Star Wars fans are often divided when it comes to ranking the best or favorite movies in the franchise. These rankings are no doubt shaped by the viewer experience. I was too young to watch the first Star Wars film in the theater, and I lived outside the United States during the release of the movies from the original trilogy.
Here are my favorite Star Wars movies ranked from first to not first, based entirely on my personal, subjective criteria. Although now that I look back at these rankings, they do seem to coincide with three factors: the order in which I saw them, the choreography of the lightsaber duels, and lack of annoying characters (Gungans and Ewoks).
1. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
ESB improves upon the original despite the clunky plot holes no doubt created by changing out writers and directors during the development of ESB and its predecessor. The lightsaber duel between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader ranks atop my list of best movie scenes from my childhood. ESB was actually the first Star Wars movie I watched, because I lived in Japan during the release of ANH and ESB and I happened to see them on videocassette in reverse order for whatever reason. ESB features my favorite lightsaber duels, Luke Skywalker’s first battles against Darth Vader.
“Do. Or do not. There is no try.” — Yoda
These simple words from a 3-foot tall puppet inspired me to greatness, to provide relentless effort in my most trying times.
“No. I am your father.” — Darth Vader
This plot twist provides ESB the most interesting plot dynamic I have seen in any movie.
2. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
ANH should be my favorite, and is likely the favorite amongst 99% of the fans, but I got into the Star Wars movies later than most of my contemporaries by living overseas and, in my defense, whomever introduced me to Star Wars showed me ESB before ANH. ANH was no doubt the most revolutionary, for this is the movie that started the franchise. Even today when I need a pick-me-up movie to help me find hope, I go with the appropriately titled Star Wars Episode I: A New Hope. I rank the lightsaber duel as my #2 duel in Star Wars history.
“Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” — Leia Organa
This line immortalized Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia and captured the minds of millions of fans who rooted for the brash, young kid and the wise, old space wizard to rescue the beautiful princess.
“I find your lack of faith disturbing.” — Darth Vader
This is our introduction to the Force–a Force Choke. I bet you did not learn that choke in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu!
“The Force will be with you. Always.” — Obi-Wan Kenobi
“And also with you!” After seeing the dark side of this mystic space religion, we get to see the light side of the Force, culminating in Obi-Wan Kenobi giving himself to the Force as a form of self sacrifice.
3. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
RO surprisingly ranks amongst my favorite Star Wars movies. Yes, there are some annoying plot holes, but what Star Wars movie is perfect in this regard? Although the only lightsaber duel is in the closing minutes of the movie (Darth Vader destroying rebel scum), I do appreciate the fan edit of Chirrut Imwe wielding a “lightsaber”.
4. Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi
TLJ would be a better movie divorced from the Star Wars saga. I understand that these movies may never live up to my lofty expectations or any other lifelong fan’s, but TLJ found a way to be different and somehow appeal to lifelong fans and neophytes–as long as they were willing to “let the past die”. This movie keeps growing on me, and makes me appreciate it while finding new ways to reduce my ranking on ROTJ.
Since this movie is still in spoiler mode, I will only show the lightsaber training video that is out on YouTube.
5. Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi
ROTJ should rank higher based on Princess Leia’s costume alone, but the Ewoks really turned me off. Also, living in Italy, I was stuck with boatloads of castaway videocassette tapes of various Ewok specials that really drove me to despise those furry creatures.
6. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
TFA was the movie us Generation X-ers waited over three decades to see, and yes, it did disappoint. Despite the disappointment, once I let go of its obvious Geonosian cloning of ANH, I started to appreciate it much more. The lightsaber duels are not as good as the second trilogy, but I rank the movie higher just so I can avoid everything about Jar Jar Binks and the robotic acting of Hayden Christiansen.
7. Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
Parts of AOTC place this movie near the top of the list in terms of pure action and lightsaber skill. The piss-poor acting by Hayden Christiansen and the mere presence of Jar Jar Binks knocked the rankings down below the Ewoks. AOTC has a few lightsaber duels, but I was most excited by the first time watching Yoda with a lightsaber.
8. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
ROTS was supposed to be the coupe de grace for the Star Wars universe–the fall of Anakin Skywalker to the dark side of the Force. I really wanted to enjoy this movie, but, like its predecessor, AOTC, the acting and the plot were bad. In terms of lightsaber duels, it is hard to not like the final battle at Mustafar. If I were to rank these movies just based on the lightsaber duels, this would be in the top three.
9. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
TPM is the worst movie in the Star Wars franchise, other than the Ewok specials and the Christmas specials. The two redeeming qualities to this film are Qui-Gonn Jinn and Darth Maul. The lightsaber duels with Darth Maul are the best ones in the entire Star Wars franchise.
In terms of lightsaber duels, I would rank the movies as follows:
- ESB – Luke Skywalker vs Darth Vader
- ROTS – Obi-Wan Kenobi vs Anakin Skywalker
- ROTJ – Luke Skywalker vs Darth Vader
- TPM – Qui-Gonn Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi vs Darth Maul
- ROTS – Mace Windu vs Emperor Palpatine
- ROTS – Yoda vs Emperor Palpatine
- TLJ – Luke Skywalker vs Kylo Ren
- ANH – Obi-Wan Kenobi vs Anakin Skywalker
- AOTC – Yoda vs Count Dooku
- “RO – Chirrut Imwe vs Stormtroopers”
- ROTS – Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi vs Count Dooku
- AOTC – Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi vs Count Dooku
- TFA – Rey vs Kylo Ren
- ROTS – Obi-Wan Kenobi vs General Grievous
If I had to include the Star Wars: Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels cartoons, I would rank Emperor Palpatine’s battle with Darth Maul, Palpatine’s battle with Anakin and Yoda, and Ahsoka Tano’s battle with Darth Vader just outside the top 3.