Weekend Binge: After Solo, we rank every film in the Star Wars saga
Every week, we will curate a collection of titles - movies, TV, general miscellanea - for you to watch (and in some cases, read, or listen to), in a series we call Weekend Binge. The selection will be based on a theme which binds the picks - which could be extremely blunt in certain instances, or confusingly abstract in some. No rules apply, other than the end goal being getting some great entertainment to watch.
While the idea is to base the theme on the week’s major events - it could be the release of a new movie, or show - we could also use this opportunity to comment on our world in general, and turn to art to wrap our heads around some of the more difficult stories of the past seven days.
Everyone remembers the first time they watched Star Wars, and every generation has its own favourite Star Wars movies. It’s the sort of movie franchise that has withstood the test of time, and has continued to evolve over the years, winning more fans with each new film.
Before there was a Marvel Cinematic Universe, before there was JK Rowling’s Wizarding World, there was Star Wars, and its influence can still be felt - in everything from popular sitcoms to popular songs, from underground fan events to epic conventions that attract millions.
It’s shocking, then, to realise that Star Wars simply isn’t as popular in India as it is in the rest of the world, particularly the English speaking world. Perhaps it is our deep rooted dislike for anything set in deep space - although Star Wars is hardly science fiction - or maybe it’s our aversion to high fantasy. Who knows?
There’s decades’ worth of stories in the Star Wars universe, and it will probably take years to experience the full length and breadth of George Lucas’ magnificent creation. But with the release of Solo: A Star Wars Story, the latest in the spin-off series that runs parallel to the main trilogy, lets continue what we’ve started with the MCU and X-Men film series. Let’s rank every Star Wars (live-action) film (from worst to best), and maybe the agnostics among you will get a taste of the light side. Join us, and together, we can rule the galaxy, as Jedi Knights and Padawans.
Episode I: The Phantom Menace
There hasn’t been a film as monumentally disappointing as George Lucas’ bloated, yet curiously empty exercise in CGI excess. Think about it, Lucas had two decades’ worth of fan anticipation to satisfy, he had access to the technology that didn’t exist when he was making the original trilogy, and he failed spectacularly.
There’s a great documentary about this failure, called The People Vs George Lucas, which argues that Lucas made such significant and poorly conceived changes to his original films in the Phantom Menace, that fans essentially snatched Star Wars from Lucas’ hands. It gives first person accounts of ecstatic fans, who lined up for days to watch the Phantom Menace on premiere day, and their expressions when the exited the theatres, visibly confused. Then they went back, convinced that it was their fault that they didn’t like the film, but it only made things worse.
Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Among the prequels’ many failures - and there certainly are many - one of the most cringe-inducingly bad is Lucas’ handling of the Padme-Anakin romance. I don’t believe poorer romantic dialogue has been written in a film of such scale, the Twilight saga included.
Devout fans who’ve seen the making-of documentaries - some of them run almost as long as the films, and they’re available, quite easily, on YouTube - have shared many a chuckle over the several moments in which Lucas excitedly plans elaborate effects sequences, but can be seen flipping through magazines while his actors struggle with dramatic scenes.
Attack of the Clones had precisely one memorable sequence - the gladiatorial fight in the Geonosian arena, even though it continued Lucas’ odd obsession with fake environments.
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
In all fairness, there were moments to enjoy in the prequel trilogy, even if the films have next to no rewatch value. The Phantom Menace had that phenomenal pod race, which had nothing to do with the rest of the film’s plot, but was pleasing to look at. And then there was the fantastic Duel of the Fates scene with Darth Maul - all great stuff, all wasted in a terrible movie.
But the stakes, would you believe it, were even higher for Revenge of the Sith. This was the moment the whole world had been waiting for - Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader. And to put it politely, Lucas couldn’t manage to effectively translate the magnitude of the moment onto the screen, so he instead defaulted to his usual habits - cheap CGI, loud yelling of terrible lines, and dramatically inert acting. There are moments that salvage Revenge of the Sith, but not enough.
