It’s an amazing time to be a nerd.
I’ve found myself thinking and saying that a lot over the last several years. I’ve always been a nerd – Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Monty Python, DC, Marvel, and everything in between.
I remember sitting in elementary school having Star Wars trivia contests with my friends. Who was Luke’s childhood best friend? What was the name of the droid Uncle Owen almost bought instead of R2-D2? That sort of thing.
When I was home sick as a kid, I wore out our Star Wars trilogy VHS tapes.
And yes, Han shot first.
Is every Star Wars movie a masterpiece? No, not by a long shot. But each movie has something I can really appreciate for what it’s worth. I’ve also been getting into the new canon books (especially the audiobooks – those things have incredible production value) and the TV series on Disney+ (The Mandalorian, Clone Wars, Rebels, and Resistance). I appreciate how they are trying to flesh out the fuller story within the galaxy.
So without further ado, here is my Definitively Subjective Star Wars Movie Rankings.
1. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
Rarely in the world of cinema is a sequel better than the first. Empire is a near-perfect follow-up to the surprise worldwide phenomenon. We thought that after the destruction of the Death Star, the rebels would have the Empire up against the ropes. But the opposite ends up being the case. The scrappy rebellion is still fighting for survival against the galactic war machine helmed by Darth Vader.
In a masterful piece of story telling, the good guys don’t win the day. The plot is full of betrayals, backstabbing, double crossing, love, jealousy, and “defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.” I mean, it doesn’t get any more Star Wars than this installment. It has the most-quoted lines (“No! I am your father.”) and the most iconic imagery (AT-ATs, carbonite, light saber duels, and Yoda). The Empire Strikes Back is what every movie sequel strives to be.
2. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
The indie movie that became a global cultural phenomenon was ahead of its time in many ways. It’s a traditional “hero’s journey” movie that has been copied time and time again – because it works. I will forever be loyal to this movie that introduced us to Luke, Han, Chewbacca, Leia, Obi-Wan, C-3PO, R2-D2, and Darth Vader. For a 1970s sci-fi movie made on a shoe-string budget with practical effects and first-time actors, this movie still holds up surprisingly well 40 years later.
This is where it gets a bit more controversial and subjective…..
3. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
The characters, plot, action, and humor of The Force Awakens make this one of the most rewatchable installments in the saga. Yes, it has a lot of similarities to the original. Yes, Kylo Ren is an angsty emo kid. Yes, ****SPOILERS**** Han Solo dies. But The Force Awakens recaptures the feel and magic of the original trilogy. I absolutely love Rey and Poe and BB-8 and Finn.
4. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
The first non-saga movie was a pleasant surprise. I appreciate everything it was trying to do. Yeah, you could say it was a whole movie just to fill a plot hole in the original. But it was more than that. It made the Empire worth fearing. It established the original trilogy within the galaxy ruled under the tyrannical fist of the Empire. Rogue One also shows the moral ambiguity of the rebellion at times.
And come on – that last 90 seconds with Darth Vader was one of the best scenes in the entirety of Star Wars.
5. Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi
I’ve gotta say that when I was a kid, this was my favorite. I loved the scenes in Jabba’s palace. I loved the Ewoks. I loved the speeder bikes and the space battle. I loved the duel between Luke and Vader at the end with the redemption of Vader. But when I watch it as an adult I realize how much this movie was targeted to kids. It could have been a lot darker and grittier following ESB. But they played it safe in order to sell more toys – which totally worked.
6. Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker
The Rise of Skywalker brings the “Skywalker Saga” to an alleged end. (We’ll see about that.) I think it did so brilliantly. Was it perfect? No. Was it everything I wanted? Yes! …minus a cameo of baby Yoda. My biggest complaint was that it could have been longer. It could have been two movies. There was a lot that had to happen to make up for The Last Jedi. Some questions had to be retconned (like Rey’s parentage and Leia’s force abilities, etc.). It’s almost like The Last Jedi could have been Episode 7.5. I appreciated Kylo Ren’s story arch to become fully Ben Solo again. I thought his and Rey’s on screen chemistry was absolutely on point without being a weird love story. Rey’s journey, coming to grips with who she really is and could be, was an emotional ride. I loved seeing all the old faces from Lando Calrissian and Nien Nunb to the return of Wedge Antilles. It was sad seeing Leia die, but her send off was well done. It was also hard seeing Snap Wexley die in the battle over Exigol. (Snap got his introduction in The Aftermath book trilogy.) It was also great seeing Ian McDiarmid reprise his role as Darth Sidius/Emperor Palpatine – because OF COURSE it’s been Palpatine pulling the strings as the ultimate puppet master the the galaxy. I’ve been rambling because it’s so fresh on my mind. Do pay attention to the critics. This movie is an epic end to an epic story.
7. Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi
This movie took a lot of risks. The “fans” complained that The Force Awakens was too much like the originals, so The Last Jedi tried to break away from the common tropes and expectations of the originals – and the “fans” complained again. I thought it worked really well on many levels. It was a very meta movie, telling you the whole time what it was doing – “Let the past die…” “This is not going to go the way you think…” Kylo Ren and Rey both came into their own. They can no longer rely on the past to lead them into the future. I think that says something about Star Wars over all.
The Last Jedi has one of the coolest light saber battles, one of the most visually stunning space battle scenes, and Yoda! It would be higher on my list, but it’s not quite as rewatchable as others.
8. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
Revenge of the Sith had the darkness and the grittiness that I wish Return of the Jedi would have had. RotS, however, almost goes too dark. But it captures the transformation of Anakin to Vader in a visceral way. Obi Wan is the hero of the prequels. As unbelievable as Anakin and Obi Wan’s friendship seems at some points because of bad acting/writing, when things fall apart, you feel it. That final duel between them is haunting.
Full disclosure, I’ve seen Revenge of the Sith fewer times than any other movie on this list.
9. Solo: A Star Wars Story
I really enjoyed Solo. It was a fun, campy, action-packed heist movie. Think Italian Job in space. Was it entirely necessary? No. But I’m glad it’s here. Like Rogue One, Solo establishes the Empire as a force to be feared and the rebellion as a fledgling grassroots resistance movement. The actor playing Han offered a surprisingly convincing portrayal of the character. Lando was spot-on. I loved seeing the fresh, new Millennium Falcon pull of the Kessel Run. And when Maul appeared on screen, there was an audible gasp throughout the theater. There’s SO MUCH they could do with the Maul storyline…if they ever do another “Star Wars Story.”
10. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
THE BAD: the writing, the politics (Trade Federation? Are you kidding?), goofy battle droids, naked C-3PO, midichlorians, and Jar. Jar. Binks.
THE GOOD: the worlds, Qui Gon Jinn and Obi Wan Kinobi, Darth Maul with the double-bladed lightsaber, the BEST light saber duel in all of Star Wars, the pod race, expanding the Jedi/Force lore
11. Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
I’ve tried rewatching this a few time recently and get the same feeling each time: Bored. I forgot how much of this movie involves slowly walking and talking. There’s action at the beginning and in the last 30 minutes. The rest is just slow and/or annoying. There is absolutely no chemistry between Anakin and Padme. Obi Wan’s skills are wasted. The main villain, Count Dooku, is completely dull and forgettable. If anything, this movie feels like an introduction to the Clone Wars animated series – which I think is better than Attack of the Clones.
How does your list compare? I know this is a pretty controversial subject among nerds, but I’d love to hear from you.
For comparison’s sake, here are the Star Wars movies ranked by Tomatometer Score:
1. The Empire Strikes Back (95%)
2. The Force Awakens (93%)
3. A New Hope (93%)
4. The Last Jedi (91%)
5. Rogue One (84%)
6. Return of the Jedi (80%)
7. Revenge of the Sith (79%)
8. Solo (70%)
9. Attack of the Clones (66%)
10. The Phantom Menace (55%)
11. The Rise of Skywalker (54%) …..what?! Audience score was 86%