Wednesday, 16 December 2015

The Star Wars Films: Best to Worst

Well, this was quite a daunting task. Ranking the Star Wars films is not as easy as you’d first think especially if you plan to stick to your guns and risk provoking the millions, if not billions, of Star Wars fans across the globe. I suppose I could have made it easy and predictable and put the films into the almost universally accepted order but no, I’ve decided to go with what I believe, even if it will anger a few of you out there. First up it’s the worst (or rather, the least best) film of the lot!

6. Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

Ok, ok, maybe putting The Phantom Menace at the bottom of the list doesn’t come as a complete surprise, but despite its low ranking and its universally crap reputation, The Phantom Menace actually has some great moments in it. Liam Neeson’s Qui Gon Jinn, however ineffective he turns out to be, is pretty awesome. As is the villain, Darth Maul, who soon became a fan favourite and was brought back from the dead in the extended universe, a fate reserved for the best supporting characters such as Boba Fett. Although when the list of characters from the film is examined it does seem that there are more irritating characters than there are good. We might get Darth Maul for about ten minutes of screen time but we then get Jar Jar Binks, who seems to be in every single scene. And the while the hatred of the film itself is excessive, the hatred for Jar Jar certainly isn’t. In fact saying Jar Jar is the worst thing about the entire Star Wars franchise is probably still an understatement and I’ve seen the Star Wars holiday special. Not only does his whole exaggerated appearance and accent have an unpleasant air of racism about it, he’s just not funny either. But George Lucas must’ve thought he was because he pops up in most scenes throughout the film and hardly does anything worthwhile. Most of the film’s crimes are forgotten about in an instant though when at the climax of the film, when the awesome John Williams score starts, the hanger doors open, and Darth Vader stands there, double ended lightsaber in hand. Awesome moments like these are fewer and far between in The Phantom Menace than in the other Star Wars films but there are certainly enough to make the weakest Star Wars film worth a watch.

5. Star Wars: Episode 2 - Attack of the Clones

Like the film before it, Attack of the Clones does have problems, especially in the acting department. Luckily none of these match the sins of Jar Jar Binks from The Phantom Menace and for the most part Attack of the Clones is a great step in the right direction for the prequels. The standout moments in the film, and the prequels as a whole, are those kickass Jedi battles and Attack of the Clones has one of the best with the colosseum fight. Seeing all the different Jedi appear in one massive and awesome battle is one of the reasons I'll always defend the prequels; this sort of stuff was new and unique and couldn't have been done in the originals. The film's attempt at a sort of Jedi neo-noir early on, with Obi Wan and Anakin snaking through the lowly lit, seedy clubs of Coruscant in pursuit of a killer is another highlight. Seeing our Jedi heroes doing some gum shoe detective work is a fun sight and this investigation pays off in one of the most stylish and badass scenes in the entire franchise with a rain soaked fistfight between Obi Wan Kenobi and Mandalorian bounty hunter Jango Fight. The low point of the film is the dialogue, with particular awfulness coming from Hayden Christensen as Anakin and Natalie Portman as Padme. I'm one of the few defenders of Christensen as Anakin but some of the lines between Anakin and Padme are just painful. And while the scenes of Anakin and Padme spending time together on Naboo are necessary for the building of their relationship, surely they could they have been a little less awkward. Luckily the good parts are more than enough to make up for the bad bits and the prequels improve substantially by the next outing.

4. Star Wars: Episode 4 - A New Hope

I can hear the outrage from hear. Why is the original Star Wars in the bottom half of a best of list? Well for me there is one big reason: the best parts of the film are even better in the eventual sequels. I do love this film, I really do. It's a perfect self-contained narrative and is the only film able to exist completely alone. The best character of the entire franchise, Han Solo, is introduced wonderfully here as is the runner up for best character, the face of Star Wars itself; Darth Vader. The action is fun and frantic, the music is outstanding, and the characters are interesting and creative. Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker is instantly likable and the perfect hero for the series. A New Hope is the original Star Wars. But as you can see from its ranking on this list, I don't think it's particularly the best. The awesome characters just more awesome in the sequels once they have come into their own and had their quirks worked out. The lightsaber battles in the sequels are much better than the Obi Wan vs. Vader fight in A New Hope, just think about the Vader vs. Luke fight in Return of The Jedi for example. The relationships between the characters are great in A New Hope but they become outstanding later on when plots such as Vader being Luke's father are revealed. A New Hope is still a brilliant film though, and deserves even more praise for starting of such a wonderful and iconic series.

