Every Star Wars film ranked from worst to best

EW Staff
·20 min read
Every Star Wars film ranked from worst to best

It's been a long time since EW last ranked the films of the Star Wars universe, and now that there has been enough time even a Sarlacc could digest the sequels and anthologies ahead of the next film, Rogue Squadron, we'd be bad fans if we let another May the Fourth pass without revisiting the beloved franchise. The results? Time has been kind to the prequels, the sequels continue to divide, and at least one project outside of main theatrical releases has been elevated. (No, it's not Ewoks: The Battle for Endor. No one is that irony-poisoned.) The biggest debates were not over what were the best or worst films of the saga, they were over the meaty middle and what elements could be forgiven if they served the better parts of the overall story. And what is a Star Wars movie? For this list, it's not all canon. It's what's best, no matter the format or how it was released.

Unranked: Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)/Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure (1984)/Ewoks: The Battle for Endor (1985)

Lucasfilm; Eva Sereny/Lucasfilm/Kobal/Shutterstock

Sometimes fandom can form a certain type of gatekeeping that insists one must be a completist in order to be a true fan, a real OG of the genre. No. It’s okay not to bother with made-for-TV movies Star Wars Holiday Special, Ewok Adventure, and Ewoks: The Battle for Endor. They also cannot fairly be compared to the big-budget, big-screen endeavors of their contemporaries A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi.The craftwork just does not compare due to their pared-down budgets, effects cheats, and cut-to-commercial television pacing. If you’re a Boba Fett completist, you can now catch just the animated segment from Holiday Special as a standalone on Disney+ under the title Story of the Faithful Wookiee. No need to see Chewy’s child Lumpy be scared of Stormtroopers. No need to worry if little blond moppet Cindel Towani (Aubree Miller) will make it off Endor. (Although nothing but respect to Warwick Davis, who, as always, gives his all as Wicket in both Ewok films.) We honor them for existing, but we do not rank them,

The good: Warwick Davis, Boba Fett, and Bea Arthur wondering about her life decisions.

The bad: In a franchise where Luke and Anakin's whining is legendary, shipwrecked teen Mace Towani's (Eric Walker) whinging is somehow worse. —Sarah Sprague

13. Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Lucasfilm Ltd.

It was an impossible task to end the Skywalker saga without Carrie Fisher's Leia but this misbegotten mess can't be laid at the void her death created. What Rise of Skywalker made clear is the creative team never really knew what the sequel trilogy was about, and while Last Jedi made some bold feints in a new direction, Lucasfilm lost their nerve in the end. Nothing was more gutless than turning Rey (Daisy Ridley), a galactic nobody with great Force power into Emperor Palpatine's (Ian McDiarmid) granddaughter. If having to contemplate the image of Palpatine getting down wasn't bad enough, the film's migraine-inducing plot foils the work of the entire cast, including the previously undefeated McDiarmid. The film treats Rey, Finn (John Boyega), and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) like they had the same camaraderie as Han, Luke, and Leia without putting in the work while pointedly keeping Kelly Marie Tran's Rose Tico out of the fun (a truly unforgivable decision). Adam Driver, meanwhile, does all he can to make Kylo's redemption work but he's throttled by the reappearance of Kylo's stupid face-blocking helmet. The newly reformed Ben Solo gets one quick kiss before he dies and is quickly forgotten for the rest of the film, not even getting a Force ghost for his trouble. The last aggravating kick is not Rey learning to be proud of herself on her own mettle but declaring herself a Skywalker and being stuck alone on another arid planet that all the biological Skywalkers hated. And she buries Anakin's lightsaber in sand of all things. Sand!

The good: Lando! Wedge! Anthony Daniels getting an actual role again!

The bad: The return of Kylo's stupid helmet. The dead speak! The Chewie death fake-out, C-3PO recovering his memory, Rey Palpatine, the dagger, the wayfinder… the list goes on and on. —Lauren Morgan

12. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

Lucasfilm Ltd.

