This is the combined ranking of two of our pop culture writers, Dashran Yohan and Samuel Lim.
Star Wars forever changed the landscape of popular culture and cinema and redefined the term blockbuster when it first hit the big screen back in 1977. There’s simply no denying its importance. But what really separates Star Wars from the likes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, etc is that Star Wars blankets multiple generations. The Skywalker Saga started with the Original Trilogy back in 1977. Both Samuel and I weren’t even born then. My dad caught the OT in cinemas. I watched it on dusty old VHS tapes on box TVs.
In 1999, George Lucas made the Prequel Trilogy that centred around Anakin Skywalker, the man before he became the iconic villain known as Darth Vader. If you’re 26 years old this year, like I am, you would’ve been six when The Phantom Menace graced the silver screen. My sister, who’s nine years younger than me, didn’t watch the Prequels in theatres. She watched it, along with the Original Trilogy on Cable TV. The first Star Wars movie she caught in cinemas was The Force Awakens back in 2015. Star Wars is longform storytelling unlike any other. And perhaps its story that spans generations is one of the biggest reasons why Star Wars is so polarizing.
Since its May the 4th, Samuel and I decided that now’s a good time as any to celebrate this beautiful franchise by counting down all the theatrically released live-action Star Wars film from worst to best. A Star Wars ranking from the perspective of 90s kids if you will.
10. Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace
By Dashran Yohan
This is the most baffling Star Wars film ever put to screen. Why did we need an entire subplot about baby Anakin racing around in his silly toy car? And stupid convoluted politics? Midichlorians? Don’t even get me started on the cancerous, brain cell killing Gungan named Jar Jar Binks. There are no characters no actual plot details in this movie, only horribly written lines scribbled on a piece of paper with crayon.
Having said that, over the years, I’ve come to soften up a little when it comes to The Phantom Menace. The film birthed one of the coolest looking characters in Sci-Fi fantasy in Darth Maul. Sure, Maul only becomes a fully realised character in the Clone Wars and Rebels animated series, but he is still an intriguing presence in the film.
The lightsaber battle between Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and Darth Maul isn’t my cup of tea — I prefer the more raw lightsaber fights as seen in Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and the new trilogy, but there’s no denying the stellar martial arts choreography on display here. Then there’s John Williams’ score during the scene, titled Duel of Fates, which is easily my absolute favourite Star Wars track of all time.
9. Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones
By Samuel Lim
Attack of the Clones is mostly awful. The plot would have been at least serviceable if it so wasn’t utterly bogged down with so much of Anakin’s pointless romance. And while the film does give us an interesting look into clone troopers who will eventually become the proto-stormtroopers, the rest of the political manoeuvring between the Sith and Jedi are a complete bore. Why? Simply put, the performances leave much to be deserved.
The greatest offender here being Hayden Christensen having only two modes throughout this film, wooden plank and whinny, creepy teenager. This is the man that’s supposed to carry out some of the most brutal atrocities of the galaxy? The same son of darkness who coldly dispatched insubordinate officers and yet also said with stunning awkwardness “I don’t like sand… it’s rough”.
The film suffers from some tonal discrepancies, by way of some seriously questionable scenes in this film. Attack of the Clones nearly destroys an icon of cinema, almost gave me a hernia from all the ironic laughing I did and most definitely deserve its spot as penultimate worst on this list.
Having said that, the lightsaber duel between Yoda and Count Dooku? Pretty damn good.
8. Solo: A Star Wars Story
By Samuel Lim
The plot is your basic heist film with your cliche double-triple crosses that the audience sees a mile away wrapped inside Han Solo’s origin story. Actor Alden Ehrenreich had some big, Ford-sized shoes to fill and the man does it decently, unlike Christensen. He brings a fresh new swagger to the character that I don’t hate, maybe even get behind in time. Donald Glover killed it as Lando. Everyone else did okay I suppose.
The action sequences however really were something man — edge of your seat thrill rides. Solo gives the Fast and the Furious franchise a run for their money. Each set piece just got bigger and bigger, culminating in the legendary Kessel Run. That scene alone when the Falcon narrowly escaped death’s jaw and maw was enough to have a brought a tear to this old nerd’s eye. The weaker parts of the film were definitely the subplots dealing with the cartel and Enfys Nest. The whole idea of Han before New Hope is that he’s apathetic to the circumstances around him, looking out for numero uno in this big, bad universe. So to have him give up a fortune to aid the Rebellion betrays the character we have come to know and love. Solo would make a great fan film but its place in the wider franchise is dubious at best.
7. Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith
By Dashran Yohan
So, we didn’t actually get the Darth Vader origin story we were promised. Think about it, at the end of the movie, we still do not get Vader, at least not the Vader we see in A New Hope (we don’t see the progression towards that, either). We just get Anakin Skywalker in Vader’s outfit. But the outfit is not what makes Darth Vader, well Darth Vader.
But looking at the movie, not through the prism of what was promised but what is, Revenge of the Sith is pretty damn good. While the romance nonsense between Anakin and Padme doesn’t work at all in Attack of the Clones, here it does. And that’s because somehow, for whatever reason, both Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman upped their game big time here. Here, I buy that Anakin and Padme are in love and I buy that Anakin would do anything in his power to protect her, even if it means learning from the Dark Side. I also buy the relationship between Anakin and Obi-Wan, so when the climactic duel on Mustafa takes place, I am on the edge of my seats every single time I watch this movie. The battle on Mustafa isn’t just the best lightsaber duel in the prequels, it is also one of the best duels in all of Star Wars.
But what really makes the movie work is Chancellor Palpatine AKA Darth Sidious AKA The Emperor. Palpatine’s slow and calculated manipulation of Anakin is heartbreaking and Ian McDiarmid plays the character to perfection.
6. Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi
By Samuel Lim
As the final chapter of the original trilogy, there’s a lot of pressure for Return of the Jedi to be great, to leave on a high note. Three years after one hell of a cliffhanger in Empire, fans were eager to find closure with what they anticipated to be a worthy finale. And they did, sort of…look it’s complicated. There’s so much that this film nails right! There’s Luke’s growth and maturity since the last film, the gripping drama between him and Vader, the latter’s redemption and the defeat of the Empire. These all the story beats that fans came to expect in the final chapter of the Skywalker saga and for the most part, creator George Lucas honoured it.
Then there are these other strange and downright infuriating parts of this film that bogs it down from reaching its true potential. Is the Empire building another Death Star just to have it be blown up again? How is an organized, war-ready army taken out by a bunch of brown teddy bears with pointy sticks and rocks?!
Return of the Jedi was a clear departure from its predecessor in both tone and quality. In many ways, this would signal the shape of things to come with the prequels and the eventual correction of Disney’s new trilogy. But while it isn’t perfect, it still has a story worth telling. And a pretty damn good way to close Luke’s story arc if I do say so myself.
5. Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope
By Dashran Yohan
When it comes to A New Hope, I respect it more than I enjoy it. I respect how it changed the landscape of cinema and blockbuster. I respect what it accomplished with a limited budget and its many, many production setbacks. I respect that it pushed the boundaries of visual FX back in the late 70s. The very fabric of our pop culture would be different if A New Hope doesn’t exist. A New Hope is a very, very important film.
But, an important film doesn’t necessarily make it a great film. I understand if this movie has a special place in your heart if you watched it on the big screen 41 years ago. But I wasn’t born in 1977 and watching this movie with modern, 90s kid eyes, it just doesn’t hold up that well. I’m not necessarily talking about the VFX by the way. Mark Hamill’s performance as Luke Skywalker isn’t the best in A New Hope, delivering a lot of the lines in a cringe-worthy manner. (Of course, he does grow into his role in Empire and Return of the Jedi.) In fact, besides Harrison Ford’s stellar work, the performances of the original cast do not hold a candle to the cast of the new trilogy nor that of Rogue One.
Another problem with A New Hope is its pacing. The entire sequence with R2-D2 and C-3P0 walking in the desert is groan-inducing and goes on and on and on. Plus, the lightsaber battle between Obi-Wan and Vader is good storytelling-wise but plays out awkwardly.
4. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
By Dashran Yohan
The first anthology film in the Star Wars universe is GREAT not only as a standalone movie with a singular vision but also because it enhances the already beloved Star Wars universe tenfold. One problem I’ve always had with the main saga, is the treatment of the soldiers AKA the rebel/resistance army.
More often than not, the rebel army feels nothing more than filler characters who shoot at stuff just to kill time while the Force wielders handle the so-called “important” stuff. Rogue One changes that by highlighting how integral the rebel soldiers are in the war against The Empire. The scene during the climax, when all of them sacrifice themselves and Admiral Raddus says, “Rogue One, may the force be with you” brings tears to my eyes every single time.
