On this May the Fourth, we celebrate 37 years of “Star Wars.”
Most of you reading this weren’t born when the first movie blew minds at cinemas around the world (disclaimer, I wasn’t). Heck, a lot of you might not have been old enough to see “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” in theaters, and yes, that freaks me out.
“Star Wars” is a phenomenon like no other, having spawned a cross-platform universe that includes seven movies and seven TV spin-offs (including one ill-fated Holiday Special), and of course, the upcoming and recently cast “Star Wars: Episode VII.” What better way to celebrate this holiest of “Star Wars” days then by ranking every single one of them?
Here is our definitive list of the good, the bad and the ugly of the “Star Wars” franchise.
14) “The Star Wars Holiday Special” (1978)
You’ve probably heard the legend of this insane — and insanely bad — “Star Wars” spin-off that was meant to celebrate Earth Day or something. We don’t know; we’ve blocked it out of our minds. The problem with the Holiday Special is that it’s not even so bad it’s good — it’s just really, really bad. It’s like watching the most boring trainwreck of all time, except Bea Arthur is there for some reason. It’s no wonder George Lucas ordered this, this thing to never be shown again. Unfortunately for him, the Internet exists, and we can all bask in the special’s glorious awfulness.
7) “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” (1999)
You can trace all the negativity about “Star Wars” that now exists back to 1999, and most of the hate is because the hype was just so huge, and the first trailer (above) was so…freaking…good. I was so excited that my mom faked a doctor’s appointment for me and pulled me out of school to see it, and as a kid, I loved it. As I’ve grown up, it’s clear the movie doesn’t hold up, with wooden performances by everyone except Liam Neeson. Midichlorians are dumb, Jar-Jar is annoying, and the Trade War between Naboo and the on-the-nose named and kind of racist Trade Federation is pretty boring. Still, it gave us “Duel Of the Fates,” an epic lightsaber fight, and a fun, if pointless, podracing sequence.
Even though it’s not a good movie, and it did steer the prequels in an unfortunate direction, “Menace” feels the most like a “Star Wars” movie of any of the prequels.
3) “Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of The Jedi” (1983)
This is a tough one for me. As a kid, “Jedi” was my favorite “Star Wars” movie. I loved the Emperor. I loved Jabba. I loved the final Death Star sequence. I liked the Ewoks, and Slave Leia. I’m sure every kid has the same story for that one.
As I’ve gotten older, I understand the criticisms against it. I get that it would probably have been cooler with Wookies than Ewoks. the Death Star plot isn’t too original. It maybe ends a little too happy… but too bad, it’s still awesome. The final fight between Luke and Vader is more emotionally charged than any other lightsaber fight in the series, and the Emperor is a perfect cross of campy villainy and nightmarish villainy. “And now young Skywalker… you will die,” makes my spine tingle as if Force lightning were shooting through me.
Plus, Lando and his sidekick on the Millennium Falcon are the best buddy movie ever.
2) “Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back” (1980)
This might get me more flack than putting “Episode I” above “Episode II”. Look, I love “Empire.” It does exactly what a second film should do: it expands the world of the first, introduces us to amazing new locales and characters (I really hope Lando’s in “Episode VII”), puts our now very-developed characters in real emotional stakes, and culminates in perhaps the greatest twist in film history. The dialogue is sharp. The set pieces, especially the Asteroid Field fight, are awesome to behold. And the finale packs the biggest emotional punch of anything in the series.
So why is it only at number 2? Mostly because, when watched independent of “Jedi,” I was struck by how incomplete it feels. It’s maybe the best cliffhanger of all time, but it still might as well have “To Be Continued” slapped on to the end. The journey is wondrous, but I do think it’s considered as great as it is because “Jedi” at least competently completed that journey. None of this is “Empire”‘s fault: as the second movie in a trilogy, those problems are unavoidable. It’s the best sequel of all-time, and one of the best sci-fi fantasy movies of all time. But it’s just below the best of them all.
1) “Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope” (1977)
Known only as “Star Wars” when it first came out, people sometimes forget how freaking awesome this movie is. The 1977 effects somehow are not that dated (even without the improvements from the Special Edition). The story is a brilliant update on a centuries-old formula. The music is some of the best ever put to film and influenced movies for decades to come. And this isn’t just hindsight: “Star Wars” was nominated for Best Picture in 1978, losing out to Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall.” It was a phenomenon like nothing before and nothing since, and most of it was just because it was, and remains, a wonderful movie.
From the opening crawl, to Luke looking longingly at the twin suns, to Han coming back for the most heroic rescue in movie history, the movie is a goosebump machine, whether you’re five or 55.
The Force is strongest in this one. It’s the first, and it’s the best.
Full list at the Source