The Star Wars movie saga ranked from Best to Worst

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.

9. Solo
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.

History repeating itself? Star Wars The Force Awakens reviewed

Warning: This review contains spoilers.

Breathe a sigh of relief; The Force Awakens is not going to embarrass you at parties. The latest instalment is fun, comfortable, even exciting in places. It is eager to be liked, commits no major faux pas, but at the same time it never inspired me or made me feel anything more than entertained. At least on this first viewing. Odd to admit, but the first and second trailers on Youtube affected me more deeply than the ultimate movie I saw on the big screen.

Perhaps it is not so surprising however. When I went to see Star Wars back 1978 with my dad and sister Gail, I came out a little disappointed. After all the hype and reading the novelisation twice before I had even been to the cinema, Star Wars was good, just not overwhelming. George Lucas’s creation has been one of the big influences on my youthful imagination, probably second only to Doctor Who. For years, I saw other films through the prism of a galaxy far far away. I can see now it was the whole universe that excited me. For me, Star Wars was always more than just the movies, but the action figures I created more stories with, the novels and comics, even the not-quite-Star Wars products that came in its wake like Battlestar Galactica or Starlord comic.

I am not surprised that JJ Abrams initially turned down to the film. The Force Awakens has to satisfy middle-aged fans who want a film that will stroke their nostalgia, whilst containing enough sophistication in the story and characters that they do not feel embarrassed to be watching an essentially childlike SF fantasy. Episode VII also needs to find and thrill young audiences for whom both trilogies are something from their parent’s/siblings’ distant past. Oh yes and launch a new Disney empire of spin-off movies, TV series and a tsunami of merchandise. Amazingly I think he has managed to deliver that film. The only drawback is that he has had to play it very cautiously indeed.

The biggest surprise is how deliberately Episode VII resembles Episode IV in story moments. A cute droid with vital plans for a vast superweapon. A desert planet. A bar filled bizarre aliens. Said superweapon having one vital weak spot requiring a X-wing raid, whilst another commando group sneaks about the gleaming corridors. Not to mention shout outs to the ice world of Hoth, the green forests of the rebel base on Yarvin’s moon and a supreme leader who favour dark robes and appearing as a giant hologram. At times it feels alarmingly more like a reboot rather than a continuation, that the team are relying a bit too heavily on the imagery of the older films to reach our emotions.

There is progress elsewhere though. More women taking part and a wider ethnicity is welcome, as is Kylo Ren, a villain who is not quite as straightforward as usual. His struggle for his identity and unwillingness to believe in or accept forgiveness for his crimes is a believable motivation, one that also ties in with the series’ mythic storytelling. In fact throughout the movie, casting younger faces in the bad guy roles pays off well, making the First Order feel more like an extremist movement of a radicalised generation.

Interesting that the only famous faces in the movie belong to the original generation of Star Wars. This franchise does not need celebrities or A-list stars and it is the better for casting relative unknowns in all the major roles. Daniel Craig’s cameo appearance as a Stormtrooper is all the better and funnier for being revealed only in the end credits crawl. JJ Abrams has come up trumps in choosing Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Issac as his new trio of heroes. Three charismatic young actors who just like Hamill et al can the comic strip bubble dialogue off the paper and make it feel real and human. As for the veterans, they all do more than simply phone it in, as they could easily have. Ford especially is such a good actor he actually makes Solo look like he is having a good time. Plus it is sweet to think of Peter Mayhew back in the furry suit as Chewbacca, at least for the growling scenes.

Great to see the dirty, rusty lived-in universe of the original trilogy back and the green screen work kept under control. BB-8 is a wonderful robot design that lends itself to an impressive amount of expression. For me there is still not been a spaceflight sequence to match the asteroid belt battle in Empire Strikes Back, achieved with models and opticals, but the fight through the wreckage of a star destroyer is beautifully choreographed. The battle with the hideous tentacled Takodana monsters are probably the best surprise in the film, a frenetic corridor chase which takes the franchise into Alien territory for a few moments.

Generally, the plot held few surprises for anyone who has seen many Star Wars-inspired films. I was generally correct in guessing what came next, although the reveals of the Millennium Falcon and that Kylo was Han and Leia’s son were genuine shocks, which I enjoyed.

Ultimately, JJ Abrams and writers Michael Arndt and Lawrence Kasdan understood that Star Wars always owed more to Greek legend and the Brothers Grimm than to science fiction. The Force Awakens is at its best when it puts tragic destiny at its core, of heroes making bad choices with terrible outcomes. It also adds more detail and richness to the Star Wars world’s future, without alienating newcomers and boring them with continuity. Maybe it does not take too many risks itself, but it has built a foundation for future instalments to be bolder.

 

 

  1. Note: I wish cinemas would sign some kind of agreement to limit adverts and trailers to fifteen minutes. Is it necessary to advertise so many summer blockbusters, which will not be with us for six months or more? Half an hour of cinematic adverts and epic superhero trailers made me feel exhausted before the two hour plus movie had even begun.