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Every Star Wars movie ranked from worst to best

With eight main saga installments, an anthology movie, and numerous television releases and animated spinoffs, Star Wars is undoubtedly one of the biggest Hollywood properties ever. Even after four decades, it's still going strong—as of this writing, there's at least one more Skywalker saga film, several standalone anthology movies, and even a brand-new trilogy in the works.

However, just being a "Star Wars movie" isn't enough to guarantee success, and from The Phantom Menace to the Star Wars Holiday Special, there have definitely been some missteps along the way. Here's a look back at all the movies that are part of the massive phenomenon that is Star Wars, as we rank them in order from worst to best. Spoilers ahead!

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008)

While 2008's Star Wars: The Clone Wars made history as the first fully animated Star Wars feature-length film, it…isn't great. Essentially a TV pilot packaged for the big screen to attract young moviegoers, it was almost universally panned by critics and (adult) audiences, and even nominated for a Razzie. Viewers complained about the movie's unimpressive and stiff animation and "Saturday morning cartoon" production values.

With a budget of only $8.5 million and a script filled with stilted dialogue, forced tension, and pithy aphorisms, The Clone Wars just wasn't suited for the big screen. Nevertheless, it succeeded at the box office, and worked as a vehicle to introduce audiences to Cartoon Network's The Clone Wars animated series—which went on to be extremely popular. It seems Disney and Lucasfilm learned their lesson along the way: they chose to introduce their next animated series—Star Wars Rebels—via a one-hour television special, Star Wars Rebels: Spark of Rebellion.

Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)

Until 2008's The Clone Wars came along, the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special (1978) reigned for 30 years as the worst Star Wars movie. The show starts with ten minutes of untranslated Wookiee dialogue, and things go bizarrely downhill from there; segments include musical numbers, comedy bits, cameos by Hollywood stars, and an appearance by the rock band Jefferson Starship. The one bright spot of the Holiday Special is a cartoon introducing the character of Boba Fett, but the rest is like watching a slow-motion trainwreck.

George Lucas had originally been sold on the idea of a TV special by the producing team of Gary Smith and Dwight Hemion. The pair has won multiple Emmy awards for their musical and variety specials, but their formula backfired spectacularly here: Nathan Rabin of The A.V. Club later opined that it must have been "written and directed by a sentient bag of cocaine." For his part, Lucas (who neither wrote nor directed the special) later claimed that "If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy of that show and smash it." Since it first aired on November 17, 1978, the movie has never been rebroadcast or seen any sort of digital release. However, if you're a glutton for punishment, you can still watch the Star Wars Holiday Special in all its awful glory through videotaped bootlegs on YouTube.

The Ewok Adventure (1984)

The first of two television spinoff films featuring stories set on the moon of Endor, 1984's The Ewok Adventure follows young siblings Mace and Cindel Towani, who set out on a rescue mission, aided by Wicket and the rest of the Ewoks, after their family's ship crashes and their parents are snatched by the monstrous Gorax.

In contrast to the Holiday Special, George Lucas was deeply involved with the production of The Ewok Adventure. Additionally, the movie's special effects were developed by ILM, and it even had a (mostly) original musical score. After it aired on November 25, 1984, the reviews were lukewarm at best—which isn't surprising given the young target audience. That said, The Ewok Adventure drew 65 million viewers, won an Emmy, had a limited theatrical release, and spawned a sequel, with which it was reissued on a double-feature DVD in 2004. Stars Eric Walker (Mace) and Warwick Davis (Wicket) also put out a "making of" video in 2014—made from footage the child stars shot themselves while on the set.  