Hating Phantom Menace has been an internet pastime for a generation now. Which means there’s a conventional revisionist pose, popular among twentysomethings and post-ironists: No, oldsters, you’re wrong, Episode 1 is a good (if flawed) launchpad for the second trilogy! In fairness, the whole prequel era has gotten much better with age, but George Lucas’ return to the director’s chair remains a horrid squash of failed tones. Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor are both wasted in bland monk-hero parts, while Natalie Portman ended her fireball teen years modeling regal drapery and one blank expression. Between the Trade Federation and the ever-questionable Jar-Jar Binks (Ahmed Best), this remains the most purely offensive Star Wars, reheating ‘50s pulp stereotypes for a cluelessly racist new millennium. Pod racing is not cool, and pod racing will never be cool.

The good: John Williams’ “Duel of the Fates” score is one of the best pieces of film music ever, with a culture-clashing grandeur that vividly conjures in audio form what the movie is desperately going for visually. Also, Darth Maul (Ray Park) is sort of fun, though that’s mainly because of his lightsaber.

The bad: Structuring a whole movie around an endless detour to Tatooine is almost as bad as structuring a whole movie around a pointless detour of Coruscant senatorial politics. All digital effects age poorly, but Phantom Menace’s biggest setpieces are especially DOA today: Just compare the plastic-y new Jabba to Return of the Jedi’s magnificently corpulent puppet. Poor Jake Lloyd can’t make “Ani” happen; no one could make “Ani” happen. —Darren Franich

11. Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Jonathan Olley/ Lucasfilm Ltd.

It’s impossible to watch this forgettable spinoff without wondering what might have been. Han Solo’s (Alden Ehrenreich) much-hyped origin story was muddled by behind-the-scenes drama, with Ron Howard stepping in after original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller departed the project. The result is a perplexing and wholly unnecessary slog, unable to decide whether it wants to be a quippy space adventure or a self-serious rumination on galactic politics. (Didn’t we leave that dynamic behind with the prequels?) Either way, no director could’ve changed the fact that a Han Solo origin story was, at its most basic level, unnecessary: Harrison Ford’s suave smuggler was fully formed from the moment he first swaggered into the Mos Eisley cantina, a self-absorbed rake who would eventually learn that maybe he did care about something other than himself. Did we really need a film to meticulously over explain every detail about him, illustrating how he got his blaster, the Falcon, joining up with Chewie, and — ugh — his name?

The good: Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s snarky L3-37 and Donald Glover’s charming Lando Calrissian. Give us a movie about those two!

The bad: L3’s uncomfortable ending, and the misuse of some otherwise charming actors. Thandiwe Newton, Paul Bettany, and Woody Harrelson deserve better! —Devan Coggan

10. Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008)

Lucasfilm Ltd.

We acknowledge that this Clone Wars movie is, um, not great, to put it kindly, but we are grading it on a bit of a curve because it led to the excellent Clone Wars animated series. It’s very much made for kids, but even by that standard its story about the kidnapping of Jabba the Hutt’s son, Rotta, as part of a Palpatine plot is very silly. But the film does have some reasons to recommend it. The voice cast is uniformly excellent from newbie Matt Lanter’s turn as Anakin, James Arnold Taylor’s eerily good Obi-Wan Kenobi and Dee Bradley Baker’s clone Captain Rex (who makes his character debut here) to returning cast members Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, and Anthony Daniels. But its most important contribution to the Star Wars canon is the introduction of Anakin Skywalker’s padawan, Ahsoka Tano (voiced by the wonderful Ashley Eckstein), who went to become such a fan favorite that she’s soon to have a live-action series of her own starring Rosario Dawson.

The good: Ahsoka! Captain Rex!

The bad: Stinky the Hutt, the stiff animation —Lauren Morgan

9: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Lucasfilm Ltd.

For an intergalactic space opera, Star Wars can sometimes feel a little claustrophobic, so the amount of time Rogue One spends on giant honking space battles feels refreshingly like a callback to ROTJ with its ticking clock and attempts to break through a shield on multiple fronts, and few things are as fun on a screen as two Star Destroyers going full NASCAR bumping paint. It's also one of the few times audiences see some of the rebels as true fanatics, from Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) and his band violent Partisans, pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) who defected from the Imperial army, Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) as a Guardian of the Whills following the Force with Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), to rebellion lifer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) who doesn't spare much sympathy for those outside of politics. Felicity Jones' Jyn Erso does an admirable job of centering the heart of the story with hope, which plays into its bridge for the next film in the timeline — even if we know there is none for her or crew.

