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.
10. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
Opening Crawl: Rogue One marks the first time a Star Wars film has opened without a crawl, but we’ll make an attempt at our own. As the battle between the Republic and its foes continues to burn, Chancellor Palpatine assembles a team devoted to building an unstoppable superweapon. One member of that task force, Orson Krennic, realizes that in order to build the so-called Death Star, they’ll need the help of an old friend: brilliant scientist Galen Erso. Erso and his wife, realizing his gifts could be used for dark purposes, flee with their daughter Jyn to a remote location. Life seems peaceful, but one day, a ship appears on the horizon…
The Light Side: Well, Rogue One makes a point of saying that the Rebels aren’t necessarily immune to darkness, but here goes. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits), Lyra Erso (Valene Kane)
The Dark Side: Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones), Grand Moff Tarkin (the late Peter Cushing)
The Ambiguously Shaded Side: Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen)
“Thanks, Wedge!” For the most part, the fact that Rogue One will stand alone feels downright refreshing. There’s a downside, however — potentially dynamic characters (and the terrific actors who play them) get the short end of the stick when it comes to both screen time and development. Foremost among these is Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), who gets called simply “cargo pilot” for what feels like a mortal age. While he may not have a ton to do, the gradual revelation of who Bodhi is makes for one of the film’s most engaging arcs. Casting an actor of Ahmed’s character doesn’t hurt the situation, either.
“I Don’t Know? Fly Casual!” While The Force Awakens didn’t offer much in the way of new ships, Rogue One has a couple of winners. Chief among these is Krennic’s Imperial Shuttle, a sleek, almost aggressively elegant design that moves like the world’s most graceful bird of prey. Still, the coolest ship in the film is a familiar one: the Death Star, which somehow proves more menacing here than in any other film.
“Who’s Scruffy Looking?”The Rebel Alliance is a diverse bunch, but one of its most dynamic members is Admiral Raddus, a citizen of Mon Cala (the home planet of Admiral Ackbar) who was modeled after Winston Churchill. Played by Doctor Who veteran Paul Kasey, he’s one of the more compelling minor characters, giving the impression of tremendous skill and commitment while still offering a few moments of welcome quirk.
“Never Tell Me the Odds”: We’ll see what the weekend brings, but The Hollywood Reporter predicts a $300-350 million global opening weekend. That would make Rogue One the second-biggest December opening of all time. The No. 1 spot, of course, is The Force Awakens.
May the Force Be with You: Rogue One ain’t shy about making it clear that the Jedi aren’t exactly thriving. One particularly stunning shot focuses on an enormous statue of a lightsaber-wielding hooded figure, toppled to the ground and nearly obscured with desert sands. The Force, however, still proves a potent, erm, force. Chirrut Îmwe, a monk and warrior, committed his life to his spirituality and belief in the Force, a choice that eventually helped him to overcome his blindness and become a formidable combatant. There’s also a moment where Jyn, holding what’s likely a Kyber-Crystal necklace, seems to make the impossible happen. Pretty cool.
Lightsaber Options: Vader’s got his classic saber … and that’s about it. Still, though they may not be sabers, Chirrut’s lightbow and staff are pretty nifty.
MVP Action Figure: Nothing really compares to the app-controlled BB-8 of last year, but pretty much anything K-2SO is gonna be great. Given the droid’s slightly ungainly proportions and Alan Tudyk’s scene-stealing comic performance, the best of the bunch has got to be Funko’s take on the character. GIMME.
Essential Video Game Tie-In: Not much to report here, but on December 6th, a DLC content pack was released for Star Wars: Battlefront. Rogue One: Scarif gives games a chance to play as Jyn or Director Krennic and tear through the battles on the planet Scarif. For now, that’s about it.
Strangest Marketing Tie-In: Um, does the “this is not a political movie” publicity tour count? Because that’s strange, and much stranger once you’ve seen the film. If not, let’s go with Gillette.
The Scene You’re Looking For: It’s hard to imagine walking out of Rogue One thinking anyone other than Alan Tudyk was the film’s MVP, and while the bulk of his material is comic in nature — and really freaking funny, by the way — it’s his most weighty scene that serves as the film’s best. Feverishly continuing to work to help Jyn and Cassian, even as he battles a seemingly endless stream of Storm Troopers, K-2SO literally takes a licking and keeps on ticking. He’s just doing his job, right until the end, and the death of a machine has never been quite so affecting. He’s great with a blaster, too.
“I’ve Got an Uneven Feeling About This”: Rogue One’s far from a disaster, but it’s not a total winner, either. For all the talk of this film being the first of several standalone entries in the franchise, it sure goes out of its way to make it really, really clear how it connects to A New Hope and the rest of the Star Wars universe in general. That includes an incredibly awkward final 10 minutes, which feel both completely unnecessary and belatedly tacked on. The harder Rogue One tries to assert itself as part of the club, the less essential it feels — particularly when the CGI-ed humans pop up. That’s a hard, fast fall into the uncanny valley.
