I’ve got a bad feeling about this. In my attempt to rank every Star Wars movie and TV show, I realize how daunting a task this is. Not to mention there’s no way to do this without making someone upset.
There are plenty of lists that rank all the Star Wars movies, but I want to include the TV shows. With Disney+, Star Wars and TV have become a powerful combination. But there are still some horrific TV offerings (not including the time Star Wars characters appeared on the Muppet Show).
I’m going to focus on just the live-action movies and TV shows. I realize there is an entire world of animated Star Wars content, but that could keep us here for days—and I need to lie down soon.
Lists like these are as subjective as they come. I think, however, that I come at it with a decent perspective. I was a little kid when Star Wars hit its stride in the 1980s. It became part of my pop-culture identity. I was in high school when the prequels came out, so I was of the age that most anticipated their release. I’ve seen the entire landscape of Star Wars over my years, so I hope I can put that perspective to good use.
OK, *takes deep breath* here we go…
#16. Attack of the Clones
I tried to re-watch Attack of the Clones the other day and just couldn’t do it. I got about halfway through before turning it off. The acting is bad; it looks like one long video game, and it just feels so clunky and lost.
This was one of the first movies that was shot 100% digitally. The issue is they filled the screen with as much technology and CGI as possible and this just distracts from the heart and soul of Star Wars. Here, technology takes precedence over everything else.
This was the second part of a new trilogy and I think we had our expectations for another Empire Strikes Back. But the film just seemed to drag on talking about trade embargos and government issues. Things that kids just love…
#15. Ewoks: The Battle For Endor
Battle For Endor came out in 1985 and was a second made-for-TV Star Wars offering. Well, there is another—but we’ll get to that in a moment.
Ewoks: Battle for Endor capitalized on the enormous popularity of the Ewoks. It’s all about an orphaned girl who joins up with the Ewoks to protect their village from the evil Marauders. This is technically a sequel to the first Ewoks movie, but it goes off the rails pretty quick.
Even as a kid, I remember thinking that this sucked. It felt like an unrelated spin-off that they just slapped the Star Wars logo on. It’s based on a story by George Lucas but was adapted so heavily that it barely represents the Star Wars universe.
You can catch these on Disney+ and, depending on your age, you may look back at it fondly. Spoiler alert: it does not hold up well.
#14. The Phantom Menace
The disappointment has never left. In fairness, how in the world was this movie going to live up to the hype? It was borderline impossible, but it has some redeeming moments. I think we wanted more of a rehash of the original trilogy, but that wasn’t the point of this film. Still, I remember leaving the theatre feeling hopelessly let down.
What stands out is the pod racer scene, the Darth Maul duel, and some of the best music John Williams has ever composed. It’s unfair to criticize something for not being exactly like the original movies: because we still have those to go back to.
I think the problem is that The Phantom Menace completely lost the tone created by the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. It seemed a little too cartoony and having Jar Jar Binks didn’t help, either.
The most telling sign that The Phantom Menace didn’t work is from the documentary “The Beginning: Making Star Wars: Episode 1 The Phantom Menace.” As he watches some first cuts of the film, you can see the dread coming over George Lucas.
#13. Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure
Here’s the first offering of the made-for-TV Ewoks movies. Caravan of Courage holds up a little better than the Battle For Endor. This was a monumental event in my household when it came out. It was still ok, but I was expecting Luke Skywalker to show up and take over the entire show.
In Caravan of Courage, we get a bit more connection to all things Star Wars. it came out in 1984 and brought the Ewoks back into our lives. It has only been a year since Return of the Jedi, so everything was still fresh in our minds.
This movie is the simple tale of the Ewoks helping two young kids reunite with their parents. Whereas Battle for Endor felt too fantasy-based, Caravan of Courage feels better connected to science fiction.
George Lucas had much more involvement with this and served as executive producer. The budget was limited—as is clear in the special effects—but, for a kid, it was still an amazing experience to have new Star Wars we didn’t have to go to the theatre to see.
Why would George Lucas be involved in a simple TV special when he was the biggest producer in Hollywood at that point? Well, this leads nicely into my next decision…
#12. The Star Wars Holiday Special
This should technically be dead last on this list, but the legacy of the Star Wars Holiday Special has made me push it higher up this list. What happened on the night of November 17, 1978, wasn’t just regarded as the worst thing to ever happen to Star Wars: it was considered one of the worst things to ever air on TV.
If you haven’t seen this thing, The Star Wars Holiday Special is the story of Chewbacca trying to get back to his home planet of Kashyyyk to celebrate Life Day. That’s it, that’s the entire premise. What takes place over the next two hours are some of the most asinine moments in TV history.
George Lucas was trying to keep Star Wars fresh in the public’s mind after A New Hope came out, but this show went completely off the rails. You honestly have to see it to believe it. The problem is, this thing has really grown on me. I don’t know how it became a transition, but I now watch it each year on Festivus. It’s so bad that I now secretly love.
