MAY the 4th be with you. Yes, today marks the official (you read that correctly, Disney has claimed ownership of this day too) Star Wars holiday.
Each year on this day nerds (this isn’t an insult, I include myself in this as I may or may not be wearing this T-shirt today. Clue: I totally am) the world over celebrate everything about the fabled film franchise; favourite characters, best catchphrases, the worst Jar-Jar Binks moments and everything else from a galaxy far, far away.
Star Wars holds a special place for so many thanks to its fantastical whimsy; its ultimate battle between good and evil, light and dark. Everyone has their favourite Star Wars film, and film they love to hate.
Community News has done something groundbreaking: we’ve rated every Star Wars film from worst to best and run through what makes it flawed and what makes it fantastic (probably with the precision of a stormtrooper firing upon a band of Rebels, but hey, we’re just having a bit of fun), without a prequel meme in sight!
Spoiler alert! We will be talking about key events and endings. And as with all things pop culture-related, this list is subjective. So if you’ve got a bad feeling about this, that it might not be the list you’re looking for, that you could be looking in Alderaan places, don’t say you weren’t warned you.
Attack of the Clones (2002)
The true Jar-Jar Binks of the franchise. It’s not that Attack of the Clones was awful, it’s just… no, it’s pretty awful. From the wooden acting of Hayden Christensen as a grown Anakin Skywalker to the horrible dialogue, usually delivered by said actor (“I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere.” Really?). It’s worse than Anakin’s complexion after a day on Mustafar.
There were veiled social messages, an origin story for a young Boba Fett, the discovery of the Clone Army, the bug-like Geonosians, badly rendered CGI ‘battle creatures’ (did the legs of that crab thing freak anyone else out?), a lightsaber-weilding bad mother, C3PO getting his head knocked off and put on the body of a droid soldier (please). And then it’s all topped off with by the steaming pile that was a lightsaber duel between the most agile 800-odd-year-old Jedi ever and Darth Tyranus/Count Dooku (make up your mind).
Not even the overall magnificence of Ewan McGregor and Christopher Lee could save face for this film, which I thought, upon its release, awesome and went to see at the cinemas a further three times (the folly of youth).
Of the nine films in the Star Wars canon, this was undoubtedly the worst. But only just.
The Last Jedi (2017)
I was so furious after seeing The Last Jedi it took me about three months to calm down and think rationally about Star Wars again (I’m seeing a professional about this, I promise). When I returned to my senses, I brought myself to sit and watch the fourth, and final, season of the excellent Star Wars: Rebels TV series. Spoiler alert: by the end of this series Disney had killed off Jedi Kanan Jarrus and had his apprentice and series protagonist Ezra Bridger sacrifice himself to save the Rebels. Coupled with the death of Luke Skywalker at the end of The Last Jedi, I am totally convinced Disney is the Sith.
I digress. After barely being sighted in The Force Awakens, all signs (mostly the title) pointed to the eighth installment of the series being all about Luke. There’s something you should know about me at this point, which will go some way to explaining why I felt so strongly that The Last Jedi was a terrible film. When I was a child there were two things I wanted to be when I grew up: Batman or Luke Skywalker (six-year-old me would be so disappointed that I grew up to be neither… or did I? I’m just saying, no one’s ever seen me and Batman in the same place). Luke was my hero; the ultimate good guy. He was brave, he was strong, he piloted an X-Wing, he fought bad guys with cool glowing swords that made the most awesome ‘Schvrmmmmmmm! Kwishuuuuuuuuuu!’ sound, he saw the good still in his deadbeat dad, and by the end of Return of the Jedi he was finally a wise Jedi Knight. Sure, he was also brash and foolish and a bit whiney at times, but his heart was always in the right place.
He was none of those things in The Last Jedi. Here, Luke was a crotchety old loner who wanted to kill his nephew and fled in shame to see out his days in solitude drinking green milk he’d got from the teat of a weird alien sea monster.
Not content with turning one of the greatest heroes in cinematic history into… that, writer/director Rian Johnson also Disneyed (this is a perfectly acceptable verb to use to describe someone doing something bad from now on) the intrigue created by what were The Force Awakens’ best open plot points; namely a) who was the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke? and b) who were Rey’s parents? Was Snoke Darth Plagius the Wise? Was Rey the secret daughter of Han and Leia? Spoiler alert: a) f— you, it doesn’t matter, he’s dead now, and b) some drunks who sold her into slavery for spacebooze money. Oh.
Ok, so Snoke’s death scene was pretty kick ass, but it was one of just a couple of great scenes in an otherwise rubbish and infuriating two-and-a-half hours. The plot line involving Finn and Rose to the casino world seemed to serve no point and didn’t drive the story in a discernible direction – rubbish; the usually excellent Benicio del Torro was wasted as DJ – rubbish; Princess Leia could fly now – rubbish, and WTF?; the First Order’s slow-speed chase of the Rebels – rubbish; Laura Dern’s annoying second in command – rubbish; Captain Phasma (the latest in a long line of sweet as-looking bad guys) getting five minutes of screen time and being killed off (the latest in a long line of sweet as-looking bad guys) – rubbish!
