May the Fourth: Ranking the Star Wars Movies


Jack Bacon, reporter

Today is Friday, May fourth, which means today is Star Wars Day. A play on the iconic line “May the Force be with you”, Star Wars fans have adopted “May the Fourth” as an unofficial holiday for the epic space franchise. In its 40 year run, Star Wars has had its fair share of ups and downs. In honor of May the Fourth, here is The Little Hawk’s definitive countdown of the theatrically released Star Wars movies.

Number 9- The Phantom Menace

Every saga has a beginning– in Star Wars that beginning just happens to be the fourth movie. When George Lucas returned to the franchise in 1999, fans had high hopes. Unfortunately, The Phantom Menace’s highlights– from the Pod Race scene to Darth Maul’s cool make up– were drowned out by the disaster that was Jar Jar Binks and the introduction of Midichlorians, a pseudo scientific explanation of the Force that left fans confused. Without a clear main character or any coherent plot, The Phantom Menace simply comes up short.

Number 8- Attack of the Clones

Just ahead of The Phantom Menace comes Attack of the Clones. Attack of the Clones is not a good movie. Like it’s predecessor, Clones suffers from dated CGI, too great a focus on politics, and a lack of any chemistry between its main characters. Its attempts at romance fall comically short and once again the plot is convoluted and hard to follow. Still, the film introduced the long-anticipated Clone Wars and gave fans their greatest look to date at a full scale Jedi lightsaber battle. With less Jar Jar and a fully grown Anakin Skywalker, Attack of the Clones improves on The Phantom Menace (though that isn’t saying much).

Number 7- Revenge of the Sith

“This is where the fun begins.” It’s hard to know where to start with this movie. On the one hand, it still suffers from many of the issues that plagued Lucas’ Prequel Trilogy. The actors sometimes struggle, the effects are dated, the pace often drags… yet there’s something about Episode III that seems to endear itself to Star Wars fans more than its early 2000s counterparts. It delivers on the Prequel’s basic promise- to show the rise of the Empire and the fall of Darth Vader. Sure, Padme and Anakin’s romance still lacks emotion and believability. Sure we still spend far too long in Senate chambers, offices, and hallways. But this movie has action, too, and Ian McDiarmid, who plays the Emperor in both the Original and Prequel Trilogies, gives what may be his best Star Wars performance. The movie is at its best near the end, as it cuts back and forth between the resolutions of the trilogy’s different plot threads. Order 66, the suiting-up of Darth Vader, and the handoff of young Luke Skywalker to Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru stand out as highlights of not only the movie, but the trilogy and saga as well.

Number 6- Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

This is the first movie on the list that I can say with confidence I like. It’s just… solid. A tightly told story fit solidly in the mold of a classic Star Wars movie, Rogue One perfectly introduces audiences to the concept of standalone movies in the Star Wars galaxy. Sometimes criticized for lack of character development, the movie still created a strong character arc for lead-heroine Jyn Erso and introduced audiences to new kinds of heroes in Chirrut Imwe and K-2S0. Rogue One also gave us what may just be the best battle sequence in all of Star Wars, not to mention that Darth Vader scene. My biggest complaint about Rogue One may be that it is too solid. While fun on the first few viewings, Rogue One just doesn’t have the re-watch value that is required of a Star Wars movie. Despite being consistently good, Rogue One only has one true highlight moment– and it comes at the very end. For me, that makes it tough to want to actually turn on and watch at any given moment. For this reason I can’t quite put Rogue One above the other Star Wars movies left on this list.

Number 5- The Last Jedi

Last Jedi is the most polarizing movie in the franchise, and it’s not hard to see why. At its best, The Last Jedi has some of the greatest moments in all of Star Wars. From Rey’s training on Ach To, to Kylo Ren’s fateful decision in Snoke’s throne room and the ensuing battle, to Luke’s epic showdown on Crait, The Last Jedi has highlights that only the Original Trilogy can match. It challenges our new cast of main characters in ways that force them to grow. But The Last Jedi challenges the Star Wars fan base, too. It abandons plot strands that had fans tearing their hair out for two years. It asks us to accept a new understanding of the Force and destiny. It humanizes Star War’s greatest hero. Some of these things bother me more than others. Some of these things bother others more and less than they bother me. Your enjoyment of the film often comes down to your ability to accept these fundamental elements of the movie. The Last Jedi suffers from other issues as well- from at-times-frustrating new characters to a botched sequence on Canto Bight that just takes far too long. Still, The Last Jedi keeps the flame of Star Wars alive: in the end, this new trilogy will be defined not as individual movies but as one overarching story. If Episode IX falls short, many fans will likely see Last Jedi as the beginning of the trilogy’s demise. But if IX can rectify some of the issues fans felt with Episode VIII… Star Wars: The Last Jedi may just go down as one of the saga’s truly great installments.

