This feature was originally published in December 2015.
A long time ago, we were just stargazing kids, worshiping our letterbox collection of George Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy. Years later, the Force is strong with us as we do the Imperial March and celebrate Nothing but Star Wars! with a rogue squadron of features, essays, and stories. Today, our staff ranks the franchise’s films and television spin-offs from worst to best.
With May the 4th upon us, the staff at Consequence of Sound decided to size up the existing Star Wars televisual universe. From the heights of the original trilogy, to the lows of the prequels, to the decidedly mixed bag of TV shows and holiday specials, we threw it all in a Sarlacc pit, digested it over a thousand years, and saw what came out the other end.
Sure, you might ask, “What good is weighing the Ewok movies against the quote-unquote ‘real’ movies? Of course they’re not as good — they’re made-for-TV kids’ stuff! That’s not a fair deal!” To which we respond, “We are altering the deal. Pray we don’t alter it any further.” After all, the Star Wars universe is a dense web of interlocking and interconnecting characters and stories; why not highlight them all?
Also, it goes without saying, beware of major spoilers ahead.
22. Star Wars: The Clone Wars [Film] (2008)
Opening Crawl: A galaxy divided! Striking swiftly after the Battle of Geonosis, Count Dooku’s droid army has seized control of the major hyperspace lanes, separating the Republic from the majority of its clone army. With few clones available, the Jedi generals cannot gain a foothold on the Outer Rim as more and more planets choose to join Dooku’s Separatists. While the Jedi are occupied fighting a war, no one is left to keep the peace. Chaos and crime spread, and the innocent become victims in a lawless galaxy. Crime lord Jabba the Hutt’s son has been kidnapped by a rival band of pirates. Desperate to save his son, Jabba puts out a call for help — a call the Jedi are cautious to answer…
The Light Side (Cast of Goodies): Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter), Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein), Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor), Commander Cody (Dee Bradley Baker), Captain Rex (Dee Bradley Baker), and Padmé Amidala (Catherine Taber)
The Dark Side (Cast of Baddies): Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), Asajj Ventress (Nika Futterman), Ziro the Hutt (Corey Burton), and Whorm Loathsom (Corey Burton)
“Thanks, Wedge!” (Underrated Characters): Captain Rex was as invented of a character for The Clone Wars as Ahsoka Tano, but received a lot less attention – partially because Ahsoka filled the scrutiny-laden role of Anakin’s Padawan and partially due to the fact that he’s a clone. He is, after all, one face among millions of identical ones. But Rex quickly establishes himself as a memorable and skilled trooper, fighting off wave after wave of Separatist infiltrators during the Battle of Teth and using subterfuge to coyly alert General Skywalker to the dangers of Ahsoka Tano. The Clone Wars always faced an uphill climb separating each clone character into their own personalities. Rex was the first of many unique clones to succeed in becoming individuals – a legacy that has endured all the way to Rebels.
“I Don’t Know? Fly Casual!” (Memorable Ships): In its most egregious sin, the prequels lacked a Millennium Falcon, a ship with enough character that it probably warranted a starring credit. It seemed that The Clone Wars aimed to correct this mistake by introducing the Twilight, an enlarged B-wing-like freighter stolen from Ziro the Hutt’s crime syndicate during the Battle of Teth. After surviving a crash landing on Tatooine while rushing Rotta the Hutt back to his father, the ship became the closest approximation to a personal ship for Anakin and his compatriots during The Clone Wars television series. But after featuring heavily in Season One, it never was incorporated fully a la the Ghost from Rebels, appearing infrequently. The Twilight was destroyed by Darth Maul in Season Five. In a film and subsequent show dominated by military vessels, from starfighters to capital cruisers, a ship like the Twilight stood out.
“Who’s Scruffy Looking?” (Memorable Alien/Creature): Ziro the Hutt’s introduction was met with a unique set of vitriol – emanating both from liberal and conservative viewpoints. “From a certain point of view,” Ziro was either so flamboyant that he was a caricature or so flamboyant that he should not have appeared in a child-targeted animated film. But in seven years of social progression, acceptance, and reality, Ziro has become a cult-favorite: a Truman Capote-inspired Hutt as the ruler of an alien crime syndicate. In an otherwise drab film with little flair, the absolutely over-the-top Ziro is a welcome distraction for the final act.
“Never Tell Me the Odds” (Box Office): In arguably the darkest days of the Star Wars legacy, 2008’s The Clone Wars amassed a pitiful $68 million worldwide.
May the Force Be with You (Force Elements): In an underrated and unappreciated use of the Force, both the battles of Teth and Christophsis demonstrated how useful it was to have a Jedi (or Jedis) deflect blaster bolts during infantry and armor charges. Requiring the most precise command of the “Control” aspect of the Force, blaster bolt deflection shielded the advances of the Grand Army of the Republic. On the jungle world of Teth, Ahsoka and Anakin’s command allowed the clone troopers to go vertical and ascend a massive cliff face during a crucial point of their assault.
Lightsaber Options: Ahsoka Tano offered a lot of insight into how well-trained Padawans came to their Masters after being dispatched by (presumably) Master Yoda. Ahsoka arrived to Christophsis a very skilled green-bladed lightsaber combatant that held her own against MagnaGuards and the Sith apprentice, Asajj Ventress.
Ventress herself was armed with twin red-bladed lightsabers. The slight curves in the handles resembled her lightsabers from the now defunct Dark Horse comics and the 2003 cartoon from Genndy Tartakovsky. Those lightsabers came from Komari Vosa, a Dark Jedi who briefly served Dooku.
MVP Action Figure: If there was ever an action figure worth buying and then immediately throwing away just to keep the accessory, it has to be the Ahsoka Tano with Rotta the Hutt. The Ahsoka face-sculpt is incredibly goofy, but everyone should have a sluglike Huttlet in their action figure collection.
Essential Video Game Tie-In: The Clone Wars film was not the subject of any particular tie-ins. The show did spawn a number of tie-ins. But none were particularly well-received, even Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars. The Lego game did include the Battle of Christophsis from the film, however.
Strangest Marketing Tie-In: Rotta the Huttlet was begging for a backpack, and sure enough, the merchandising arm of Lucasfilm obliged. Rotta is so adorable, it almost takes a minute before you realize he will grow up to become the heir to a sinister crime empire.
The Scene You’re Looking For (Best Scene): Ahsoka came pre-loaded with the ability to handle a lightsaber. In this scene on Tatooine, Ahsoka saves Rotta from an ambush by three MagnaGuards. In a saga that had been desperately lacking tough females since Leia on Endor, I’d say that’s not bad for Ahsoka’s first few days on the job.
“I’ve Got a Disconsolate Feeling About This” (Analysis): In a bold (and ultimately foolish) move, Lucasfilm Animation brought their first foray into animation since the 1980s to theaters with The Clone Wars. Not truly a film, but instead four stitched together episodes from Season One, the film suffered heavily from pacing and connective tissue. Without the nuances of the television program’s serialized morals, newsreel format, and 22-minute pacing, the film left audience members disappointed and ultimately dreading Star Wars’ uncertain future.
Ultimately proven wrong by a strong five-season run on Cartoon Network (and an even stronger bonus season on Netflix), the changes to form and content initially portended doom. Gone was John Williams’ score, replaced by an electronically heavy and busy score from Kevin Kiner (Kiner also ultimately proved immensely capable during the television run). Gone was a dramatic pacing driven by characters, replaced by sassy Hutts and menace-less Sith apprentices.
