It's a favorite pastime of many Star Wars fans everywhere—"what's your list?" Up until late 2015, the answer was pretty easy. First comes the legendary OG trilogy, then comes a gaping maw of nothing, and then you get to the unloved prequels. Now with four new Disney films, that answer is starting to get a little more complicated.
Of course, some things stay the same. Summer 2002 was the absolute nadir of the Star Wars franchise. After a disappointing return three years earlier, fans were ready to give Star Wars a second chance. Their faith was misplaced.
Torturously boring and horribly acted, Attack of the Clones reached new depths of terrible in a galaxy far, far away. Where The Phantom Menace at least had Darth Maul and John Williams' brilliant "Duel of Fates," Clones remains the one Star Wars film we wish we could wipe from our collective memory.
Don't get too smug, The Phantom Menace, you were a close second. A few high points aside, this movie wilted beneath its gargantuan expectations. In fact, the film was so bad that it inspired people to spend lots and lots of time . It's so much more than just Jar Jar Binks.
Phantom would have been bad even without all the Star Wars-y dressing, and the film made almost every Star Wars fan question if returning to the franchise was such a good idea. It would take more than 15 years for many fans to feel excited about a new Star Wars movie again.
It is clearly the most palatable of the prequel trilogy, though that is by no means a compliment.
Like the previous two films, Revenge of the Sith suffers from stilted dialogue, too much CGI, and a script that makes no sense. Seeing how Anakin was tricked into becoming Darth Vader only makes the entire prequel experience that much worse.
The two saving graces in this film are Ewan McGregor and Ian McDiarmid, who you can tell just loves playing the galactic fascist Palpatine. But for the most part, by the time you're watching Revenge, you're just happy the whole prequel ordeal is over.
Before Rogue One acolytes get too pissed about its low placement, let us just say there is a monstrous chasm of quality between it and the film that precedes it—so there's that. Nothing is horribly amiss about Rogue One, and for the most part it's actually gorgeous and fun to watch. These are two big steps up from episodes I, II, and III.
That said, the characters are boring and the preordained conclusion doesn't help things. Many parts of Rogue One make you feel like you're viewing a high-budget fan film, packed with maximum fan service. Also, it's yet again another film about the Death Star. Enough. With. The. Death. Star.
Solo is the first Star Wars film to dial down the immensity of its plot and allow audiences to enjoy a small story in its beloved galaxy. Of course like Rogue One, it turns the self-referential fan service up to 11, but one major victory over its one-off predecessor is that the characters feel like real people more so than Jyn Erso and her band of rebels. Helped along by good performances and great set design, Solo is better than it has any right to be.
The Force Awakens is basically a reboot of A New Hope that masquerades as its sequel. So many plot elements are ripped from A New Hope that, after a while, you really do start to question whether you're watching a different movie at all.
But after a decade long hiatus following the prequels, J. J. Abrams had a gargantuan task in reviving Star Wars, and for the most part, he pulls it off. There's space adventure, we see old friends, meet new and exciting characters, and most of all it feels like Star Wars.
Palpatine wouldn't be pleased (seriously, Starkiller Base is just a bigger Death Star), but The Force Awakens is a surprisingly solid movie considering the franchise's history with relaunches.
An incredible end to an incredible journey. Return of the Jedi is often remembered (and unfairly dismissed) as the weakest of the original trilogy, but that's an accolade when you consider the competition. With amazing set pieces like Jabba's Palace and the Emperor's throne room, Jedi's adventure across the galaxy nicely concludes one of the most epic space adventures in cinematic history.
The ending unfortunately fractures into three, which makes things somewhat chaotic. Ewoks are cute but I doubt effective against a galactic military with the resources to build robot planets, and yes—there's another friggin' Death Star! But as far as conclusions go, it gives a sense of finality and a hopeful end to three films of galactic strife.
Film franchises are tricky things. Sometimes the films that gave rise to it are so transformative they make subsequent entries feel like mere facsimiles of the original. Rogue One fell into this trap, and so did The Force Awakens and even Return of the Jedi in a way.
On the other hand, The Last Jedi felt like we were finally watching a wholly new Star Wars adventure. Yes, some familiar faces remained, and yes, Canto Bight was an unfortunate aside, but so many scenes felt new, unexpected, exciting, and completely mesmerizing. The acting is superb, the motivations nuanced, and the plot deceptively simple but were more complex than any Star Wars film before it.
The film takes its inspiration from samurai influences and elements of real-world warfare. That is to say, The Last Jedi looks to the stuff that inspired Star Wars rather than simply mimicking Star Wars itself. It's not perfect—only two films are—but it gives hope that Star Wars still has the capacity to surprise.
Speaking of hope...
It's hard to speak ill of the original. A New Hope is such an inspirational work, it's almost hard to put into words. So we won't use too many.
Drawing on influences from pulp science fiction, military dogfights, and Japanese cinema (to name only a few), there's a reason this film alone created a cottage industry of filmmakers . Light and Dark. Good and Evil. A hero's journey. It's all here and ready for you to watch again, and again, and again.
A New Hope made Star Wars a classic, but The Empire Strikes Back made it a legend. Without this indelible follow-up film, Star Wars would be remembered as very good—even great—but definitely not a multi-billion dollar piece of IP. The Empire Strikes Backs turns up the stakes while pulling off one of the more gustier cinematic moves: It lets the heroes lose.
Empire is brilliantly directed, edited, acted, and written. Exploring the swamps of Dagobah and the wispy skies of Cloud City makes the universe feel so much bigger, and new characters like Yoda, Lando Calrissian, and Boba Fett, have become cultural icons.
It's not just the best Star Wars film, it's one the best sci-fi films of all time. We would be so lucky to see it dethroned in our lifetime, but don't count on it.