The Skywalker saga is at an end, and over the course of the last 42 years, audiences across the world have been thrilled by the nine adventures to that galaxy far, far away. But how do each of the films stack up against one another?
Note: we’re only including main saga films here, so Rogue One, Solo, the Ewok movies etc. won’t be included…
9. Star Wars: Episode II – Attack Of The Clones (2002)
It’s amazing to think that Star Wars is still such a beloved franchise, considering it includes a film as bad as Attack Of The Clones.
Following a now ‘grown-up’ Anakin Skywalker, the film is a tedious and overlong slog towards a rubbish ending. It starts off with nearly two hours of people talking, and with next to no action at all, and then finishes with an explosion of CGI battle sequences that not only get tiring after half an hour, but are also so lifeless and dull that it’s impossible to get excited by them.
Attack Of The Clones is also infamous for telling one of the worst-realised love stories in film history, between Anakin and Padmé. Rather than give us what we want, we’re forced to sit through endless scenes of the two ‘flirting’, and it’s all worsened by some of the worst-written dialogue ever heard, making the second prequel not only a dull watch, but a painful one too.
8. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)
Known widely as the biggest disappointment in film history, The Phantom Menace didn’t give Star Wars the roaring return that was expected when the prequel trilogy kicked off in 1999.
Although it does have its moments (which Attack Of The Clones didn’t), including a cool bit of pod racing, and a pretty exciting lightsaber battle at the climax, the film is largely a complete mess. It’s filled with all sorts of random things that don’t make any sense, from the annoying CGI Jar Jar Binks to the tedious trade negotiations that are allegedly beginning to set galactic conflict into action, and its equally confused atmosphere between family-friendly comedy, sci-fi action and political drama.
Also, when you look at the entire Star Wars saga in general, The Phantom Menace is actually irrelevant. Everything that happens here is either re-assessed in Attack Of The Clones, or never plays any important role in the later events, so it’s actually a two and a quarter hour film that doesn’t mean anything, which makes it even more disappointing.
7. Star Wars: Episode VI – Return Of The Jedi (1983)
The final edition of the original trilogy, 1983’s Return Of The Jedi, doesn’t compare at all to the brilliance of the original two films, however it’s still an entertaining, and ultimately significant film.
Episode VI suffers heavily from poor pacing, seeing as it doesn’t really kick into action until over half an hour in, pretty average dialogue that feels even worse when compared to The Empire Strikes Back, and too many unnecessary additions that are intended more to sell toys than actually add to the plot, such things as the Ewoks, and every weird thing in Jabba’s palace.
Despite that, however, the film is generally a good watch. Once it does get going, there’s simple and fun action here and there, and with your favourite characters at the centre, it’s difficult not to enjoy yourself. But what really makes Return Of The Jedi a good film is its final act, centring around Luke’s attempts to save Darth Vader from the Dark Side of the Force. It’s an emotionally powerful and pretty moving climax, and one that does rival the best moments of the original two films, and that, in the end, gives you enough satisfaction to see this as a good film.
6. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge Of The Sith (2005)
Placing Revenge Of The Sith (a prequel!) above Return Of The Jedi is definitely a controversial opinion, but I’m here to try and convince you that it’s not all that ridiculous.
The third prequel is almost universally considered the best one, and there’s no doubt about that, but it’s actually even better than just the best prequel by default. It doesn’t have the messy story or atmosphere of Episode I or II, and centres on a very dark and tense feeling surrounding Anakin Skywalker’s transition to the Dark Side.
What’s more is that it’s actually pretty well-paced, featuring strong action throughout, and although there is the odd moment where it can drag a bit, Revenge Of The Sith succeeds in making an entertaining action movie, as well as a genuinely compelling and clever story all about a hunger for power, on both sides of the Force.
And of course, it features a thrilling final lightsaber duel, one with extreme emotional power the likes of which the prequels had never before shown, making it a properly good film, and one that’s had a harsh reception just for being a prequel.
5. Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise Of Skywalker (2019)
With a view to bringing the often disjointed sequel trilogy to an end, as well as providing a satisfying, exciting conclusion to the entire nine-film Skywalker saga, it’s fair to say that there was a lot riding on The Rise Of Skywalker.
And for the most part, the film does just that. While suffering from a number of narrative flaws, as well as storytelling that’s not on the bold, innovative level of its immediate predecessor, the film is a hugely entertaining, action-packed and high-stakes affair from beginning to end.
Couple that with a heap of epic surprises that bring the entirety of the saga together under one roof, as well as an enormous passion for all things Star Wars, and The Rise Of Skywalker proves a glorious send-off for the greatest cinematic franchise of all time. A great blockbuster and an even better love letter, the film is immense fun to watch, and an excellent franchise finale.
4. Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017)
With heavy expectations on it after the enormous success of The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi had a big task, and it didn’t quite cut the mustard.
Although it’s an enormously entertaining film, with twists and turns galore that play a bigger and deeper role than any individual Star Wars film before it, The Last Jedi really struggles to kick into gear until after a whole hour, and coupled with a generally slow pace, two and a half hour runtime, and very dark and heavy atmosphere, it’s not the crowd-pleasing blockbuster that most of the saga is famous for.
With that said, however, The Last Jedi still features a riveting story, complete with far deeper and darker drama than we normally see from the series, and doesn’t follow the same route of the original trilogy’s Empire Strikes Back throughout, not to mention exceptional visual effects and strong performances across the board, all of which make it a thoroughly entertaining watch in the end, particularly after its second half really picks up the intensity and drama following a lacklustre opening. Is it perfect? Definitely not, but although it features some real lows, The Last Jedi is undoubtedly still a great edition to the Star Wars saga.
3. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)
The Force Awakens is a real triumph, and easily one of the most entertaining action movies ever made. Filled with beautiful visual effects and thrilling action sequences, and introducing the newest main characters, Finn, Rey and Poe Dameron, it’s a hugely enjoyable watch from start to finish, and definitely lives up to the best of the original trilogy.
It also features some of the best acting and dialogue of the entire saga, in the form of Daisy Ridley and John Boyega’s stunning breakthrough performances, coupled with quick-witted and consistently interesting dialogue by Lawrence Kasdan and J.J. Abrams.
Its story isn’t perfectly executed, and often leaves a little more to be desired, particularly in its second act, but in general, there’s no denying the brilliance of The Force Awakens in providing the great adventure that Star Wars is so famous for.
2. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)
This is where it all started. 1977’s Star Wars is easily one of the most iconic films of all time, and arguably the one movie that changed the entire filmmaking industry forever.
Featuring never-before-seen special effects (that still hold up today), as well as a story that tells one of the greatest adventure tales ever seen, the film is a thrilling and hugely entertaining watch from start to finish. It’s got great action, fascinating character development, and an astonishingly beautiful score by John Williams.
Despite being nearly 40 years old, the first Star Wars will never age, it’s a timeless classic that’s unrivalled to this day as the most epic space opera ever, and it brought about some of the most well-known concepts, characters and themes ever known in cinematic history, making it a hugely important film, and one that we all definitely love to bits.
1. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Despite the brilliance of the saga’s best films, however, there’s just no way that you can beat 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back.
Fulfilling the role of a sequel to take the franchise in a darker and deeper direction, this film succeeds to the highest possible extent, thanks to an amazingly written screenplay, fascinating character development, a huge sense of importance, great action, and almost everything that its predecessor did so well plus even more.
It may not be as great an adventure story, but The Empire Strikes Back proved to everyone that the sci-fi series could be just as much of an impressive drama. Of course, it’s still a hugely entertaining watch, and it features some of the best action sequences in the entire saga, but it’s the brilliant depth of the characters, and the huge unpredictability of the plot that keeps you invested in this thrilling sequel.
There have been seven Star Wars movies, all with their own strengths and weaknesses, and they’ll all be remembered forever, but it’s impossible to deny that the best one of all is The Empire Strikes Back.