And at the end of it all, Luke died. He didn’t just die. He died the most pathetic cinematic death since his grandma Shmi in Attack of the Clones.
Why was I so mad? It’s just a movie, get a grip. Yes, it’s just a movie. I know that, I get that. But as a kid who grew up on Star Wars, Star Wars became much more than a movie. Like it or not, kids learn notions of what’s right and wrong, good and bad from the movies and TV they watch and the characters within. So when the one fictional character you always felt you learned the most from as a child – and who best embodied your very notions of right and good – was stripped of his strongest traits and his heroic disposition was trampled on, and then removed from the celluloid universe in which he existed in the most undignified way – he literally disappeared into thin air! – it’s hard to digest that it all serves a greater purpose as the franchise moves forward. Remember how I said I saw Attack of the Clones four times? I saw this once. And I still can’t bring myself to watch it again. I’m at a point where I don’t even care what’s going to happen in Episode IX (who am I kidding? I totally care).
The Phantom Menace (1999)
If you believe in the theory of parallel universes it might come as little comfort that one definitely exists where George Lucas told his producing partners and 20th Century Fox, “you guys, I know people adore my movies but I really don’t think we can improve on the three Star Wars movies we’ve done and it’s totally not worth doing any prequels”. Sadly, we don’t live in that universe. We live in the one where George Lucas unleashed the greatest evil known upon mankind.
Three things really dragged The Phantom Menace down. 1) The pod racing scene was about 22 minutes too long even though it only went for about 15 minutes in total.
2) The diplomacy. A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi gave us action, fantasy, adventure, hope, despair and then hope again. The whole premise of The Phantom Menace was built on a trade dispute and an intergalactic blockade. Riveting stuff for the kids.
3) The movie introduced one of the most visually incredible villains ever then proceeded to offer tiny teasers throughout, before unleashing him against young Obi-Wan and the equally awesome, underused and dispatched Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon for… four minutes and 40 seconds. That’s it.
I’ve deliberately ignored everything wrong with Jar-Jar at this point. We all know the character was terrible, represented the worst kind of racist stereotyping and irritated us more than sand irritated Anakin, but Jar-Jar ultimately didn’t make this a terrible movie. Because The Phantom Menace was not a terrible movie. It’s a solid 6/10 movie. If the pod racing scene was cut down, it’d be a 7/10 movie. If the origin of C3PO wasn’t shoehorned I’d maybe bump it to a generous 7.5 or 8/10. Alas.
Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Remember how you’d open your eyes bright and early on the morning of December 25 every year as a kid and you’d get that instant rush of “ohhhh, it’s Christmas!” and then the anticipation built as you waited to open your first present? Do you remember that feeling? That’s exactly how I felt at this moment as I sat in a cinema full of people in Belmont on opening night for Revenge of the Sith on May 19, 2005 (yes, I remembered the date, what of it?).
Oh man, did the hairs on the back of my neck stand up! I just watched that clip again and the hairs on the back of my neck still stand up. That’s movie magic at work. The birth of one of the most revered characters ever conceived; the squeal of compressed air, the clicking shut of the helmet and the drawn out moment before Vader took his first breath as a monster, the first of many to be badly imitated the world over (come on, we’ve all got a terrible Darth Vader breathing impersonation). This scene alone atoned for the continued bad dialogue (“Hold me, like you did by the lake on Naboo; so long ago when there was nothing but our love. No politics, no plotting, no war.”)
Blergh! Everything that’s wrong with Revenge of the Sith can largely be forgiven because it gave us what every warm-blooded Star Wars fan had lusted for for so long – a proper lightsaber duel; not one between a geriatric and a cyborg monstrosity, or one between a hyperactive CGI amphibian and a stiff old dude (see Attack of the Clones), but a proper one between the two protagonists in peak physical conditon – Obi-Wan versus Anakin. All of which led to Anakin’s rebirth as Vader and that’s all anyone cared about seeing when they sat down to see this film. I don’t even care that it basically transformed the whole franchise into a love story (still a better one than Twilight). We got this brilliantly choreographed and visually-stunning sequence. Enjoy.
Return of the Jedi (1983)
If I’d written this list at 12 years old not only would it only contain three movies, but it’d be less humorous (shut up!) and Return of the Jedi would hold the position of best Star Wars film ever. But 12-year-old me was an idiot who listened to too much loud grunge music, had long hair and pimples, and wore flannel shirts. Would you trust the opinion of that kid, remembering that kid grew up to see Attack of the Clones four times at the cinema?! No, me neither. And I was that kid. That aside, Return of the Jedi was still a great film and holds its own against the other eight; it was the culmination of the two original films where good finally triumphed over evil and the galaxy’s worst villain found redemption through his son (all before George Lucas went back and fiddled with it for some unforgivable reason).
There was nooooo good cause for Lucas to go back and mess with perfection there.
Like every Star Wars film, Return of the Jedi had its faults – ewoks, mostly – but the final fight between Luke and Vader and its accompanying soundtrack (shivers again!) more than made up for the presence of those furry little freaks from the forests of Endor.
