Having just re-watched all the Star Wars movies Episodes 1–6 for Star Wars Day, I thought I would share my ranking of the movies. It had actually been a while since I had seen the movies, and I had never binged them all at once. Around 14 hours after starting, we finally finished watching. I definitely had a different perspective on them than when I was a kid. I thought this would be a fun way to show my appreciation for the Star Wars movies. As a disclaimer, all these rankings are fully my own opinion, and I’m fully aware that people have different opinions. I welcome those opinions, but this is my list. Finally, this ranking will include SPOILERS, so if you haven’t seen the movies (you should really watch them), then please come back to this list after you have seen them. I will be ranking them from worst to best.
6: Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Right, let’s get started off with what many recognize as the worst movie of the Lucas Star Wars films. Even though I am rating Attack of the Clones as the worst one, I do not hate it. There are plenty of good scenes. Even though the heavily choreographed lightsaber duels do look strange when compared with the more natural sword-fighting of the original trilogy, I do like the Count Dooku fight with Anakin, Obi-Wan and Yoda. Another really cool fight is the one that Jango Fett has as he is leaving Camino. The use of the jetpack looks really cool, and Jango was a cool character. Indeed, for a character that was used as the genetic basis for the clones, he gets remarkably little screen time.
This brings me to one of my criticisms of Episode II: how fast Jango is killed. Why can Jango clearly hold his own against Obi-Wan in their fight on Camino but when he faces Mace Windu in the arena, he only manages to fire off a few shots before having his head chopped off? You have a jetpack, Jango, please use it.
Another criticism (and my largest one of the film) is how the relationship between Anakin and Padmé is treated. Anakin comes off as equal parts cringey and creepy. At the beginning of the movie, Padmé tells Anakin that she still thinks of him as that boy she met on Tatooine. Anakin tells her that he cannot stop thinking about her and delivers some truly cringey and creepy dialogue considering that Padmé does not seem interested in him romantically. But then, Anakin delivers his infamous line: “I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere.” Shortly after delivering that line, Anakin kisses Padmé, and she reciprocates because apparently, she is in love with him now. These romance scenes were utterly ridiculous. Who would be won over by such a cringey line? Oh but Padmé is head over heels for Anakin because the plot requires her to be. The problem is that they don’t really establish any kind of real connection in the dialogue, and yet we as the audience are supposed to accept that they have fallen deeply in love. Indeed, Padmé and Anakin get married at the end of the movie. Truly bizarre. We simply never see any clear reason why Padmé would change from seeing Anakin as the boy she met on Tatooine to someone she felt she could marry. But Anakin and Padmé needed to fall in love and have kids so that Luke and Leia could be born, so I guess we have to just suck it up and accept their relationship.
There is also the scene where Anakin goes with Padmé to Tatooine and discovers that his mother has been kidnapped by Tusken Raiders. He is unable to save her and then goes on a killing rampage against her kidnappers. He later admits to Padmé that he killed everyone including the women and children. Does this not raise any alarm bells or red flags for Padmé? I get that Lucas included this scene in order to foreshadow Anakin’s transition to Darth Vader and embrace of the dark side. But why is Padmé not more troubled by this? She basically just hugs him and moves on. I’m sure people have argued that Padmé was in love with Anakin and did not want to think he could be evil, but mass murder comes pretty high up in terms of “you know, maybe I should break up with this guy.”
The main good thing about Episode II was Jango, but for the most part it is marred by Anakin and Padmé’s cringey and unbelievable relationship. At least, it minimized the role that Jar Jar Binks had. It does set up the Clone Wars (about which there is a long TV show), but the movie as a standalone is clearly the worst of the Lucas Star Wars movies.
5: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace
I think you might be hard-pressed to find a movie that shafts its titular character more. From what I can recall, Darth Maul has one or two lines in the entire movie before he is chopped in half by Obi-Wan. I’m putting Phantom Menace lower than Attack of the Clones because at least Anakin and Padmé aren’t awkwardly flirting throughout the movie. Although, while Padmé and Anakin are supposed to be 14 and 9 respectively, they appear to have a larger age difference. This also makes their relationship in Attack of the Clones seem even more creepy (even if the age difference isn’t as great as it appears).
And of course, you can’t bring up Phantom Menace without mentioning Jar Jar Binks. While I did not mind him as a kid, he now seemed like a failed attempt at comic relief. His actions are always very cringey even when in battle. Like how he accidentally releases the purple balls to explode the droid tanks. His stupidity is just tiresome rather than funny. I can see why they chose to drastically cut his role in the next two prequel films.