It’s when Gareth Edwards and company stop trying so hard to make this a Star Wars film that Rogue One really takes flight. There are a few action sequences, the climactic battle in particular, that could go toe-to-toe with some of the franchise’s best. As mentioned above, K-2SO is solid gold (even though he’s not literally gold), and there are some terrific characters. While uneven, Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy’s screenplay sparkles from time to time, and Felicity Jones makes for a terrific lead. It may not be a stunner, but Rogue One still knows what it’s doing, and devotees and casual fans alike will find plenty to praise. Not the CGI people, though. That’s just weird.
09. Star Wars Rebels [TV Series] (2014-present)
Opening Crawl: The Galactic Empire’s control has spread to even the most remote star systems. Imperial Inquisitors have been dispatched by Lord Vader to hunt any remaining force-wielders.
Rebel cells are emerging in an attempt to preserve justice at a local level. On the planet Lothal, the motley crew of “The Ghost” — a freighter ship piloted by Hera Syndulla and led by one of the only remaining Jedi, Kanan Jarrus — is one such cell. Kanan decides to take young Ezra Bridger, a boy he senses is strong with the force, under his protection.
With the help of some familiar friends, the crew of The Ghost inspire local systems, along with other rebel cells, to forge an alliance across the galaxy.
The Light Side: Ezra Bridger (Taylor Gray), Kanan Jarrus (Freddie Prinze Jr.), Hera Syndulla (Vannessa Marshall), Sabine Wren (Tiya Sircar), Garazeb “Zeb” Orrelios (Steven Blum), and Chopper
The Dark Side: Darth Vader (James Earl Jones), The Grand Inquisitor (Jason Isaacs), Agent Kallus (David Oyelowo), Fifth Brother (Philip Anthony–Rodriguez), Seventh Sister (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Darth Maul (Sam Witwer), and Grand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen)
“Thanks, Wedge!” Returning characters from the prior Clone Wars series include Ahsoka Tano (Padawan of Anakin Skywalker), Captain Rex (ex-clone trooper gone Rebel), and Hondo Ohnaka (skeezy space pirate). While Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, and Frank Oz all return to voice Lando Calrissian, C-3PO, and Yoda, respectively.
“I Don’t Know? Fly Casual!” I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: The Ghost — a Corellian freighter turned rebel starship. The Ghost is able to go undetected by imperial sensors, hence the name. Resembles both the Corellian-made Millennium Falcon and Dash Rendar’s Outrider from the game Shadows of the Empire.
“Who’s Scruffy Looking?” Speaking of Shadows of the Empire, the most memorable alien from Season 2 is that of Sabine’s mysterious friend Ketsu. Ketsu (voiced by the brilliant Gina Torres) is another Mandalorian Bounty Hunter, who ditched the Academy with Sabine to join the criminal organization Black Sun (led by Prince Xizor, featured in Shadows of the Empire). It’s one of the more brilliant fan tie-ins, following the Clone Wars nod to the book. Honorable mention: the creatures outside Chopper Base including legions of gross spider-things and the mysterious, force-sensitive creature Bendu, voiced by Tom Baker.
“Never Tell Me the Odds”: Nielsen ratings are tough to put any stock in, especially these days, but Star Wars Rebels has been pulling in healthy numbers. Regardless of the numbers game, the ever-evolving series has more than endeared itself to fans and to many has become a downright essential component of the Star Wars universe.
May the Force Be with You: With Kanan Jarrus teaching the ways of the Jedi to Ezra, this series is very Force-centric — but not just the light side. Darth Maul’s obsessive appropriation of Ezra as his would-be pupil, has made for a fascinating neutral bent in Ezra’s nature and could hint that there’s a reason the original trilogy had no other “Jedi” in the Rebellion to rise up alongside Luke.
Lightsaber Options: Kanan sports a blue lightsaber that he wears in two pieces that have to be assembled, as to not draw attention from the Empire. Ezra Bridger first constructed a blue lightsaber/blaster hybrid and later built a more traditional, green-bladed saber. The Inquisitors’ lightsabers are of course red and have a very specific look pulled from an abandoned Force Unleashed video game design… with the downright baffling ability to spin around rapidly enough to give them helicopter-like flight. Then of course there’s Darth Maul’s former dual-bladed sabre, turned walking stick, and his collection of trinkets including the legendary Dark Saber.
MVP Action Figure: Easily Lego’s The Ghost and Phantom.
Essential Video Game Tie-In: Right now there are a couple of browser-based games via Disney’s site, but no Rebels video games to be seen in the near future.
The Scene You’re Looking For: In this scene, Vader discovers that his one-time Padawan apprentice from Clone Wars is still alive. And if you’re an enthusiast of the might of the Empire, you might also want to watch that time Thrawn killed an old man and Kanan and Ezra had to watch.
