Star Wars is great, isn’t it? But which one is greatest and which isn’t so great? These are tough questions. Worry not, as we’re here to straighten all of this out once and for all. Of course, everyone will agree with this and nobody’s going to get annoyed on social media, which is a welcome relief.
ATTACK OF THE CLONES – It’s no secret that the prequels aren’t much cop, but Attack Of The Clones is almost aggressively bad. Jake Lloyd should feel a little vindicated that his boy Anakin is nowhere near as irritating as Hayden Christensen’s moody teenage Anakin, while everyone else seems to be suffering from a collective condition that renders them unable to express anything approaching recognisable emotions. There’s also the distractingly flat effects which looked weird at the time and have only got worse with age. Unless you’re going to start throwing in things like the Ewoks movie or the Christmas special, this is without question the saga’s nadir.
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THE PHANTOM MENACE – Upon first watch, it was easy to fall into self-doubt with The Phantom Menace. Did I really just hate a Star Wars film? Am I the problem here? Maybe I just need to see it again? Repeat viewings don’t do the film any favours, but time and perspective has shown it to be a tiny bit better than the disaster it first seemed. That doesn’t excuse things like the blatant racism where Jar Jar and Watto are concerned, but at least the pod race was exciting, right?
Watch Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace on CHILI
REVENGE OF THE SITH – Ending the prequels on a decidedly dark note was an interesting route for Lucas to take (rather than the fun-dark-fun progression of the original trilogy) and there’s no question that it resulted in the closest they came to a competent film. Still, Hayden Christensen can’t manage the emotional depth needed to really sell Anakin’s turn to the dark side and it’s hard to tell who Ewan McGregor is channelling, but it definitely ain’t Sir Alec Guinness.
Watch Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge Of The Sith on CHILI
SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY – Had Solo been a part of the ‘official’ saga, there’s a chance it may have come in for more flak than it did, but as a stand-alone bit of back story, it’s an enjoyable adventure yarn with superb set pieces and engaging performances from Alden Ehrenreich (who gives a more-than-decent attempt at Ford’s charisma), Phoebe Waller Bridge and Donald Glover. The pace and straightforward plot makes it feel like a throwback, even if Ron Howard does lean a bit too hard on call-backs to the original films. It’s the most thematically lightweight Star Wars movie but there’s nothing wrong with that.
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THE LAST JEDI – While almost everyone agreed that the prequels were dreadful and The Force Awakens was a return to form, The Last Jedi divided fans in a way that now seems somewhat baffling. Yes, it’s overlong and has issues with tone, plot and pacing, but it holds up well on further viewings, divorced from the expectations of the initial run through. If your problem with this has anything to do with the prevalence of females in the cast or if you donated to that crowd-funded remake campaign, then there’s no talking to you. But the more rational among us can see that it was an entertaining and ambitious but ultimately imperfect entry in the saga.
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RETURN OF THE JEDI – “In fifth?!” you scream. “Are you mad?” Yes, I am. But not for the reasons you think. Return Of The Jedi is fun, but it would be lower down the list were it not for Harrison Ford and the speeder bike chase through the forests of Endor. It’s got less zip than the previous two, it’s just a little too silly and too long and let’s not even start on how Lucas kills off Boba Fett – a taster of the contrariness towards fans yet to come. I’ll still happily rewatch it any day of the week, but it’s easily the weakest of the original three and not a match for the stronger, newer entries.
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THE FORCE AWAKENS – It might play out like a Star Wars Best Of compilation, but it’s one of the best-looking films in the whole saga and manages to get us up to speed with a whole host of new characters and new worlds without losing momentum. If it’s played a little safe, it’s understandable, as it succeeds in its main job of reassuring everyone that this wasn’t going to be another disaster. The only real problem is the same one that’s dogged the series since Vader died and the Emperor was chucked over the railings: the lack of a compelling baddie. If the new dark side had as much charisma as the light, this would have been an even greater return.
Watch Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens on CHILI
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY – If initially a little underwhelming (the lack of that score and the opening scroll might have been factors), Rogue One has gone on to cement its place as the best Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back. No slight on Daisy Ridley, but Felicity Jones – a subtler and more nuanced actor – makes for one of the series’ most compelling heroes, and putting Riz Ahmed in your movie is a sure-fire way to guarantee quality. It also has the best bad guy since Vader – an unsurprisingly chilling Ben Mendelsohn – a superb action sequence in its climactic assault and the highest rewatchability factor of the new era. The poignance of the young Leia scene is only heightened now with the sad passing of Carrie Fisher.
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THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK – There’s no deliberate contrariness in putting Empire second, despite it regularly taking top spot on these lists. It’s a close enough decision that were an over-zealous sub-editor to take it upon themselves to reverse the order, I wouldn’t be too upset with them. It’s every bit the equal of its predecessor – albeit much, much glummer – and might even be a more accomplished film in many ways. But it falls just short because it feels just a tiny bit incomplete. It’s tricky to end the midpoint of a trilogy with a satisfactory full-stop, but Empire doesn’t really try, choosing instead ellipses that trail off into space…
Watch Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back on CHILI
A NEW HOPE – …not that the first film is so great just because it’s a self-contained story. Yes, you can watch A New Hope and ignore everything else to do with Star Wars and feel satisfied that you’ve been given a full meal of a film, but to say that’s the only thing it has over Empire is to short change it. It’s a little bit silly, a big bit cheesy, but once it gets off Tatooine, it’s like a theme-park ride, zipping from one iconic set-piece to the next. Shout at me all you want for choosing it over Empire, but I hold my hands up and admit that this is a heart over head moment. I fell in love with the series as a boy because of this fun, whirlwind of a movie and that’s something that’s not easily overcome.
Watch Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope on CHILI