The definitive Star Wars film ranking

At last, as someone once said, this blog is finally tackling a subject of real importance.

I know that many of you will be checking here today to get the Christmas Quiz answers, but as I won’t finish marking and get these uploaded until this evening, here’s something to keep people going in the meantime. If this doesn’t spark as much heated debate as the typical Brexit/election/World Book Day post I will be sorely disappointed in my readership!

1. The Empire Strikes Back. The best of the original trilogy, which is the best trilogy – enough said.

=2. A New Hope. So much of this has become a cliche and familiar through repetition, it can be hard to remember just how impactful Vader, light sabres, the Death Star really are on first watching. It’s a great plot in a world that takes your breath away.

=2. Rogue One. The best of the films since Disney took over the franchise, this isn’t just a great Star Wars film, it’s a great film full stop. An excellent cast of characters who make genuinely moving decisions, it combines the spirit of Star Wars with that of classics such as The Guns of Navarone or The Magnificent Seven. I also appreciate the way it transforms the near-plothole of A New Hope from ‘The Empire is really dumb’ to ‘A rebel sympathiser secretly sabotaged their grand project.’

4. The Force Awakens. The new trilogy started in a great way, with a film that made superb use of both original and old characters and hit all the right notes. My main criticism is on world building: I’d have liked saving the galaxy and overthrowing the Empire to leave the good guys in a situation that wasn’t functionally equivalent to where they were in A New Hope at the height of the Empire’s power.

=5. Return of the Jedi. This film has some brilliant sections, including the whole opening with Jabba and the final struggle aboard the new Desth Star, but it also has ewoks. A lot of ewoks.

=5. The Rise of Skywalker. An overall satisfying ending to the series, with some great action sequences and nice touches. Suffers from the discontinuity introduced by the director-switching from being all that it wanted to.

7. Solo. This was a good origin story, with a solid plot and two good lead characters in Han and Ki’ra, but for me never really had the spark it needed to achieve lift off. Watched happily but don’t feel a compulsion to go back to.

=8. The Last Jedi. This had some good moments (and twists), particularly those involving Rey and Ren, but also some less good bits too, such as the trip to the gambling planet. The whole plot also failed my suspension of disbelief test, even for a Star Wars film, on a number of occasions. Suffers as well from the director switching, in that some of its themes come from nowhere and then go nowhere.

=8. Revenge of the Sith. The best of the prequel series, with probably the least cringe-worthy dialogue and best overall plot arc.

10. Attack of the Clones. Samuel L Jackson and Yoda, as well as a plot that one at least half cares about, saves this from being bottom despite terrible romantic dialogue and interminable CGI action scenes.

11. The Phantom Menace. Ja Ja Binks. Pod racing. More Ja Ja. A plot that makes so little sense a parody web comic can do better. Lucas dialogue. Even more Ja Ja. Noooooo!

4 thoughts on “The definitive Star Wars film ranking

  1. The hard part in these kind of evaluations is how you trade off the positives and negatives: Lord of the Rings is both a flawed, and a magnificent book. How do we trade these off in a comparison to a less flawed, and less magnificent book? (e.g. the Hobbit).
    Here I think you’ve prioritised lack of flaw, but I’m not sure this is correct: The Empire Strikes Back is less flawed than Return of the Jedi, but I’d rather see Return of the Jedi again. It’s a much more uplifting movie.
    1. Return of the Jedi and New Hope as joint first
    2. You’ve correctly put Phantom Menace at the bottom, but allowed the memory of it to overshape your view of Attack of the Clones (which is a good film apart from the complete lack of acting from Anakin) and Revenge of the Sith.
    3. The Last Jedi is the worst film after Phantom Menace.

    1. As an aside, I disagree with your premise that the Lord of the Rings is more flawed than the Hobbit (indeed, while clearly no book is perfect, I wouldn’t describe it as ‘flawed’, which I’d normally use to describe works with fairly major failings). But we can talk about that some other time.

      On your core point, I agree this is tricky; I thought about it quite hard for Jedi vs Skywalker and ended up rating them equally. For me it doesn’t apply to Jedi vs Empire: Empire doesn’t just have fewer flaws, but also more positives, including best plot twist, most character development and world building and equally good confrontations/action scenes.

      I think there may be something here about you valuing films with happy endings (hence your rating both Hope and Jedi above Empire).

      The complete lack of acting by the main character is quite a major drawback in a film. 🙂

      1. I’m going to dig into the aside, because Lord of the Rings is more interesting than Star Wars.

        1. If you separate ‘difficulty of concept’ from ‘success of execution’ then I think there are some very simple books which are indistinguishable from perfect. I don’t know what could be changed to improve ‘The Gruffalo’, ‘There’s No Such Thing As a Dragon’ or ‘The Paperbag Princess’, but any book with tens of thousands of words seems too complex for humans to achieve perfection.

        2. I think Lord of the Rings has poor pacing. The action is slow to start, and then drags again with Frodo and Sam in the Two Towers. Interestingly alternating chapters of Aragorn and Frodo/Sam totally fixes the pace problem of Two Towers.
        The Hobbit has fine pacing. The closest I could come to calling a flaw is the lack of agency on the party’s part for taking out Smaug. I still think LotR is a better book.
        Possibly a diet of W.E. Johns, whose superpower is pacing, has left me with an unrealistic appetite!

        1. 1. We are running into a terminology issue. I agree that no long book is indistinguishable from perfect. Nevertheless, ‘a flawed work’ is usually used to describe something with significant flaws; e.g. I would describe The Last Battle as ‘a great but flawed work’ but not The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. In the same way as it’s not usually useful to say, ‘I’m agnostic about Maxwell’s laws or the non-existence of unicorns’ despite the fact that neither have the 100% standard of mathematical proof.

          2. I agree with you about the sequencing of chapters in The Two Towers. I remember when I was 10-ish I agreed about the slow start; however, now I wouldn’t: an awful lot of important stuff happens there in terms of world building and character development (and suspense) – it’s not action, but I wouldn’t swap them or shorten them.

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