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Ranking the Star Wars Hexalogy

Image swiped from Wikipedia, but the drop shadow is all me.This past Sunday, a buddy of mine asked me if I'd be willing to go with him and his son to see "the first Star Wars movie" because evidently it's being re-released at theaters, but this time in 3-D. I immediately said I'd go. I even said I'd wear my "Han shot first!" T-shirt, which I don't actually have, but would be willing to get for the occasion.

Then, as we discussed plans, I realized that when referring to "the first Star Wars movie," my friend and I meant two very different things. He was referring to part one: that awful, awful Phantom Menace prequel. When I think of "the first Star Wars movie," I think of the first Star Wars movie—the one released in 1977, the one that originally did not have the subtitle "Part IV: A New Hope" when I saw it at the Ruston, Louisiana, Village Cinema (which had a total of two, count 'em, two screens!). 

Yes, my friend and I are not the same age. I was born in 1967, and he was born in 1978. Normally, that's not an issue with us, but here it mattered. You see, he didn't see Star Wars (no subtitle needed) in its initial run because he wasn't born yet. How could he possibly appreciate the real first movie as much as I do? He was only 21 when The Phantom Menace was released in 1999. Me—I was 32. He was young and impressionable, probably still very idealistic and naive. I was old enough to recognize [insert expletive here] when I saw it. 

So in the end, I told him I'd think about it. I mean, I hate to think of sitting through Phantom Menace again. It's the worst of the bunch. And to see it in 3-D means I'd have to pay above the price of a regular movie ticket. Not to mention the fact that a "Han shot first!" t-shirt would be meaningless at a showing of The Phantom Menace.

Nevertheless, I started thinking about the six movies, which overall, aren't that great (confession: I've always been more of a Star Trek fan). And that led me to rank them, which I'll list for you here from best to worst.

  1. Star Wars: Part IV, A New Hope. I'm begrudgingly adding the subtitle, which, again, was not present in 1977. Later on, George Lucas would claim that when he produced the first Star Wars movie, he actually had nine parts in mind, and he was purposefully starting in the middle. He's such a liar. The first Star Wars movie is a complete package from beginning to end. It can be watched by itself without the need for anything else. Here are all the character archetypes with a complete "space opera" contained merely in the one movie. The novelization by Lucas was admittedly pretty good, too, as was the original dramatized audio production that came out not too long afterwards (on cassettes!). 

  2. Star Wars: Part V, The Empire Strikes Back. I could almost rank this movie number one, but since it wouldn't exist without the first movie, I'm ranking it second. But this movie had everything. We realized that Han really was cooler than Luke, especially when Han said to Leia "I know" at the end of the movie. The scene between Darth Vader and Luke at the end is one of the greatest movie moments I've ever beheld, even if the big reveal was spoiled for me ahead of time because I'd read the Marvel Comics adaptation before I saw the movie. 

  3. Star Wars: Part VI: Return of the Jedi. This is where the series really began to go downhill, but it's still better than any of the prequels. This movie has its strengths, but the ewoks totally ruined it for me forever. Jub jub. 

  4. Star Wars: Part III: The Revenge of the Sith. This movie is clearly the best of the prequels, but that's not saying a whole lot. Nevertheless, because we expected a big finale to transform Anakin into Darth Vader, this movie had the action, momentum and spirit that I wished the other two prequels had possessed. I should note, however, that the scene where Anakin kills the Jedi children (implied, but not actually shown) makes him, in my eyes, unredeemable and pretty much ruins the ending of Return of the Jedi for me. It was simply too strong, too much.

  5. Star Wars: Part II, The Clone Wars. No joke, I fell asleep for about ten minutes during the movie. Really, it was that boring. One example: the scene where the main characters were in the coliseum held absolutely no suspense for me. This the problem with prequels: I knew the characters had to survive, so I was never concerned for any of them. And this is the movie where, if we had any doubts before, we learned once and for all that George Lucas cannot write romantic dialogue.

  6. Star Wars: Part I, The Phantom Menace. The worst of the worst, and definitely the worst of the six. Both the young Anakin and the Jar Jar Binks character were obnoxious to the point of absurdity. I had difficulty connecting to any of the characters because they were written so flat. When I saw the pod race (or whatever it was called) and realized that undoubtedly it was being included into the movie for a video game tie-in, I felt totally betrayed. It was as if someone tried to reproduce my entire childhood as a cheap, foreign-made, plastic knock-off. In addition to that, the entire plot about the trade route blockade and political intrigue was near-impossible to follow. I actually watched the movie again (I know, I know) just to pay attention to this part of it, to see if maybe I paid attention and understood this plotline better, I'd appreciate the movie more. No such luck. Oh, and that part where it's explained to Anakin that the Force is the result of midi-chlorians...unforgivable!

