A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
The pitch black screen. Then the yellow letters. The booming John Williams score. The text crawl. The wipes. Ben Burtt’s sound effects. Ralph McQuarrie’s stunning visuals. Dennis Muren’s monumental effects work. The Jedi. The Sith. The Force. A new world. No, a galaxy.
George Lucas injected so much creativity into his original 1977 film —simply titled Star Wars because Fox wanted to make sure one movie was a hit before ok’ing a second— that it’s almost hard to tell if he intended to change the way movies would be made for the rest of history.
Whether or not it was his intention, Hollywood has been emulating (or trying) what Lucas did with Star Wars ever since it first zoomed on screen that fateful May over 40 years ago.
Nothing will ever be like Star Wars except Star Wars. Even the new Star Wars movies, be it Lucas’ prequels or the Disney editions, are criticized for having the audacity to merely exist in the shadow of the original trilogy. Nothing will ever touch the original trilogy. I don’t mean in quality, because the original three are not my top three. It can be done.
But nobody will ever be the first to do Star Wars again.
Perhaps it’s a generational, nostalgia-fueled thing. Perhaps. But there is no other franchise like the galaxy far, far away that has become a bigger fixture in our lives. (Though currently, Marvel.)
My life is not excluded. Star Wars has been a passion of mine since being introduced to it at an age 11 birthday party premiere for Revenge of the Sith.
From there, I was all in. Outside of a comic book universe, is there anything as in-depth and inclusive as Star Wars lore? The movies. The books. The comics (Dark Horse, not the new Marvel stuff). The TV shows. The toys. The games.
And in this day and age, the commercials.
Star Wars has stood the test of time and is now in its early stages of Disney’s big chance to creatively control the property. Lucas retired from movies in 2005 and sold the company in 2012, perhaps because of the toxic reception to the prequels, or maybe because the man was just tired.
His life’s work cost him a lot, his marriage notwithstanding, but when it’s all said in done, he will be remembered as one of the most influential and important figures in entertainment history.
He is, without question, the Maker.
Because there have only been 11 Star Wars movies —including The Clone Wars— I am going to include three TV shows. If you have time, a lot of the Star Wars Lego stuff is hilarious, as well.
14. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
I realize my reader audience is probably in the single-digit figures right now. That’s okay. Maybe one day I’ll make it. With that in mind, I don’t write a whole lot of passion pieces outside of the required sports texts I must fulfill in the real world.
HOWEVER. After seeing The Last Jedi, I decided to start sharing some of my movie stuff, already tabbed “CinemAce” and ready to go via some google docs storage.
So when I saw the eighth episode and third Star Wars movie from Disney, who was batting 1.000 to this point in my opinion, everything changed.
And I wrote this.
13. Star Wars Rebels (TV series, 2014-2018)
After Disney acquired Lucasfilm, they had no plans to continue the beloved Clone Wars TV series. Anything to do with the prequels no longer existed. Until it did again.
Star Wars Rebels is by no means bad, it’s just not that good. The Clone Wars, as a cartoon, walked the tightrope of relating to its many different audiences. Rebels was more in tune with its younger viewers, and it’s not even a bad thing.
I just happen to no longer be a kid. I’m here for good characters and good stories. I really like Kanan Jarrus and Satine Kryze, and would recommend the novel A New Dawn if you want to get to know them better. I wish I could recommend the show for that purpose.
Rebels seems to be constantly stuck in a trash compactor, never really pushing the narrative needle. The series pivots heavily after season two to focus on the young Ezra Bridger, who practically begs to be disliked.
Always felt like a missed opportunity, given a large chunk of the saga (episodes IV—VII) has to do with rebel…scum.
12. Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Movie, 2008)
Before it went full television mode, The Clone Wars debut in movie form. It wasn’t received well, but I actually think it’s really good, even earning a spot in my top 200, which is in the works. (2019 edit: it’s over 400 now…)
It kicks off the gist of the show, which would be the Republic and Separatists literally battling to secure allegiances in different galactic corners. The sinister Separatists and the noble Jedi fight to rescue Jabba the Hutt’s somehow adorable son.
It’s not perfect, and has two sorely out of place musical cues that I’ll always remember ironically. But it introduces an important new character to the franchise’s precious canon: Anakin’s apprentice, Ahsoka Tano, and dives way deeper into Count Dooku’s apprentice, Asajj Ventress, introduced in the 2003 Clone Wars show.
11. Star Wars: The Clone Wars (TV series, 2008-2014)
The movie, which was panned, shows more of the kid-friendly side of Dave Filoni’s forthcoming show. For example, Ahsoka’s nicknames for her new Master and extensive droid dialogue. However, the pilot episode of the tv show is indicative of the more serious and grounded tone the show would often take.
The series only got better as it went, and if Lucasfilm isn’t sold, Cartoon Network would probably have run it for at least two-to-three more seasons. A season six was released on Netflix and plans were set to go at least as far as seven before the show was scrapped.
I was a middle school kid when it came out, in the twilight of my popular years, so I obviously preferred the less hokey episodes of the show. Like any show, as great as TCW is, it’s not immune to a whole lot of filler. Droid arc in season five anyone?
But the show delivers on a whole bunch of incredible stories that we didn’t have time for in the movies. For as much as Star Wars is synonymous with Jedi, we don’t see a lot of the Jedi in the episodic movies. But, in the show, the Jedi Council is shown in full force.
The Sith are fleshed out as well, in the many forms of Palpatine/Sidious, Dooku, General Grievous, Ventress and another certain dark sider, the boldest move of all…
…bringing back the bisected Darth Maul. (No, Solo wasn’t the first to do so.) Maul’s return was a big risk, cause you know, but the Maul episodes are apart of the better half of a split season five. Whether it be him seeking revenge on Obi-Wan and/or his old master, his new brother Savage Opress, or his time on the throne of Mandalore. Mandalorians are awesome and are not just Fett exclusive.