It also gave us Jabba the Hutt, that weird worm-headed dude, Admiral Ackbar, Good Lando, Boba Fett again, the “almighty Sarlacc”, this Imperial guy with the incredible voice, and this terrific action sequence…
In the age of #MeToo, I’m not even going to touch on Slave Leia.
The Force Awakens (2015)
So what if The Force Awakens cashed in on nostalgia? So what that it was essentially a 21st-century remake of A New Hope? So what if Kylo Ren was just an emo Vader? So What? Those aren’t reasons to trash it. From start to finish The Force Awakens was a thrill, and it’s a thrill because it threw you back to the awesomeness of the original films and traded on that nostalgia. Let’s face it, JJ Abrams would have been very conscious of the task he faced when he was asked to direct a reboot of the franchise. He also would’ve been well aware of the backlash he’d face if his effort was more Phantom Menace than A New Hope. With that in mind, you can’t blame him for following a tried and tested formula that everyone already loved. Besides, the rebooted result was brilliant as this clip attests.
The new protagonists Finn (a stormtrooper with a conscience), Rey (clearly there’s something special about her… yes her! At last, a powerful female lead!) and Poe Dameron (the brazen, wisecracking pilot) were all instantly likable characters. Kylo Ren carried the same foreboding menace and presence as Vader (at least until his first hissy fit). And Han and Chewie were still Han and Chewie (how does Chewie have all that hair and manage to tame the greys?)
Confession: I cried in this movie. I’m not ashamed of that. I cried like a child when Han died. It shocked me. You sensed something was about to go down when he and Ben met in the middle of that walkway, but not that Ben would activate his lightsaber and shish kebab his own father. But he did. And I cried, because I witnessed the death of a childhood hero. But unlike Luke’s death in The Last Jedi, Han’s death was noble and bad ass and… wait, was Kylo even the one to activate the lightsaber? Hmmm? Think about that (an open plot device Rian Johnson didn’t mess with!). All that served to move the plot along, which made it easier to digest.
A New Hope (1977)
The original and, to some, still the best. Without it there would be no cultural phenomenon; words like Death Star or lightsaber or wookie or bantha or Jedi would’ve never entered the lexicon; no one would believe that Darth Vader was Dutch for ‘dark father’ (it’s not). It’s impossible to imagine a world without this film; a world where no one quoted “help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope”; a world where R2D2 and C3PO would just be random assortments of letters and numbers without meaning. This was the film the world was looking, and was ready, for, and for all his future faults, millions of us are indebted to George Lucas for imagining it all and bringing it to life.
PS: Han totally shot first.
— State Library of WA (@statelibrarywa) May 4, 2018
Rogue One (2016)
This might come as a surprise to some, but Rogue One could’ve been nothing more than this scene with Vader cutting sick and it still would’ve made number 2 on my list (hey Disney, make this movie!).
The first foray into a standalone Star Wars film (Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure and Ewoks: The Battle for Endor don’t exist. You might think you’ve heard of them but they don’t actually exist. Trust me) was near flawless, shedding light on how the Rebels came into possession of the Death Star plans. Kudos goes to Tony Gilroy and Chris Weitz for their script and Gareth Edwards for his direction, because it could have been so easy for them to screw this concept up. Thankfully they didn’t.
The sacrifice made by Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor was executed perfectly; blind Force devotee Chirrut provided lighter moments (upon being blindfolded he quips “Are you kidding me?! I’m blind!”) and Aussie Ben Mendelsohn oozed all the slime you’d expect from the Imperial figure charged with building the Death Star. Mads Mikkelsen and Forrest Whitaker turned in solid performances and the inclusion of CGI’d Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia tied it together to A New Hope brilliantly.
The Empire Strikes Back (1981)
Was there any doubt? You knew from the moment you saw the headline and before you’d clicked on the link that this list would end with Empire… it was your destiny. Everyone loved this movie and everything about it was perfect (weeeell, if you exclude the part where Leia makes out with the dude we latter learn is her twin brother, but we’ll forgive her).
Vader was at his menacing best.
Listen to the way his hate just hangs on the delivery of “yet”. There are those shivers again. Seriously, this is the single greatest moment in the existence of Star Wars for me.
We got the battle on Ice Planet Hoth, where we’re introduced to AT-AT walkers for the first time.
Luke met and trained with Yoda (which is best revisited via A Bad Lip Reading. Thank me later.).
We got that scruffy-looking Nerf herder Han at his smarmy best.
We saw Vader sans helmet for the first time, hinting that something seriously messed up happened to him and that’s why he wears that crazy helmeted-scuba-breathing get-up.
We met Lando. We got C3PO pulled to pieces and shut up for five minutes thanks to those little pig-looking dudes. We were introduced to Boba Fett, possibly the coolest movie character ever. We get Lobot, that bald guy Lando can control via remote. We got Luke vs Vader part one. We got Luke losing a hand.
And all that was topped with the greatest plot twist in cinema history.
Happy May the 4th. Direct all complaints and arguments (and compliments, I’ll accept them too, I guess) to @StuartHortonCNG on Twitter.