“I’ve Got a Great Feeling About This”: Star Wars Rebels is an all-ages series with a bend toward a younger audience, but as Ezra grows, the show matures with him. If you’re a fan thirsty for weekly Star Wars programming, look no further. The series’ attention to continuity and detail is extremely satisfying, especially when acknowledging properties across the expanded universe.
Rebels succeeds in telling new stories while incorporating old themes, both literal and metaphorical. Much of the music (thank you, Kevin Kiner) harkens back to John Williams’ original score, with Kiner punching in his own unique flair. Is there a problem with this sitting at number five on our list? As Han would say, “No, no problem. Why?”
08. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)
Opening Crawl: Luke Skywalker has vanished. In his absence, the sinister FIRST ORDER has risen from the ashes of the Empire and will not rest until Skywalker, the last Jedi, has been destroyed. With the support of the REPUBLIC, General Leia Organa leads a brave RESISTANCE. She is desperate to find her brother Luke and gain his help in restoring peace and justice to the galaxy. Leia has sent her most daring pilot on a secret mission to Jakku, where an old ally has discovered a clue to Luke’s whereabouts….
The Light Side: Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), R2-D2 (Kenny Baker), Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o), and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill)
The Dark Side: Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), and Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie)
“Thanks, Wedge!” This is quite a perfect superlative for Poe Dameron. Oscar Isaac’s “best freaking pilot in the galaxy” is an ideal replacement for Captain Antilles; or rather, he’s the Antilles we only heard about in the original trilogy. As Dameron, Isaac brings his signature humor and wit, sparring verbally with Kylo Ren early on and slapping his swagger on other’s shortly after. Oh, he’s one confident son of a bitch, alright, but that’s what makes his charm so immediate, and why you buy his chemistry with any character he comes across — like Finn, for example. Watching the two escape The First Order’s clutches is hilarious, exciting, and all sorts of enjoyable, sparking feelings that this series hasn’t exuded since Jedi. And although he’s the first of the new heroes we meet, Dameron has a minor role by comparison, relegated mostly to his X-wing, but hey, it’s only the beginning.
“I Don’t Know? Fly Casual!” It’s a little bizarre how there aren’t too many new ships in The Force Awakens. Both The First Order and the Resistance update their TIE fighters and X-wings, respectively, but the film’s star vehicle is an old bird, the Millennium Falcon. We first see the “hunk of junk” when Rey and Finn try to escape Jakku after BB-8’s been spotted by the First Order. The big joke is that it’s not an ideal ship by any means, but it’s their only resource after a newer freighter was destroyed by a TIE fighter. Once the Falcon starts up, however, Rey takes it for a spin while Finn gets a second chance behind the iconic turrets, which still have all the same software from 1977. It’s pure nostalgia, but that doesn’t mean it’s not exciting.
“Who’s Scruffy Looking?”Jakku hosts all sorts of oddities. One wild design is the hulking luggabeast that the antagonistic scavenger Teedo rides throughout the planet’s desolate, rolling desert hills. The thing itself looks as if a rhinoceros mated with a trash compactor. It’s pretty imaginative and speaks to the ingenuity that J.J. Abrams was working with behind-the-scenes for The Force Awakens. What’s more, the luggabeast is but one of many large-scale creatures that filter in and out of every scene.
You also have to adore Lupita Nyong’o’s Yoda-esque Maz Kanata. Who knows if we’ll ever see her again, but there’s a palpable warmth to her character that’s almost instantaneous. She’s wise, she’s patient, and she’s incredibly intuitive. Nyong’o does an excellent job bringing her to life with some stellar mo-cap work that’s further enlivened with unbelievable effects.
“Never Tell Me the Odds”: Domestically speaking, it’s the most successful film of all time at $936,662,225. Worldwide, however, it’s now fourth to James Cameron’s Avatar and Titanic, and Disney’s 2019 juggernaut Avengers: Endgame — even at 2 billion. Still, it’s the most successful Star Wars chapter to date.
May the Force Be with You: Contrary to its name, The Force only yawns in The Force Awakens. But it’s all around. When a cynical bastard like Han Solo admits of its power, you know it’s no longer something to shrug off. (Which, after six films, is next to impossible for any fan to do.) While Rey hints that she has some former training — she subdues a stormtrooper verbally; she plucks a distant lightsaber from the snow — it’s Kylo Ren that has all the skillz. He’s no Vader, at least not yet, but he can stop a blaster’s fire mid-air and has the ability to sort through the minds of his captives, who all escape unscathed oddly enough. That’s probably not going to stand come Episode VIII.
Lightsaber Options: Kylo Ren has a cool custom-designed red saber, which sparked all sorts of annoying and endless debating last November when the teaser initially dropped. The two jutting flames not only serve as a crossguard, but can also do some damage to his enemies, as evidenced by Finn’s shoulder scarring. Rey, however, now has Anakin and Luke’s blue lightsaber, which actually beckons her when she’s visiting Maz Kanata’s ancient watering hole. That the saber speaks to her infers she’s likely a Skywalker, making this the smallest galaxy in existence.