Actually coming back to Darth Maul, he should definitely not have been killed off so quickly. That being said, the Darth Maul fight was really epic with the rousing music. I also liked adding the forcefields into the fight, so that Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan were separated. It made sense how Darth Maul was able to defeat Qui-Gon when he was by himself and separated from Obi-Wan. Although I would have liked to see Darth Maul have some dark side powers. He never used force lightning or force choke. But regardless of that, the Darth Maul fight was better than the Dooku fight at the end of Episode II because of the music and general atmosphere.
In terms of the pod-racing, I am curious if Qui-Gon helped Anakin win with the Force. He certainly wagered quite a lot on Anakin winning. But the pod-racing scene was pretty good and suspenseful. Even if the presence of Jabba the Hutt was really just a nostalgic call back to the original trilogy. The line at the end when Anakin goes into space and blows up the droid station sounds corny when he says “Now THIS is pod-racing,” but I still liked it.
One of the things I really did like about the movie was Palpatine’s machinations in the Senate. A lot of people hate on the prequels for the politics, but I actually liked it (although I am a politics student after all). However, I liked how Palpatine was pulling all the strings and manipulated Padmé into supporting a vote of no confidence in the current chancellor, so that Palpatine could be made chancellor. I feel like this really set up Palpatine as a cunning politician (and villain, although it wasn’t clear that he was by this point) who was slowly taking over the Republic and gaining support in the Senate. Palpatine knew how to get power through politics, and this made him a very dangerous villain. It was more through this politcking than through being a Sith that allowed him to establish the Empire. I liked how he was already firmly established as a powerful politician in the first film.
Overall, the Phantom Menace was a better film than Attack of the Clones, but it still suffered from poor characters like Jar Jar Binks. As a setup film for the rest of the trilogy, it wasn’t too bad, but it did not establish Darth Maul very well (which is strange considering he is the titular character).
4: Episode IV: A New Hope
Some might be surprised not to find Episode III here, particularly for haters of the prequels. Despite my criticisms of Episodes I and II, I do not hate the prequels. I now want to move onto the original Star Wars movie. The one that started them all. I actually do really like Episode IV. My placing it at the #4 spot in no way means that I dislike the movie. I simply think that there are three episodes that are better than it. I actually remember the opening scene from Episode IV better from the Lego version in Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga. But nevertheless, the beginning of the film is iconic with Leia putting her message into R2D2, and then R2D2 and C3PO escape onto Tatooine. It also features the introduction of Star Wars’ most well-known villain, Darth Vader.
The movie is certainly not afraid to have its main characters face hardship as Luke is pretty soon faced with the reality of his murdered aunt and uncle and then decides to travel with Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi. The scene where Ben Kenobi pulls out his lightsaber in Mos Eisley Cantina must have been quite wonderous for those seeing Star Wars for the first time. Indeed, the special effects and settings have all stood the test of time. While they might be improved by today’s standards, the movie is not held back by its effects. While the Millennium Falcon does not seem to be moving when Luke and Han are shooting down Tie-Fighters, it still looks cool. I was not really upset by this, it’s just more that we noticed it while watching.
Luke is also given ample motivation for wanting to defeat the Empire because they murdered his aunt and uncle. Vader also killed Luke’s mentor, Ben Kenobi, so this gives Luke more desire for revenge. He is also driven to rescue the mysterious Princess Leia (who later turns out to be his sister), and the banter between Luke and Han is still great today. They are also clearly setting up either Luke or Han to be Leia’s love interest because the audience and the characters themselves do not yet know that Leia is Luke’s sister.
I also liked the rebel attack on the Death Star at the end. I had completely forgotten that Vader pilots a ship and begins to attack rebel fighters. Han saves Luke at the last minute, and Luke is able to use the force to guide the missile into the hole. This sets up a nice bit of foreshadowing for Luke’s training with Yoda in Episode V to become a Jedi. It also sets up a friendship between Luke and Han that extends throughout the next two films. Han is jealous of Luke’s relationship with Leia until he recognizes later that Luke is Leia’s brother.
I feel like I have reached the point where the movies are all really good and don’t have really serious flaws. I think A New Hope does a good job of setting up the Star Wars universe, but it is not as good as the other two films in the original trilogy. I am now going to turn to Episode VI.
