On Thursday night, the new Star Wars film premiered. I haven’t seen it yet; I hope to do so this weekend. However, now seems an opportune moment to roll out a definitive ranking of the Star Wars canon (the new film not included as of yet).
So, here we go.
- The Empire Strikes Back. Not only is this the best Star Wars movie, it is the best science fiction movie of all time. It’s dark, it’s brooding, and it has perhaps the best screen villain of all time (a fully-fledged Darth Vader), the best twist of all time (Luke is his son!) and the best mentor of all time (Yoda). The score is wonderful, the images breathtaking, and the minor characters are universally intriguing (Lando!). Anyone who doesn’t like Empire can be categorically dismissed from any future discussions of film or narrative.
- A New Hope. This film was groundbreaking when it came out, and it has utterly remade film since. Taking serialized adventures seriously led to the grounded reality of the Batman Christopher Nolan films, the revitalization of science fiction generally, and the revivification of the notion that popular entertainment could be well-made (i.e. not Earthquake!).
- Rogue One. This movie is shockingly good. I first saw it at a late screening and didn’t catch all of its nuances and references, and the film does exist on the fringes of the Star Wars canon, but its intensely dark vision of the sacrifice necessary to fight a good war outshines any other weighty considerations in the Star Wars universe. The last act particularly is shattering.
- Return Of The Jedi. One half of this movie is amazing. The other is trite. The amazing part is everything related to Luke and Vader and the Emperor; the trite part is the Ewoks and the goings-on on Endor. This was the moment when Star Wars moved from creativity to the derivative product marketing we see in the later films. The final light saber fight between Luke and Vader is tremendous, and Vader’s rehabilitation is terrific (although it’s rather weird that Vader gets to preside over genocide and still stand alongside Obi-Wan — a guy he murdered — in Jedi Paradise). But teddy bears fighting stormtroopers and winning is just dumb.
- Revenge Of The Sith. Again, part of this movie is good. The Obi-Wan/Anakin conflict works just fine. But Anakin’s move to the Dark Side is wildly unconvincing, and his decision to just off a bunch of kids seems pretty far-fetched. Beyond that, Hayden Christensen is purely awful in the role.
- The Force Awakens. When I saw Force Awakens, I thought it was a top four film. The more I thought about it, the more I hated it. Not only does it rehash the plot of A New Hope (ANOTHER DEATH STAR?!), it destroys the childhoods of anyone who loved Han Solo by turning him from a rogue hero who finds responsibility into a divorced dad who did a crappy job with his kid, and turning Leia into an annoyingly stolid military figure who did nothing to develop her abilities in the Force, and then sent her ex-husband to his doom. It also introduced a series of characters you don’t care about, and established from the outset that Rey — the new Luke — didn’t even have to train to defeat a supposed expert in the Dark Side (Kylo Ren). COME ON. But at least it had lens flare.
- Attack Of The Clones. No. Just no. Anakin romancing Padme — no. Yoda the ninja — no. Count Dooku — no. And by the way, Count Dooku has a pretty good case for secession, so it’s a cheap out to just make him a Sith tool.
- Phantom Menace. Even more fail. It’s a kid’s movie, and Star Wars was never a kid’s series. The expectations for this movie were incredible. The delivery was awful. And then there’s Jar Jar. Oh, God, Jar Jar.
I hope that The Last Jedi lives up to the hype — already, audiences seem less pleased with it than critics. I’ll let you know once I see it. But in the meantime — begun, the Star Wars rankings wars have!
UPDATE: I forgot the greatest Star Wars film of all time. Here it is.