No movie franchise has ever captured the imaginations of cinephiles across the world quite like Star Wars. Millions of us have been won over by George Lucas’s movies and with Disney set to release many more films in the franchise, it’ll be inspiring new generations of fans for years to come.
However, while some of the Star Wars films are among the greatest sci-fi movies ever made, it’s fair to say that the movies have varied dramatically in quality over the years.
To celebrate May 4th – the day universally accepted to be Star Wars day – we rank the Star Wars films from worst to best. Be warned — spoilers, there are.
11. Attack of the Clones (2002)
It seemed like George Lucas was actively trying to destroy his own legacy with 2002’s Attack of the Clones. The deeply unwelcome appearance of Jar Jar Binks and Anakin’s hilariously terrible ‘sand’ monologue were just two factors that helped make the film a franchise nadir, but the movie was intrinsically flawed from the outset.
The bulk of the action centres around a civil war fought between two droid armies. The action is mind-numbingly dull and the lack of human involvement makes any emotional investment almost impossible; it’s just hunks of metal relentlessly smashing into each other again and again. The climactic lightsaber duel between Yoda and Count Dooku was underwhelming too and consisted largely of a poorly rendered green alien doing a series of unnecessary backflips. Even Samuel L Jackson’s pink lightsaber isn’t enough to save this mess of a movie — these are definitely not the droids you’re looking for.
10. The Phantom Menace (1999)
Anticipation for the Phantom Menace couldn’t have been higher with Star Wars fans enduring a 16-year wait since Return of the Jedi. However, instead of a rip-roaring return to the franchise, fans got an incredibly tedious movie about the Galactic federation tax regulation laws. The movie’s visual flair couldn’t disguise the dull premise or the stilted dialogue and the film was largely panned by critics at the time.
Thankfully, Episode I was partly saved by the epic Darth Maul lightsaber battle and the pod racing scenes which remain some of the most thrilling sequences of the whole franchise. The movie also gets bonus points for inspiring the brilliant Star Wars Episode I: Racer game on the N64, just helping it score above Attack of the Clones.
9. The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
The Rise of Skywalker was like playing Star Wars bingo at times – ticking off familiar faces and callbacks to the original trilogy, which often came at the cost of compelling, original storytelling.
There were gripes aplenty. The reveal about Rey’s heritage felt muddled, Poe Dameron’s new backstory was unconvincing and unnecessary and the film pretty much ignored all of the events of the Last Jedi. On top of all that, the return of Emperor Palpatine felt implausible and the film suffered from some pretty basic logic flaws (we’re still not sure how Palpatine’s hidden fleet of Death Star Destroyers got to Exegol in the first place), which made for a confused experience. We did however see more of the central relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren, which is the single best thing about the latest trilogy, as well as C-3PO’s finest hour and Princess Leia training Rey.
The finale was never going to please everyone, and bringing together all the collective strands of the Star Wars universe in one bold movie was always going to be difficult.
8. The Revenge of the Sith (2005)
It’s not saying much but Revenge of the Sith is by far the best of the prequel movies. It’s certainly not without its faults — Natalie Portman is completely wasted as Padmé, the ‘Emperor Palpatine turns out to be evil’ twist can be seen a mile off and Anakin’s turn to the dark side would have been far more compelling in the hands of a more capable actor. However, X-Wing skirmishes, lightsaber battles with General Grievous and Wookie action at the Battle of Kashyyyk help made this the relative high point of the prequel trilogy.
7. Rogue One (2016)
Disney did a sensible thing with its tricky second movie. With a canonical divergence, this film had almost no characters to ruin (we’ll get back to that) and served to prove the richly fertile narrative universe that had been created – this was a film for people who read Wookiepedia.
The pluckiest of bunches lead by Felicity Jones bring the fun, while the superb Mads Mikkelsen weaves emotional gravity through the story. Peter Cushing’s reemergence wasn’t the worst CGI we’ve ever seen, but it was all pretty unnecessary and will inevitably wear with time. The film does, however, have a damn good ending – everybody died, and then Darth Vader killed some more people. No happy clappy Ewok parties here.
6. Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
Hopes were as low as a rancor pit for this disrupted production, but Solo is as Solo does: an improbable, plucky and ultimately joyous escape against the odds. The film may not be breaking any ground in the galaxy but it didn’t need to. This is a very different Star Wars story from moody Rogue One; what Ron Howard delivers is a riotously fun caper with a well-measured dose of nostalgic indulgence. Alden Ehrenreich channels Ford well enough, while Donald Glover fizzes with charisma as the beguiling and sartorially astute Lando Calrissian. The superb Phoebe Waller-Bridge sets a new standard for meddling droids with L3-37’s rallying cries for mechanical emancipation (“We are sentient!”). Buoyant and exuberant.
5. The Last Jedi (2017)
Once everyone had stopped being overjoyed at the fact that Force Awakens wasn’t terrible, things got a little harder for Luke’s grand return. What Rian Johnson did next was both the brave and correct thing — he made an entirely different type of movie. Where Force Awakens drew on the past, The Last Jedi moulded Star Wars’ future. It’s unravelling of the force through the lens of spirituality and mysticism was a distinctly contemporary and absorbing move.
Critics will point out that the story meandered significantly — the less said about the casino saga the better. In better news, the film was utterly stolen by the tremendous chemistry between Kylo Ren and Rey, the detonation of which created one of the best fight scenes in the entire franchise.
4. The Return of the Jedi (1983)
Flying motorbikes on the Forest Moon of Endor (great name) and the epic final duel between Luke and Vader, accompanied by John Williams' soaring score, go a long way towards boosting The Return of the Jedi’s ranking. However, it’s preceded by two really great films, so it's difficult not to be a little hard on it. Luke gets rather serious for our liking and Leia’s “slave outfit” did not need to happen. Not everyone loves the Ewoks either, but our soft side is not having that kind of negativity. Take note, though: The Return of the Jedi only gets this far up in the list if you are watching the non-remastered version. Seriously, who told George Lucas computers were a thing?
3. The Force Awakens (2015)
There was a point around half an hour into the Force Awakens where you almost heard fans breathing a collective sigh of relief — finally, they’d been given a Star Wars movie that could match up to the Seventies and Eighties originals. Here director J.J. Abrams delivered a crowd pleasing movie that was reverential to the franchise but never allowed itself to become mawkish or overly nostalgic for the original movies. It effectively introduced a new generation of compelling characters, including the most conflicted and multi-faceted villain of the franchise in Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, and set up Disney’s Star Wars venture pretty perfectly.
2. A New Hope (1977)
The unbridled, uncomplicated joy imparted from A New Hope to viewers is a force in its own right. Sure, there might be technically “better” films out there (just one in this list) but do they have a blue elephant playing a catchy tune in an intergalactic dive bar? No. Do they have hairstyles inspired by European pastry dishes? Absolutely not. This was the film that started it all, that carved out the special place in many a film-goer's heart for the franchise. A New Hope was also brought to female sci-fi fans, thanks to Princess Leia mixing a banging outfit with blaster prowess and scintillating put-downs. She did a better job of rescuing herself than the boys did.
1. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
You guessed it… Empire Strikes Back is widely recognised as the best Star Wars movie of all time for a reason. A New Hope might have introduced fans to the cinematic world of Star Wars but Episode VI built on that universe and took the viewer far, far further. The sequel transported us from the frozen landscapes of Hoth to the swamp planet of Dagobah, introduced legendary characters like Lando Calrissian and Yoda and featured the most iconic moments in the series — from Darth Vader’s ‘father’ reveal to the unforgettable AT-AT Walker battle and Han Solo’s burgeoning romance with Princess Leia.
It’s a darker, more urgent piece of filmmaking than A New Hope that still managed to retain as much wonder and joy as the first movie. As well as featuring great performances from the leading players, the Empire Strikes Back’s incredible design showcases George Lucas’s talents for cinematic world-building at its absolute best too. It’s a stone-cold classic and arguably the greatest sci-fi movie ever made.