Worst to Best
Star Wars

Star Wars is such a pop culture phenomenon that it requires no introduction, particularly to visitors of a cult film & TV website. The Star Wars movies can be bought online via Amazon, including The Force Awakens.


by
THE ANORAK
DECEMBER 2015


LAST UPDATED DECEMBER 2016: For this revised take on the films, then a ranking of the new entry Rogue One has been included. Please join me as I rank the entire film series from worst to best...

11 The Star Wars Holiday
Special (1978)

There's a natural desire to try to reclaim this special as a cult classic and not the disaster it's often purported to be, but... if anything, it's even worse than its reputation. Perhaps most inexplicable is the fact that it opens with nine minutes of Chewbacca's family by themselves... those Wookie aliens that can't speak any intelligible language. Fine for the cinema, where paying ticket buyers are already in their seats, but less ideal for a TV audience where a channel changer is in everyone's possession.
     Broadcast in its entirety only once, many associated with this variety special are scathing of it, though it's George Lucas' extreme dislike for it (he was scarcely involved in its production) that means it's never been commercially released. The oft-cited highlight is a ten minute cartoon in the middle of the show that introduces Boba Fett. While undoubtedly the peak of the show, it's a mystery why a cartoon for children would have been broadcast to audiences at 9pm. Lowlights are many, though it's not known how many Star Wars fans were clamouring for a song routine with Bea Arthur back in '78.

10 Attack of the Clones (2002)

One serious issue with the prequels is how overinflated in length they are. Although their average runtime of 138 minutes is only around a quarter of an hour longer than the average of the original two films, it's an extended runtime that pushes the films to breaking point; glorified children's movies given an adult picture length. This is particularly notable with Attack of the Clones, the longest Star Wars movie to date, clocking in at 142 minutes.
     There's a hair's breadth between this and the next two entries as the worst of the Star Wars movies. What nudges it into last place is the full realisation of the Jedi powers. The original trilogy had characters that, while archetypes, were relatable not only on an emotional level, but also a physical one; Attack has Jedis jumping hundreds of feet through the air like superheroes. There's only one instance of Luke Skywalker achieving a physical feat that a reasonably athletic regular person couldn't, and then it's with great effort. This also extends towards the lightsaber duels: visceral and emotionally engaging in the original trilogy; choreographed, overlong and clinically unengaging in the prequels.
     It sounds like a small thing, but it extends to the prequels as a general point: they focus almost entirely on technical achievement at the expense of true audience involvement. Cementing the disconnect between the narrative and realistic coding, Attack is almost entirely played out in front of green screen. No matter how good the CGI is (and, 14 years on, it hasn't aged well) the mind will be able to detect what's real and what's artificial. It even extends to the performances, which are flat and disattached; Ewan McGregor as Obi Wan at least having the decency to look as if he's about to burst out laughing at the bad dialogue.

9 The Phantom Menace (1999)

Now the best part of twenty years old, The Phantom Menace perhaps stands up better than could be expected. Perhaps it's that, divorced from the weight of expectation, it can be enjoyed on its own terms for what it is, rather than what the audience wanted it to be.
     The dirgelike, impenetrable trade plot, questionable racial characteristics of certain aliens and the painfully unfunny antics of Jar Jar Binks (himself a questionable racial stereotype) are actually the least of the film's problems. While the CGI that crams every frame is dated, and there's little to no emotional involvement with the dull, underwritten characters, the most drastic problem is creating prequels in the first place.
     Even putting aside revelations in later films which are now no longer surprises (most specifically the relationship between Luke and Vader), by having a prequel series which shows the downfall of the Jedi Empire, it must begin by having said Empire at the height of its powers. As a result the Jedi are almost indestructible, their enemies powerless against them, thus rendering the majority of the film dramatically inert. As the start of a saga, The Phantom Menace may be better than it seemed at the time, but as a film in its own right, it remains a narratively flaccid affair.

8 Ewoks: The Battle for Endor (1985)

The second Ewok TV movie aired a year after the first on ABC, and, like the original, had a limited theatrical release in Europe. The original had its darker elements - an Ewok dies at the end, and star Eric Walker auditioned for the role by acting out a monologue about domestic violence - but Battle For Endor takes this down an even more disturbing route. Here, in a movie for kids, the 6-year-old child star has her parents and brother murdered before her within the first ten minutes. Going on as an orphan to help the Ewoks defend their land against marauders, it's a misjudged film that contains extreme threat throughout in a film for the very young, like the Care Bears meets Death Wish. The writer of the first movie went on to write further scripts for children... the two brothers who wrote this sequel went on to write horror movies.
     Perhaps to alleviate the problems of the first, which required a narrator, here Wicket has learned how to speak English during his time with the family. Mysteriously, none of the other Ewoks have picked up on it, and, as it's supposedly set before the events of Return of the Jedi, he somehow forgot how to speak English by the time he met Princess Leia. This entry still threatens to overtake the painfully self-aware The Force Awakens as it remains consistent within itself and, while it does get a little silly as it goes on, it takes its own rules seriously. Ultimately, however, it's a film without an audience: too child-orientated for families, and far too dark and violent for the very people it's aimed at.

7 The Force Awakens (2015)

While this movie basked in glowing reviews and high box office, it's worth remembering that some quarters also gave the same praise and commerce to The Phantom Menace upon its release.
     In contrasting the prequels with the original trilogy there's reference to the overuse of CGI and virtual sets, but it goes beyond that. The Force Awakens returns the series back to its rightful organic nature of real sets and models, the CGI there to complement the narrative rather than replace it; yet still lacks true heart thanks to incessant, wearying postmodern dialogue. Although the originals had their occasional winks to camera, in a post-Buffy world it seems that Whedonesque dialogue is ubiquitous. This level of self-aware deconstruction even extends to new characters commenting on how Han can understand what Chewbecca is saying, rather like having someone explain to you the punchline to your favourite joke. The prequels, as sterile and dreary as they could be, at least had sincerity. The Star Wars universe, as inherently ridiculous as it can be, has always had the courage to take itself seriously up until now.
     In amongst the very trendy, "arch" dialogue is a film that is largely pastiche and cannot escape its source. There's really no reason why anyone needs to see Princess Leia apparently talking through false teeth, or Harrison Ford phoning it in while looking like a withered testicle. Yet The Force Awakens takes its dramatic cues so literally from the existing movies that we have the lead bad guy wearing a voice-modulating black mask for no reason whatsoever, other than to consciously homage Darth Vader. (In fairness, that's kind of the point, but also perfectly illustrates the lack of genuine inspiration at hand).
     This summary review aims to be largely spoiler-free, even a year on, so let's just say that the picture features a credulity-defying amount of coincidence in order for its plot strands to tie together, no mean feat in the fundamentally contrived Star Wars universe. And admidst the various online controversies around having a black actor as the lead, while John Boyega does a fine job with conflicting material, it seems to miss the basic point that the Stormtroopers of which he's a part are used as a Nazi metaphor, complete with unsubtle arm salutes. His presence among such a group undermines the thematic subtext of which it's trying to promote.

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