Star Wars is the franchise that changed cinema forever; it changed the way we watch and consume film, and even the way it’s made. It has left, and continues to leave, a lasting legacy in a way that it’s hard to see any other film series doing ever again. But how do they stack up against each other? Well, in honour of May the 4th, we at OnScreen decided to definitively rank all ten of the theatrically-released Star Wars films. Cue death threats in the comments in 3…2…1…
10. The Clone Wars
Yeah, you forgot about this one, huh? Released in 2008 and almost universally reviled, it’s scarcely even a film – acting as a pilot for the (at the time) forthcoming Clone Wars TV show. In actuality it’s just a handful of episodes loosely stitched together and rushed out the door for the sake of a quick buck.
The Good: Introduces fan-favourite character Ahsoka Tano, and features a vastly more likeable Anakin Skywalker than Hayden Christensen.
The Bad: Where to begin? From the cringeworthy storyline involving Jabba the Hutt’s infant son, to the awful animation, to the terrible rock-guitar soundtrack, everything fails on every level.
The Ugly: Ziro the Hutt might be a bigger abomination than Jar Jar Binks.
9. Episode II: Attack of the Clones
The one that birthed a thousand sand memes, Attack of the Clones was released in 2002 and is still to this day the longest Star Wars film ever released – and god, does it feel it. Despite clocking in at a fairly reasonable 2 hours and 22 minutes, the plodding pacing, dreary romantic sub-plot, and tragic reliance on sub-par special effects make the entire experience a dismal one.
The Good: Ewan McGregor’s sassy Obi-Wan will never not be entertaining, and his duel against Jango on the rainy platforms of Kamino is heaps of fun.
The Bad: Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen’s chemistry makes Han and Leia look practically pornographic, and the shoddy CG clones just lend the final act a terrible feeling of fakery.
The Ugly: CG Yoda backflipping in combat against an arthritic Christopher Lee is just sad to watch.
8. Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Released in 1999 to huge fanfare, The Phantom Menace ended up being a story that didn’t particularly need to be told; a single trade dispute, on a single planet, that just happened to coincide with the first meeting of Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi. It’s more akin to one of the old ‘Extended Universe’ novels than a proper Star Wars film, but to its credit there’s a lot of really impressive design work on display.
The Good: Underutilised as he is here, Maul is fantastic and the entire ‘Duel of the Fates’ sequence is almost worth the price of admission alone.
The Bad: Jar Jar Binks, Jake Lloyd’s line delivery, and the first appearance of the tragically inept B-1 battle droids. Couple that with the uncomfortable racial stereotypes of some of the alien creatures, and you’ve got yourself a bad time.
The Ugly: Brian Blessed as a CG frog man, complete with flying digital spittle. Why?
7. Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
This was supposed to be the one; the one that made Attack of the Clones and The Phantom Menace worth it, that tied the trilogy together and united the prequels with the original trilogy. Did it succeed? Well… not really, no. 2005’s Revenge of the Sith is one of those films which is, objectively-speaking, bad. But it’s also endlessly watchable in its ludicrously po-faced commitment to its own grandiose silliness. There’s a charm there that the clinical execution of the previous two prequels simply lacked, and it’s not hard to see why some love it.
The Good: The entire Battle of Coruscant is thrilling, Ewan McGregor practically steals the film, Ian McDiarmid hamming it up as Darth Sideous is pure joy, and it’s tough not to get chills when Vader takes his first breath.
The Bad: Good grief, Natalie Portman gets nothing to do, and the way the entire movie hurriedly shifts all of its players into their Episode IV starting places (20 years too soon) is laughable.
The Ugly: The final, climactic battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin descends into cartoon lunacy, complete with Tarzan-esque vine swinging.
6. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
2016’s Rogue One was the first entry (and, until Solo on the 24th of May, is the only) in Lucasfilm’s new anthology initiative; telling stories separate from the episodic Skywalker saga. Following Jyn Erso and the titular crew as they attempt to steal the Death Star plans and deliver them to the fledgling Rebel Alliance, it’s a fun film that always feels like it’s more interested in squeezing itself into a canonical gap than telling the best story it can.
