Let the Wookie Win: Ranking the Star Wars Films

I’m a Star Wars nerd. I’ve watched the original trilogy more times than I can count. I own an encyclopedia of characters and multiple Expanded Universe novels. I’ve idolized Princess Leia since I was a little girl. And I freaked out when I discovered my family’s trip to Disney World was going to coincide with the annual Star Wars Weekends held at Hollywood Studios.

Star Wars has been a part of my life for almost 20 years. It was my first real foray into fandom, my first real taste of the nerdy life I so proudly live today. There’s something special about your first love, and that’s what Star Wars was for me. From pretending to be Princess Leia on the playground with my cousins as a kid to writing about its mythology as a college student, Star Wars has always had a presence in my life—and I hope it always will.

To celebrate my Star Wars Weekend adventures (and because it’s never a bad time to talk about Han Solo), I thought it would be fun to rank the six Star Wars films from worst to best.

phantom menace poster

6. Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
Yes, there are some really cool things about this movie. As an original trilogy fan, it was fascinating to watch Palpatine’s rise and to see a younger Yoda on the Jedi Council. Darth Maul and his double-sided lightsaber are the epitome of badass. And any movie featuring both Samuel L. Jackson, Liam Neeson, and Ewan McGregor as Jedi Knights can’t be a total loss. However, this movie takes those strong points and dilutes them with a story that’s incredibly boring. Who cares about the Trade Federation? (Answer: NO ONE) It also takes one of the great mysteries of the Star Wars universe (the Force) and turns it into something that can be analyzed in blood tests (and can apparently impregnate women—or at least Anakin’s mom—in the most ridiculous “WTF?!” moment in the whole series). Finally, no mention of The Phantom Menace is complete without a mention of its enduring legacy: Jar Jar Binks. Meesa wishing he was never created.

attack of the clones poster

5. Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
Episode II beats out Episode I for me simply because Jar Jar’s presence is vastly reduced. Also, the lightsaber battle between Yoda and Count Dooku at the end of the movie made everyone’s favorite miniature Jedi Master even cooler. The introduction of Jango Fett and his son Boba is another strong moment in this film. However, no amount of Fetts could make up for Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman’s wooden acting, which made the painful dialogue in the “forbidden love” parts of this movie even worse. I’ll admit to having a huge crush on Christensen when I was a freshman in high school, but even back then I found the love story between Anakin and Padmé to be lacking the intensity needed to make me believe this love was worth Anakin turning away from his Jedi vows. What should have been a tragic, epic love story felt cliché and forced, which was a huge disappointment.

revenge of the sith poster

4. Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
This film is by far the best of the prequel trilogy, but it still has more than a few faults. While its mythology is well-developed and impressively connected to the original trilogy (I especially love Obi Wan delivering Luke to his family on Tatooine), there are still some pretty major continuity errors to be found. The most glaring of these errors is Padmé’s death. In Return of the Jedi, Leia has distinct memories of her mother but states that she died when she was very young. In this film, Padmé dies in childbirth, which completely contradicts what Leia said. Padmé’s death poses other problems, too, such as the ridiculous notion of her dying simply because she lost the will to live. Her despair also brings out some of Portman’s most laughable bits of overacting (“Anakin, you’re breaking my heart!”). However, for as cheesy as some of the dialogue is (especially Darth Vader’s reaction to Padmé’s death), there are some truly impressive moments of pathos and depth to be found in this film, especially from McGregor. The final lightsaber battle between Obi Wan and Anakin is just as epic as I’d always hoped it would be, and that alone is enough to make it the best of the newest films.

ROTJ poster

3. Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)
This was my favorite Star Wars film for a long time, and I still consider it one of my favorite movies. It may not have the high drama of The Empire Strikes Back or the wide-eyed wonder of A New Hope, but it’s a lot of fun—and sometimes that’s all you’re looking for from a sci-fi film. From the opening action sequence on Tatooine to the final destruction of the second Death Star, this movie is filled with adrenaline-packed scenes, but those scenes are balanced by some strong moments of character development, especially with Luke’s journey and Anakin’s ultimate redemption. And yes, the reveal of Luke and Leia as siblings may have come out of leftfield, but the scene where Leia reveals that to Han will always be one of my favorites. In fact, the relationship between Leia and Han is one of the best things about this movie because they are connected not only as lovers but as equals throughout it. This was a great film to bring the original trilogy to a fulfilling and entertaining end.

a new hope

2. Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
A New Hope is one of those movies that I’m sad I will never get to experience the same way people did when it was first released. Sometimes I forget just how groundbreaking this film really was, but then I think about it and am floored at the creative genius of George Lucas. He was able to take a story that’s been told in everything from Greek myths to Westerns and transform it into something completely new and exciting. The special effects were incredible for their time, but what will always remain when I think about A New Hope are the characters: the wisdom of Obi Wan, the menace of Darth Vader, the easy charm of Han Solo, the strength and sass of Princess Leia, and the innocence of Luke Skywalker. The image of Luke watching the twin suns of Tatooine set, dreaming of a more adventurous life, is one of the most enduring cinematic images I’ve ever seen. A New Hope is a big film that manages to get even the smallest moments right, and that’s what makes it a classic.


1. Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
The Empire Strikes Back has been one of my favorite movies since I was 12 years old—not just one of my favorite Star Wars movies; one of my favorites in any genre. When it became my favorite over Return of the Jedi, I felt like I had grown up in a big way; this is by far the most mature and nuanced Star Wars movie. The drama in this film never feels forced; it’s tragic but beautifully so. Everything about this movie is gorgeous—the cinematography, the score, the lighting, Harrison Ford…It feels like a drama that just so happens to be set in a galaxy far, far away rather than a traditional sci-fi film. It has moments of comedy (anything involving the droids or Han and Leia’s banter), action (the battle on Hoth), romance (Ford and Carrie Fisher’s chemistry was off the charts in this film), and even spirituality (Luke’s entire time on Dagobah). Plus, it has one of the greatest twists in movie history as well as the single greatest response to “I love you” ever given. This may not be a perfect film, but it’s as close as the Star Wars franchise has ever come.

How would you rank the Star Wars movies?


6 thoughts on “Let the Wookie Win: Ranking the Star Wars Films

  1. I am sorry, but isn’t this the confirmed official ranking in order to actually be a fan? 🙂

    For purists like me who watched the films in their original release before George Lucas tweaked the technology and added in scenes I often refuse to acknowledge the prequels, much like fans of The Godfather don’t acknowledge the 3rd film. As a matter of fact, when my daughter watched them for the first time she was only allowed to watch the original prints – because Hayden Christensen showing up as Anakin and the removal of the Ewok song in Jedi made me cranky.

    I will never understand the miscasting of Anakin Skywalker, in particular when they did such a good job with Obi Wan. Phantom Menace is AWFUL and Portman and Christensen make Clones unwatchable. That said, I did think Sith came closest to achieving storytelling that was at least interesting. However, my initial concerns when they sought to do the prequels remains. Knowing key pieces of information about Anakin ruins the wonder and mythology that made Star Wars so wonderful as a kid. If you watch this in chronological order rather than the order they were made you lose out on the brilliance that is Yoda claiming “No, there is another” in Empire Strikes Back.

    I can understand your point about not seeing A New Hope in the theaters. No one had seen anything like it and as a young kid I just said to my siblings when the movie ended – Can we stay and watch it again? I think there is a right of passage when you watch the trilogy young that makes you love Jedi and the brilliance of Empire comes later. However that said, my all time favorite sequence in Star Wars is in Empire Strikes Back. The Sarlacc Battle is the best 7 1/2 minutes in the entire franchise – period. Plus you get this exchange:
    Luke Skywalker: There’s nothing to see. I used to live here, you know.
    Han Solo: You’re gonna die here, you know. Convenient.

    So yes while your rankings are spot on, Star Wars will always be a trilogy with other movies attached to it.

  2. I have watched A New Hope many hundreds of times over the years (literally – my brother has an OCD thing for certain movies) so it is the one I am most familiar with. I remember my Dad taking me to see Empire Strikes back at the movies when it came out – I guess I must have been 6?! The original trilogy was great. Quite apart from my bother’s obsession, I enjoyed the films as a kid. But when the prequels came out, so many years later, I found that I didn’t really care any more, and I can’t say for sure whether I’ve watched Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, or just one of them. It/they can’t have been very good if I don’t even remember watching. I know I never saw Phantom Menace – although I am familiar with Jar Jar Binks from many references in the Big Bang Theory!

    btw I was talking to geek friends about what order to show the movies to their kids. One really good idea I’ve heard of is to watch IV, then V, then III (or II then III, or all 3 prequels, if you really have to), and then VI – to preserve the surprises and keep a good amount of continuity and flow. I heard that Topher Grace actually cut the prequels into an 85 minute film (with no Jar Jar) which only very lucky, very connected people will probably ever get to see. But that would be a good flashback between Empire and Return of the Jedi if (pigs fly and) it somehow gets released.

  3. Re: Leia remembering her mother. Did you ever consider it was her adoptive mother she remembered? This is contradicted in the EU since her adoptive mother doesn’t die until a few years BBY. Another explanation could be she remembered her through “the force” as per Yoda’s teachings to Luke.

  4. Wow Story and Info; Did u know that it was the art work of Maxfield Parrish that directly inspired the feel and look of Star Wars films ? page 282, The Lucas Effect, Good Book. I filmed the Parrish estate art studio many years ago and loved being there, it was beautiful and the paintings were all around u, very inspirational. Parrish created that studio and painted that “art work’ that so inspired Lucas. ***My theory is that Star Wars truly began in 1904 in that studio and if logic dictates then it is important Lucas gets this info, help me get this story global. The Parrish studio was destroyed and it was senseless , I did film the demise and a very powerful story now exists. view maxfieldparrishmovie.com and there was always a force at the Parrish estate, it is real and it is not an it, it is a them. Please help this story go global and find it’s way to Lucas also look up the real Star, Sue Lewin the model for those paintings and the force behind Parrish. Her story needs to be told, girl power is needed. Thank u, Robin Lee

  5. Here is a discovery about Princess Leia and more. My theories, research and findings are being written up. I am the lead author of these papers. If logic dictates, than the information I have shows the true birthplace of Star Wars. Please, I need girl power here to help me get this story all over the universe. Please type in,
    ( The Game of Nerds: Origins of Star Wars the Case for Maxfield Parrish ). Their will be two other mighty links to follow. i believe all information should be shared. Thank you, Robin Lee
    Be part of this discovery and project, it is big.

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