The good: Bad guy Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) is the perfect middle management of evil, worried his boss will take all the credit for his Death Star; K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) is one of the better droids personalities in the galaxy.

The bad: Not enough time with Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) or Saw Gerrera, nor enough time on members of the rebellion ready to give up when faced with the Death Star. —Sarah Sprague

8. Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)

Lucasfilm Ltd.

Clones has long taken criticism for its horrible romantic dialogue ("I hate sand"), but emotionally stunted messianic figures who are tortured by visions of their mother and belong to an order which forbids outside attachments tend not to make for great dates, so it's unsurprising that the basis of Padmé and Anakin's relationship boils down to their shared rebellious and impulsive natures. Outside of the central love story, though, Clones soars throughout Obi-Wan's (McGregor) dogfight with Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison) above Geonosis, and Christopher Lee's Count Dooku is slick bit of pulp villainy that doesn't forget the humor. While not all the set pieces on Geonosis work (the assembly line escape attempt resembles a bad game of Frogger, and the arena "monsters of the week" battle drags), Yoda (Frank Oz) not only showing up with the recently discovered secret clone army but commanding troops demonstrates how dire the crisis has become in the Republic, and how even those with the best intentions can make horrible decisions in times of confusion.

The good: Yoda with a lightsaber, Dooku mocking Obi-Wan, lovely day for a secret wedding, Boba Fett's (Daniel Logan) sad farewell to his father.

The bad: Finding out Anakin's mother had been freed from slavery to get married is supposed to be uplifting? Darth Vader foreshadowing in Anakin's literal shadows, misdirections on when Anakin would start his journey into being more machine than man. Sand. —Sarah Sprague

7. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)

David James/Lucasfilm Ltd.

Audiences greeted J.J. Abrams’ sequel like a full-fledged religious revival in 2015, celebrating the cast of heroic newcomers and thrilling to the return of old faces/X-wings. Time and trilogy storytelling has not been kind to Force Awakens, and the all-too-obvious striving to Make Star Wars Great Again reflects a painful lack of new ideas: Another cantina scene, another orphan on another desert planet, another Emperor-type on another throne, a weapon so obviously Death Star-ish that someone has to explain Starkiller Base is actually the Death Star on steroids. Still, Abrams deserves credit for bringing a fun new cast into the old universe. John Boyega’s Finn has a compelling stormtrooper-gone-good backstory, and Daisy Ridley’s palpable exuberance vanquishes a generation of dreary prequel protagonists. As Kylo Ren, Adam Driver makes the Dark Side look complex, mournful, and sexy. The plot fails these characters somewhere around the 90-minute mark — but surely sequels would resolve all Force Awakens’ incongruities? (They did not.)

The good: The first half-hour, which briskly introduces Finn and Rey as the new series stars, and shockingly kills off Oscar Isaac’s chipper Poe Dameron at the 25-minute mark. That shot of Rey sledding down the sand away from a crashed Star Destroyer is one of the loveliest images in the whole saga. BB-8 is cute!

The bad: Oh, never mind, Poe is still alive: fun for Isaac's charisma, worrisome for any hope of narrative consequences. It's a kick to see Harrison Ford back as Han Solo, but the character's prominence in the film pushes aside the younger characters. The whole Resistance-First Order dynamic never quite makes sense; it's obvious that Abrams and his collaborators just wanted to give the Rebellion and the Empire new names. —Darren Franich

6. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Lucasfilm Ltd.