Lucas threw a wrench into the Skywalker legacy by adding a Padawan: the sassy, defiant, and unwelcome Torguta, Ahsoka Tano. Movie formatting bred a kind of myopia that longtime fans could not see past. In their minds, Anakin did not have a Padawan, and Ahsoka was certainly not the kind of Padawan that Anakin would handle. In their minds, there’s no chance this film’s pacing could breed character depth and add to the Star Wars mythos in meaningful ways.
And in August 2008, the fans were right. But this film was a film that should never have been – they were never aesthetically intended to be. These were clearly television episodes mashed into a wretched hive of dung and poodoo. Thankfully, Obi-Wan must have hid the other episodes from the Big Screen, and they returned as the New Hope of the Star Wars franchise to overthrow the sting of the prequels.
But on its own footing, The Clone Wars stands as the lowest point of the Star Wars saga.
21. The Star Wars Holiday Special [TV Special] (1978)
Opening Crawl: As Han and Chewie run from Imperial forces to make it to Chewie’s home of Kashyyyk in time for Life Day, Chewie’s family anxiously awaits their arrival. Meanwhile, an Imperial lockdown of Kashyyyk leads them to spend Life Day with various distractions, gifts, and friends – all of them absolutely cringe-inducing.
The Light Side: Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), a super coked-up Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), Chewie’s gray-haired pervert father (Itchy), Chewie’s obnoxious son (Lumpy), Chewie’s wife and Harriet to his Ozzie (Malla), Saun Dann (Art Carney), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker)
The Dark Side: Darth Vader (James Earl Jones) and Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch)
“Thanks, Wedge!” I mean, there aren’t really characters to under-rate here, since none of the characters are worthy of rating in the first place. Still, I guess I’ll point out Art Carney’s Saun Dann, whose vaudevillian antics are part and parcel of the special’s misguided attempts to ape Laugh-In and those other old holiday specials. At least he gets enough screentime to treat the material even slightly seriously, and of all the new characters, he feels the most likely to actually exist in the same universe as Luke, Han, and Leia.
“I Don’t Know? Fly Casual!” All of the major ship footage is just recycled clips from Star Wars, so I’ll at least champion the Y-wing Luke uses in the animated segment. They’re the ugly, snub-nosed workhorses of the Rebel fleet, and though they may not be as sexy as an X-wing, Luke’s decision to fly one gives us more of a look than we normally get.
“Who’s Scruffy Looking?” I’ll single out MVP Harvey Korman, who does triple duty playing three equally baffling characters in this special – first, the Julia Child-like cooking show host Gormaanda (get it?), then the sullen barfly Krelman, then the instructional android who teaches Lumpy via video how to play with his new transmitter. None of the bits are any good, but bless the man for trying.
“Never Tell Me the Odds”: In its first (and only) airing, The Star Wars Holiday Special raked in about 13 million viewers – and it only came in third! Any major cable network would kill to get half those ratings now.
May the Force Be with You: There’s really not much of the Force here, since we focus so much on Chewie’s family. Luke, the only Force user we see, is just in a couple of lame comedy scenes and the climax. Would the trippy line of Wookiees walking into a sun at the end to celebrate Life Day count as the Force?
Lightsaber Options: No lightsabers here – the closest we get are Jefferson Starship’s glowing, purple instruments (including Marty Balin’s extremely phallic microphone). Perhaps they’re a long-lost sect of the Jedi Order who turned their sacred weapons into sweet musical instruments/sex toys.
The Scene You’re Looking For: The bizarre ending of the special, in which the original Star Wars crew is finally assembled for a hasty, coke-addled rendition of the theme tune (with lyrics!) as all the Wookiees gather in red robes in the middle of a star. It’s truly a sight to behold for the sheer “what were they thinking?” factor.
“I’ve Got a Stomach-Churning Feeling About This”: How bad is The Star Wars Holiday Special? Let’s put it this way: George Lucas thought the prequels were good enough to put out in theaters, and even he wished this thing had never seen the light of day. In many ways, The Star Wars Holiday Special represents the growing pains of media in a post-Star Wars world: Star Wars is a popular thing, so we’ll do a goofy, Bruce Vilanch-produced holiday special with it!
The problem, then, lies in the gulf between these two ideas: Star Wars and Bruce Vilanch have two very different senses of humor, and they belong to two different generations of media. Because of that, the Holiday Special feels less like Star Wars and more like an old grandpa trying to relate to the young kids by dressing up his old Vaudeville antics in a Wookiee suit.
Nowhere in the first film did you think there would be room for a Jefferson Starship cameo or a wacky space holo-circus or an elderly Wookiee clearly using Diahann Carroll as fapping material. Even the attempts to fit the film’s main characters fall flat: Everyone’s clearly flying without targeting computers, including a bored Harrison Ford, a coked-up Carrie Fisher, and a heavily made-up Mark Hamill (maybe shortly after his facial surgery?).
The Star Wars Holiday Special is clearly something that no one wanted to make — a hollow, space-based Laugh-In that’s just as interminable to watch as it likely was to produce.
20. Star Wars: Droids [TV Series] (1985-1986)
Opening Crawl: This doesn’t even merit an opening crawl. Instead I give you this: The Police’s Stewart Copeland’s opening theme to Droids.
The Light Side: C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), R2-D2 (Himself), Thall Joben/Master 1, Jann Tosh/Master 2, and Mungo Baobab/Master 3 (James Arnold Taylor), and let me just say that “Mungo Baobab” is probably the best name in the Star Wars Universe
The Dark Side: Vlix, The Great Heap, with special appearances by Boba Fett, IG-88, and the evil Galactic Empire
“Thanks, Wedge!” Again Mungo Baobab, the droids’ third and final master of the series. This is where the show really starts. It’s too bad it took them half a series to get there.
“I Don’t Know? Fly Casual!” If there is one thing I remember from this cartoon, it’s the appearance of the Desert Skiff from Return of the Jedi.
“Who’s Scruffy Looking?” The Droids character Admiral Terrinald Screed was recently made canon when included in the book release Tarkin by James Luceno.
“Never Tell Me the Odds”: Show was poorly received and only lasted one season (13 episodes).
May the Force Be with You: If you’re looking for the Force, don’t. Taking place before the events of A New Hope, the show is made up mostly of assholes.
Lightsaber Options: One lightsaber makes a brief appearance to not so subtly remind us we’re watching something related to Star Wars.
MVP Action Figure: I’m going to have to go with the Desert Skiff on this one.
Essential Video Game Tie-In: Did not receive the video game treatment (thank God).
Strangest Marketing Tie-In: You could probably write a movie about the failed, last-ditch-effort toy marketing that was going on with this property.
The Scene You’re Looking For: The best sequence in the Droids series has to be this…
“I’ve Got a Cringy Feeling About This”: What can I say? I loved Droids when I was a kid, if I was lucky enough to catch it at five in the morning on SyFy when they re-aired them. With no prequels in sight, I couldn’t get enough of the show. The re-watch as an adult had me cringing. This just doesn’t feel like Star Wars at all. The animation is great, and with Anthony Daniels returning to voice C-3PO, one could have had higher hopes. I wish the Great Heap was in the first episode and could have consumed Droids before it had a chance to flounder its way to a one-season death.