MVP Action Figure: If we’re to search our feelings, which we know to be true, Hasbro’s current run of figures is garbage by comparison to the plastic of yesteryear. Why do they come with unnecessary armor gear? What is this? 1993? Toss in a dino buddy while you’re at it. That’s why it’s time to officially grow up … and buy the Sphero BB-8, instead. Pair this droid with your smartphone, find a nearby dog, and, voila, hilarity ensues. Even better, Sphero is constantly updating the app to include newer features to keep this from becoming a fancy paperweight. Sorry, Kylo Ren 6″ action figure.
Essential Video Game Tie-In: There are a couple online games for The Force Awakens, but if you’re looking for an ideal counterpart for the film, it’s sadly Battlefront. A month ago, this sucker was one of the most anticipated titles to hit the X-Box One and the PS4, and now it’s collecting dust for some gamers. The problem? There isn’t a story mode and much of the gameplay is pretty stiff, especially whenever you’re a character with a lightsaber. Still, the graphics and scenery are jaw-dropping and the game’s only going to offer more and more updates — like The Battle of Jakku, for instance. This recent expansion offers gamers a chance to relive the post-Jedi battle and watch as the Star Destroyers sink to the ground. It’s an agreeable step in the right direction and bodes well for future installments. So, there.
Strangest Marketing Tie-In: Do we really need to slap BB-8 on everything? To be fair, this makes more sense (at least visually) than those Vader Apples.
The Scene You’re Looking For: Abrams clearly wanted an Empire moment to call his own, which explains why the tragic death of our favorite smuggler on the core bridge in the Starkiller Base is so familiar aesthetically to Luke and Vader’s encounter in Bespin. Though, the way Chewie, Finn, and Rey watch it go down from above similarly recalls Kenobi’s demise, too. Either way, it’s a scene that will find you channeling your inner Luke as you scream “No!” at the screen in horror while your mind keeps thinking: We just got him back! Now he’s gone? We just got him back! Now he’s gone? Here’s footage of Harrison Ford weighing in on the loss…
“I’ve Got a Nostalgic Feeling About This”: Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a little too derivative to be considered an outright classic, but it’s a reassuring chapter in the franchise and will easily win back those turned off by the humorless prequels. Lucas admittedly tried to veer off into fresh and original directions, but his complicated stories and incessant CGI couldn’t capture the look and spirit of the initial trilogy, despite some admirable world-building on his part. Director J.J. Abrams did his homework, however, and managed to bring us right back into the galaxy that surprisingly wasn’t too far, far away.
Alongside Empire/Jedi screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, and the possible echoes of original writer Michael Arndt, Abrams also introduced new characters to actually champion. It’s telling that the film’s strongest scenes involve the fresh faces; Finn, Rey, Poe Dameron, and BB-8 are intriguing and acceptable substitutes for our heroes of the past. Although, the same can’t be said of The First Order, at least not yet, the threads are now tied together for future installments. Our new hope is that the following sequels aren’t further re-imaginings of story beats we’ve already seen. Characters can only save so much.
P.S. Give Carrie Fisher some lines that aren’t strictly awful exposition.
07. Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017)
Opening Crawl: Picking up right where The Force Awakens left off, the First Order is running roughshod over the galaxy, with Supreme Leader Snoke bleeding away resistance forces more and more with every outmatched battle. Even the Rebel victories are starting to turn into costly losing efforts, and so Rey sets out for uncharted territory to find the kind of voice that could give a struggling army the hope it desperately needs: Luke Skywalker. But with the First Order closing in, time is no longer on the Rebels’ side.
The Light Side: Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), General Leia (Carrie Fisher), Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern), Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), and Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o)
The Dark Side: Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson)
“Thanks, Wedge!” The Last Jedi does a great job of introducing and establishing its new faces, but in particular, Holdo stands out as a Resistance leader beyond Leia and the other most prominent names. It’s not often that a Star Wars story gets to explore the military efforts beyond its bigger faces (at least in the film universe), and seeing how Holdo’s methods compare and contrast with Leia’s is a pleasure. Especially when Dern gets to put that roguish Poe Dameron in his place.
“I Don’t Know? Fly Casual!” While a number of interesting choices appear throughout The Last Jedi, in particular a legion of Rebel bombers lined to the gills with small but powerful explosives, there’s only one big ship that people will be talking about: the Dreadnought. A massive destroyer with planet-eradicating firepower, it’s the kind of terrifying, screen-filling presence that the best (read: worst) enemy ships have in the Star Wars universe. Much of The Last Jedi is devoted to the Dreadnought stalking Rebel ships through the galaxy, and it makes for some of the film’s most harrowing sequences.
“Who’s Scruffy Looking?” Hard not to fall for the Fathiers, the horse-like animals on the planet of Canto Bight who suffer unspeakable cruelties as the racing horses of the Star Wars galaxy. They’re as lovable as the Porgs, the huge-eyed denizens of Luke’s island who appear to offer comic relief, and also millions of dollars for Disney this Christmas season. That’s to say nothing of the crystal foxes that appear a bit later in the film, which you may or may not have seen in the trailers. Let’s just say that their gleaming surfaces serve more than one purpose.