We also, for the first time, witness how messed up the galaxy is under the Empire’s rule, as Stormtroopers patrol the streets, injecting fear into civilians. People are suffering, crying, broken. While Rogue One doesn’t have colourful characters like in the main saga, they’re still memorable nonetheless, at times forced to make morally ambiguous difficult decisions in the name of the greater good.
On top of all that, this movie also gives us the best version of Darth Vader ever seen on screen, in a single scene, as we see him ruthlessly and mercilessly kill off Rebel soldiers.
3. Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens
By Dashran Yohan
This movie reignited a flame in me — a flame that was slowly but surely extinguishing. When it comes to storytelling, characters and performances, this movie delivers the goods big time. JJ Abrams brings back the old gang, who are as awesome as ever and seamlessly integrates them with the new guard, all of whom are nothing short of spectacular. Rey pretty much has Luke Skywalker’s arc, only Daisy Ridley is a much better actor than Mark Hamill was in A New Hope. The likes of Poe, Finn and the new droid BB8 are also awesome.
But the shiniest gem this movie gives us is the villain Kylo Ren. I will get a lot of flak for saying this, but I’m going to say it anyway: Kylo Ren is a more interesting villain than Darth Vader. Vader is a stoic badass and there’s no denying his icon status. But there’s a duality to Kylo Ren that makes him a phenomenal character. He’s a broken man, hurting on the inside, and he tries to hide it with a mask and a fictitious regal front. This is a wonderfully penned character and Adam Driver plays him to perfection. Plus, the lightsaber duel between Rey and Kylo Ren is the best lightsaber-on-lightsaber duel in all of Star Wars.
2. Star Wars: Episode VIII — The Last Jedi
By Dashran Yohan
The Last Jedi couldn’t just be a retread or a throwback. It had to break new ground. Well, the Rian Johnson film doesn’t just break new ground. It obliterates it. Look, I understand where the hate towards The Last Jedi is coming from. After my first viewing, I walked out feeling dazed and confused. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie but something didn’t feel right. Perhaps it’s because I was too transfixed on my theories and predictions that I didn’t see the movie for what it really is.
But after the second viewing, everything clicked (I’ve since watched the film at least 10 times). This is very much a STAR WARS film, made by the man — Rian Johnson — who is ferociously obsessed with these characters. He loves these characters as much as we do. He loves Star Wars as much as we do. And his passion for this project bleeds through every meticulously crafted story beat.
The Last Jedi is more a study of character and the Jedi philosophy than any other Star Wars movie. People say Johnson ruined Luke Skywalker from the original trilogy, in this movie. You call it ‘ruining’ I call it evolving. This may not be the Luke we know from the original trilogy, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t OUR Luke. This is a man who since his victory over Vader and the Emperor, went on to train a bunch of younglings who was later slaughtered by his own flesh and blood because of a mistake HE made. What would that do to a man?
And I’m merely scratching the surface. The movie does so much more, like exploring Kylo Ren’s duality on a deeper level, exploring Rey’s desperate desire to find her parents and the list goes on and on. Rian Johnson also gives you twists and turns (that make sense) all in the name of great storytelling. Just thinking about this movie gives me the chills!
1. Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back
By Samuel Lim
Empire Strikes Back is a landmark film in the genre of science fantasy and continues to be referenced in pop culture until today. The narrative is poignantly Shakespearean. A major theme throughout the Star Wars film series is family and how familial past and relationships can drive us to do great and terrible things. The struggle to break away from the destructive patterns and shadow of our predecessors is deftly on display in this film. To watch Hamill’s Luke grows from the wide-eyed naive rebel to become a conflicted but great Jedi padawan is both endearing and frustrating. And to witness one of the greatest cinematic reveals of all time was just as shocking as it was tragic. The moment he realized that his entire and journey and life was leading him back to the dark, back to his father carried such weight and gravitas.
The aesthetics of this film are gorgeous, from the handcrafted sets of Cloud City to the models of the AT-AT walkers on the planet Hoth. Everything had so much personality to it, a tall order for a pre-CGI film. It goes without saying that the most impressive and endearing part of the prop work on display is the brilliant puppetry done for Yoda. An element that even The Last Jedi saw fit to incorporate into itself. The chemistry between Fischer and Ford was dynamite, giving us one of the best romantic one-liners of a generation, one that has certainly been quoted ad nauseam. And much like Leia, you know I love this film. The ambition, the care and the poetry of Empire Strikes Back solidifies its place on this list, both as a timeless classic and top pick on this list.