Ewoks: The Battle for Endor (1985)

As previously mentioned, The Ewok Adventure was the first of two spinoff films set on Endor. The 1985 sequel Ewoks: The Battle for Endor continues the tale begun in the first TV movie, but with a slightly meatier and more serious plot. As they make preparations to leave Endor, the Towani family and their Ewok hosts are attacked by Sanyassan Marauders looking to steal parts to fix their own disabled ship. While Cindel manages to escape, her parents and brother are killed in the firefight, as are many Ewoks. Wicket and Cindel take refuge with a reluctant hermit living deep in the forest, where they (and their new allies) formulate a desperate plan to defeat the Marauders and take back what was stolen.

As with The Ewok Adventure, George Lucas was involved heavily in the creative process for The Battle for Endor, his company ILM handled the special effects, and composer Peter Bernstein returned to create the score. According to co-director Ken Wheat, Lucas got his inspiration for the sequel's plot after watching Heidi with his daughter. Like its predecessor, The Battle for Endor won an Emmy, had a brief overseas theatrical run, and made it onto home media in various forms.The Battle for Endor is marginally better than The Ewok Adventure—but even with its stronger plot, this sequel isn't deep enough to make a lasting impression.

Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

In 1999, the hype surrounding the new Star Wars prequel trilogy was off the charts. Unfortunately, Episode I: The Phantom Menace was a complete letdown—even for many young fans. Did George Lucas really think kids would want to watch a movie about embargoes, taxation, and political intrigue? Even worse, it's unevenly paced and full of clichés and borderline racist caricatures. While visually impressive, The Phantom Menace gets lost on the narrative front, with the help of Padmé Amidala and her body doubles, an unplanned vacation to a desert planet, and Jar Jar Binks.

While critics knocked Jake Lloyd for a stilted performance as young Anakin Skywalker, he wasn't really given the best material to work with. If you're a child actor, and George Lucas gives you dialogue like "Are you an angel?," you smile, say your cheesy lines, and thank him for the opportunity. There are a few saving graces in The Phantom Menace—namely, Ian McDiarmid's performance as Palpatine/Sidious, the final duel with Darth Maul, and the battle on Naboo are bright spots in an otherwise pretty dull affair. It's not the bottom of the barrel, but The Phantom Menace is clearly the worst of the main Skywalker saga films—so far.

Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)

Following the The Phantom Menace, fans crossed their fingers that Lucas could manage to pull things together for the next installment. If there's one thing we can say for Attack of the Clones, it's that it's better than The Phantom Menace. It has some of the more entertaining action sequences seen thus far in the entire saga. The fight between Obi-Wan and Jango Fett on Kamino and the later battle scene on Geonosis — especially after the Jedi knights arrive — are examples of action done right.

To be fair, a lot of Attack of the Clones' plot had promise and the plot isn't too far-fetched: the existence of a secret army created behind-the-scenes makes sense, although only the most dedicated fans will have any clue who Sifo Dyas is. Even the love affair between Anakin and Padmé isn't completely unrealistic. They're now both adults, and spend a lot of time together while he serves as her protector. Didn't you ever see The Bodyguard? Fun fact, that movie was written by long-time Lucas collaborator Lawrence Kasdan.

But even with all those positives, what really kills this movie more than anything is the awful dialogue. You could even call it "unbelievably" bad, but only if you haven't seen The Phantom Menace. The romantic scenes sound like they came right out of a daytime soap, and the dramatic ones go equally overboard

Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)

Before we start a riot, let's point out that the margin of quality between Return of the Jedi and Revenge of the Sith is finer than a razor's edge — and Return of the Jedi got edged out for this list. Yes, it's a classic. Die-hard fans who grew up with the original films don't like to admit many of its faults. But is it a great movie? No, not really.

While parts of Han's rescue at the beginning of the film are very enjoyable — especially the comic relief provided by Han's blindness — the Tatooine sequence goes way too long. After that, Han isn't given much to do for the rest of the movie. The entire Endor plot is kinda bad, and don't get us started on Ewoks slaying armored Stormtroopers with stone axes and arrows. Even worse, the shield generator MacGuffin turns out to be completely unnecessary, because Emperor Palpatine wants the Rebel Fleet to fall into his trap. Also, the rehashing of the Death Star plot is boring — which also became one of viewers' biggest complaints about The Force Awakens.