3: Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi
I have to admit that when I was a kid, I rated Episode VI as my favorite Star Wars movie. Mainly, I loved the confrontation with the emperor, and his use of force lightning. I had never seen Jedi (or Sith) use those kinds of powers before, and it was exciting. While watching it yesterday, I still loved the emperor as a villain. He is always manipulating everything behind the scenes, and his evil laugh is just great. Darth Vader was set up throughout the first two films as the big bad, although we did see the emperor at one point in a hologram in Episode V. But now in Episode VI, we get to see the Emperor in person, and I loved it. Also, he sets up the eventual redemption of Darth Vader who sees his son being tortured by Palpatine and steps in to sacrifice himself for Luke. Without the emperor, Anakin could not have been redeemed. I like that Luke always tried to find the good within Vader and would not kill him even to save himself.
Now let me talk about one of the bad things about Episode VI. Yes, you guessed it. The ewoks. While I did not mind them when I was a kid, their presence now was just embarrassing. One has to wonder if the ewoks were designed the way that they were because they could be sold as toys and make lots of money. They were also able to overwhelm the imperial garrison at the Endor base. Without them, the Rebellion would have lost. But how could the imperial soldiers have lost to the Ewoks? The Ewoks were armed with bows and arrows and rocks while the imperial troops had ATATs and blasters. The Ewoks should simply not have been able to overwhelm the imperial troops. If there had been an army of wookies, then I would have understood, but it just seemed very improbable that the Ewoks could have beaten the imperial troops.
Then, there is also the problem that the planet-killer weapon created in Episode VI was basically just Death Star 2.0. It was uncreative to simply have the Empire create the exact same weapon that had been used in Episode IV. I realize that the way that Lando destroyed the Death Star 2.0 was different than the method that Luke used, but c’mon. In both scenarios, the Rebellion was about to be destroyed, but instead they blew up the Death Star at the last possible second to save the day.
Return of the Jedi also has Boba Fett die off extremely easily in the fight at the Sarlacc pit. Just how I thought that Jango Fett died too easily in the arena fight in Episode II, Boba Fett also died too easily. Also, putting Leia in a bikini suit was basically purely for the purpose of sexualizing her and was not necessary. I’m also not clear how Leia was able to kill Jabba the Hutt so easily with her chains. Didn’t Jabba have security guards? I get they might have been fighting against Luke, Han and Chewbacca but wouldn’t some of them have stayed behind and guarded Jabba?
All in all, I am rating Return of the Jedi as better on this list than A New Hope because I like the emperor as a villain. I am willing to admit that A New Hope has fewer flaws, but you just can’t beat Palpatine’s evil laugh. I also felt like the film was a good culmination of the original trilogy. And don’t forget, Admiral Ackbar’s famous line: “It’s a trap!”
2: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Now, we get to the really controversial part. I know many Star Wars fans will give me hell for not putting Episode V at the #1 spot. Don’t get me wrong. I think Episode V is a great film and the best of the original trilogy. But it does not take the top spot. For now, I will go into what I like about it, and talk more about why Episode III is the best in that section.
Episode V starts out on Hoth and features some excellent scenes with Luke piloting the snow speeder and taking down the imperial walkers. I remember that level fondly from the Lego Star Wars game, and it was cool to watch it again in live action. But the really good part starts when Luke begins his training.
After Hoth, Luke travels to Degobah to train with Yoda. When he finally discovers who Yoda is, Yoda does not wish to train him, but the ghost of Ben Kenobi convinces Yoda to train Luke. He goes through a grueling process only to be stopped midway through with the news that his friends are in danger. He wants to rush off to help them, but Yoda advises that Luke finish his training first, and that it is a trap. Luke is torn by this, but he eventually decides to go.
Shortly before Luke arrives, Han is about to be encased in carbonite in order to be taken to Jabba the Hut. This movie cements Han and Leia’s love when Leia tells Han that she loves him, and Han replies I know. Unlike the relationship between Anakin and Padmé, Han and Leia actually have real chemistry and have been through a lot together. It is perfectly believable in a way that the love between Anakin and Padmé is not (if anything Anakin seems more obsessed with Padmé rather than in love with her). Even as they say they express love for each other, Han is torn away from Leia and taken by Boba Fett to Jabba the Hutt. This is one aspect of the movie that gives it a very dark tone. The heroes certainly do not have an easy time of it.
After Luke arrives at the cloud city, he fights Vader in an epic lightsaber duel. While his training is not complete, he does show that he can handle his own. They fight for a long time until eventually Vader cuts off Luke’s hand. As Luke is dangling over the precipice, Vader shockingly reveals that he is Luke’s father. This throws everything that we thought we knew about Vader into question and also sets up his eventual redemption by Luke. Vader asks that Luke join him, but he refuses and falls off into the slide and eventually is picked up by Leia who can sense him.