19. Star Wars: Ewoks [TV Series] (1985-1987)
Opening Crawl: It is a dark time for the Star Wars franchise, a time when, in his ill-fated quest to appeal to the youngest members of his audience, George Lucas creates a cartoon series based entirely around the most cloying species in the original trilogy: the Ewoks. On their forest moon of Endor, the easily commodified creatures become even more cutesy when drawn by Korean animators, despite being terrorized by an evil sorceress named Morag and a rival tribe: the swamp-dwelling Duloks…
The Light Side: Wicket Wysteri Warrick (Jim Henshaw/Denny Delk), Willy Warrick (John Stocker), Weechee Warrick (Greg Swanson), Deej Warrick (Richard Donat), Shodu Warrick (Nonnie Griffin/Esther Scott), Erpham Warrick (Anthony Parr), Chief Chirpa (George Buza/Rick Camino), Princess Kneesaa a Jari Kintaka (Cree Summer/Jeanne Reynolds), Asha (Tabitha St. Germain), Paploo (Paul Chato), Teebo (Eric Peterson/James Cranno), Malani (Alyson Court), Latara, Nippet (Leanne Coppen),and Wiley (michael Fantini), and Master Logray (Doug Chamberlain)
The Dark Side: Morag (Jackie Burroughs), King Gorneesh (Daniel Cody Ryan), Queen Urga (Melleny Brown), Umwak (Don Francks)
“Thanks Wedge!”: For the most part, the Ewoks Ewoks grate on the nerves if you’re not in preschool, but a handful of them do have some nice developments as the series progresses over two seasons. Logray, always the most evocative ‘wok in Return of the Jedi with his feathered staff and giant bird skull, becomes a rascally figure of magic here, his personality reminiscent of Yoda before the Jedi Master reveals his true identity to Luke.
“I Don’t Know? Fly Casual!” Since the show takes place in the woods, it’s mostly just a lot of primitive hang gliders. However, one key episode, “Battle for the Sunstar”, features one of Emperor Palpatine’s scientists as the main villain, meaning we actually get to see some cool animated versions of an Imperial Star Destroyer and a Lambda-class T-4a shuttle. That’s, uh (pushes glasses further up the bridge of his nose), an Imperial Shuttle for you Star Wars common folk.
“Who’s Scruffy Looking?” While she’d look out of place in the Mos Eisley Cantina, Izrina, Queen of the Wisties (the Endor equivalent to fairy-folk) serves as an interesting Easter egg for anyone familiar with the made-for-TV Ewoks films (more on those soon). As in the movies, she befriends the heroes, but only after inadvertently causing them harm: when Morag infects her with a fire spell, she accidentally sets the trees surrounding the Ewoks’ Bright Tree Village ablaze.
“Never Tell Me the Odds”: After Return of the Jedi, the two Ewoks films, and all the merchandising that came with them, perhaps even children were Ewoked out in the mid-’80s. The show was cancelled due to low ratings after just two short seasons.
May the Force Be With You: The Force never gets mentioned by name, but there’s reason to believe that the nonstop magic on the show — from the Wisties to Logray to Morag — are all a result of, God help me, midichlorians dancing around in the air. I need a shower after saying that. They’re all over me! Like plankton! Like parasites! Aaahhh!
MVP Action Figure: When it comes to Ewoks, you’re better off snagging the films’ toys over the show’s toys (the best ‘80s cartoon bear action figure will always be Ro-Bear-Bill from Thundercats). The Dulok Scout, on the other hand, is fairly badass, as if Wile E. Coyote contracted radiation sickness.
Strangest Marketing Tie-In: Unlike so many other Star Wars mediums, Ewoks kept its merchandising limited to toys and books. Interestingly, the show’s animation style first appeared in a series of children’s books attached to Return of the Jedi. Anyone not already spitting up stomach bile from all the cuteness can check out goo-goo ga-ga titles like The Baby Ewoks’ Picnic Surprise!
The Scene You’re Looking For: Unsurprisingly, the series’ best scene has little to do with Ewoks. There’s something nerdily gleeful about seeing the Empire pop up in the first scene of “Battle for the Sunstar”. Stormtroopers and admirals and Emperors, oh my!
“I’ve Got a Queasy Feeling About This”: Look, I know it’s a kids’ show and everything, but just writing this entry gave me a headache, despite some decent creature design and fanboy nods to the greater Star Wars universe. The main problem with Ewoks is that it wants to expand the title characters’ mythology without having the proper platform to do so. The ‘woks (yes, I’m calling them ‘woks now) already tow the line between cute and unBEARable, so in order to explore their culture without going into adorability (and tribal cliche) overload, you need a feature-length film or guide-length book to spread out all the lore.
But since the episodes are only 22 minutes and aimed at young children, many of the installments feel like an endless babble of baby spells, baby lessons, and hard-to-pronounce baby names. Main writer Paul Dini would fare much better a decade letter with Batman: The Animated Series. Granted, he’d be working with much stronger characters, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that Ewoks amounts to little more than a diaper loaded up with Gerber food.
18. Star Wars Resistance [TV Series] (2018)
Opening Crawl: Like many modern day Star Wars series, Resistance omits the opening crawl (and really the intro altogether). Instead, most episodes begin with a cold open where some moment of comedy or drama is quickly punctuated with the show’s brief but triumphant fanfare.
The Light Side: Kazuda “Kaz” Xiono (Christopher Sean), Neeku Vozo (Josh Brener), CB-23, Jarek Yeager (Scott Lawrence), Tam Ryvora (Suzie McGrath), Captain Doza (Jason Hightower),Torra Doza (Myrna Velasco), Orka (Bobby Moynihan), Flix (Jim Rash), Hype Fazon (Donald Faison) with special appearances from Poe Dameron and BB-8.
The Dark Side: Major Vonreg (Lex Lang), Agent Tierny (Sumalee Montano), Jace Rucklin (Elijah Wood), Commander Pyre (Liam McIntyre) with special appearances from Kylo Ren (Matthew Wood), General Hux (Ben Prendergast), and Captain Phasma (Ellen Dubin).
“Thanks, Wedge!” Tam Ryvora has one of the show’s best arcs so far, despite often being kept on the sidelines. She’s one of the few regular folks across all of Star Wars who sees the First Order as a net good, bringing security and opportunity to the galaxy. Her choice to join them is fueled not only by that broader perspective, but by a justifiable sense of betrayal that Yeager, her surrogate father, went out of his way to protect and encourage Kaz, while denying her the truth and the chance he received. Her deeper understanding of the true nature of the First Order, and her consideration over that fateful choice, is the highlight of the show’s second season.
“I Don’t Know? Fly Casual!” Does a space station count as a ship? If so, the Colossus takes the prize here. The mobile refueling station is the setting for almost all of Kaz and company’s adventures. Resembling a stiff mechanical jellyfish, the station is both a home and a refuge for our heroes. There’s also the Fireball, an old racing ship with a tendency to burst into flames and need constant repair, that still works (or at least works well enough) when the good guys really need it.
“Who’s Scruffy Looking?” Neeku is a friendly Kadas’sa’Nikto (the same species as one of Jabba the Hutt’s enforcers on Tatooine). But far from being a mere goon for a crime lord, Neeku is the consistent highlight of Resistance. His chipper attitude, can-do spirit, and blithe literalism add comedy and heart to every episode he appears in.
