Ranking the ‘Stars Wars Saga’

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Photo By Oliver Barnfield and Suzy Rice

There have been nine ‘Star Wars’ films in the so-called “Skywalker Saga”. But which ones are the best? Photo courtesy of Suzy Rice. Graphic courtesy of Oliver Barnfield.

By Oliver Barnfield, Zach Maynes, and Reagan Babbitt

On Friday, Dec. 18th, we will be reaching the five-year anniversary of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. If you were our age at the time, it was the biggest movie ever. Although none of us were alive when the original trilogy was released, they still left a huge impression and got viewers hyped for the new films. We even enjoyed the maligned prequel trilogy, but as people change, so do tastes. So, from a 2020 perspective, let’s rank the nine movies of the “Skywalker Saga”. 

 

9.The Phantom Menace (1999)

-Oliver Barnfield-

The Phantom Menace is the one Star Wars movie I remember disliking as a kid. Maybe dislike is too strong of a word, but when compared to the other five that I watched, it seemed boring. I didn’t understand the endless talk about trade deals and still don’t. Even the Darth Maul fight, which everyone seems to point to as the best part, didn’t impress me. The saga of George Lucas is a sad and strange one, and anyone who was surprised that it was so bad should have seen it coming, because first and foremost, George Lucas was not a writer. A lot of the strengths of the original trilogy were put in place by Lawrence Kasdan, Leigh Brackett, and the talented post-production staff, not by Lucas. Looking back at his early drafts for the original films, you can see a lot of weighty concepts and weird ideas without much character development, like something out of his first film, THX 1138. Only when outside help came along was he able to truly elevate these interesting ideas into something transcendent. Now without anyone to mold his ideas into a workable script with likable characters, Lucas was left to his own devices, resulting in this boring and cold film. Lucas had great strength for action, and admittedly some of the battles here do hit the mark, but if you look back at his other work, even American Graffiti, you’ll see that he excelled when the action was tactile and real. Millions of dollars of CGI tech may have looked great in 1999, but now it looks fake and cheap, and without fun or interesting characters to latch on to, The Phantom Menace is a dry and unremarkable film. 

 

8.Attack of the Clones (2002)

-Reagan Babbitt-

Attack of the Clones was my favorite Star Wars movie—at least when I was a kid, and the only real reason for that was the toys. Looking back on it now, it is not a fun film to revisit. I guess the stand-out parts of the film are in the last third, meaning, it’s the only time where I’m not asleep. This movie, and even Revenge of the Sith, made the criminal error of splitting up Anakin and Obi-Wan for most of the runtime. How can I be expected to be heartbroken by their final fight at the end of the prequel trilogy if I barely got to see them interact? Oh! Forgive me! I was told of their fun adventures at the beginning of the movie, and that makes up for it of course. What we are treated to are abhorrent, horrendously, and unnecessarily long love scenes between Anakin and Padmé, which to be fair are the only identity this film seems to have online. Now, I believe that this era of Star Wars (the Clone Wars era) is the most interesting part of the series. While the Star Wars: The Clone Wars TV series is great, and honestly some of my favorite Star Wars content, it does not redeem this film. What this movie sets up for the series is fantastic, but the execution is awful. On the bright side, the score of this film is actually pretty good, but that, and the fact that it lays the foundation for the Clone Wars, is all that it has going for it.  

-Oliver Barnfield-

As a kid I also really liked this one, and I can kind of see why. I really enjoyed the action and what can I say, I liked Natalie Portman. But looking back, it’s pretty dire, especially the infamous romance scenes. Ewan MacGregor and Portman are both solid actors who have done great work since, so it’s really a shame that they had to be saddled with this mess of a movie. Speaking of wasted actors, Christopher Lee is in this, and so is Samuel L. Jackson. Both are great actors who can really ham it up, as seen in Dracula and Pulp Fiction, but neither are used well. This one is marginally better than it’s predecessor but that’s not saying much. 