Now, don't get too upset: there are some really great moments in Return of the Jedi, like the speeder bike scene and the final battle between Luke and Darth Vader. Additionally, the space battle around the Death Star in Return of the Jedi is probably the best in the history of the franchise. It's also pretty amazing to see Vader come full-circle and regain his humanity. That said, there are some pretty major problems with this movie, and you can't ignore them just because we loved it when we were twelve.

Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Many fans will disagree with putting one of the prequel films ahead of Return of the Jedi. As a whole, the prequels are undoubtedly inferior to the original trilogy. But on its own, Revenge of the Sith squeaks past Return of the Jedi in terms of quality. 

A modern rewatch of Revenge of the Sith allows its good points to shine through, without being "clouded by the hate" that was associated with the prequels back during its initial release. And if you really want to see Revenge of the Sith in a new light, make sure to watch this film after binge-watching The Clone Wars animated series.

To start with, the film is much darker than most of the other Star Wars films, being the first in the saga to garner a well-deserved PG-13 rating. Many of these dark moments — like Order 66 and the Jedi Purge — has the power to leave viewers shocked. Arguably, Return of the Jedi only has one stunning moment like this: when Vader throws Palpatine into the abyss.

Additionally, the lightsaber battles in Revenge of the Sith are more exciting and better-choreographed than any that came before. Paired with some of John Williams' amazing score work, the battles between Obi-Wan and Anakin and between Yoda and Sidious are some of the most impressive in the entire franchise.

As the third film in a trilogy, Sith also does a better job of tying up an arc with Anakin's convincing transformation to Vader. Yes, it suffers from the same rough dialogue and overacting as the rest of the prequels, but Revenge of The Sith stands solidly as the best of that series — and, yes, just a teensy bit better than Return of the Jedi.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Rogue One stands mostly on its own merits; because it's an anthology film, it doesn't have to rely on too many familiar characters and allows Disney and Lucasfilm to explore new stories in the galaxy that don't revolve around the Skywalker family and their pals.

At its heart, Rogue One is a war movie, not a typical Star Wars space opera. It's filled with great action sequences and a cast of supporting characters that you actually start to care about, something the prequels couldn't manage. Notably, the reprogrammed droid K2SO and the spiritual blind-fighter Chirrut Îmwe steal every scene they're in. Additionally, it gives us yet another believable and strong female hero in Jyn Erso, who joins the pantheon of Princess Leia, Rey, and Padmé. For that matter, Jyn's personality and backstory are better explored in the 133 minutes of Rogue One than Padmé's was in all three prequels.

Some of the dialogue is clunky, it'd be nice if there were fewer locations on the dizzying planetary tour, and the CGI used to recreate Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia ventures into Uncanny Valley more than once. That said, these are mostly minor issues with what is overall a very solid Star Wars film.

Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)

When Lucasfilm and Disney first announced plans for a new Star Wars trilogy, plenty of fans were apprehensive that we'd end up with a repeat of what happened with the prequels. Even still, The Force Awakens generated a huge amount of buzz, which put a lot of pressure on Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy and Disney to get it right. Thankfully, the producers and director J.J. Abrams pulled out all the stops, resulting in one of the best movies in the entire saga. Only a few shortcomings prevent The Force Awakens from pulling ahead of The Last Jedi on this list.

There's no question that The Force Awakens justifies the hype. It appeals to fans old and new alike, and the only major quibble most fans have with the film is how "safe" the filmmakers play it. The new characters of Finn, Rey, Kylo Ren, and Poe Dameron — along with supporting characters like BB-8 and Maz Kanata — are all enjoyable and excellent additions to the franchise. The showdown between Han and Kylo in the final act of the film followed by the final lightsaber battle in the woods are two major standout scenes.