“Never Tell Me the Odds”: Despite its polarizing reception with fans — most of which has since been overblown — Johnson’s subversive chapter is the second most successful Star Wars chapter with a domestic gross of $620,181,382 and a worldwide gross of $1,332,539,889. Outside of the galaxy, it’s ranked at ninth domestically and 13th worldwide.
May the Force Be with You: Since The Last Jedi is as concerned with the violent misuses of the Force as anything, many of Luke’s conversations with Rey center around the Force as a means of connection between all things. It’s a film that takes time to consider the philosophical implications of wielding the Force for battle, even as there are also a few great scenes of masters squaring off. Perhaps most boldly, the film even interrogates the idea of the Jedi as a Force-based religion and how the Force may well be bigger than any one discipline or practice.
Lightsaber Options: Nothing you didn’t get to enjoy in The Force Awakens, but does it matter? Kylo Ren’s crucifix lightsaber is still one of the cooler designs in the whole saga.
MVP Action Figure: While the existential logistics of it are a bit unsettling, we’re partial to this BB-8 that opens up to a diorama-like playset. Are there Men in Black-type worlds inside every BB-8? Is that why Thom Yorke was so deeply intrigued? We have questions.
Essential Video Game Tie-In: Well, if you haven’t heard, Battlefront 2 isn’t exactly going over well with audiences thus far. You can thank EA and its “sense of pride and accomplishment” loot crating for that. At least the LEGO tie-in for Last Jedi is fun?
Strangest Marketing Tie-In: Every studio movie of this present era has some odd advertising choices, but somehow Verizon placing itself at the vanguard of a futuristic era by shilling discount phone plans using droids on opposite sides of a fascist war may be the most pronounced. Even though seeing land speeders used to sell Nissans isn’t far behind.
The Scene You’re Looking For: Let’s take a second to talk about the moment in which Vice Admiral Holdo finds herself in a standoff with the Dreadnought, with little fuel and fewer options left to her. In one of the most creative uses of series logic imaginable, she makes a daring attempt to destabilize the Dreadnought, which Rian Johnson captures with one of the most visually striking moments in any Star Wars movie to date. We’re not exaggerating. If you ever wanted to see what the aesthetics of Akira might look like if transposed into the Galaxy, you’ll be jumping out of your seat.
“I’ve got a disconsolate feeling about this”: The Last Jedi is more than just a terrific addition to the Star Wars canon. It’s also perhaps the first film since The Empire Strikes Back, with which it’ll inevitably be compared to death in the coming months/years/forever, to make Star Wars seem like it’s genuinely headed in a new direction. Johnson’s turn at the helm of the series will only create a groundswell of goodwill for his own upcoming trilogy, as he manages some sumptuous visuals while wrangling a story so packed to the brim with bold moments that even two and a half hours doesn’t entirely feel like enough time to touch on everything.
If it’s an overstuffed holiday ham of a film, that’s not to say that The Last Jedi doesn’t make the very most of what it has to offer. Johnson keeps the film racing at a breakneck pace, structuring it around the twin struggles of a ship hurtling into the desperate unknown and Rey attempting to curry Luke’s favor and learn how to harness the silent power within her that she’s always known about but could never understand. Ridley and Hamill are exceptional in their scenes together, particularly the latter, as he makes like Harrison Ford in The Force Awakens and brings a lasting sense of gravitas to his aged hero. The years have been bitter to Luke, but there’s still that spark of the young man gazing over twin moons on his home planet and wondering what more might be out there.
It’s at once a film of oppressive fear and unrelenting optimism, making The Last Jedi something of a perfect fit for harrowing cultural times. Johnson doesn’t shy away from the dark even as he scratches and claws his way toward the light; heroes die, villains win, and sometimes what seems like a victory actually opens the door for ever more danger. But this is also a multi-nine figure movie about the perils of hubris, the value of love, and the indomitable right of every species to know freedom in its time. Not bad for this year’s Star Wars from the Mouse House.
06. Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
WARNING! MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD! WARNING! MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!
Opening Crawl: The dead speak! The galaxy has heard a mysterious broadcast, a threat of REVENGE in the sinister voice of the late EMPEROR PALPATINE. GENERAL LEIA ORGANA dispatches secret agents to gather intelligence, while REY, the last hope of the Jedi, trains for battle against the diabolical FIRST ORDER. Meanwhile, Supreme Leader KYLO REN rages in search of the phantom Emperor, determined to destroy any threat to his power…
But Also: For all its impressive exploration on themes of failure, the one-percenters of the galaxy, and introducing the next, next generation of freedom fighters, Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi eschewed an Empire Strikes Back-inspired cliff-hanger, ending on a positive note of hope, leaving room for writers J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio to do whatever they want, which naturally leads to so much exposition that the opening crawl can’t cover it all. While, yes, all of the above is true, the majority of Rise follows Rey, Poe, Finn, BB-8, Threepio, and Chewie in a very Indy-esque search for a Sith tracker that will lead them to Palpatine and hopefully put an end to the Sith once and for all. Of course, it’s never quite that easy.