Number 4- The Force Awakens

Coming off of the failed Prequel Trilogy, Star Wars was on its last legs. A series of outstanding trailers and 10 years of cinematic silence propelled Episode VII to the then-biggest opening weekend box office of all time and made The Force Awakens the third highest-grossing film of all time. For most, it was worth the wait. “The Force Awakens” is a perfect title for the movie. Not only does it symbolize Rey’s awakening to the Force, it symbolizes the return of Star Wars to its former glory. This movie is fun. It’s gripping, it’s humorous, it’s got heart. It’s Star Wars again. Sure it recycles plot elements, sure we don’t see Luke Skywalker until the final scene of the movie. But it felt like Star Wars, something that couldn’t truly be said of a movie since Return of the Jedi in 1983. Not only that, it set up Disney’s young new trilogy with an incredible cast of new characters, and new set of theories for fans to obsess over, and the promise of more movies like it. The Force Awakens isn’t perfect, but it’s a darn good movie and the template for what future Star Wars films should strive to be.

Number 3- Return of the Jedi

At last, we’ve arrived at the Original Trilogy. What more can be said about the brilliance that is the original three Star Wars movies? They changed the film industry forever and have inspired generations. A perfect mix of classical themes and character driven story telling, the Original Trilogy will always be king, not just in Star Wars but in all of cinema. It’s hard for me to rank the Original Trilogy because I love each movie for a different reason. In my mind they are equal, but for the sake of this ranking I’ve put Return of the Jedi at number three. This is a great movie. From Jabba’s Palace to the Forrest Moon of Endor, Return of the Jedi added as many icons to the Star Wars canon as any other film in the saga. This movie exists to bring together both the story of the Original Trilogy and the emotional arcs of some of film’s greatest characters, and it does so masterfully. The throne room sequence ending with Vader’s redemption is the greatest sequence in all of Star Wars. It is a near perfect movie, hindered only by the somewhat dated effects of Ewok costumes and changes to the film made in George Lucas’ special editions. Return of the Jedi is a worthy closing to its predecessors, and that is the highest praise it could possibly receive.

Number 2- The Empire Strikes Back

What a great title. Considered by many to be the best Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back takes the genius of the original Star Wars and elevates it. The story is told on a smaller scale, but the stakes for our characters couldn’t be higher. Luke learns the true nature of the Force– and his lineage. Han and Leia’s relationship blossoms into love, and all of our characters find themselves in mortal danger. In this story, our heroes lose. It’s a tale of romance, spirituality, friendship, betrayal, and family. It’s a perfect movie. And George Lucas didn’t even direct it.

Number 1- Star Wars

Now subtitled A New Hope, Star Wars is the movie that started it all. A troubled production that became the then-biggest box office smash of all time, it set the course for what Star Wars would become. This is the movie that gave us Darth Vader’s entrance, the Mos Eisley Cantina, the rebel base on Yavin IV and the freaking Death Star. It gave us Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, 3P0 and R2, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader. This movie finds a way to have it all– incredible characters, an introduction to the Force, and an epic showdown against the Evil Empire– while still leaving room for the story and mythos to grow. Everything from the Emperor to the Clone Wars to the Kessel Run was set up by this movie. Every character, every location, every line of dialogue is an icon. This is the movie that started it all. If Irvin Kershner created one of the greatest films of all time in The Empire Strikes Back, he did so because George Lucas created the greatest story-telling playground of all time in Star Wars. Plus, that trench run scene is hard to beat.


That’s our list– at least until Solo: A Star Wars Story is released on May 25. Happy Star Wars Day and May the Fourth be with you.