The Rise of Skywalker is finally here! To mark the occasion, let’s take a look back at the entire Star Wars universe, dogmatically review each and every film and create the ultimate and undisputed franchise guide.
If there’s anything you can rely on Star Wars fans for, it’s their vehement passion for George Lucas’s galaxy far, far away. With this mind, I am fully expecting to ruffle a few Porg feathers as we travel back through the past 40 years and reassess each entrant of the series.
A New Hope (1977)
I’m not sure even George Lucas realised the lucrative gold mine he was sat on when A New Hope released in 1977. On a meagre budget, he managed to build an entire universe, spawn numerous sequels (as well as countless knockoffs) and create a gargantuan fandom the likes of which had never been seen before.
Why is A New Hope so great? It doesn’t offer anything revelatory in the story department, instead, it creates an almost perfect ‘heroes’ journey’ spectacle that captured the imagination of an entire generation.
This, combined with creativity in abundance and stellar world building, cemented A New Hope as a genre staple that would live long in the memory.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Is The Empire Strike Back the perfect sequel? You would have to watch a hell of a lot of cinema to find something that comes closer. Not only is Empire a great film in of itself, it’s also thematically and narratively perfect as a follow up to A New Hope.
The character development is superb, the relationships between the characters are expertly handled, the action is thrilling, the revelations are jaw dropping and script is fantastic.
If you left the cinema having watched Empire and found yourself not loving each and every one of George Lucas’s characters, good or bad, then there’s something wrong with you.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Return of the Jedi (1983)
Return of the Jedi is easily the weakest of the original trilogy, but that doesn’t mean it’s without merit; It provides a more than satisfying conclusion to the (original) Skywalker saga.
Yes, the weird little bears are a bit childish and annoying, but this doesn’t in any way undermine the emotion of the Vader’s character resolution.
Boasting some fantastic set-pieces, wonderful dialogue and an emotional climax, Return of the Jedi may be the worst of a great bunch, but it’s still a strong celebratory finale to George’s original vision.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
The Phantom Menace (1999)
A staggering 16 years separate ROTJ from The Phantom Menace. The announcement that Star Wars was returning for a second trilogy was met with hysteric excitement from almost anyone who lived through the 80s. But was it worth the wait? In short, no, no it wasn’t.
Instead of a gripping space opera, fans got the strange combination of childish characters mixed with intergalactic political melodrama.
It’s not all bad though, Darth Maul serves as a compelling villain, Ewan McGregor as a young Obi Wan is a revelation and John William’s score is one of the franchise’s best (I’m looking at you, Duel of the Fates).
⭐ ⭐ ½
Attack of the Clones (2002)
Attack of the Clones is nothing short of a disaster. The dialogue is hammy and overly expository, the special effects are dreadful, the characters are annoying, the action is tepid, and the plot is inconsequential and entirely underwhelming.
As the second entrant in a trilogy, it is the antithesis of The Empire Strikes Back; boring, pointless and cringe-inducing.
Revenge of the Sith (2005)
For all the criticism the prequel trilogy gets, it isn’t a completely lost cause. A large part of the problem was that George Lucas didn’t really have three films worth of material; the story could easily have been condensed into one film.
Looking back, this condensed film would likely consist of 75% Revenge of the Sith, with a small smattering of plot from its 2 predecessors.
Revenge of the Sith has some great moments and John Williams contributes some truly stunning scores to elevate the fantastic action sequences. The highlight is watching Anakin cross over to the dark side though, it’s both tragic and impactful in equal measure (despite Hayden Christensen’s woeful acting).
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
The Force Awakens (2015)
Now I’m no Star Wars expert, but when Disney acquired the rights to George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away and subsequently disposed of the entire expanded universe, alarm bells started ringing.
Quite surprisingly however, 2015’s The Force Awakens wasn’t a complete disaster. Yes, it recycles a lot from previous films, but that can be excused in the name of re-establishing the universe and introducing it to a younger generation.
I remember watching the film on the day of release, I came out of the cinema with conflicted feelings but I had enjoyed it, and despite it being essentially a soft reboot of the franchise, enough interesting plot threads and mysteries had been put in place to peak my interest for episode 8.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
As far as I’m concerned, this is the closest Disney have come to recapturing the spirit of the original trilogy. The beauty of Rogue One is that it feels very Star Wars-y, however, being free of the usual trilogy format allowed it to experiment with a more fast-paced approach.
The fatalistic narrative is tinged with melancholy throughout, even though you aren’t certain of the fate of the central characters, you get the feeling that they probably won’t be making it out alive.
There are plenty of Easter eggs and character call-backs to keep the original fans happy, and the wonderfully written story should please any fan of fast-paced science fiction.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
The Last Jedi (2017)
The Last Jedi is probably the most divisive film of the 2010s, it really is the Marmite of the Star Wars universe. And just like my ambivalence towards Marmite, where The Last Jedi is concerned, I occupy that almost-vacant middle ground – I neither loved nor hated it.
Visually it’s spectacular, the acting is superb and some of the set pieces are mind blowing. The writing on the other hand? I found it all to be fairly muddled and unfocused. The whole premise of the film appears to have been predicated on the idea that subversion of expectations is an adequate substitute for strong storytelling.
Essentially, The Last Jedi flies in the face of many of the golden rules of writing purely for shock factor. From frighteningly bad character arc resolution to redundant foreshadowing, a film like this does not belong as the second part of a linear trilogy.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
Marred by production troubles, an unpopular casting choice for the lead, fallout from The Last Jedi backlash – whatever the reason may be for the underwhelming box office performance – Solo never really stood a chance.
Providing a back story for Han Solo following the character’s demise only 2 years before was not only entirely unnecessary, it was entirely unwanted by both the Star Wars fandom and the general public at large.
Despite perhaps not being as terrible as many made out, the film did badly enough for Disney to put all future stand-alone Star Wars feature films on hold. For me, Solo’s greatest sin however is that it’s probably the most forgettable film of the entire franchise.
⭐ ⭐ ½
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is out in UK cinemas on Friday 19th of December. In the meantime, check out the latest trailer below: