For decades, I’ve professed my loathing of the Star Wars prequel trilogy.
Now, as fans around the world celebrate May the Fourth (Be with You) – a.k.a. Star Wars Day 2020 – it’s time for me to confess:
I’ve softened on the prequel movies. Significantly. To the point that they’re not *all* my least favorite Star Wars films anymore. In fact, as I think about it – none of them are among the least favorites.
Here’s the way I currently rank them, from best to worst:
The Empire Strikes Back
Granted, you couldn’t have this dark chapter in the original trilogy without the setup in A New Hope, but it is objectively better as a story and gives a grander scope to the universe with the introduction of worlds like Hoth, Dagobah, and Bespin. It also gives us a masterful ground and air battle sequence, the asteroid field (including my absolute favorite piece of music by John Williams), and the majestic Cloud City – along with the coolest double-crosser in the cosmos, Lando Calrissian.
A New Hope
I was born the month Star Trek made its debut in 1966, but it was the original Star Wars movie that really ignited my love of space fantasy and science fiction. Safe to say the cantina scene remained in my mind when I started pondering alien races for OtherSpace in 1998.
Return of the Jedi
A dramatic conclusion to the original trilogy, hindered somewhat by the overly cutesy Ewoks and some questionable storytelling choices during the Jabba’s Palace rescue sequence (lame send-off for Boba Fett and a silly sight gag with C-3PO landing head-down in a sand dune after the barge explodes).
Revenge of the Sith
Lots of lightsaber battle action, including a decent showdown between Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi on Mustafar. Could’ve done without Padme’s “losing the will to live” and Vader’s “Nooooooooooooo!” foolishness at the end. Movie should’ve just ended with Palpatine saying: “Lord Vader, rise.”
Attack of the Clones
Some interesting noir sensibilities in this movie, with an awkward side trip for Padme and Anakin to the planet of snoodling. The Geonosis sequence was more-or-less okay, except for the corny Threepio sight gags and one-liners. But, most importantly, this opened the door for the evolution of the Clone Wars TV series – and that show has generated enough great stories that I can excuse the shortcomings of the prequels.
The Phantom Menace
Much of this movie is forgettable – from Jar-Jar to the creepy cradle-robbing vibe between Padme and little Annie – but Phantom Menace did give us an outstanding pod race, “Duel of the Fates”, and that awesome Kenobi/Qui-Gon vs. Darth Maul lightsaber battle.
The Last Jedi
The darkest chapter in the most recent trilogy, which sees our heroes decimated and cornered on a salt-frosted alien world by the First Order, is my favorite of this group. That moment of silence when Admiral Holdo goes to hyperspace and wrecks the enemy fleet when all seems lost? Masterpiece. The team-up between Kylo and Rey against Snoke’s guards ranked up there with Maul vs. the Jedi in Phantom Menace. Plus, Luke using his Force abilities to face Kylo Ren and say goodbye to Leia really provided an epic finale for his character.
The Force Awakens
This movie had some nice moments (the junky ship turns out to be the Falcon and Rey and Finn try to survive a murder ball with Han and Chewie). But the Death Star rehash (it’s bigger and destroys multiple planets AT ONCE!) felt tiresome and Han Solo’s death didn’t seem earned – and, let’s face it, Ben “Kylo Ren” Skywalker *never* tries to redeem himself the way his grandfather did.
The Rise of Skywalker
A nostalgic mess of a movie that didn’t make much narrative sense. Palpatine – a fun scenery-chewing villain, to be sure – is a random, unnecessary addition to an already confused story. He’s this weird sort of Chekhov’s Gun that ONLY shows up in the final act, and he’s fired in the opening crawl. Where every other movie in the Skywalker saga at least tries to tell a cohesive story, this one just struggles to satisfy with weak fan service.