“Never Tell Me the Odds”: A mixed reception and middling ratings ensured that Resistance would not survive past its second season. But the show did win a Saturn Award for Best Animated Series and was nominated for a Daytime Emmy.
May the Force Be with You: The only official force user in the show is Leia, whose cameo is a brief one. But there’s a strong implication that Eila, a refugee from one of Kylo Ren’s massacres, is force-sensitive. And Mika Grey, a recently-encountered treasure hunter, claims to have some knowledge of the Force after our heroes meet her inside a Jedi temple.
Lightsaber Options: None yet, but Kylo Ren is on the way.
MVP Action Figure: How about this figure of Major Vonreg, whose Red Baron-inspired attire makes him stand out among the other bad guy fighter pilots in the franchise.
Essential Video Game Tie-In: The best Resistance can offer is a mobile racing app called Resistance Racer. The game is fine enough as a mobile timewaster, but lacks the depth to truly earn the designation “essential.”
Strangest Marketing Tie-In: The Resistance merch is all pretty standard, so let’s go with some in-universe marketing tie-ins, where Torra Doza is shown with her own Ewok doll. Or maybe it’s just taxidermy…
The Scene You’re Looking For: Tam is continually pulled between her loyalty to her friends and the chance to realize her dream of becoming a pilot. No scene better encapsulates the tension between those impulses than this one.
“I’ve Got a Disappointed Feeling About This”: Dave Filoni’s follow-up to The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels was hotly anticipated and rightfully so. The former series did the impossible and managed to redeem the Prequels, while the latter helped fill in the gaps between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope with its own sterling contributions to the mythos. But Resistance not only fails to live up to that legacy, it crashes and burns like the racer its protagonist wrecks so often.
He wrecks the series itself too. Kaz is one of the worst lead characters in all of Star Wars: annoying, overconfident, and hapless. Worse yet, despite those and other flaws, he’s bafflingly and regularly encouraged and trusted by almost everyone else in the series. In contrast to the all-ages appropriate but still mature approach taken by prior animated series under Filoni’s watch, Resistance’s sensibility skews much younger, with broader comedy, zanier setups, and rote stories and conflicts.
While perhaps hamstrung by the unfinished state of the Sequel Trilogy, the show also doesn’t add much, if anything, to our understanding of that era of the Star Wars Galaxy. And with an animation style that all but attacks the eye, there’s little redeeming in Resistance beyond a few memorable characters. That’s just not enough to justify a series that should have been grounded after its first flight.
17. Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
Opening Crawl: There is unrest in the Galactic Senate. Several thousand solar systems have declared their intentions to leave the Republic. This separatist movement, under the leadership of the mysterious Count Dooku, has made it difficult for the limited number of Jedi Knights to maintain peace and order in the galaxy. Senator Amidala, the former Queen of Naboo, is returning to the Galactic Senate to vote on the critical issue of creating an ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC to assist the overwhelmed Jedi…
The Light Side: Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), Padmé (Natalie Portman), Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson), Yoda (Frank Oz), Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits), Shmi Skywalker (Pernilla August), Anakin’s mother, C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker)
The Dark Side: Supreme Chancellor Palpatine/Darth Sidious (Ian McDiarmid), Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus (Christopher Lee), Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison), Boba Fett (Daniel Logan), Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best)
“Thanks, Wedge!” How about those spindly Kaminoan cloners who create the army that eventually takes over the entire galaxy? Obi-Wan’s trip to Kamino is one of the highlights of a film with plenty of lowlights, not least because this race of aliens is so mysterious. The original Star Wars trilogy worked because George Lucas didn’t try to explain everything; he’d build a world but not hold your hand when exploring it. Kamino feels like one of those throwback Star Wars worlds, where the things left unanswered only contribute to the allure.
“I Don’t Know? Fly Casual!” Obi-Wan’s Jedi Starfighter is a pretty neat little ship, and it feels like a throwback to the original trilogy in the sense that it doesn’t suffer from overdesign. The ship that Obi-Wan takes on — Jango Fett’s Slave I — is also among the most iconic in the Star Wars universe, so it’s nice to see it here.
“Who’s Scruffy Looking?” Dexter Jettster might be the scruffiest-looking alien in the entire series. The owner of Dex’s Diner makes a brief appearance when he helps Obi-Wan identify a poisoned dart, but he’s such a creep that we can’t help but remember him. That mustache, for instance, is permanently etched into my brain, though it took me a few viewings to spot it in the first place.
“Never Tell Me the Odds”: The second entry in the prequel trilogy performed the worst of all three, but it still raked in nearly $650 million. Those aren’t quite Padawan-level earnings.
May the Force Be with You: Anakin and Obi-Wan show off some impressive Force skills while chasing after Padmé’s would-be assassin on Coruscant, including free-falling through a traffic jam and somehow not dying. There’s also the distinct possibility that Anakin uses a Jedi mind trick to make Padmé fall in love with him (seriously, no other explanation makes sense).
Lightsaber Options: Pretty much every lightsaber you could imagine shows up in the climactic battle on Geonosis, when an entire army of Jedi Knights shows up to put an end to the Separatists. Most Jedi, it turns out, tend to favor blue or green, though a couple of yellows and purples slip into the mix. A few scenes later, we confirm that Dooku is a Sith when he whips out his red number to duel with Yoda (green, obviously).
MVP Action Figure: In a controversial twist, we’re going with Senator Jar Jar. Or is it Dark Sith Lord Jar Jar? See? At least this one makes you think.
Essential Video Game Tie-In: Star Wars: Jedi Starfighter, which takes place during the course of the film and outpaces its predecessor, Star Wars: Starfighter in pretty much every way. The coolest part is that it combines traditional dogfighting with Force elements that recharge after each use, though it’s also pretty sweet that you can fly around in Jango Fett’s Slave 1.
Strangest Marketing Tie-In: Another video game associated with Episode II is Star Wars: Racer Revenge, and it has a pretty unexplainable plot point. Anakin Skywalker is a playable character, but he’s represented by Hayden Christensen, who we’re pretty sure never went back to Tatooine to podrace. Right? Whatever.
The Scene You’re Looking For: That car chase on Coruscant is actually a lot of fun! It feels like vintage Star Wars, especially when it ends in that seedy nightclub.
“I’ve Got a Frustrated Feeling About This”: Attack of the Clones is a film that should have been great, given all the cool stuff that Lucas tries to stuff inside the package. We’re introduced to the clones for the first time, which is pretty neat, but we also learn how Anakin and Padmé fall in love and see the first hint of Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side. Hell, there’s even young Boba Fett and a surprisingly nimble Yoda hopping around with a lightsaber! It’s too bad none of these elements add up to a film that feels even the slightest bit cohesive. Attack of the Clones is probably not as bad as you remember it being, but it’s also frustrating enough to make you want to murder an entire clan of Tusken Raiders.
16. Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure [TV Movie] (1984)
Opening Crawl: The original Star Wars trilogy has ended, but there is more money to be made. Filmed as a made-for-TV movie for ABC, George Lucas’ next tale in a galaxy far, far away takes us back to Endor, when, in between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, the Ewoks have another adventure. After two human castaways get kidnapped by the monstrous Gorax, Wicket and his band of furry friends must help their children rescue them. But the road to victory won’t be easy, even with the bravery of a whole caravan of ‘woks…
The Light Side: Mace Towani (Eric Walker), Cindel Towani (Aubree Miller), Catarine Towani (Fionnula Flanagan), Jeremitt Towani (Guy Boud), Wicket Wysteri Warrick (Warwick Davis), Deej (Daniel Frishman), Shodu (Pam Grizz), Weechee (Debbie Lee Carrington), Widdle (Tony Cox), Chukha-Trok (Kevin Thompson), Kaink (Margarita Fernández), Logray (Bobby Bell), Izrina
The Dark Side: The Gorax, the boar-wolf, and a buncha spiders in the Gorax’s mountain fortress
“Thanks Wedge!”: Burl Ives goes into full genre-film grandfather mode as the narrator. Between this and Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, he shows that, when it comes to kid’s fantasy outings, few voices nudge the story along as effectively as his lived-in purr. Also, this is the only Star Wars movie with any narration at all. Does that make him God of Lucas’ galaxy? Seeing as neither Ewok film is considered canon these days, I guess not.
“I Don’t Know? Fly Casual!” There’s only one ship in the entire film, and it stays crashed. So not very memorable. Outside of that, we get more hang gliders.
“Who’s Scruffy Looking?” Given his sheer size — only the exogorth rivals him in height — the Gorax makes for a towering, formidable foe. I mentioned Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer earlier, and I’m reminded of the Abominable Snow Monster of the North when the Gorax walks by a human and all we can see is his leg. Although we eventually see the forest giant in his entirety (matted fur, bat ears, and a pig-like snout), director John Korty is wise to keep him shrouded in fog for his first appearance.
“Never Tell Me the Odds”: Originally broadcast on ABC, Caravan was the second most-watched ABC film that year, and was even nominated for two Emmy Awards, going on to win for “Outstanding Special Visual Effects.”
May the Force Be With You: Like all things Ewok, the Force never gets namechecked, but there’s a magic crystal, a magic staff, and a bunch of other magic shit. With so much ‘wok magic in the world, is The Force even that special?
MVP Action Figure: Since most of the Ewoks already had toys released after Jedi, no action figures were made specifically for Caravan. But oh, what I wouldn’t give for a to-scale Gorax figure. I’m sure someone out there has created a custom one, though. Let’s see … aaaand of course they have.
Strangest Marketing Tie-In: Likewise, not a ton of marketing tie-ins, aside from a few more Ewoks books. Things could have been different though if George Lucas hadn’t pulled one of the film’s commercials at the last second, in which Mace, Cindel, and Wicket stroll into a 1950s diner to order milkshakes. It’s never seen the light of day, but just think of the missed advertising opportunities, maybe at somewhere like Steak ‘n Shake: boar-wolf burger, Cin(namon)del ice cream, Deej dog with jub-jub sauce, the possibilities are endless! For now, I guess we’ll just have to settle for Warwick Davis’ mock ad for Welch’s grape juice:
The Scene You’re Looking For: George Lucas insisted that an actual hang glider be built for the film, a gamble that pays off early on when Deej searches for his missing sons. As he soars over the forest in his glider, it’s a moment of sylvan majesty that recalls the best Endor moments in Jedi. Unsurprisingly, both films were shot at Redwood National Forest.
“I’ve Got a Confused Feeling About This”: Caravan of Courage scares me because I want to hate it way more than I do. It’s not exactly a great movie (none of the human actors are able to elevate the dialogue above its clunky genre trappings), but it does have an anthropological charm to it whenever we get to see the Ewoks just living their lives as Ives narrates. It’s in those moments that the film suddenly feels like a National Geographic special overseen by George Lucas.
Also, because of his involvement as well as future director Joe Johnston — who served as Production Designer — the special effects have a scrappiness reminiscent of Ray Harryhausen. In fact, both Ewoks films feature some of the final stop-motion sequences produced by Industrial Light & Magic. Does the herky-jerky movement of the boar-wolf look real? No. Does it look cool? Absolutely.
15. Star Wars: The Clone Wars [TV Series] (2008)
Opening Crawl: Secession throughout the Republic! The SEPARATIST scourge moves unchecked throughout the galaxy, tearing the galaxy in two. Despite operating beneath the weight of a crumbling bureaucracy, the Jedi Order has nevertheless committed itself to liberating every last star system from its dark overlord, COUNT DOOKU. With the loyal clone soldiers of the GRAND ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC at their side, the Jedi are the last chance for peace and justice in the galaxy…
The Light Side: Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter), Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein), Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor), Commander Cody (Dee Bradley Baker), Captain Rex (Dee Bradley Baker), Padme Amidala (Catherine Taber), Mace Windu (Terrence Carson), Yoda (Tom Kane), and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels)
The Dark Side: Count Dooku (Corey Burton), General Grievous (Matthew Wood), Asajj Ventress (Nika Futterman), and Darth Sidious (Ian Abercrombie)
“Thanks, Wedge!” Cad Bane proved that once again George Lucas can find the right appeal in adapting real-world and tried-and-true tropes into sci-fi/fantasy gold. The Eastwood-esque alien cowboy was a more cunning and successful bounty hunter than either Fett ever proved over the course of the saga. Aside from the visual aesthetic, the electronic tinge added to Corey Burton’s Peter Lorre impression sent shivers up the spines of viewers every time the Duros opened his mouth for some classic deliveries. Bane was always a show-stealer and for some is a Star Wars legend.
“I Don’t Know? Fly Casual!” Star Wars has a long history with superweapons if the promotions for The Force Awakens prove to be true. After glossing over the Separatist involvement with the Death Star’s development in Attack of the Clones, a brand-new type of superweapon was put into play by Grievous in the first season of The Clone Wars: The Malevolence. It proved a better origin for the nature of a “superweapon” than rolling out any sort of prototype.
The Malevolence was a heavy cruiser capable of firing a massive ion blast that would disable any ship in its path (and followed it up with lasers for the finishing blows). Grievous led a deadly campaign using the Malevolence to tear up the Galactic Republic’s navy at the outset of the war. After a weak showing in The Clone Wars film, the three-episode Malevolence serial was the start that the television series had to have: efficiently using the serialized episode format and lending weight to Grievous as a worthy adversary to Obi-Wan (and thereby enhancing Revenge of the Sith).
“Who’s Scruffy Looking?”Mother Talzin was a brand-new kind of darkness that descended on the Star Wars universe: a darkness fueled by witchcraft. As the leader of the female-dominated Dathomiri witches, Talzin’s powers were more based on alchemy and magicks. In addition to the whole new dimension she and her sisters brought to the nature of the Force, her vocal sound design was pure auditory ecstasy. Barbara Goodson’s already-haunting vocals were layered in surround sound mixes with deep male harmonies, creating an effect that oozed Dark Side.
“Never Tell Me the Odds”: Ratings were consistently strong over the course of The Clone Wars’ five-season run on Cartoon Network, initially debuting as its most-watched premiere ever. Productions of episodes were so far in advance that often they were working on episodes three seasons ahead of the currently airing schedule.
After the show was canceled (due to the pending Disney acquisition), the remaining unreleased episodes were brought to Netflix – along with the rest of the series.
May the Force Be with You: The mythology of the Force expanded mightily over the course of The Clone Wars. One particular highlight included the ancient droid Huyang (voiced by David Tennant in an Emmy-winning role), a lightsaber instructor who guided younglings throughout their crystal-gathering quests.
Expanded Universe-invented concepts were re-introduced, including the use of holocrons that acted as repositories of Jedi knowledge and the ancient Sith home world of Korriban (identified as Moraband in the series, but aesthetically and historically the same).