The Good: There are only two kinds of people in this world; those who enjoy seeing Darth Vader finally let loose on screen, and filthy liars. The Battle of Scarif is tremendous too, and Chirrut and K-2SO are delights.
The Bad: With so many characters and a lot of plot to get through, there’s scarcely enough time to get to know everyone, leading to the entire thing feeling like watching a kid playing with action figures.
The Ugly: Bor Gullet.
5. Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
The grand finale to the original trilogy is the redheaded step-child of the three. Released in 1983 it’s by no means bad, but it lacks just a little of the magic that its predecessors had. Still, it contains some of the most iconic scenes in the saga, and is a fitting end to the Galactic Civil War.
The Good: Jedi Luke, Han’s liberation from Jabba, and the final confrontation in the Emperor’s throne room are all absolutely incredible.
The Bad: The Ewok sub-plot isn’t awful, it’s simply chock full of padding. Boba Fett’s death is also a criminal waste.
The Ugly: If you’re watching anything but the theatrical cut, the musical number in Jabba’s palace may induce suicidal thoughts.
4. Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
The middle chapter in the modern sequel trilogy might be the most divisive film on this list. Released in 2017, The Last Jedi is the only film from the new era that feels genuinely interested in doing something different. It doesn’t all work, but what does works like gangbusters.
The Good: Everything with Rey, Luke, and Kylo is phenomenal, and the fight in Supreme Leader Snoke’s throne room might be the most visceral combat in the saga.
The Bad: Finn and Rose’s sub-plot to Canto Bight is one of those ‘great concept, bad execution’ sequences, and there’s a case to be made for Poe being written slightly out-of-character.
The Ugly: Luke Skywalker milking an anatomically correct space-cow was not something we ever needed to see.
3. Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Like a concentrated hit of everything Star Wars, there’s definitely an argument to be made for The Force Awakens being overly derivative. However it simply can’t be overstated how much fun the entire experience is, feeling like a grand celebration of everything that makes the saga so beloved to so many, and introducing a new generation to their own cast of incredible heroes and villains.
The Good: Kylo Ren is one of the most fascinating characters in the series, and Rey and Finn’s friendship is joyous to behold. The duel on Starkiller Base is gorgeous, and Poe threatens to run away as an all-time favourite.
The Bad: The legacy characters feel slightly wasted, and the callbacks and homages occasionally threaten to topple the good-will garnered by all the new.
The Ugly: The Rathtars sequence is just… so, so very bad.
2. Episode IV: A New Hope
The one that started it all. The 1977 original Star Wars is, in a word, magnificent. The pacing is certainly dated by modern standards, and some of the effects and dialogue is ropey as all hell, but every single frame is iconic. It’s a masterclass in cinematic world-building, and the perfect reinvisioning of the classic metamyth of Joseph Campbell’s writings.
The Good: From the design, to the characters, to the pulse-pounding finale, to the perfect score from the legendary John Williams, the entire movie just sings.
The Bad: Luke doesn’t leave Tatooine until around the 45-minute mark. Yes, really.
The Ugly: Ponda Baba losing his arm in Chalman’s Cantina smacks as particularly weird and gruesome in context now, with a shot of his bleeding stump. It was even retconned later that the blood of his species doesn’t coagulate, to explain why his is the only lightsaber wound in the saga that doesn’t cauterise itself
1. Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
You saw this coming before you even clicked on the article. The Empire Strikes Back wrote the book on sequels, and threw that book at the audience of 1980 like a goddamn hand-grenade. Empire bolts out the gate and doesn’t let up until its closing moments. More expansive, more detailed, more dramatically satisfying, and more entrenched in the lore of the galaxy than its predecessor, it’s a bigger, bolder, darker sequel that fulfils the promises of A New Hope and then some.
The Good: Quite literally the entire film.
The Bad: That we only follow one of the badass-looking bounty hunters?
The Ugly: The mynocks are hilariously realised on-screen: flapping bits of plasticky material repeatedly slapping Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher in the face.