The Light Side: Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), General Leia (Carrie Fisher), Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), Jannah (Naomi Aackie), Zorii Bliss (Keri Russel), Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels)
The Dark Side: Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), General Pryde (Richard E. Grant)
“Thanks, Wedge!” For the first time in the sequel trilogy, audiences get to see Finn, Poe, and Rey on an adventure together—something that should have happened in The Force Awakens. The Star Wars saga had touched on many themes from fear, to failure, to corruption, good and evil, but at its core has always been about family and friendship. Watching the Star Wars class of 2019 crack wise while evading First Order Stormtroopers is one of the biggest pleasures in Skywalker and breathes new life into the characters.
It’s unfortunate that Rose Tico (Kellie Marie Tran) gets shuffled to the side, but such is the fate of so many Star Wars characters from Boba Fett to Constable Zuvio (who doesn’t even appear in The Force Awakens) when you have a trio of heroes who are the main thrust of the trilogy. Zorii Bliss (Keri Russel) zips in and out as does Naomi Aackie’s Janna, but their supporting roles (if that) in the film. But really, only amateurs count screen time and don’t worry, I’m sure they’ll both get their own comic, novel, and maybe even a series on Disney +. Hell, you probably already bought their action figures.
“I Don’t Know? Fly Casual!” Skywalker reveals that a cult of Palpatine worshipers have been secretly building a fleet of Star Destroyers, each one capable of destroying a planet (if this guy keeps at it, there won’t be much of a galaxy to rule over). But there’s no trickery this time around; these ships are fully armed and operational, featuring a massive canon protruding from the underside. Even so, it’s the classic hunk of junk that really shines in Skywalker: Poe proves that the Millennium Falcon can, indeed, engage in light speed skipping, and the ship later shines when it’s returned to its rightful owner: that charming rogue Lando Calrissian. As he’s wont to do, Lando saves the day in the knick of time with Dennis Lawson’s Wedge Antilles in the gun port. If that weren’t enough, even Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing makes a welcome return from the depths of Ahch-To, this time piloted by this generation’s plucky lead, Rey, who leads what’s left of the Resistance to their final battlefield.
“Who’s Scruffy Looking?” Rise Of Skywalker introduces even more horses in the orbaks that Jannah (Naomi Aackie) and Finn (John Boyega) ride into battle on the surface of one of the aforementioned Star Destroyers. The Porgs also make a comeback, and there’s even a welcome cameo from everybody’s favorite Ewok: Wicket W. Warrick.
“Never Tell Me the Odds”: When it comes to Star Wars, too much credit is given to critics and nerds with 117 Twitter followers. For as divisive as social media chatter may have you believe The Last Jedi was, the eighth entry in the Star Wars saga became the highest-grossing film of 2017 and ninth-highest grossing film of all time … and even Star Wars fans who did not enjoy The Last Jedi still bought all of the toys. Undoubtedly, Rise Of Skywalker is going to have a big opening despite tepid reviews (mostly from critics who appear to be upset that Skywalker is subverting expectations laid forth by The Last Jedi), but considering Solo: A Star Wars Story (undeservedly) flopped in the wake of The Last Jedi (and taking on Marvel’s juggernaut Avengers: Endgame), it will be interesting to see how the box office for Skywalker plays out. A rotten score on Rotten Tomatoes and Twitter buzz from Last Jedi detractors who appear to have little-to-no-interest in Episode IX makes you wonder who even likes Star Wars anymore. Maybe, after 40 years, the franchise is truly for kids (and the young at heart) — just as Lucas intended.
May the Force Be with You: For a franchise featuring space wizards, ghosts, and monsters, the Star Wars films have largely steered clear of any excessive horror movie-inspired supernatural imagery. The resurrected Emperor Palpatine’s lair is a sci-fi haunted castle, covered in rolling fog and shadow, and populated by a cabal of hooded Sith cultists. Palpatine’s makeup design recalls his sinister look in Return of the Jedi with white-out eyes straight out of an Italian possession movie. This is arguably the creepiest Star Wars has ever been and makes one wish that the filmmakers had gone darker places a little bit sooner in the sequel trilogy.
Since its introduction in 1977, the Force has almost become too powerful in of its self, granting the average Jedi the ability to do just about anything they want, even healing a fatal wound, but Rise Of Skywalker returns to the notion that one does not need a high midichlorian count to be force sensitive, rather that as long as you believe, you can do it.