Perhaps most significantly, The Clone Wars season on Netflix brought Yoda to Dagobah and pushed him onto a vision quest that would lead to the Yoda that we loved in The Empire Strikes Back. Qui-Gon Jinn’s spirit revealed to Yoda the secret of eternal life, a connection to the Living Force long lost to the Jedi (with a better explanation of midi-chlorians as a bonus!).
Lightsaber Options: As the piece of media featuring the most Jedi, The Clone Wars had all sorts of lightsabers. Their biggest moment in the spotlight, however, was Huyang’s mentorship of a group of younglings in Season Five. Huyang introduced viewers to “The Gathering”, the ritual in which Jedi younglings would overcome trials to obtain lightsaber crystals, imbue them with their life spirit, and then enclose them with a hilt built of their own individuality. Gungi, a Wookiee youngling, built his lightsaber hilt from the bark of a native Kashyyyk tree. The wood-paneled hilt is the most original this side of the Knights of Ren.
MVP Action Figure: Quinlan Vos was a longtime fan favorite among Expanded Universe fans since his introduction before Attack of the Clones. When Quinlan joined the cast of The Clone Wars in Season Three, it meant everyone’s favorite undercover Jedi infiltrator was getting his own action figure. Quinlan’s portrayal in the television show may have been inconsistent with his comic persona, but the figure was great:
Essential Video Game Tie-In: There was unfortunately never a tie-in video game that was ever received well when it came to The Clone Wars. Perhaps its best chance was Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars, a Lego journey through the first two seasons of the show.
Strangest Marketing Tie-In: The Clone Wars searched far and wide for other media influences to drive their stories. As Cad Bane’s popularity soared, he saw much-deserved comparisons to some of the most classic outlaws of the Wild West. This piece of conceptual promo art also featuring the two biggest heroes of the series really hammered it home:
The Scene You’re Looking For: In what started as a comedic story arc, Republic Colonel Gascon and his crack droid operatives take a dramatically satisfying turn after they find a clone commando (Gregor) that has developed amnesia and taken up employment on a backwater world. After helping him remember his duty, Gregor covers Gascon’s escape, ending with the most noble of sacrifices (Gregor would ultimately return in Rebels):
“I’ve Got a Solid Feeling About This”: The Clone Wars was a rocky ride from start to finish. Following a poorly received big-screen debut, few were expecting much from the small-screen version. But the show found quick footing and latched on, unafraid to both draw from what came before and, even more importantly, to tread new ground.
In came new, memorable faces such as the cowboy bounty hunter Cad Bane, the Dark Jedi General Krell, and the defiant Padawan Ahsoka Tano. These are – at their core – familiar concepts to Star Wars. But each one drew on new inspiration: spaghetti westerns, mutinous war stories, young female empowerment, and so many more over the course of five-plus seasons.
It wasn’t always successful. For every classic episode such as the Saving Private Ryan-esque Landing at Point Rain, there was a Temple of Doom-inspired adventure starring Jar Jar Binks and Mace Windu (The Disappeared).
But it had the guts to take all available chances and tell many stories instead of one. But while these stories were being told, a much greater thing was unfolding: The prequel Jedi and Anakin Skywalker were becoming heroes worth caring about, heroes worth saving, and heroes that – when they fell, and they would – would break your heart. The Clone Wars make the prequels worth the journey and that may make them, in some perverse way, the most important Star Wars stories ever told. They add all that weight to a simple throwaway line in A New Hope, when Luke confidently states, “No, my father didn’t fight in the Clone Wars…”
Luke, your father was one of the greatest this galaxy has ever seen. And his fall to the Dark Side is tragic once again.
14. Star Wars: Clone Wars [TV Series] (2003-2005)
Opening Crawl: WAR! The Galactic Republic continues to lose more and more systems to the Confederacy of Independent Systems. Spread thin across the stars, the Jedi struggle to maintain peace as a new dark force emerges.
The Light Side: Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor), Anakin Skywalker (Mat Lucas), and Jedi Knights Mace Windu, Kit Fisto, Shaak Ti, and Master Yoda
The Dark Side: Count Dooku (Corey Burton), Dark Sith Lord Asajj Ventress (Grey DeLisle), and General Grievous. This version of General Grievous is terrifying, while the threat we deserved to see on the big screen ended up as a coughing heap of scrap metal. Honorable mention goes to that of the Bounty Hunter Durge and here’s why.
“Thanks, Wedge!” Kit Fisto and Mace Windu shine here in their character-specific episodes. More on that later!
“I Don’t Know? Fly Casual!” There isn’t anything too memorable ship-wise in Clone Wars, at least nothing we really haven’t already seen. Fail.
“Who’s Scruffy Looking?” The most memorable aliens have to be the Nelvaan — a race enslaved by the Techno-Union Army. In order to save the Nelvaan, Anakin undergoes a spiritual Trial that shows him his future, including the bit about becoming Darth Vader. He saves the Nelvaan, but once again loses a bit of himself to anger and hate.
“Never Tell Me the Odds”: Clone Wars marked the first time an online series won an Emmy, having been released simultaneously on TV. The series spun off into a comic book of the same name.
May the Force Be with You: The force is all over this baby, chronicling the Jedi Counsel’s efforts to kick some major Separatist arse! Doesn’t hurt that it also marks the first new Sith apprentice since the days of Dooku.
Lightsaber Options: The only new lightsabers we see in this installment come courtesy of Asajj Ventress.
MVP Action Figure: Again: The Durge!
Essential Video Game Tie-In: Sadly did not receive the video game treatment.
Strangest Marketing Tie-In: Wasn’t around long enough to receive something obvious, let alone weird.
The Scene You’re Looking For: Never have Mace Windu fans had it this good.
“I’ve Got a Good Feeling About This”: When the Clone Wars was still fresh and unexplored, Star Wars fans rejoiced when Cartoon Network announced these mini-sodes. Delving into specific missions showcasing each Jedi and what they could bring the table was fun and fresh. We were also able to see the very cool tie-in to the opening of Revenge of the Sith play out over Animation. Clocking in at #8, the 2003 Clone Wars series is where the story should have ended. Far be it from Lucasfilm to let a good thing lie.
13. Ewoks: The Battle for Endor [TV Movie] (1985)
Opening Crawl: The Star Wars franchise continues to thrive, even within the restrictions of network television. Having defeated the Gorax in the successful, Emmy-nominated TV movie Caravan of Courage, the Towani family has repaired their ship and is making preparations to leave Endor — and their time with the Ewoks — behind. But a new enemy may interrupt their plans…
The Light Side: Cindel Towani (Aubree Miller), Mace Towani (Eric Walker), Catarine Towani (her face is obstructed), Jeremitt Towani (Paul Gleason), Wicket Wysteri Warrick (Warwick Davis), Deej (Daniel Frishman), Shodu (Pam Grizz), Widdle (Tony Cox), Noa Briqualon (Wilford Brimley), and Teek (Niki Botelho)
The Dark Side: Terak (Carel Struycken), Charal (Siân Phillips)
“Thanks, Wedge!” Noa is the great unsung hero of the Star Wars universe. As played by Brimley, he spends half of the film screaming at Teek, screaming at Wicket, screaming at Cindel, and even screaming when they’re supposed to be stealthily invading the Marauders’ castle. Simply put, the man chews up scenery like a Wampa gorging on Tauntaun bones — and gives every other old-man actor in the franchise (Alec Guinness, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, etc.) a run for their money. He was reportedly a terror off-screen two, clashing so much with directors Jim and Ken Wheat that his scenes had to be handled by Joe Johnston. Side note: anyone looking for the best and funniest commentary on Brimley’s performance should check out the We Hate Movies episode on The Battle For Endor.
