STAR WARS! Let’s face it people, no matter how much we this franchise goes up and down, or whatever directions it may go in, it would be foolish of anyone to dismiss its impact not only on cinema but on the world as a whole. For many, Star Wars was something we discovered at a point in our lives where we needed it. A perfect example of escapism cinema where conflicts are shown as easy-to-understand battles between good and evil, special effects are awe inspiring to show us things we can only dream of, and yes can tell stories and mythology that resonate to something much deeper.
For me personally, Star Wars was something that captured me in my childhood, and as I grew older served as the bridge for me to learn of a wider world of films from the Japanese works of Kurosawa to the grand epics of “Lawrence of Arabia”. No matter how much we’ve grown as film viewers to experience those masterworks like “2001” or “Citizen Kane”, it’s ridiculous to suggest works like Star Wars as being anything lesser. For most people, this is what the movies are about, therefore this is what’s the most important in many regards. But which are the best and which are the worst, let’s go through them.
11. Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
I really had to debate with myself whether this was the worst Star Wars movie. It’s easy to say it’s the only movie in the franchise to bomb, therefore this is a failure. But, it’s more than that. The concept was dead in the water, did anyone really want a Han Solo origin story? And the way in which they go about it was uneventful and boring. Not to mention had a tendency to over-explain things that really didn’t need answering, do you honestly need an answer to why Han calls Chewbacca “Chewie”?
The film is visually unappealing, with hazy browns and ugly scenery that just drains life out of every shot. But the main thing was that with re-watching all these films recently, even the bad ones I could remember scenes that were going to come up. But with “Solo”, nadda. I couldn’t remember a single thing that happened, and I saw this twice in the theaters. For a Star Wars film to leave absolutely no impression, that makes this the worst one.
10. Attack of the Clones (2002)
“Phantom Menace” was bad, but it’s a film that was really the hint to people that something was off. “Attack of the Clones” was the full realization where it was clear as day now that Lucas was not the same creator he once was. All of the problems of the previous film were there, minus Jar Jar (thank god), but it somehow managed to raise the issues even further. Everyone knows the effects of “Phantom Menace” weren’t impressive, but to the film’s credit it was mainly used as world building and backgrounds.
Here, the CGI is used to create worlds and characters and when the real actors have to interact, wow, it looks horrendous. Almost like a “Roger Rabbit” type of thing. Not to mention the terrible characterization of Anakin, a romance that was “Twilight” before “Twilight” even existed, and a story that feels like nothing happening. Culminating in the worst lightsaber fight in history with Dooku vs Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Yoda. “Attack of the Clones” was, for the longest time, the worst Star Wars film in my mind until “Solo” left no impression. This still had some mark that’s remembered if nothing else, but was the ultimate sign of how far gone this franchise had become.
9. The Phantom Menace (1999)
Ah yes, the biggest disappointment (possibly) of all time. Lucas hadn’t directed a film since the original Star Wars in 1977, and had 22 years of being called a revolutionary genius who changed the way of filmmaking forever. So with full creative control, no one telling him what to do, and talent that was long gone at that point can we really be surprised what we ended up getting? My complaints are everything all of you have been saying for 20+ years now. The characters are boring, the story takes forever to get going, it breaks continuity with notions raised in the original films, the comedy is terrible, the effects are overbearing and not that good looking, and it feels like it started too early only serving to distance itself from what we know as Star Wars.
What I will say in defense of this film is that it does star the story we need to know regarding Anakin’s origin to show his connection to his mother, which would play a role in his turn towards the dark side. And, as much as Darth Maul was underutilized, the final fight scene is still pretty damn cool – much credit to Ray Park and his great stunt work. But yes, prior to this Star Wars was something sacred and this was the beginning of realizing the failures this universe was capable of.
8. The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
The first words written in the opening text crawl say “The dead speak!”, and right away we know what we’re in for. Not only is that a weird thing to hear in a Star Wars movie, but we now know how much this film is going to rely on what’s already dead to salvage its story and hopefully appease its fans – no matter how convoluted and forced it may be. Palpatine’s plan, as we learn in the exposition heavy first act of the film, is to revive the power of the Empire in something he calls The Final Order – obviously playing off of the First Order from the previous films. And this motivation fits in well with what Star Wars has always done.
The name “First Order” applies to the idea of reverting back to the ashes of the first, the original. To bring the galaxy back to the ways of the Empire that came before it, because in the world that’s how it’s worked. Fascism starts as a yearning for glory of old, romanticizing the past as something to go back to, and using this as a way of rejecting the modern ways.
I bring a lot of this up because the irony of learning how to learn from past mistakes and build that towards a different future is now forgotten, as “The Rise of Skywalker” rushes head first into bringing us back to the past that’s long gone. To this end, Kylo and Rey are even put back into their initial designs we saw of them in “The Force Awakens”, you know before they were “ruined” in the other film.
Honestly, when the film is just keeping itself to what a film is, it’s pretty amazing. JJ Abrams is obviously a very talented director. His crew consisting of cinematographer Dan Mindel, production designers Rick Carter and Kevin Jenkins, the always great music by John Williams, and the hundreds if not thousands of hard working people working in the art departments, makeup departments, sound departments, pretty much any department make an incredible film.
I don’t criticize anyone is this film for their supposed lack of ability to craft a film together, but when I have to remind myself that this is a chapter in this saga is when it fails. It might not have the horrible dialogue of the prequels but I would argue in terms of being a part of a grand story and how it’s supposed to continue off its predecessor, this might be the worst screenplay in Star Wars history.
7. Revenge of the Sith (2005)
I agree with many people that “Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones” are terrible but at the end of the day the whole purpose of the prequels was to show us how Anakin turned to the dark side. The funny thing is that you can skip the first two movies, go straight to this one and you will get everything you need to know. It feels like this is the story Lucas wanted to tell and I think it shows, this is the closest it comes to capturing the same essence of the original films. Granted it falls back into crap territory with a terrible romance, boring characters, and bad acting. But the ingenuity of Star Wars has always been the constant fight between good and evil, between democracy and dictatorship.
“Revenge of the Sith” keeps its focus where it should be with these very themes, we detail the ways in which Emperor Palpatine manipulates the system of both the senate and the Jedi in order to corrupt Anakin Skywalker into becoming Darth Vader. Granted, the moment itself when Anakin swears his allegiance to him is rushed and doesn’t feel earned. But through this we get the full portrait of Vader’s character, no longer just a simple villain but a tragic hero.
And of course we get Ian McDiarmid in his signature role, having the perfect amount of cunning villainy and over-the-top hellraising to steal every moment he’s on screen. It adds context and a new level of mythology into the Star Wars lore that was never there, particularly the wonderful Opera House scene with the legend of Darth Plagus the Wise, and as such serves as an important chapter to exist.