 

7.The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

-Reagan Babbitt-

The Rise of Skywalker is a less-than-competent film, a horrible Star Wars story, and an atrocious send off to the saga. This movie takes up the task of ending one of the most iconic and influential movie series ever, appeasing those who were upset with the previous film, The Last Jedi, and wrapping up the sequel trilogy. It succeeds with none of that. By “appeasing those who were upset”, it effectively ruined what people actually liked about the sequels, and even then, it didn’t succeed in cooling down tempered fans. Thrusting fan-favorite character Emperor Palpatine back into the saga and making Rey his granddaughter is confusing, and feels like fanfiction. Removing characters like Rose rather than making them better characters is the most backward means of satisfying fans. What about those who fell in love with her character? That’s not how you make a movie. You don’t just give up. Wrapping up the sequel trilogy? Please. If by wrapping up the sequel trilogy you mean forcing a relationship between two of the most compelling characters in this trilogy (Rey and Kylo Ren) like a child and his Star Wars toys, then yes, this film may work for you. I thought the relationship and dynamics between Rey and Kylo Ren were very interesting in The Last Jedi, but that kiss at the end of Rise of Skywalker was completely unearned, and if that’s all you have to wrap up the sequel trilogy, that’s a problem. This film may have tried to unite the classic and modern characters for one last time, but what it really did was unite prequel, original, and even sequel trilogy fans to sit and laugh at the failure this film is. 

 

6. Revenge of the Sith (2005)

-Zach Maynes-

Undoubtedly the pièce de résistance of the prequel trilogy, Revenge of the Sith broke all expectations, completely blowing its lackluster predecessors out of the water. Memeified moments like the infamous “Noooooooo!”, aside, the movie is a true delight to watch, and it has a much faster, more action-packed pace compared to its sluggish contemporaries. The incredibly iconic showdown above the lava pools of Mustafar between Anakin and Obi-Wan is one of my favorite movie scenes of all time. The lightsaber fights with memorable characters like Dooku and General Grievous are also choreographed very well, and many of these scenes showcase the reason behind this movie’s legacy; that Revenge of the Sith is the best of the best from the prequel trilogy. It is a masterpiece even in today’s world, and the conclusion the trilogy frankly didn’t deserve. 

-Oliver Barnfield-

Zach may like this movie but I’m really not a fan. It’s ok, by far the best of the prequel trilogy, but I don’t really think it’s particularly fun or even entertaining. 

 

5.The Last Jedi (2017)

-Zach Maynes-

This movie defies words in how divisive it is amongst fans, and its release not only caused massive waves of review bombing and angry videos online, but even large harassment campaigns that caused some actors to quit social media. Because of this reaction, The Rise of Skywalker was severely toned down, which is unfortunate, because it had extreme potential. 

Why is The Last Jedi so divisive? Not including complaints from fans about diversity and certain actors, the movie had a lot of scenes that didn’t give some fans what they wanted, especially with the return of Luke, and the death of a major villain seemingly out of nowhere. Whether the amateur movie critics on Youtube are right about these scenes being subversions of expectations or not, it is certainly true that they showed fans that the sequel trilogy was going to go in a different direction from the original, which many were definitely not happy about. 

However, controversy aside, the movie is still pretty decent, and even has some really good moments. The side plot on Cantobyte, while somewhat unnecessary, was pivotal in deepening our understanding of Finn and the new character Rose, who would then go on to be criminally underutilized in the next film after the controversy started by fans. The now middle-aged Luke and an eager-to-learn Rey have some really great scenes together, and while many may scoff at the ending, I felt that it was a really great way to tie off some characters’ stories. Overall, this movie, while overall nothing too special, has some great charm. Unfortunately the director, Rian Johnson, may now be under constant threat of being attacked by an army of 40-year-old fanboys. 

-Oliver Barnfield-

I liked this movie too. It tried its best and while I wouldn’t call it amazing, it got the job done as a satisfying Star Wars movie. 