Whatever the flaws of the prequel trilogy, George Lucas always knew what story he was telling and the last 45 minutes of Revenge of the Sith makes it clear. The fall of Anakin Skywalker comes to a devastating conclusion on the lava fields of Mustafar as the fallen Jedi force chokes his pregnant wife, Padmé, and battles his former master Obi-Wan in one of the most dazzling lightsaber battles of the saga. Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman help haul the film to the finish line through their heart-wrenching performances and though the cause of Padmé’s death is a bit cringeworthy, it’s hard not to tear up as she names Luke and Leia before she dies. The wisdom of Obi-Wan delivering Luke back to Anakin’s home planet with the same last name seems a little baffling but as Owen Lars (Joel Edgerton) and Beru Lars (Bonnie Piesse) hold the small bundle during the first of Luke’s many twin sunsets to come, the often bumpy prequel trilogy builds to a stirring end.

The good: Obi-Wan finally gets a good haircut, the Mustafar lightsaber battle, Ian McDiarmid's opera scene performance.

The bad: Darth Vader's "NO!", Anakin's hair, Padmé's death from, um, what did she die of? —Lauren Morgan

5. Star Wars: Clone Wars (2003)

Lucasfilm Ltd./Cartoon Network

Originally broadcast as short “minisodes” on Cartoon Network, this prequel-bridging animated spinoff now lives forever Disney+ as Star Wars Vintage: Clone Wars 2D Micro-Series —Volume 1 and Volume 2. It’s an ugly title for a gorgeous visual feast. Director Genndy Tartakovsky came to Lucasfilm fresh off his classic genre mash Samurai Jack, and his take on the prequels’ unique Imperial-skyloft aesthetic is a stunning collision of intense action setpieces. Clone Wars skips freely between a main character story (with Asajj Ventress as an instantly memorable baddie) with individual battles across the galaxy, many of them wordless stunner of sheer imagination Tartakovsky is a legitimate genius — don’t miss his ongoing prehistoric saga Primal — and he’s uniquely capable of balancing awe-inflected stillness with goofy beads-of-sweat excitement.

The good: Where to begin? Underwater scuba-troopers, Mace Windu vs. the earthquake tank, a wuxia-inflected lightsaber duel through a jungle, the moment when Master Yoda Force-pulls a mountain into a robot-crushing avalanche. Still, it's hard to beat the doom-doom-doom arrival of General Grievous, his footsteps echoing through a crash site while his anxious Jedi hide out in fear. It's not even the only moment in Clone Wars that feels like Predator for fifth-graders.

The bad: "But is this really a movie?" you're probably asking. "What even is a movie, really?" is our fragile response. The two volumes of Clone Wars run a little over two hours in their collected edition. There's not necessarily a single full-fledged story, per se, but the tangential structure is its own playful experience, capturing the eternal-sandbox possibilities of the Star Wars galaxy better than most of the theatrical releases. —Darren Franich

4. Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)

Lucasfilm Ltd.

Does the gang’s plan to free Han Solo from Jabba’s palace make any sense? No! Does Harrison Ford seem mildly bored? Yes! Is the second Death Star kinda lame? Yes! Does it matter? No! The conclusion of the original trilogy replays some of the same beats as A New Hope and doesn’t reach the heights of Empire Strikes Back but it’s still a good dose of comfort food all the way through. Though the Special Edition changes rankle (give us the original Ewok song, damnit!), scenes like the Endor speeder chase and the reveal that Princess Leia is Luke’s (Mark Hamill) long lost twin have made this one a fan favorite since they were Ewok-loving children. The heart of the movie belongs to the surprising redemption of Darth Vader (David Prowse and James Earl Jones) as some spark of fatherly love for Luke causes him to chuck Emperor Palpatine into the reactor core. Having returned to the light, Anakin doesn’t last long but finally gets to glimpse his brave, impulsive son with his own eyes. The happy ending might be a little corny, but seeing the Skywalker twins finally reunited as a trio of ghostly Jedi looks on, conjures a power similar scenes in TROS didn’t. Heartache awaits all our heroes, but for one brief moment, hope across the galaxy has been restored.

The good: Both Skywalker twins look hot as hell, Leia killing Jabba, Luke and Vader's final fight.