After Rebels ran its course and The Last Jedi bombed fanatically (certainly not financially), Disney “saved” the show and it is expected to resume scheduled programming in late 2019 on the the streaming service Disney+. All is forgiven? *shrug emoji*
10. Star Wars: Clone Wars (TV series, 2003-2005)
Back when animation didn’t exactly sparkle, you had to find an animation style to separate yourself in the burgeoning branch of film. Though the first or two Clone Wars TV series is much smaller in size than its successor, it has no room for dreaded TV “fluff” or time at all for wasted narrative space.
Star Wars, not unlike many movies, often skips over some time in-between installments. While the biggest gap in time is between Episodes I and II, the main movies do gloss over the galaxy-changing war that divided the universe and crippled the Jedi Order between Episodes II and III.
So a TV show was the next best option, and the first entry into it is definitely unique. Released in 2003 and finishing up in 2005, it picks up right after Attack of the Clones and literally feeds into Revenge of the Sith.
Episodes were short and sweet —sometimes only minutes long— and were surprisingly tailored to a more mature audience. Obviously there is no Sith nudity, but it isn’t as consistently light as the two TV series that followed.
I’m fascinated with the prequels and the prequel era (obviously many are not) and want any opportunity to learn about the Clone War. Especially since it is a pivotal moment on the Star Wars timeline, first name-dropped by Ben Kenobi himself in A New Hope.
9. Solo: A Star Wars Story
After The Last Jedi, my lifelong obsession with Star Wars had taken a hit. But that was that movie and this was this movie. Solo was a chance for things to get back on track.
Massive behind-the-scenes drama and a director swap ballooned the movie’s budget to nearly $300 million. It was the first Star Wars since The Empire Strikes Back not to make at least $215 million domestically. (Yeah, Empire made almost $100mm less than the first Star Wars.)
What was eventually Ron Howard’s product was a bounce-back Star Wars effort. (Though the box office and critics didn’t echo that sentiment.) There are many rewarding moments and several canon name drops like Felucia, Aurra Sing and Lando mispronouncing Han’s name.
People were skeptical from day one about a Han movie without Ford, but Alden Ehrenreich is fantastic and the movie feels like a Star Wars film…albeit with a laughably pointless cliff-hanging cameo.
8. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The remainder of the list are some of my favorite movies in the history of ever. Also, they’ve all been touched upon at length in other articles.
When Disney bought Star Wars, I was optimistic because Disney hasn’t done much meddling into Marvel’s worldwide success. But Marvel had an existing creative team. Disney was taking full control of Lucasfilm, and thus could do whatever they wanted going forward with Star Wars.
Relying on the original cast in Episode VI, then nuking the fridge in VII, was an odd game plan.
7. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
My personal favorite of the Disney Star Wars films, it’s dark, gritty, risky and certainly unexpected. Whatever issues the production had, it’s hard to tell. The Rogue One blu-ray release shows very little of director Gareth Edwards and is the only Star Wars movie without a director’s commentary. I wouldn’t have been able to tell.
It’s the first Star Wars movie to not feature John Williams as composer, though golden boy Michael Giacchino (who also replaced Williams in the Jurassic Park/World franchise) steps in and is worthy of his predecessor’s legacy. Modern CGI also makes for the best Darth Vader scene in the archive.
6. Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi
Another Death Star is a tough sell, but Lucas never intended to have it in the first installment. The resolution to Darth Vader’s incredible tale, coupled with a concluding hero’s journey for Luke, Leia and Han is bittersweet, the final credits indicating the end of something truly special.
5. Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope
That’s no movie…it’s history. Changed everything and officially set the stage for the sci-fi cinematic revolution.
4. Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones
I think the prequels contribution to the total Star Wars narrative is some of the greatest storytelling in the history of cinema. Lucas has a flare for just about everything, but his biggest weakness seems to be writing romance. The love scenes bring an all-timer down a slight notch, but the true star of Episode II is McGregor’s Obi-Wan. It was insanely cool to see the Jedi Council further fleshed out.
3. Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace
Jake Lloyd —and then Hayden Christensen— were fighting a losing battle from day one trying to play the part of future Darth. I happen to think both of them, particularly Lloyd and then Christensen in Episode III, ace it.
I like Lloyd and I believe in Anakin’s tragic tale starting with him. Liam Neeson’s one-off Qui-Gon Jinn is, for my credits, one of the strongest characters in all of the shows. (Nod to FX guru Dennis Muren, who called the movies “shows.”) Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan starts here and this really is his trilogy.
I’m not primarily here for the action, but the pod racing sequence is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. Points unfortunately lost for Jar Jar.
2. Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back
Middle acts in a trilogy are some of the best movies. Empire, Spider-Man 2, Dark Knight, Winter Soldier. Infinity War is not in the middle but also not the end. Sometimes, you just want to see the bad guy win.
Traditionally, they don’t. Obviously. And even all of these movies listed save Infinity War actually end in mostly triumphant fashion for the heroes. But, aside from the ending optimistic shot of Luke’s new arm and the assembling Rebel fleet, Empire Strikes Back truly belongs to Darth Vader and the Empire.
1. Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
Not just my top Star Wars movie, but my favorite movie of all time. The Battle of the Heroes, aka the Duel on Mustafar, is PEAK filmmaking. Comics and sci-fi are notorious for being cheeky and lacking depth. That’s the complete opposite of what happens in ROTS. Sometimes you lose. But this is not the end. The fall of the Republic and birth of the Empire is (to me) the coolest overall arc in the history of entertainment.