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
There is more to like about Return of the Jedi, the third and final film of the original trilogy, than most give it credit for. For one, the emotional impact of that ending was a delicate thing to handle, and it really worked - despite Ewok presence.
Return of the Jedi is also another example of how the best Star Wars movies are the ones that George Lucas hasn’t touched with a yard pole - although, in this case, he might have made more than a few inputs. It had a big act to follow - the biggest - and it has several moments that are now considered iconic, beginning with the rescue of Han Solo and ending with a resounding scene that encapsulates what Star Wars is all about - the victory of light over darkness.
Solo: A Star Wars Story
The only real problem with Solo is that it couldn’t help but feel slight - and this is especially noticeable because the three films before it were some of the heaviest the series has ever produced.
Otherwise, Solo is a rip-roaring adventure, and works better as a fan service than anything else. Alden Ehrenreich is a new Han Solo. He’s also a different Han Solo, a wise decision because aping Harrison Ford would have been a lose-lose situation.
And considering all the controversy surrounding it - directors were fired and bridges were burned and actors were annoyed - Solo was a surprisingly solid film, but that being said, expectations were at an all-time low, and there was evident franchise fatigue setting in.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
The first spin-off film of the series was also the most unique Star Wars movie ever made.For the first time, we saw another side to the galaxy far, far away - and for the first time, we were put in the shoes of the people who actually fought the wars, the nameless millions who died fighting on either side. Rogue One told a story that fans had long speculated about, and it told it with immense and unprecedented style.
Like Solo, it lost its director in post-production, but no brouhaha was made of it. The final film was an extremely well done war movie, with some of the finest action this series had ever seen.
Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
The Skywalker Saga owes a great debt to Eastern philosophy – most notably Buddhist, Taoist and Hindu texts – but for some reason, after having alluded to it in the original trilogy, George Lucas curiously shied away from the very thought of thematic heft in his much derided prequels. The Force, a metaphysical idea that binds the Star Wars universe together was sidelined in favour of something more scientific, and altogether less fun.
The Last Jedi was the first Star Wars movie that fully embraced the spiritual concepts at its centre - it didn’t care about alienating fans - which it did - or turning away potential new recruits. It’s still the most challenging of the new Star Wars films, and there’s a reason director Rian Johnson has been given the responsibility of creating a new trilogy for the future.
Episode VII: The Force Awakens
The common complaint fans have against JJ Abrams’ The Force Awakens is that it felt like a soft remake of the first Star Wars, which it is, but it’s also so much more than that. Ask yourself, what is a remake? Is it a film that presents old scenes and stories in a fresh new manner? Or is it a film that reminds you what you felt like watching a beloved favourite for the first time? It’s easier to achieve the first scenario, but it’s nearly impossible to transport an audience back to 1977, and it’s just as impossible to recreate the emotions older fans felt for a new generation.
The Force Awakens is one of the rare movies that achieved this. And that is why it finds such a high spot on this list.
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Everything you know about Star Wars - whether or not you are a fan - comes from the second film in the series. All those quotes you’ve heard - “I am your father!” - and all those times you’ve imitated Yoda’s speech impediment; it’s all from The Empire Strikes Back, which is perhaps one of the greatest sequels ever made.
To this day, it is seen as a template for second installments - it had just the right amount of new ingredients, ladled carefully into the more familiar elements from the first film. It pushed the central trio into bold new adventures, and redefined their relationships with each other, with the enemy, and with us.
Episode IV: A New Hope
First and foremost, allow me to apologize for the way I’ve been naming the films, but this is how Lucas has retitled them, so we’ll have to comply.
As the story goes, producer Gary Kurtz was invited to a radio call-in show on premiere day. One enthusiastic fan called him and spoke in surprising detail about the movie, which seemed odd to Kurtz, considering the film had only been out for a few hours. “You know a lot about the film,” he asked the fan, who replied, “Yeah, yeah, I’ve seen it four times already.” And that was the precise moment that Kurtz realised that they’d just made a cultural phenomenon.