The underwhelming revelation that Rey is Palpatine’s granddaughter (the Emperor was fuckin? I suppose that puts to bed the theory that Palpatine created Anakin Skywalker in a virgin birth?) does lead to an interesting conflict within our hero. It’s an intriguing dichotomy in that just as Kylo Ren comes from a line of good and wants to be evil, Rey stems from a line of evil and yet wants to be good. This inversion could have been explored had it been in the cards form the get-go, as opposed to being slightly shoehorned in to the third film.
Lightsaber Options: Rey and Kylo Ren are still brandishing their usual weapons, but Skywalker also introduces Leia’s own blue blade into the mix. There’s even a sequence — that almost feels like a throwaway in a film so loaded — featuring a de-aged Mark Hamill training a de-aged Carrie Fisher on a wooded planet (I’d watch that movie). Rey sees a dark vision of herself wielding a double-sided red saber but in the final moments, the last Jedi herself ignites a yellow-bladed saber reminiscent of the one that extended from the original Luke Skywalker action figure in 1977.
MVP Action Figure: Let’s face it, any Star Wars toy at this moment is going to pale in comparison to Baby Yoda and Rise Of Skywalker doesn’t appear to have a new breakout character in the vein BB-8 or Captain Phasma. Still, my money is on Babu Frik making an impression on audiences over Klaud or new droid D-O. Unfortunately, it appears at press time, the diminutive Frik is only being packaged as an accessory to C-3PO. Anything beats an empty box under the tree in 1977.
Essential Video Game Tie-In: Let’s get a Dark Forces-style first-person shooter or an X-Wing simulator style game featuring the new characters and the new ships … I prefer the classics.
Strangest Marketing Tie-In: GE Appliances is offering a line of official Rise Of Skywalker refrigerators, advertising coming to the light side with stainless steel, joining the Resistance in slate, and embracing the dark side in black. It’s ridiculous, sure, but that black fridge is sharp looking.
The Scene You’re Looking For: The Star Wars franchise began as Luke Skywalker’s story, a plucky farm boy craving adventure, and excitement who had to come to terms with his family’s legacy, and was tasked with redeeming his father and restoring good to the galaxy. The Last Jedi found Skywalker in hiding, like so many Jedi before him, prior to coming out of retirement, the new hope restoring hope to a galaxy in turmoil. When Rey is visited by the specter of Skywalker, we find him more hopeful with faith in Rey that she can be the one to finally end this destructive conflict. It’s a poignant moment in Skywalker’s growth, playfully referencing who he had become by The Last Jedi, and displaying what failure has taught him, adding a resonance to the closing moments of the film when Rey adopts the name Skywalker.
“I’ve Got a Disconsolate Feeling About This:” Rise Of Skywalker is sloppy and overstuffed, but also an absolutely thrilling adventure that crams in as much “Star Wars” as it can: strange planets, weird aliens, cool lightsaber duels, spaceships, themes of hope, family and friendship. Wrapping up a nine-film arc is a daunting task, and this writer is pressed to say it would be “impossible, even for a computer” to crack a conclusion that would satisfy over four decades-worth of movie lovers.
That said, the smaller, quieter moments focusing on characters audiences have grown to love give the film the emotional resonance that makes it successful: Chewbacca sobbing at the loss of Leia, Poe in the cockpit of his X-Wing coming to terms with the the potential end of the Resistance, Finn’s transformation from deserter to a soldier and to a leader, Kylo Ren’s vision of the father he murdered, and Rey’s internal struggle with her destiny. If it sounds like a lot, that’s because it is.
But the overarching story of Star Wars has been sloppy since The Empire Strikes Back, the moment when Darth Vader famously revealed to Luke Skywalker he was his father. And that revelation became further convoluted in Return Of The Jedi when it was revealed that Leia was more than a kissin’ cousin to the wannabe Jedi in training. Lucas always claimed that he had the whole story of Star Wars mapped out and written down, and if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you on Endor.
So, in the end, you can bend over backward convincing yourself that everything is true from a certain point of view, but the Skywalker saga was never going to wrap up in a neat little bow. Poor planning, starting with Disney fast-tracking The Force Awakens into production, has only led to more trouble for the franchise, and has certainly warranted a messy sequel trilogy … but again, that’s just Star Wars. Against those odds, Rise Of Skywalker shoots for the stars, attempting to be all things to all people, and for the most part, is right on target.
05. The Mandalorian (2019)
Opening Crawl: No opening crawl here, just Disney+’s minimalist Star Wars franchise banner, a Marvel Studios-esque title card that follows a series of lights flashing over iconic helmets and droid faces from the franchise at large. Oh, and a “Previously On” recap that gets you up to speed.
Scum and Villainy: No dark side, no light side, just shades of gray with this cast of characters, which include: The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal), Cara Dune (Gina Carano), Kuiil (Nick Nolte), Baby Yoda (itself), The Client (Werner Herzog), Greef Karga (Carl Weathers), IG-11 (Taika Waititi), Fennic Shand (Ming-Na Wen), and more.
