Sunday, May 3, 2020

Sunday Best: STAR WARS SAGA Films Ranked (Updated 2020)

Tomorrow is Star Wars Day and The Rise of Skywalker will be officially released on Disney+.  I thought it would be a good time to make a definitive list of where all SAGA films (Episodes I-IX) rank.

I did a similar list last December before the final film came out.  The list also included the non-SAGA movies, but they have been omitted here.  Much of the text remains from the previous post.

My assessment of the ranks may be a little odd for most people.  In fact, when I told one person a few years ago, he said to me point-blank (and without humor), "You're insane."

So below is how I would rank the Star Wars movies.

9.   Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
Star Wars The Last Jedi.jpg
This movie is half-great.  The problem is that the B-story isn't just bad, it is completely pointless.  Nothing of consequence occurs in that B-story.  A number of people attack the film because of the portrayal of Luke.  I disagree.  I think that the guilt-ridden Luke was a fascinating take on the character.  If only writer/director Rian Johnson was not so obsessed with subverting expectation, then he could have made the story work better for all Star Wars fans.

8.  Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Illustration depicting various characters of the film, surrounded by a frame which reads at the top "Every saga has a beginning". In the background, there is a close-up of a face with yellow eyes, and red, and black tattoos. Below the eyes are a bearded man with long hair, a young woman with face paint and an intricate headdress, three spaceships, a short and cylindrical robot besides a humanoid one, a boy wearing gray clothes, a young man wearing a brown robe holding a laser sword, and an alien creature with long ears. At the bottom of the image is the title "Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace" and the credits.
I love this film for what it is: a fun adventure for kids.  It also has one of the best lightsaber duels in the entire franchise.  The main flaw is how talky it is as it gets bogged down in space politics.  It also misses the opportunity to establish a strong friendship between Padme and Obi-Wan.  But despite its flaws I can still get a great deal of enjoyment from this film.

7. Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker
Star Wars The Rise of Skywalker poster.jpg
If this movie didn't have to work so hard in the first half to undo the damage of The Last Jedi, then it could have had more room to breathe.  I really loved seeing Rey, Poe, and Finn finally have scenes together to let their chemistry work.  If they had set up Palpatine in the previous film, there could have been a more seamless transition to this.  But the film we actually got feels too rushed.  However, I can say that I truly enjoyed the last half as much as anything in the Sequel trilogy.

6.  Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

I did not mind that this movie was a rehash of A New Hope's plot or that they killed off one of the main characters from the original.  This movie delivered on what it promised: Star Wars style fun and space adventure.  The opening was strong and JJ Abrams understood the visual vocabulary of George Lucas' universe.  And the moment Rey force grabs the lightsaber is as iconic as anything in the other Saga films.

5. Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Film poster. A young man is seen embracing a young woman. A man holds a lightsaber. A battle scene is in the middle, and in the lower foreground, there is a man wearing a suit of armor.
While they could have done a better job of showing Padme fall in love with Anakin, everything from the Genoshian arena until the end is gold.  All of that is a spectacle bigger than any we had seen in a Star Wars film until that point.  And the moment when Yoda draws his lightsaber... pure movie magic!

4.  Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Film poster showing Luke Skywalker triumphantly holding a lightsaber in the air, Princess Leia kneeling beside him, and R2-D2 and C-3PO behind them. A figure of the head of Darth Vader and the Death Star with several starfighters heading towards it are shown in the background. Atop the image is the text "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." On the bottom right is the film's logo, and the credits and the production details below that.
This is the one that started it all.  George Lucas took the universal story of the hero and turned it into an epic that no one had ever seen before.  It was so strange and yet so hauntingly familiar.  It is still as thrilling and compelling as it was over 40 years ago when it was released.  To this day, that final run on the Death Star Trench will have me on the edge of my seat and cheering.

3.  Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

As I wrote above, someone told me I was insane for putting this one above A New Hope.  But when you look at the Saga movies as a whole, you can feel the power of Revenge of the Sith.  Anakin's fall to the dark side is so horribly tragic because you can see how morally trapped he feels.  All of his relationships fall apart because the only help he gets is from the one who wants to destroy his soul.  The last act perfectly captures the fall of man and how it plunges everything into darkness.

2. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
. This poster shows a montage of scenes from the movie. Dominating the background is the dark visage of Darth Vader; in the foreground, Luke Skywalker sits astride a tauntaun; Han Solo and Princess Leia gaze at each other while in a romantic embrace; Chewbacca, R2-D2, and C-3PO round out the montage.
What this movie understood more than anything was Aristotle's principle that plot is character.  The whole movie is about how are characters are changed by the ordeals they face and the people that they face them with.  It never failed to turn out a story of truly epic scale and spectacle, but director Irvin Kershner turned the narrative inward and explored the souls of the characters involved.  Like that one cryptic shot of helmetless Darth Vader, the real story was beneath the surface.

1.  Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
. This poster shows a montage of characters from the movie. In the background, Darth Vader stands tall and dark in front of a reconstructed Death Star; before him stands Luke Skywalker wielding a lightsaber, Han Solo aiming a blaster, and Princess Leia wearing a slave outfit. To the right are an Ewok and Lando Calrissian, while miscellaneous villains fill out the left.
This is my favorite movie of all time.  This is the end point of the Original Trilogy and in brought the entire story to the most satisfying conclusion I could imagine.  It turned the entire trajectory of the narrative from defeating Darth Vader to saving Anakin Skywalker.  It was something I did not expect and changed the way I looked at the world.  The bright colors, the epic adventure, the iconic moment, and the fantastic story all culminate into the greatest of all the Star Wars films.



1 comment:

  1. Should Revenge of the Sith be ahead of a New Hope =