“I Don’t Know? Fly Casual!” Finally, that stupid Towani starcruiser gets off the ground! Jeremitt (now played by Paul Gleason for a whole two minutes) almost manages to fix it before getting gunned down by the marauders. Once Cindel completes the job by inserting an energy cell at the end of the film (it had been stolen by Terak), she’s off to the stars to one day become a journalist on Coruscant.
“Who’s Scruffy Looking?” Most of the Sanyassans don’t look all that different from Weequays, Klatoonians, or any other race of generic uggos in the Star Wars universe. At least Lucas threw some money at the makeup for their leader, Terak. Since you can see his mouth and eyes move, it’s clear that he’s covered in elaborate makeup and not just a rubber mask found laying around ILM. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s played by Carel Struycken, whose memorably weathered mug has been seen in Star Trek, Twin Peaks, and — perhaps most famously — The Addams Family films, where he played Lurch. Those cheekbones are a makeup artist’s dream!
May the Force Be With You: Out of all the Ewoks properties, Endor takes the magic most literally, especially with Charal, who has the ability to transmogrify into a crow. Now that I think about it, the whole ordeal seems to draw more from Lord of the Rings than Star Wars.
MVP Action Figure: Once again, Kenner skimped on shrinking any of the Ewok films’ new characters (so anyone that’s not an Ewok) to small scale. But that didn’t stop Disney from seizing the opportunity. In 2010, you could nab yourself a Teek action figure as part of the “Boarding Party” pack, which also featured several other characters glimpsed on the original Star Tours ride at MGM (I mean Hollywood) Studios. Which brings us to…
Strangest Marketing Tie-In: They really did put the most random assortment of characters on the original incarnation of Star Tours. Maybe it was meant to reflect the diversity of Lucas’ universe, but I don’t buy that Chewbacca would be happily hanging out with a lowlife Jabba stooge like Ree-Yees. And what the hell are Teek and Kaink doing there anyway? I don’t know, it just seems weird to include a lightning-quick simian from the Ewoks sequel on a Disney ride.
The Scene You’re Looking For: Regardless of flaws like the shoddy Ewok costumes and the villain’s vaguely explained quest for “power,” The Battle For Endor has balls. Usually, only hard R movies can get away with butchering the main character’s family in the first 10 minutes (see: Léon: The Professional, Gladiator, and many more). But that’s exactly what happens here, and in many ways, it’s even worse than those films since its predecessor’s sole purpose was to reunite the two kids with their parents. Still, that doesn’t stop the Wheat Brothers from pulling an Alien 3 and mercilessly butchering three-fourths of the Towani clan.
“I’ve Got a Darkly Comic Feeling About This”: Caravan of Courage is the better-made Ewok film (although just barely), but The Battle For Endor will always be the more enjoyable of the two. Even though this probably isn’t the case, it’s as if the Lucas and the Wheats set out on a quest of fan wish fulfillment, killing many of the annoying ‘woks, killing most of the annoying humans, and having Wilford Brimley bellow at anyone he can shake his walking stick at.
According to Lucas, he included the character because he had just read watched Heidi with his daughter and wanted the Ewok film to feature an orphan girl forced to live with a crotchety old bastard in the wilderness. That makes The Battle For Endor equal parts Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Heidi. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense on paper, and — if we’re being honest — it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense on-screen either. But man is it a hoot to watch.
12. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Opening Crawl: War! The Republic is crumbling under attacks by the ruthless Sith Lord, Count Dooku. There are heroes on both sides. Evil is everywhere. In a stunning move, the fiendish droid leader, General Grievous, has swept into the Republic capital and kidnapped Chancellor Palpatine, leader of the Galactic Senate. As the Separatist Droid Army attempts to flee the besieged capital with their valuable hostage, two Jedi Knights lead a desperate mission to rescue the captive Chancellor….
The Light Side: Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), Padmé (Natalie Portman), Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson), Yoda (Frank Oz), Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker)
The Dark Side: Supreme Chancellor Palpatine/Darth Sidious (Ian McDiarmid), Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus (Christopher Lee), and General Grievous (Matthew Wood)
“Thanks, Wedge!” It might seem odd to call a lead actor “underrated,” but Ewan McGregor doesn’t get enough credit for his work in the prequels. His Obi-Wan in Revenge of the Sith is a wholly empathetic creation, injecting some much needed pathos into a story that’s too often saddled with clunky dialogue and stiff acting (here’s looking at you, Hayden Christensen). The Force is indeed strong with anyone who can overcome George Lucas’ screenwriting.
“I Don’t Know? Fly Casual!” It’s cool to see early versions of ships that would eventually become the TIE fighter and the Star Destroyer. The Republic Attack Cruiser, which would later morph into the latter, is an especially inspired design.
“Who’s Scruffy Looking?” As a half-cyborg, half-alien who coughs like he just finished chain-smoking a carton of Pall Malls, Grievous gets the nod here. What a strange creature for Lucas to just drop into the final and most important film of the prequel trilogy. It’s like he took a bunch of acid, looked at a spray bottle, and decided that it would make the next great Star Wars villain. All kidding aside, Grievous does function as a kind of proto-Darth Vader, with everything from his cough to his half-robotic appearance foreshadowing Anakin’s eventual fate.
“Never Tell Me the Odds”: The final episode of the prequel trilogy raked in a nifty $848.8 million, making it substantially more successful than its immediate predecessor, Attack of the Clones. It couldn’t quite measure up to The Phantom Menace, the first of the prequels to surpass $1 billion in worldwide earnings.
May the Force Be with You: The Dark Side is all over this bad boy. Not only do we get to see Palpatine’s trademark Force lightning, but Anakin joins in on the fun by executing his very first Force choke — on his baby mama, no less!
Lightsaber Options: It’s an embarrassment of riches here, with an emphasis on embarrassment. We’ve got Mace Windu rocking the purple, Yoda on green, and Anakin and Obi-Wan holding down the always-in-season blue. Palpatine and Dooku represent the Dark Side with their red sabers, with Palpatine’s claiming the highest body count by far. But seriously, it’s not like the Jedi put up much of a fight. Those three assholes who accompany Windu to arrest him? Useless. They couldn’t slice open a Tauntaun if it was sitting on a plate in front of them.
MVP Action Figure: By the time Episode III rolled around, George Lucas had lost any semblance of shame and was straight-up designing characters for their toy appeal. Combine his love of money with the aforementioned acid dream and you get a character like General Grievous, whose four lightsabers and robotic body makeup probably made the executives at LEGO piss their Danish britches in delight. And I’ve got to admit, it’s a pretty badass toy. At least it doesn’t cough all the goddamn time.
Essential Video Game Tie-In: Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is the only video game with a direct link to the film’s story, and it’s a pretty good one. The game doesn’t care much for staying faithful to the plot, though; in the final level, you can actually play as Vader and kill Obi-Wan during the climactic lightsaber duel. Turns out “I have the high ground” don’t mean shit after all!
