By Seamus Quinn ‘21
Since the release of the original film in 1977, “Star Wars” has risen to become a pop culture giant in the world of film. Generating giant space battles between empires and rebellions, depicting deadly duels between Jedi and Sith, and introducing incredible characters like Luke Skywalker, Master Yoda, and Darth Vader, the series has gone on to inspire the imaginations of its audience, be them old or young.
Yet, as with any franchise spanning three trilogies and 44 years, “Star Wars” has certainly had its ups and downs, which is why I have taken it upon myself to provide a definitive movie list of the entire Skywalker Saga from worst to best, with an in depth explanation for each choice. If you are wary of spoilers, then I advise you to stop reading and watch the films. If not, then I present to you my, albeit heavily opinionated, list.
- “The Rise of Skywalker” (Episode IX)
The only reason this movie is below The Last Jedi is because at least that film tried to tell a somewhat coherent story. The Rise of Skywalker had some of the worst pacing I have ever witnessed in a movie. The audience barely had time to get acquainted with one location before we were whisked away to another. As much as I love Ian McDiarmid’s gleefully evil hamminess as Emperor Palpatine, bringing him back from the dead with the literal line “Somehow Palpatine has returned” just struck me as immensely idiotic, mainly because it rendered the sacrifice of Anakin Skywalker in “Return of the Jedi” completely pointless. There were introduced plot points that went absolutely nowhere and practically all of the plot points from “The Last Jedi” that were completely ignored. If I could say one thing to director JJ Abrams, it would be that he should have expanded upon the lore that Rian Johnson tried to introduce in “The Last Jedi” instead of trying to erase the film’s continuity in order to appease fans. The only consistent good part of “The Rise of Skywalker” and Sequel Trilogy as a whole was Adam Driver’s excellent performance as Ben Solo, aka Kylo Ren. And don’t get me started on the final line of the film, which was perhaps the most infuriating line of dialogue I have heard in a movie since Rose told Jack, “I’ll never let go!” in James Cameron’s “Titanic”.
- “The Last Jedi” (Episode VIII)
While this film did fine with telling a coherent story, it had some of the dumbest scenes and character motivations in the series. I’ll start by addressing the elephant in the room: Princess Leia Superman-ing herself through space after being blown out of the cruiser bridge by a missile. When I saw this scene, my mouth hung open and I just started to laugh my head off at the sheer goofiness of the visuals. I half expected John Williams to underscore it with his music from 1978’s “Superman the Movie”. The movie was also filled with mind-numbingly dumb things like a pointless sidequest for Finn and newcomer Rose, terribly written dialogue in some parts, a complete character assassination of Luke Skywalker, Kylo Ren killing Snoke at the halfway point, and Laura Dern.
Bear with me here.
Laura Dern is a fine actress, but her character in this movie made me want to scream in frustration. After Princess Leia is incapacitated following a First Order attack, Laura Dern’s purple-haired tactician, Vice Admiral Holdo, is brought onboard to lead the surviving members of the Resistance. Now, this woman says that she has a plan to evade the enemy, but she refuses to share it with anyone onboard, regardless of rank. With the First Order fleet catching up to them and destroying Resistance transports, you’d think Holdo would tell them what the plan is, but nope. Even when the crew threatens to and eventually does mutiny, she still won’t tell them the plan. This would have been fine if she was revealed to be a spy for the enemy trying to sabotage the efforts of the ragtag group, but in the end she gives the order to abandon ship and then lightspeed-kamikazes herself into the entire enemy fleet in a visually stunning scene that made me happy that I wouldn’t see her character again.
- “Attack of the Clones” (Episode II)
Ah yes. The Prequels. Everyone loves to hate on these movies, and for good reason. There are some pretty bad lines and characters in them. I, for one, enjoy them despite their campiness, but I cannot deny that “Attack of the Clones” is no doubt the worst of the Prequel Trilogy. Let’s start with the pros. Ewan McGregor is amazing as always in his portrayal of a younger Obi-Wan Kenobi and Christopher Lee is delightfully Shakespearean as the Sith lord Count Dooku. The arena battle and beginning of the Clone Wars is visually amazing and the fight between Yoda and Dooku during the finale is epic. As for the cons, oh boy.
Let me be the first to say that George Lucas is an amazing storyteller. He created an amazing universe with “Star Wars” and he and Spielberg created the coolest action hero ever with “Indiana Jones”. That being said, the man cannot write dialogue to save his life. The vast majority of lines in this movie is, to put it bluntly, atrocious. The romance between Anakin and Padme comes off as more creepy than romantic, and the flirting scenes are laughably bad. The most famous terrible line from the film, Anakin’s “I don’t like sand” monologue, has become a major meme across the collective fanbase for good reason. This movie had some pretty cool visuals, but the dialogue really brought it down.
- “The Phantom Menace” (Episode I)
This movie had an awesome opening that introduced us to a new threat in the form of a Droid Army and the fact that it was set years before the rise of the Galactic Empire made it all the more promising with the directions they could go. We got an awesome bad guy in the form of the devil-like Darth Maul, a great mentor figure in the form of Liam Neeson’s Qui-Gon Jinn, and our first look at a younger Obi-Wan Kenobi, played excellently as always by Ewan McGregor. And then there was Jar Jar Binks, the single most annoying character in the history of the series. I get it. Lucas wanted to create a funny sidekick character for the kids. But good Lord, man! “Star Wars” does not need slapstick and poop jokes!
But I digress. Despite a painfully slow middle section with a giant heap of political discourse, the film is saved by its climax, with four battles happening at once, including an intense duel between Maul, Kenobi, and Jinn set to the angelic yet hellish choir of “Duel of the Fates.”