When looking at all of this, it is clear that Episode V is much darker than either of the other two original trilogy films, but it is also much better for it. It is good when a movie does not allow its heroes to always succeeds but makes them face true adversity. At the end of the film, Han is encased in carbonite and Luke’s hand has been cut off. Things are looking grim indeed for our heroes. There is also the shock reveal that the man we are supposed to hate, the man who killed Ben Kenobi is none other than Luke’s father. This twist also serves to humanize Vader from an evil mysterious presence into someone who cares about Luke. While Vader does want Luke to turn to the dark side, he also cares about him. He tells Luke he wants to rule the galaxy with him as father and son. Thus, the well-constructed plot along with the dark tone make Episode V the second-best Star Wars movie. But there is still one more to come.
1: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
I know there will be people who will scream in anger at me putting a prequel movie as the best Star Wars movie. Perhaps if I were older, and I had seen the original Star Wars movies in theaters when they came out, I might have different views. But I did not. When I was a kid, I actually rated Episode III as the second-best Star Wars movie right behind Episode VI. But watching Episode III last night, I really enjoyed it. So much so that I am prepared to call it the best Star Wars movie.
Episode III is really the completion of Anakin’s journey to the dark side. One of the reasons that I really love Episode III is because of Palpatine. He really manipulates Anakin so well in this film. When Anakin and Obi-Wan go to rescue Palpatine from Count Dooku, he tells Anakin to kill Dooku. He is already trying to get Anakin to give into his hate and anger. Later, Palpatine asks the Jedi Council to let Anakin be his representative there. Anakin is furious that even though he is granted access to the council, he is still not granted the rank of master. Palpatine likely knew this would be true and uses it to make Anakin feel more and more distrustful of the Jedi. He is slowly but surely poisoning Anakin against the Jedi.
While this is happening, Anakin is plagued by visions that Padmé will die in childbirth unless he can find some way to save her. Palpatine excellently plays upon Anakin’s fears and manipulates him into thinking that only the dark side can save Padmé. He slowly hints to Anakin that he knows about the powers of the Sith until Anakin finally realizes that Palpatine is the Sith Lord that the Jedi are looking for. Anakin does actually report Palpatine to Mace Windu who then goes to arrest Palpatine. Anakin cannot stay away, however, and goes to Palpatine. When Windu is confronting Palpatine and about to kill him, he appeals once again to Anakin that only he can help Anakin save Padmé (and also pretends to be weak). Anakin, having been so manipulated, chops off Windu’s hands, allowing Palpatine to kill Windu. He then pledges himself to Palpatine’s service.
While some have argued that Anakin suddenly killing younglings and agreeing to serve the emperor is farfetched, I disagree. Palpatine had long been manipulating Anakin to distrust the Jedi. He had been poisoning Anakin’s mind. So, Anakin became fully convinced that the Jedi were evil (he says as much to Obi-Wan during their duel). Moreover, he felt he had to do Palpatine’s bidding if he wanted to save Padmé. I also love how Palpatine had been gaining control over the clones, so that he could use them to assassinate the Jedi. He was also quick to kill the Trade Federation members because he felt they were useless now that he had full control over the Republic. In essence, Palpatine manipulated everything (and everyone) to ensure his complete control over the galaxy.
Shortly before the fight between Anakin and Obi-Wan, Anakin force chokes Padmé because he is convinced that she has turned against him. In brilliant irony, Anakin’s dark side powers actually killed Padmé instead of saving her. His embrace of the dark side meant that he lost her forever (and lost his body as well). Thus, Anakin’s sad tale is complete with his transformation into Darth Vader and the destruction of everything that he loved. This is fundamentally why this movie is the best of the Star Wars movies. It represented the brutal culmination of Anakin’s journey to become Darth Vader, which was skillfully brought about through Palpatine’s politicking.
As a further aside, one of the other things that I like about Episode III is General Grievous. I think he is a good villain who was underused in this movie. I’ve always thought the four lightsabers looked really cool. For that reason, Grievous has always been one of my favorite Star Wars villains. There is also the cool scene when Obi-Wan drops down and says, “Hello there” and Grievous responds, “General Kenobi” in his distinctive voice.
To sum up, I liked Episode III the best because of Palpatine. While this trilogy was Anakin’s, Palpatine came into his own in this trilogy when we saw how he became the emperor. His manipulation of Anakin was well-written and skillful. I liked how we saw a villain who did not only use brute force but was also skilled at manipulating everything behind the scenes. Anakin’s transformation was also amazing to watch (even if it was very sad). For these reasons, I liked it better than Episode V. It’s also too bad that the first two prequel films are the two worst Star Wars films because Revenge of the Sith really was a great movie.