So there's my ranking. I don't know if I'll go to the movie or not, but I can tell you that I don't really want to. But there's one small part of me—the same part that was inspired in 1977 by what I saw on the screen—that wants to think that perhaps this time I'll appreciate Phantom Menace and all my hostility toward Lucas and the prequels will disappear like Obi Wan's physical form after his fight with Darth Vader. But something tells me that's just wishful thinking.  

What's Lucas going to do next? A 3-D version of American Graffiti? 

Feel free to leave your questions, thoughts, comments and rebuttals in the comments section, along with your own ranking of the movie. 


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Reader Comments (11)

The way I see it, the prequels have lightsaber fights and not much else. The classics don't have very good lightsaber fights, but are far better on everything else like story and character. I keep walking by the SW blurays and thinking, "nah, not yet".

February 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChuck Grantham

I take it you've watched this:

And if you haven't, you should.

February 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

David, I saw those when they were first produced. I have no idea who the fellow is, but he definitely gave voice and explanation to elements of Phantom Menace that had frustrated me from the beginning.

February 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterR. Mansfield

Have to watch the Phantom menace reviews.

I admit, Clone Wars has become my favorite Star Wars.

February 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChuck Grantham

It's hard to argue with anything in this post. I would add that Lucas' continual editing of the original movie is annoying at best. Lucas is is almost as obsessive as Jocelyn Wildenstein --- and yes, Han DID shoot first!

February 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTodd B.

I didn't know Han Solo shot first. Well I mean he did but then he didn't. I think at point blank range you pretty much have to shoot first. I don't see the moral backlash that Lucas faced. Anyway as to order, I'd change it ever so slightly. V, IV, III, VI, II, I. In V finding out that DV was L father is up there in movie suspense just slightly behind the reveal that Arnold is a good terminator in T2. That and having to wait 3 years to find out what happens to HS made it the best of the bunch. III was overly dark but I thought GL did a great job of taking the Anakin that was just a typical know-it-all teen in II and showing us the internal dilemma that brought about the change from AS to DV. You could really see both sides if you didn't know it was good vs. evil. My experience with II was that the power went out in the theater and I didn't get to see the ending for another month. And "I" was just goofy (Jar Jar) and hard to follow (what was the wager again?). I do hope that Lucas decides to do VII, VIII, and IX someday. SW is my favorite saga of all time. And Lucas forever changed movie making both in terms of THX and ILM.

February 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJason Snyder

Lucas stated just last week that he's through with big budget movies. Thank goodness. I'd hate to see him mess it up worse. He should have made parts 7-9 in the late eighties and nineties while the principal actors were still young enough. But Lucas wanted to work on other projects (like Howard the Duck). I'm sure we haven't seen the last of the Star Wars saga, though. There's too much money to be made.

February 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterR. Mansfield

I don't know exactly how I'd rank them, but it would be pretty close to this. I was really anticipating the 4th movie before it came out. There was so much potential, so much Lucas could have done with the prequels. Talk about disappointing!! And you make a good point about the suspense, Rick. The last three films needed to aim for suspense that centered on something other than the survival of the principle characters. Visually and technically they were impressive, but they were lacking in just about every other way. The first movie remains a classic though, with a simple, timeless story.

So when are you going to rank the Star Trek films? :)

February 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCurt Parton

Well, I can say that Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is probably my favorite.

And of the original 6, I could probably rank them (without having put too much thought into it, and without having animosity toward the actions of the creator of the films, as I have with the Star Wars series, to drive my selections):

6, 2, 1... can't decide. I stopped and began putting too much thought into it, but I've given you my top 3 (of the original six).

February 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterR. Mansfield

Wow, that was fast! I definitely can't argue with your top two. 6 was outstanding, but 2 will always be a sentimental favorite. And the first was . . . the first, the return of Star Trek. Have you seen the Director's Edition of the first movie? If so, what did you think? (I haven't see it yet.)

February 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCurt Parton


I almost agree with you. I have only seen the first three movies (chronologically) and Revenge of the Sith - which was so boring I did not even watch the whole thing. The Empire Strikes Back is the best but I am not a big Star Wars fan.

March 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLindsay

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