The bad: A second Death Star? The Special Edition changes. —Lauren Morgan

3. Star Wars Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017)

Lucasfilm

Star Wars’ most controversial movie is also one of its best. If Force Awakens was the sequel trilogy’s New Hope, setting the stage and introducing our new heroes and villains, then Last Jedi is its Empire Strikes Back, boldly shattering audience expectations and delivering the franchise’s biggest emotional gut-punch since 1980. Director Rian Johnson weaves a nimble tale of good and evil, as Kylo the tortured princeling and Rey the nameless scavenger struggle with the legacy of the past — bold territory for a franchise that so often seems slavishly tied to the original trilogy. (Last Jedi is also the best Mark Hamill has ever been, as Grouchy Old Man Luke grapples with his past triumphs and failures.) Not everything here works — you’re forgiven if you tune out during the Canto Bight scenes — but it’s always ambitious, thrilling, and hopeful. And isn’t that what Star Wars is all about?

The good: The throne room fight! Porgs! The gasp-inducing thrill of the Holdo maneuver! Did we mention the throne room fight!!!!

The bad: The filmmakers couldn’t have known this would be one of Carrie Fisher’s last on-screen appearances, but it’s still disappointing that they kept Leia unconscious for most of the movie. And again, the Canto Bight stuff could’ve been 50 percent shorter. —Devan Coggan

2. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)

Lucasfilm Ltd.

Even if it didn’t spark the biggest film franchise of all time, even if it didn’t reshape 20th century pop culture, even if this was as big as the galaxy ever got... George Lucas’ original Star Wars would still be a masterpiece. There’s an almost quaint simplicity to A New Hope’s structure, inspired by the samurai stories and pulpy serials Lucas loved: A farm boy meets a space wizard, who sends him on an epic quest to rescue a princess. But what set Star Wars apart from its predecessors (and the many copy-cats that followed) was its heart and sense of wonder — from the first moment Darth Vader came strutting aboard the Tantive IV, to Luke wistfully staring out at the twin sunsets of Tatooine. It’s no surprise we’ve spent the last 40-plus years revisiting that galaxy far, far away.

The good: There’s so much here to love: R2-D2! Carrie Fisher’s brave, I’ll-rescue-my-own-damn-self princess! Harrison Ford’s jawline! But let’s give a special shoutout to John Williams’ score for elevating every moment, from the glorious opening fanfare to that catchy cantina soundtrack.

The bad: More than four decades later, the lightsaber duels and effects can seem a little rough in places. And man, people in this movie sure bounce back quickly from tragedy, whether it’s Leia watching Alderaan explode and then immediately moving on, or Luke collapsing at the sight of Aunt Beru (Shelagh Fraser) and Uncle Owen’s (Phil Brown) charred bodies — and then never mentioning them ever again. —Devan Coggan

1. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Lucasfilm Ltd.

A sequel that’s also the ultimate cinematic expansion pack, the second Star Wars movie pushes the first film’s retro-junk space opera style into cosmic glory, even as it layers in transformative new notes of romantic comedy and haunted-bloodline Greek tragedy. The first act on frozen Hoth the standard for visceral science-fiction thrills, with Luke brought low by a monstrous wampa and the whole Rebellion running scared from clanking AT-ATs. The screenplay by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan splits the heroes into two journeys. It’s a brilliant schism, freeing Han (Ford) and Leia to engage in love-on-the-run banter while Luke learns swampland zen from Master Yoda. And director Irvin Kershner brought a fluidity to the visual storytelling that makes the Lucas-helmed entries look comparatively flat. Empire built its legacy on narrative darkness: the cruel Vader twist, the sight of Han in carbonite. But it belongs on top of this list because of how deftly it blends out-of-this-world fantasias with witty heart and sensitive soul.

The good: Every scene is a classic scene, every location is an eye-popping location. “The Imperial March” is an apex sound-and-fury combination of swaggering John Williams score and gorgeous pre-digital special effects. Yoda is funny, which makes his life coaching uniquely quotable. Fisher saying “I’d rather kiss a wookie” is exactly as awesome as Ford saying “I know.” As Lando Calrissian, Billy Dee Williams is so groovy that he practically restarts the movie. Also, always: Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch).

The bad: Is Luke’s screechy “Noooooooo!!!!!” accidentally funny or purposefully embarrassing? Viewers will debate this mystery until the end of time. —Darren Franich

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