 

4.Return of the Jedi (1983)

-Zach Maynes-

Unfortunately, the stellar original trilogy weakens considerably towards the end, with some slower scenes and Han Solo being given less material. However, don’t let that fool you, because compared to the rest of the movies behind it, it’s still quite a leap forward, marketable Ewoks aside. Particularly memorable scenes include the fight inside of the second Death Star, as well as the fight scenes on Endor, and not to mention, the plot is action-packed. It’s an all-around enjoyable movie and a fitting end to the trilogy that started it  all. 

 

3.The Force Awakens (2015)

-Reagan Babbitt-

What a movie. For the first and only time in the sequel trilogy, I don’t have to worry about the controversy caused by The Last Jedi, or the general incompetency of Rise of Skywalker. I can just sit back and enjoy the ride just like I did in fifth grade. This film is a great new story in the Star Wars universe. Similar to Attack of the Clones, of all things, it’s a great setup for a new story, and I even think that The Last Jedi is a great follow-up. This movie is a great adventure that recaptures some of the magic of the original trilogy. The score is powerful and unique, as this is a new story. I have a soft spot for this movie, but I also think it’s a great entry in the saga and an excellent start to the sequel trilogy. 

 

2. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

-Oliver Barnfield-

A lot of people say Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars movie, and I can totally see why. But, I do think it’s not quite up to snuff with number one on this list. It lacks some of the humor of the first film, but it does introduce us to some great characters. As a kid, my favorite character was Yoda, and I also loved Lando. The scenes in Cloud City are fantastic and remind me of something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Thankfully, when George Lucas redid the special effects for the special editions, this movie remained mostly untouched and was even improved on during certain scenes. Who could forget the iconic “I am your father” scene, arguably the most famous twist in movie history. 

-Reagan Babbitt-

I like Empire Strikes Back a lot, and so does most of the Star Wars fanbase. While I do like the original Star Wars more, I cannot deny that Empire is easily the best one, and is a perfect sequel. 

 

1. Star Wars (1977)

-Oliver Barnfield-

This one is also called A New Hope, but upon its original release, it was simply titled Star Wars. To be honest, the title of best was neck and neck between this and Empire, but I think the best has to go to the original. I can only imagine what it would have been like to see this in the theater when it came out, back when no one had a clue what the movie was even about. I think this may have been the first movie I ever enjoyed, or at least the first one I remember. I was absolutely in love with these movies, and this one has the most memorable moments for me. 

The genius of the movie is that it seems timeless, but not generic. The other big blockbuster of the late ‘70s was Superman, and while I also love that movie, it is pretty dated. Star Wars, however, is not. It has elements reminiscent of ‘70s films mostly because of its special effects, but also dialogue reminiscent of screwball comedies like Bringing Up Baby and a story taken from Japanese Samurai movies. Lucas was a magpie, taking ideas and elements from various places, but synthesizing them in a way that added just enough originality to make it work. 

I would also like to briefly discuss my favorite scene in the entire franchise. I don’t have a huge attachment to this franchise, nor do I feel very emotional when watching these movies, but the binary sunset scene is the big exception. There is something so incredibly simple but also moving about Luke staring towards the two suns in the distance while John Williams’ score plays. Despite all of his faults as a writer, Lucas was a great visual filmmaker, and this scene proves it. I’ve also seen American Graffiti, his second film and his only excursion from the sci-fi genre as a director, and after watching it, I came to realize that Lucas had a strength for accurately portraying teenage loneliness and longing. In the binary sunset scene, Luke desperately wants to be something greater, but is stifled, and we learn all of that through the visuals and score.

I would love to go back to the ‘70s and watch this film with no preconceptions and no stigma attached to it. Star Wars has gotten so controversial that it’s easy to forget that these movies are supposed to be fun. They’re just movies, and good ones at that. Watching Star Wars today can be hard because it’s so ingrained into the collective conscience, but if you forget about everything that came after, the controversy, the prequels, and the whining fanboys, you can catch a glimpse of a true movie classic; a fun and sometimes beautiful adventure that has yet to be equalled. 

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