- “The Force Awakens” (Episode VII)
This movie was the best one of the Sequel Trilogy. It introduced a new group of villains (the First Order) who were a bit too on-the-nose metaphor for over-the-top fascism. General Hux was a deliciously deranged commander. Captain Phasma was definitely the Boba Fett of the Sequel Trilogy, since she was set up to be an intimidating villain and sadly underused. Kylo Ren was played expertly by Adam Driver, and Andy Serkis was absolutely terrifying as Supreme Leader Snoke. Daisy Ridley was enjoyable as Rey, even if she seemed a bit too powerful. The character of Finn, a stormtrooper defector played by John Boyega, had a very promising premise that was altogether scrapped by the end of the trilogy. Fans also got to reunite with favorite characters like Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Chewbacca who had been absent from the franchise since the 80s.
There was really only one glaring problem with the movie. It was basically the plot of A New Hope with some names of structures and factions changed. Starkiller Base? More like Death Star 3.0. The First Order? The Empire but with poorer leadership. The Resistance? Basically the Rebellion reborn. Yet despite the familiarity of the plot, “The Force Awakens” is still a thoroughly enjoyable sci-fi adventure.
- “Revenge of the Sith” (Episode III)
And so we go from the best of the Sequel Trilogy to the best of the Prequel Trilogy. How can I describe the sheer epicness and magnitude of “Revenge of the Sith”? This film is just awesome from start to finish. The opening is 20 minutes of pure, fun Star Wars. We go from a huge space battle to a lightsaber duel to meeting an awesome new villain (General Grievous) to crash landing a giant ship. This movie has it all. Ian McDiarmid finally gets to shine as the wonderfully deranged and psychotic Emperor Palpatine. His performance made the movie for me. He just chews the scenery every time he is on screen. From him telling the legend of Darth Plagueis the Wise to Anakin to dueling four Jedi Masters at once to going toe to toe with Master Yoda, he makes the audience know that this is his movie. This is how he came to power.
The tension between Anakin and his fellow Jedi reaches its head, culminating in Anakin joining Palpatine and fighting in the most intense, and arguably the best, lightsaber duel in Star Wars history. Anakin and Obi-Wan duel over raging lava rivers and volcanoes, with Anakin being wounded and ending up in the black armor to become the villain we know as Darth Vader.
The only thing that drags this movie down a bit for me is the dialogue. Visuals and action are amazing, but weak and just plain awful writing can really make a terrific film, well, less terrific. Again, the error comes in Lucas’s inability to write a romance scene. The love between Anakin and Padme feels forced and stiff, with some of the lines sounding unnatural coming out of the character’s mouths, including the ridiculous “NOOOOOOOOOO!” scream by Darth Vader at the end of the film.
- “A New Hope” (Episode IV)
“A New Hope” was the first Star Wars I ever saw. I still have the entire unedited Original Trilogy on VHS and constantly rewatch them. “A New Hope” is a quintessential space adventure. It introduced us to timeless heroes and vile villains. Darth Vader remains to be one of if not the most threatening presences put to screen, with James Earl Jones’s voice sending shivers down my back whenever the Dark Lord of the Sith speaks. We meet hopeful farmboy Luke Skywalker who teams up with the smug captain of the Millenium Falcon, Han Solo, and wise old Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi to rescue the beautiful Princess Leia from the clutches of the evil Empire. This movie still boasts impressive special effects for the time period, with almost all the shots being practical with miniatures. It has quotable lines (“Who’s more foolish, the fool or the fool that follows him?”; “I have you now!”; “Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?” etc.) and a timeless story that will ensure that it remains a classic for generations to come. However, there are just two more movies that pass it by on a razor thin margin.
- “Return of the Jedi” (Episode VI)
Talk about a finale. “Return of the Jedi”, while a bit slow to start, has perhaps the best space battle in the films, an awesome ground war, and an emotional final duel between father and son. Palpatine, in his first on-screen appearance, is a terrifying and demented force of dark power whose sharp tongue is matched equally well by his arrogance. Luke and Vader’s duel is the most emotionally intense in the Original Trilogy, with both trying to make the other join him. The parallelism between the two characters is brilliant, especially with the symbolism of Luke’s robotic hand. The Ewoks are a cute edition to the series, even though their defeat of a superior military force is a bit laughable. All in all, this movie was a perfect finale to a beloved trilogy of films, but there is just one more that surpasses it.
- “The Empire Strikes Back” (Episode V)
Arguably the greatest movie sequel of all time next to “T2: Judgement Day”, “The Empire Strikes Back” is the darkest movie of the original trilogy. Still smarting from their defeat at the end of “A New Hope”, the Empire returns with a vengeance, looking to crush any and all opposition. This film saw the first appearance of “The Imperial March” and one of the wisest characters ever put to screen: Master Yoda.
The Empire is at its most powerful here, swiftly crushing the Rebels in a snowy battle with armored walkers and capturing Princess Leia and Han Solo, encasing the latter in a frozen prison of carbonite. The duel between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker on Cloud City is by far the most terrifying in the series, with Vader gleefully toying with the young Jedi, eventually amputating Luke’s hand before dropping the most iconic line in the series: “I am your father.”
A reasonable criticism of the film may be that the scenes on Dagobah with Yoda tend to slow the movie down. I somewhat agree. While the film does slow down significantly during this portion, the writing is what saves it. “Empire” has probably the best writing in the series, delving deep into the philosophy of the Jedi way and the nature of the Force. I still quote Yoda’s wise sayings to this day: “Do, or do not. There is no try.” and “Wars are not what make one great.” “The Empire Strikes Back” is a must watch for anyone who loves “Star Wars” and for anyone who loves a deep story.
Well, there you have it. My definitive list. If you crave adventure, excitement, or just a good story, consider giving these films a watch. I humbly thank you for taking your time to read this, and may the Force be with you. Always.