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 JUNE 2018: For this revised take on the films, then a ranking of the new entry Solo has been included. Please join me as I rank the entire film series from worst to best...

13 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.

12 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 until 2017, 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, 16 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.

11 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.

10 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.

9 Solo (2018)

The blandest Star Wars film offers something no Star Wars movie did before it: a box office bomb. Amazingly, the franchise's core fanbase appears to have abandoned this Han Solo backstory as it struggles to make back its own production costs, currently straining to get to $300 million.
      Of course, how much money a film makes is irrelevant to a film's value as a piece of art, and Solo is certainly better than some of the prequels... just about. The problem is how unnecessary it all is, giving an archetype from the original trilogy a backstory and attempt at characterisation he never earned. For all the plaudits fans throw at Star Wars, it is essentially a pulp Saturday Morning Serial homage, not a dark gritty tale that should be forced into a "12a certificate" framework.
      Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the return of Lando Calrissian. While excellently played by Donald Glover, the character again gets sidelined just as he was in Return of the Jedi. Despite talk outside of the movie of him being not only a rogue but "pansexual", inside the cinema screen he's a blogging loser who has to cheat at cards and has a sexual fixation over a robot. Ultimately this is a wholly forgettable instalment rather than a bad one, a film that didn't need to be made.

8 The Force
Awakens (2015)

The Force Awakens takes the sensible route of "playing it safe", giving audiences a plot lifted wholesale from the original movie, and bringing back a bored-looking Han and Leia to ensure the audience feels in familiar hands. While such a decision is lacking in inspiration, it's nevertheless understandable, a financially viable "product" that took more than 2 billion at the box office.
     However, even if the enormous plot contrivances that put it all together can be overlooked, what drags the whole thing down is the modern need for self-referential, postmodern dialogue. While the return to real sets and abandonment of the excessive green screen of the prequels is worthy of praise, the prequels at least took themselves relatively seriously. The new films are populated by characters giving constant winks to the camera and ironic call backs to the past. This 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.
     Kylo Ren proves to be the most interesting and conflicted character on rewatches, though isn't really given chance to shine here. Finally, 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. It seems to matter little to Boyega's Finn, who goes on the run after being confronted by the horrors of killing people... then spends the rest of the film killing people.
     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.

7 Revenge of the
Sith (2005)

As the end result of the prequels is already known to most of the the audience, they require subplots and developments that can keep them interesting and films in their own right, rather than simple continuity fillers that point the way to the original trilogy. While the first two prequels offered little, Revenge of the Sith basks in its status as "the halfway decent one".
     Hayden Christensen comes in for a lot of criticism for his portrayal of Anakin, and, while it's true that he does play the part like a stroppy teenager and the romance with Padme never convinces, this is perhaps more due to the empty, basic direction and appalling script rather than any overt weakness with his acting ability. This said, it's hard to equate the same character with the Darth Vader of the originals, particularly as we'd seen the character so brilliantly brought to life in 1983 by Sebastian Shaw. Shaw's final appearance shows the true affection between him and Obi Wan, and, while this film ties events together, it doesn't quite sit right that the Anakin Skywalker who was "seduced" by the dark side, is instead a spoilt and petulant youth who is quickly turned for plot expediency rather than any gradual motivation.
     While Empire and Return of the Jedi both had a hand-severing scene apiece, Revenge of the Sith consolidates the prequels' obsession with bodily mutilation, concluding with Anakin hacked and burned to pieces. The feeling is that the three movies act for apologists who would like to stress that these fun-yet-family-friendly movies are really "dark" and "complex". While this is the best of the prequels, it still lacks warmth or engaging performances, with Temuera Morrison and Ian McDiarmid a couple of the exceptions, though even the latter is here prone to excess...

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