Despite George Lucas wanting nothing to do with it: it has now become canon. Life Day was mentioned in the first episode of the Mandalorian, and we then got the Lego Star Wars Holiday Special. Love it or hate it, this thing is never going away. Here’s a full article I wrote all about it.
#11. Revenge of the Sith
I’ll just say it: I felt like I sat through all the prequels just for the last 10 minutes of this movie. It’s definitely the best of the original prequels, but I’m not sure that’s saying much. I do like the darker tone of this film and seeing Anakin’s descent into Darth Vader.
Ewan McGregor is great and I like his portrayal of Obi-Wan Kenobi. I also love seeing the progression of Palpatine into what will ultimately be the Emperor. With Revenge of the Sith, I feel the prequels ended on a high note. The night I saw it in the theatre, I couldn’t wait to get home and watch the originals. Finally, these movies were all connected.
The problem to me is (not including the ending) there’s not a lot that’s memorable in Revenge of the Sith. But it ties up Anakin’s journey. And that’s the best way to look at all 9 movies: The originals are about Luke; the prequels about Anakin, and the last three about Rey.
#10. The Last Jedi
How can one movie cause such division? But I’ll give you my initial reaction after first seeing it: embarrassed. I convinced my brother and brother-in-law (who aren’t the biggest Star Wars fans in the world) to go see it: and I was embarrassed I took them. I somehow felt responsible for the disappointment they felt.
You know that awkward silence in a theatre after an awful movie? It was palpable that night. Whereas there was an excitement and joy in the theatre after watching The Force Awakens on opening night, this was the complete opposite. I even heard people booing.
For one of the few times in my life, I went to the movies by myself to see it again. I wanted to see if it was as bad as I remembered. It wasn’t—but it still felt like a letdown. It just seems so disjointed; Rey’s background now meant nothing; we had a new Supreme Leader out of nowhere, and a lot of it was eye-rolling.
After a few more viewings, I think it’s decent, but initial impressions still mean a lot. I will say it’s visually stunning and probably has the most impressive visuals of anything in all of Star Wars.
I left the theatre just feeling ‘meh’ about Solo. I’d been waiting for a movie like this since I was a little kid, and I think expectations were still high. However, the next time I saw it—I liked it a lot. Subsequent viewings have brought me back closer to that ‘meh’ level. But I still think it’s a fun adventure.
I love origin stories and who better than the swashbuckling space pirate? This movie faced a lot of disjointedness and Ron Howard had to be brought in to finish it. And I think it shows. At its core, Solo is a heist movie, and that’s what makes it fun. The problem to me is I feel Han Solo takes a back seat to too many other characters.
Donald Glover is sublime as Lando and seeing the origin of when Han and Chewbacca met fills in a lot of gaps. It’s still good, but not as great as it could have been if that makes sense.
#8. The Rise of Skywalker
I like this movie. With each viewing, I continue to like it. I understand the criticisms of it, but we all know that J.J. Abrams had a mess on his hands. He had to come in and try to put the pieces together to conclude this trilogy.
I love the return of the Emperor. I think they made him even more sinister and the scenes of his return and confrontations with Rey are wonderfully intense. The ending seemed a little too similar to Avengers: End Game, but it was the culmination of over 40 years—so I get it.
I thought it was good that we finally got some clarity regarding Rey’s lineage. I was hoping she was a Kenobi, but we can’t always get what we want.
As a series, I thought this ended as well as it could. Many didn’t like that they had to go back to the well and bring back the Emperor, but it was a simple way to tie together the entire legacy.
#7. The Force Awakens
There was so much anticipation for this movie. It had been so long since Revenge of the Sith, and expectations were through the roof. Looking back, it may not be as great as we originally thought—but I want to go with this ranking based on how I felt the first time I watched it.
I thought it was such a joyous surprise that The Force Awakens was good. I was expecting the worst and got a glorious return to the Star Wars universe. With enough time passed, it seems like a rehash of a New Hope, but that doesn’t diminish it. It gave Han Solo the send-off that Harrison Ford had always wanted (self-sacrifice) and seeing Star Wars in a new world of advanced technology made it feel right.
Rey is a great character, and the movie is filled with some iconic imagery. Kylo Ren works well as a suitable adversary and I think Adam Driver is brilliant in it. It’s easy to re-watch The Force Awakens, and it feels as if it will hold up well for years.
#6. The Mandalorian: Season 2
The Mandalorian seemingly came out of nowhere. I was very hesitant to hear about the new Disney+ series and this was such a pleasant surprise. I’ll cover more about season one in a minute. I think season 2 may have been more impactful, but season one helped to establish this new world of Star Wars.