3. Star Wars: Episode 6 - Return of the Jedi

Traditionally speaking, Return of the Jedi is often thought of as the weakest of the original films. It's the point when the bad parts of Lucas's filmmaking reared its ugly animatronic head in the form of the child-friendly ewoks. The way some people talk about them you'd be forgiven for thinking they were the Jar Jar Binks of the franchise before Jar Jar Binks. But they're not that bad, and the film itself has only gotten better with age. Ok, so it's not the dark follow up that The Empire Strikes Back was but the film is still great. The battle for Endor finale is still awesome and the final battle between Luke, Vader, and The Emperor is almost certainly the best one of the original films. The final moments of Vader's life, when he takes off the helmet is heart-breaking, it's a brilliant moment. The film has a few low points, Boba Fett's pathetic death being one of them. For such a badass character he goes out in quite an embarrassing way. The whole slave Leia parts of the film are also a bit strange. The fact that they take a cool, commanding character and reducing her to eye-candy is a bit uncomfortable. But apart from these moments, Return of the Jedi is a fun and fitting end to the series, and features some of the best scenes of the entire franchise.

2. Star Wars: Episode 3 - Revenge of the Sith

Yeah it hurts me too, putting a prequel after two of the originals, but I couldn't avoid it. I love Revenge of the Sith. It makes all of the wooden acting and terrible, terrible side characters that came before worth it. And there are so many good bits to it. The descent from Jedi to Sith that Anakin goes on is a real highlight and Hayden Christensen is great as an evil but conflicted Anakin. Some of his line reading is still a little off but for the most part he is brilliant in the role. The always brilliant Ewan McGregor as Obi Wan has some great scenes as well and his fight with Grievous is so well done. His "You were the chosen one!" scene at the climax of the film is also great and his performance really conveys the dramatic elements of Anakin's transformation without ever being too hammy. The film contains perhaps my favourite scene in the series as well, when the Emperor tells the clones to carry out 'order 66'. Beautiful shot and scored, it's the perfect way to show how the world of the prequels became the world of the original series. The lightsaber duel between Obi Wan and Anakin is another awesome moment. The two Jedi's fighting it out on what is pretty much a planet made out of magma, teamed with one of the best John Williams scores will go down as one of the iconic moments of the franchise, up there with the Darth Vader's Imperial March. Revenge of the Sith is the best of the prequels and the nearly the best Star Wars film of all.

1. Star Wars: Episode 5 - The Empire Strikes Back

To be honest, this couldn't have been much of a surprise. The best Star Wars film actually is the one everyone says is the best. But they're not wrong, The Empire Strikes Back is the best film in the series for a number of reasons, but for me the main reason is that it is the one where everything works. Every scene is good, even the cave scene on Dagobah, a scene some criticise. The characters are all pitch perfect and the new ones introduced, like Boba Fett and Lando, are some of my favourites. The pace of the whole film is also great; it's brilliantly frantic and it never really lets up. The ending reveal of Vader being Luke's father is perfect, as the fact that it is now one of the most iconic movie scenes ever shows. The set design and matte painting backgrounds are stunning, as is the direction by Laurence Kasdan. And although I am a fan of George Lucas's traditional direction, the direction in this is probably the best in the entire series. The moody lighting, the dry ice, the claustrophobic locations, they all set a wonderfully atmospheric tone. That and the brilliant and inventive set pieces all work to create the most gorgeous looking film in the series. People might say The Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars film and well, they were right. But who knows, maybe in a couple of weeks’ time we'll have another film at the top of the list...

Tom Bumby

Star Wars I-VI at CeX

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