I’ve just finished a Star Wars movie marathon, courtesy of Disney+ It’s been the first time I’ve done that since the Disney movies started appearing and that seems as good as reason as any to rate the movies from 1 to 12. Note I am not including the television series or the Ewok movies. (Assume they’d be between 11 and 12.)
1. The Empire Strikes Back
Remains Star Wars’ finest two hours. Armed with new box of techniques learnt from the first film, the team produce a film that dares to take the story into disturbing and surprising directions, whilst keeping its sense of heroism and fun. The Imperial Walkers are still intimidating, the asteroid chase remains a SFX gem to rank alongside Ray Harryhausen’s skeleton sword fight, and Darth Vader’s declaration is one the best moments in Hollywood movies.
2. Star Wars
Even though its roots in Errol Flynn, Flash Gordon, The Searchers and WWII movies are clearly on show, this film still feels fresh and exciting. It was amazing to see the science fiction pulp world of books and magazines come alive on the screen back in 1978, as much as seeing dinosaurs walk by in 1993. George Lucas cleverly aids the realism with his occasional newsreel style framing and giving everything a lived-in look. And underneath all this spectacle, there’s humanity, humour and the pleasure of know much of it was made in Britain with familiar British TV and film faces turning up all over the place.
3. Rogue One
I was hard pushed whether this or the film below should come next. Rogue One edges it for it completeness, the sense of satisfaction in seeing a film so perfectly executed, including its reshoots. Maybe it stands on Star Wars’ shoulders, but this movie has stood up to repeated viewings.
4. The Last Jedi
Suddenly the Star Wars universe feels exciting again, in the film that bravely deconstructs many tropes of the series, yet still emerges as hopeful and uplifting. The opening bombing sequence is masterly and Rey and Ben’s battle in the throne room just might be my favourite light sabre sequence. Only loses points for recreating the Hoth battle imagery at the end, instead of finding a fresh alternative.
5. Return of the Jedi
For years a very satisfying conclusion to the saga. The first act is filled with pleasures and makes the characters’ adventures feel dangerous and something really at stake. Great creature effects too. The gigantic space battle cutting in parallel with the Jedi showdown is marvellously paced. The central core of characters are all in charismatic form, and it’s very quotable too.
6. The Force Awakens
Very enjoyable revival, even if it ultimately plays it too safe with so many call-backs to the original trilogy. But the new quartet of young heroes and anti-heroes are excellently cast and work hard to make their characters engaging. The humour generally works and BB-8 is an ingenious creation.
7. Revenge of the Sith
We entering the more problematic half of the list, where the films are still diverting but the flaws are progressively hard to ignore. This film handles the fall of the Jedi and the failure of the republic pretty well. The battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin is spectacular stuff, though suffers from CGI overkill. In fact as with all the prequel films, the fussy CGI often works against the atmosphere and the choreography. Aside from Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine, once people open their mouths the hideous wooden dialogue ruins all the good work elsewhere. That goes double whenever it’s supposed to humorous.
8. The Clone Wars
As a piece of escapist family friendly action adventure, this works jolly well. The art design is ingenious. Ahsoka turns out to one of the series most engaging young characters.
Star Wars goes fully space western and it’s a fun ride, but the largely predictable box-ticking plot shows the weakness of the idea with these kind of prologue films. Alden Ehrenreich does a decent job with the unenviable task of filling Harrison Ford’s boots, but the real star of the film is Phoebe Waller-Bridge as L3, a droid straight out of Douglas Adams’ universe.
10. Rise of Skywalker
The saga sadly ends with this Frankenstein’s monster of a film, patched together by a studio over-reacting to criticism and fearful of losing money. Sadly, most of the interesting ideas brought in by The Last Jedi are thrown out, along with a lot of story logic. It’s a hollow film with moments brightness such as the colourful festival on Pasaana, but mostly its one long chase after another, spliced with lazy borrowing from Return of the Jedi.
11. The Phantom Menace
Undoubtedly impressive alien worlds, the final acrobatic light sabre battle enjoyable, and Jar Jar Binks is a technical innovation. However, the plot is moribund, most of the cast looks uncomfortable, the racial stereotyping is problematic to say to least, and the dialogue is embarrassingly flat and corny.
12. Attack of the Clones
All the problems of the previous film, except the CGI looks extra cartoonish and the romance scenes are toe-curlingly bad. Every line Anakin utters to Padme seems deeply creepy, and Hayden Christensen brings nothing except a shaggy haircut. It’s a clunky, juvenile film even by the series’ standards. Only Temuera Morrison emerges with any credit for the presence he brings to his short appearance as Jango Fett.