Strangest Marketing Tie-In: Darth Dew, a limited-edition Slurpee flavor that hit 7-Eleven in the months before the film’s release. This grape-flavored beverage was the perfect refreshment to sip after a long day of hitting the slopes or murdering Jedi younglings.
The Scene You’re Looking For: Oh man, Obi-Wan absolutely chews up the scenery in that final lightsaber duel on Mustafar. He has more iconic lines here than anyone else does in the rest of the trilogy combined. “Only a Sith deals in absolutes!” “You were the Chosen One!” You were my brother, Anakin!” The list goes on. All that lava stuff is a little silly and unnecessary, but that’s Lucas for you. This is a guy who’s never seen a green screen he doesn’t like, but even all of his worst instincts couldn’t derail one of the most eloquently choreographed fights in the entire saga.
“I’ve Got an Empty Feeling About This”: The popular narrative contends that Revenge of the Sith is where the prequels finally got it sort of right, but the film’s cracks become more apparent with each rewatch. Stiff dialogue and logical fallacies abound, as do computer-generated graphics that probably won’t hold up 10 or 20 years from now. To make matters worse, the love story that’s supposed to hold the film together is even less believable here than it was in Attack of the Clones, and who would have thought that was possible?
Still, Revenge of the Sith isn’t entirely a disaster. The film’s tragic-hero storyline has an inherent emotional heft that was missing in the other two prequels, and its tone is probably the darkest in the entire saga after The Empire Strikes Back (this is a good thing). If this is the final nail in the coffin of George Lucas’ complicated legacy, at least it’s a sort of pretty nail to look at.
11. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
Opening Crawl: Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute. Hoping to resolve the matter with a blockade of deadly battleships, the greedy Trade Federation has stopped all shipping to the small planet of Naboo. While the Congress of the Republic endlessly debates this alarming chain of events, the Supreme Chancellor has secretly dispatched two Jedi Knights, the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy, to settle the conflict…
The Light Side: Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson), Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), Queen Amidala/Padmé (Natalie Portman), Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker)
The Dark Side: Senator Palpatine/Darth Sidious (Ian McDiarmid), Darth Maul (Ray Park), Lott Dodd and Nute Gunray (Silas Carson), and Watto (Andy Secombe)
“Thanks, Wedge!” Ralph Brown’s Ric Olie (known colloquially among the fandom as Captain Obvious) is probably my favorite character in the film. After all, his sole purpose is to state for the camera exactly what’s going on. Upon seeing the blockade: “There’s the blockade!” While landing on Coruscant: “That’s Coruscant. The entire planet is one giant city.” Seeing someone else blow up the droid control ship: “We didn’t hit it!” You keep doing you, Ric; one of these days, you’ll say something that actually surprises someone.
“I Don’t Know? Fly Casual!” While the first thing you miss about the prequels is the original trilogy’s lived-in universe, the baroque, ornate designs of the Naboo ships in Episode I were still a sight to behold. Decidedly unlike anything we’d seen in the films to date, the shiny chrome and sharp, pointed designs of the Naboo starfighters helped to sell the Mediterranean aesthetics of their home world, offering a minimalism absent in a lot of the other prequels’ designs.
“Who’s Scruffy Looking?”Welp, you can’t talk memorable aliens and Episode I in the same sentence without bringing up Jar Jar Binks. Ostensibly Lucas’ plan to appeal to children and to infuse what he felt was a much-needed sense of comic relief to the Star Wars saga, the end result was a shrill, annoying, and borderline offensive creature whose presence was so odious Lucas had to abandon his plans to make him important in the remaining prequels. In many ways, Jar Jar is the protagonist of The Phantom Menace — it’s through his naïve exuberance that the day is won, and he undergoes ostensibly the most dramatic transformation from social exile to war hero. Still, there’s no accounting for that accent, the fart jokes, and his incessant, unstoppable ineptitude.
“Never Tell Me the Odds”: During its initial theatrical run, The Phantom Menace earned more than $924.3 million worldwide, sufficiently proving that nostalgia will get asses in seats.
May the Force Be with You: Unlike the comparatively restrained use of the Force in the OT, The Phantom Menace solidified the pre-Galactic Civil War Jedi as aloof superheroes, basically. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan liberally utilize the Jedi mind trick to fool people into doing their bidding and use Force pushes and jumps to flit about like Superman on a trampoline, using their gifts to mow down armies of PG-friendly robots.
Lightsaber Options: Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan fill in the spectrum of Jedi lightsaber colors with their green and blue weapons, respectively, but it’s Darth Maul’s double-bladed red saber that stands out among the rest. The question remains, though: How did he keep from cutting himself in half with that thing, much less wait for Obi-Wan to do it?
MVP Action Figure: Never ones to let the girl’s toy market go unaddressed, Hasbro released a series of Padmé dolls for everyone’s Force-sensitive daughters called the Queen Amidala Collection. Among this line was the Beautiful Braids Padme, complete with long-flowing locks and wide-toothed comb to let you dress her hair however you like! She may be a handmaiden, but don’t let that stop you from reinforcing those gender norms!
Essential Video Game Tie-In: Whatever you feel about the podrace in the film itself, Star Wars: Episode I – Racer is commonly considered one of the best games of the franchise. The podracing gimmick was novel enough to provide not one but two games’ worth of fast-paced competitive racing, elevating an overlong scene from the prequels into something much more fun and fast-paced.
Strangest Marketing Tie-In: This lamentable Phantom Menace lollipop asks the question you never thought you needed answered: How would you feel about you or your young child French-kissing this year’s hottest, shrillest minstrel-frog? The answer, fortunately (and hopefully), was a determined “no,” presumably followed by the disposing and swift burning of any copies of this product found in their immediate vicinity.
The Scene You’re Looking For: Despite all the blather about trade negotiations, convoluted bets on sporting events, and endless senatorial deliberations, The Phantom Menace at least gave us a nice three-way lightsaber duel between Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Darth Maul. It’s acrobatic and dizzying in a way that wasn’t quite as overwhelming as some of the other prequels’ saber fights, and Ray Park has a tremendous physical presence.
“I’ve Got a Bad Feeling About This”: Amid all the jokes, the snark, the Red Letter Media takedowns and thinkpieces, it’s easy to see why we as a culture have so quickly dismissed Episode I as being galaxies apart from the original trilogy. After all, it’s got both Jar Jar and those dreaded trade negotiations we constantly harp on; it’s got Jake Lloyd going “Yippee!” and “Now this is podracing!” None of this is diminished by its inclusion as the highest-rated prequel on our list – it’s still a relatively lousy film.
That being said, Episode I has a straightforwardness to its narrative that makes it a bit more self-contained than the other two prequels, which took the criticisms of Episode I in the wrong direction by making them too circle-jerky and overly concerned with continuity. Sure, we got a lot less Jar Jar, which is always a good thing, but the universe became a lot larger as a result of all the Jango Fetts and Bail Organas.
Episode I, to its credit, keeps itself contained to a relatively small, and therefore understandable, set of stakes: Rescue the queen, get her to Coruscant (after making a pit stop along the way), and bring her back to free the planet herself when Big Government won’t help her out. The podrace and Darth Maul fights are still big and entertaining without the bloat of Episodes II and III, and the design of the Naboo and Trade Federation ships are just different enough to be interesting. The comparative novelty of Episode I, Jar Jar aside, helps make it a little more digestible as a result.