In season two, we get the continuation of the return of “the child” to the Jedi, and the entire season really expands out the Star Wars universe. I love how different directors were brought in to give their own take on their specific episodes. This makes all the episodes feel like they standalone, despite all being connected together.
And then there is one of the most surprising returns in years. When the last episode came out, I had to avoid spoilers all day. I heard something big happened but never in a million years thought we would *spoiler alert* ever see Luke Skywalker again. I feel this series—and even that one moment—brought Star Wars back to life.
Everything about this show works, and it’s nice to feel excited about Star Wars again.
#5. The Mandalorian: Season 1
I had very little hopes for this show when I heard it announced. What an amazing surprise the Mandalorian was. Jon Favreau captured the essence of A New Hope with this series. The look and tone of it give us a return to a Western-style, Saturday afternoon serial which is at the heart of the original movie.
It doesn’t go over the top with fan service (despite how much I love that) and it introduced the world to Baby Yoda. Pedro Pascal is terrific, and the score creates a really unique feel and tone for the series.
I was amazed at how great the technology was in this series. I also loved how it explored more of those father/son themes we saw in the original trilogy. I don’t think I know anyone who didn’t like the Mandalorian, and it was an unexpected surprise to return us back to the Star Wars universe.
#4. A New Hope
The film that started it all. It’s hard to rank the definitive movie in a franchise, but I’m sticking with #4. When you go back to watch it, it’s pretty cheesy. The dialogue is absurd, and the performances aren’t that great. The story is also a simple Joseph Campbell/hero’s journey.
But that doesn’t matter. This movie is still astonishing when you consider it’s now considered middle-aged. If you watch a 4K copy of it, it looks like it was made only 5 years ago. Even with the technical limitations of the 1970s: it’s a remarkable spectacle.
Star Wars, along with Jaws, changed movies forever and created the blockbuster as we know it.
Fun Fact: we get the term blockbuster from lines at movie theaters stretched around the blocks trying to get into Jaw and Star Wars.
#3. Rogue One
I understand if you leave right now. But I love Rogue One. I’m a sucker for anything that takes place alongside something we know is already happening. I love that it improves the viewing of the original. I also love that they base this entire movie on just two lines from the opening crawl in A New Hope.
It’s dark, violent, and lets us deep into the characters. It has what I believe to be the best scene in all of Star Wars when Vader destroys everyone while trying to retrieve the stolen Death Star plans. This movie—and scene—put in place the essence of Star Wars and Vader’s revelation of the coming rebellion.
Everything that happens in this movie feels important because we know how it will play out. It feels raw and gritty. The battle scenes are astonishing and I thought it created some of the best drama of any of the movies. When I want to watch a Star Wars movie; Rogue One always comes to mind.
#2. The Empire Strikes Back
Yes, this is the best Star Wars movie, but I’ll explain why it’s not my number one choice in a moment. The Empire Strikes Back was thankfully not a rehash of the original and took us deep into Star Wars mythology. We got a better understanding of who Luke Skywalker is and it contains the best reveal in movie history.
It’s also visually stunning. It had only been three years since A New Hope, but the advances in filmmaking and technology seemed to jump by light-years. If Star Wars was more of a kid’s movie, The Empire Strikes Back became more adult.
As writer Lawrence Kasdan says, the second part of a three-act play is often when things go to hell, and that’s often the best act. That’s exactly what happens in The Empire Strikes Back. They left us very unsure of things, with no idea where we’ll go from here.
More than forty years later: this movie is still flawless.
#1. Return of the Jedi
I picked this as my number one choice because it brought everything together so perfectly. What makes it stand out to me is the excitement and action throughout the entire film. Where The Empire Strikes Back slowed things down: Return of the Jedi came back full throttle.
The space battles were epic, we saw the destruction of Jabba the Hutt, and experienced the battle on the forest moon of Endor. It reveals Anakin Skywalker’s true humanity and wraps up the whole trilogy nicely.
I love it because we see the full journey of Luke. It shows how resilience and heart can overcome any obstacles. In this case, the little guy won. Return of the Jedi has always been my favorite Star Wars entry and every time I watch it, it transports me back to that little kid who was in absolute awe of what he was seeing.
A few years ago, I noticed something. Whenever a new MCU film or trailer came out, there was a flourish of activity to break it down; interpret the meaning; predict what will happen, and just a full analysis.
When a Star Wars movie came out, there was immediate backlash and division. I’m not sure when this happened—or why—but a division seemed to happen. It’s hard when changes come to something that people cherish so deeply. I felt that The Rise of Skywalker signaled the end of all things Star Wars, but the release of the Mandalorian has breathed fresh life into it.
Ranking every Star Wars movie and TV show is tough, but fun to narrow down exactly how you feel about all the offerings.
I’m not sure where things go from here, but the franchise has created a film legacy that’s not going away anytime soon. As for me, I think I need to lie down. Thanks for taking the time to read this.