Quick note: Since we’re on the verge of Disney’s Marvel-ization of Star Wars, I’m only going to take the Main Saga into account here.
Let’s get right to it.
5, 4, 6 & 3, 7, …. , 2, 1
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Star Wars in all its shapes and forms, but looking at the series as objectively as I possibly can as a human being, there are clearly some significant differences in quality.
Now, for the explanations of my rankings (I’m limiting myself to three sentences apiece, since I could honestly write a book of analysis on Star Wars):
Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
Episode V is clearly the best Star Wars movie and, coincidentally (but not really), also the one with the least involvement from George Lucas (sorry, George). The newborn saga follows itself up with a significantly grittier and (relatively speaking, of course) brutally realistic follow-up to the events of A New Hope. Episode V takes the audience on an emotional roller coaster filled with smart visuals, smooth acting, an incredibly well-crafted expanded universe, and –most importantly – a masterful inversion of the pleasant simplicity found in the original film.
Episode IV – A New Hope
Of course, we always have to take into account that A New Hope is the original, the one that allowed the other films to even occur in the first place…I hate that argument. So, that point aside, Episode IV gives audiences a perfect model of simplicity – one that allows the viewer to gather their own meaning from the emotionally packed story with shocking visuals far ahead of its time (as well as the most underrated villain of all time, Grand Moff Tarkin…dude blew up a planet just to make a point, like, come on). Lucas – with some much needed help from his friends – was able to create an incredibly imaginative fairy tale that runs smoothly and immediately immerses the viewer into the bombastic galaxy far, far away.
Episode VI – Return of the Jedi &
Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
Before you jump down my throat here, let’s put our nostalgia aside and look at these films objectively (I get six sentences here, so cut me a break).
Sorry, but Episode VI is not that good…. it’s not.
From the absolutely dreadful intro at Jabba’s palace (really the Sarlacc? Really the Sarlacc burped up…burped. up. the most feared bounty hunter in the galaxy?) to the entire premise of rebuilding the Death Star with the exact same flaw, Episode VI doesn’t even try to give its viewers a concerted effort at meaningful originality.
At least Episode III tried. It wrapped up the most disappointing set of prequels you’ll ever find with a pretty smooth and well-styled plotline that gave us all a deserving transition back into the original trilogy. Granted, George Lucas is a terrible scriptwriter (have you seen the original versions of A New Hope?), and yes, Hayden Christensen happened (I’d like to talk to you, Robin Gurland), but terrible portions of acting and writing aside, the rest of the film is actually so well done.
If you made me choose, I’d say Episode VI over Revenge of the Sith, but only because VI does its most important scenes so well (the character of the Emperor and the fight between Luke and Vader are flawless), and III fails to make its climactic scenes do anything other than make you let out a huge disappointed laugh (“You underestimate my power” should say it all * sigh *).
Episode VII – The Force Awakens
Maybe this will shock and bother some people, maybe not, and I will grant you that my final review of Episode VII depends on what VIII does with it, so we’ll see. That being said, The Force Awakens gave us a thoroughly enjoyable, incredibly high quality and well-acted nostalgia-fest. I enjoyed the film, but I was hoping that Abrams and Kasdan would be able to put together some of Star Wars’ truly iconic originality, and not just the simplistic homage to the originals that does nothing more than completely follow the storyline of Episode IV in every way.
(But again, if Episode VIII uses this sequential copy of the original film as a means of making a more poignant turn in the plot with YES RIAN JOHNSON, then wow, this will move.)
Episode II – Attack of the Clones
On the positive side, The Clone Wars at least tried to set up a more evenly-paced lead-in to the climax of the prequel trilogy, giving us an attempt at picking up the slack left by the stagnant plotline of Episode I. That being said, the entire CGI-fueled, overly action-filled, poorly acted and scripted (Ewan McGregor aside, he shines as always) two and a half hours of Attack of the Clones responds to complaints of slow, uneven pacing with too much too fast, and without letting literally 5 seconds of the film go without music (did nobody else notice this? It’ll make it even worse for you. There is no silence). Objectively speaking, I have to put this as second worst; personally speaking, this is my least favorite.
Episode I – The Phantom Menace
So, at least it’s creative? But actually, no – that’s also a negative. The Phantom Menace gives pretty much everyone very little reason to enjoy it, since most of us just get lost in the unevenly paced throws of George Lucas’s imagination that dilute the actual plot (yes, I think there is one), and leave us with a completely forgettable (luckily) installment in the entire saga (except for that perfect fight with Darth Maul…literally the only thing that went right).
In the end, it all boils down to Star Wars’ ability to maintain its simplicity. Simple effects, scripts, and plots allow the viewers to actually connect to the fairy tale at the core of the saga to derive their own personal readings and meanings. The more you add in the way of special effects, clunky scripts, and overly complicated plots, the more you take away from its personal resonance. Additionally, the more you add to the overall saga with irrelevant complexities, the less enjoyable it will get. I can only hope that Episodes VIII and IX will give us all a much-needed return to the imaginative simplicity that we all hope to find in Star Wars once more.