that way. I think a lot of people felt RotS made the prequels better. I really don’t think they’re fixable. But then, I grew up with the Classic movies, so I’m just an old fart you can safely ignore. 🙂
- Attack of the Clones – This one is mostly dreck. I like the arena fight scene — great set-piece — and the stuff on Camino (the water planet). Coruscant is neat, and the early scenes of fighting on the flying cars — pretty darn cool. But the entire romance was bad. Simply, plainly bad. Bad like sand! I don’t get why Padme is even interested in this whiny child. Who is Dooku, again? What is the plot about? There are clones, there are trade negotiations, and a whole lot of nothing.
I know everyone’s list will be different. Ultimately, any Star Wars is better than most sci-fi out there.
With the The Last Jedi coming out tomorrow (!), I’ll have to shake up my list. I hope TLJ is amazing. Please, be amazing.
I’ll need the new movie to settle in my brain for a while before I can think about the new rankings. MAN, I AM EXCITED. (I’m actually going to dress as Rey. Yup. Certified Geek.)