To be fair, a lot of the characters and plot of The Force Awakens are a rehash of A New Hope, especially the Death Star stand-in, Starkiller Base. That aside, it's still an excellent entry in the Star Wars series, with an exciting story and new cast of faces ready to take the saga forward while still treating the old guard with respect.

Episode VIII - The Last Jedi (2017)

One of the biggest issues with The Force Awakens was how much it resembled and referenced A New Hope. Some fans feared that The Last Jedi would mirror The Empire Strikes Back too closely, but their worries were unfounded. Unlike J.J. Abrams, Rian Johnson definitely didn't play it safe with his first crack at the Star Wars saga. Instead, he delivered a visually stunning and narratively satisfying film that echoes the darkness of The Empire Strikes Back without being chained to its legacy.

If anything, some Star Wars traditionalists might feel Johnson took too many liberties with The Last Jedi. At one point, Kylo Ren tells Rey, "Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to." Johnson certainly took that advice—by incorporating obvious themes of death, introspection, and rebirth through the plotlines of nearly all of the main characters. By sweeping away the old and making room for the new, Johnson blurred the lines between light and darkness in some unexpected and exciting ways. It doesn't matter who you are or where you come from—anyone can be the spark that lights the way. Those who stay tied down by the past end up living in a prison of their own making.

Although The Last Jedi has earned almost universal acclaim, it isn't a perfect movie. Some of the subplots could have done with some trimming down, and several of the more comedic moments were jarring. That said, the movie also provides some excellent character development and absolutely jaw-dropping action sequences, which help make up for its shortcomings.   

Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

After the amazing success of A New Hope, George Lucas had a near-impossible task ahead of him when it came to making a sequel to such a worldwide sensation. With the help of director Irvin Kershner and an assist on the screenplay from Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, The Empire Strikes Back was a resounding success. Darker and more intense than the original, The Empire Strikes Back suffers a bit for the lack of a clear beginning or ending to the story. It ends on a cliffhanger and is definitely not as self-contained a tale as A New Hope. With a little more focus, The Empire Strikes Back would've definitely topped this list. The near-perfection of A New Hope is the only thing that stands in its way.

Regardless, let's not forget the many amazing things that Lucas introduces in this installment. Before The Empire Strikes Back, we'd never heard of Yoda, Lando Calrissian, and Boba Fett – well, unless you count his 1978 appearance in the Star Wars Holiday Special, of course. We learned along with Luke on Dagobah all about a Jedi's capabilities — and the dangers of the Dark Side. The battle on Hoth introduced new military innovations, reminding us that the Empire is strong and the good guys don't always win. Finally, the revelation of Luke's parentage plus the lightsaber duel with Vader make up one of the very best sequences in the saga. For these reasons and more, The Empire Strikes Back is an indispensable film, both within the Star Wars universe and for the science fiction movie genre as a whole.

Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)

With so many things in life, you can't top the original — and that definitely applies even to Star Wars. Ever since its theatrical release four decades ago, A New Hope has reigned supreme as the best Star Wars movie. This isn't just nostalgia talking: A New Hope broke ground in so many ways and still stands up to a critical viewing today. George Lucas convinced 20th Century Fox to let him spend millions of dollars to indulge his own imaginings on the big screen, and that gamble paid off in a huge way.

While at its heart A New Hope is a traditional underdog tale of good versus evil, the way that George Lucas tells this story in the framework of a galaxy far, far away made cinematic history. Never before had a science-fiction film been approached with the grimy and aged look that Star Wars had, and Lucas' team brought new model-making and photographic advances to the movie industry with their work on A New Hope.

Beyond the historic significance on the film — which eventually landed it a place in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry — the original Star Wars is a great movie in terms of story, pacing, and action. It leaves a legacy of a fantastic film franchise that's still going strong 40 years later with legions of dedicated fans around the world. Not only is A New Hope the best movie in the Star Wars franchise, it still stands as one of the best films of all time.