“Thanks, Wedge!” The show boasts a wonderful cast of guest stars, especially the bevy of offbeat comedians that crop up for one-time gigs. Horatio Sanz kicks off the series as one of Mando’s nervous bounties, but there’s also Eugene Cordero as a Sorgan villager, Brian Posehn as a landspeeder driver, and Amy Sedaris as a helpful Mos Eisley mechanic in Ellen Ripley cosplay.
“I Don’t Know? Fly Casual!” Mando’s hero ship, the Razor Crest, is a beautiful piece of functional space junk, with shades of Firefly’s Serenity and, of all things, Lone Starr’s Winnebago from Spaceballs. Even the interiors, from the cramped cockpit to the cargo bay full of hidden weapons bays and a rack to store carbonite-frozen bounties, feels delectably lived-in.
“Who’s Scruffy Looking?” Come on, it’s The Mandalorian, did you seriously think we weren’t going to talk about Baby Yoda? This wide-eyed little womp rat captured the imaginations (and meme real estate) of the Internet for weeks after he was revealed, and for good reason: he’s just so damn cute. He may be fifty years old, and can crush your windpipe with the Force, but you still just want to pinch his little green cheeks. If anything bad happens to Baby Yoda, we all riot.
“Never Tell Me the Odds”: Like most streaming shows, it’s hard to get a gauge of what the ‘ratings’ are for shows like The Mandalorian. But according to research firm Parrot Analytics, the “online demand” for the show is higher than any other show currently airing, even Stranger Things.
Stripped Down Sound: In addition to its procedural format and stripped-down Western aesthetic, The Mandalorian also takes the sonic landscape of the Star Wars universe in newer directions. The score, by Black Panther’s Ludwig Göransson, is a big part of that: tamping down the usual John Williams bombast in favor of thumping, propulsive percussion and minimal use of piano and guitar, the show’s main theme is one of the series’ most interesting new sounds.
MVP Action Figure: Since the show is so new (and comparatively less geared toward children), there isn’t a lot of Mandalorian merch out yet. But enjoy this well-rendered figure of Mando in his pre-Beskar glow up phase:
Strangest Marketing Tie-In: But naturally, Baby Yoda merch eclipses all other things, and Etsy is full of DIY Baby Yodas you can enjoy in time for the holiday season. But if we’re going for weird and strange, let’s just gaze in horror at this two-pack of Baby Yoda, respectively, swallowing a space frog and straining to use the Force. In the latter, Baby Yoda looks like it might end up making a little Force in its robes; in the former, well, The Child looks like it’s enjoying its meal a bit too much.
The Scene You’re Looking For: The series had to establish its gun-slinging Western bona fides pretty quickly, and its first episode certainly did that with Mando and IG-11’s assault on a small frontier town occupied by heavily-armed mercenaries. The whole sequence is very Space Wild Bunch, complete with laser Gatling gun. But IG-11 proves his metal mettle as Fastest Blaster in the West, spinning and firing his dual-wielding blasters with computerized precision.
“I’ve Got a Thrilling Feeling About This”: A show like The Mandalorian should have come along decades ago. A sparse, effective exploration of the grittier corners of the Star Wars universe, Jon Favreau’s pet project makes brilliant use of familiar iconography without it feeling like blatant fanservice, and the week-to-week adventure format and weekly release schedule makes it feel like a spitty update to adventure shows like Hercules and Xena.
Its stakes may not be the fate of the galaxy, but it turns out you don’t need Jedi to tell a great Star Wars story. All you need is a Clint Eastwood-type in a metal mask, and a Baby Yoda.
04. Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
Opening Crawl: It’s a lawless time – several years before the Battle of Yavin. While the Empire attempts to bring vicious order to the galaxy, crime syndicates compete for resources, including coaxium, the fuel that powers hyperdrives. In the meantime, a young Corellian scrapper named Han Solo spends his days thieving for the foul Lady Proxima. He fights for survival, but longs to fly among the stars.
The Gray Side: Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich), Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), Val Beckett (Thandie Newton), Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany)
“Thanks, Wedge!” The Star Wars Stories released thus far have no shortage of scene-stealing droid companions, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s prickly L3-37 is no exception. When she’s not lusting after her co-pilot, Lando, she’s aggressively fomenting robot revolution – seemingly the droid most aware of her people’s subjugation in the world of organics. She only gets a scant few scenes to shine, but it’s hard to walk out of Solo not wanting some more of Lando and L3’s previous adventures.
“I Don’t Know? Fly Casual!” No origin story for Han Solo would be complete without the Millenium Falcon, and Ron Howard’s version is based largely around Ralph McQuarrie’s original conception of the Corellian freighter. It’s sleek and pristine, with a beautiful eggshell paint job — perfect for Lando’s needs as a pleasure yacht. Over the course of the film, though, Han’s ministrations leave it with some of the dirt and grime we’ve come to associate with the “fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy.”
“Who’s Scruffy Looking?” It’s no surprise that Solo gets around to showing Han’s infamous Kessel Run (which, yes, he does get through in less than twelve parsecs). However, in classic Star Wars fashion, the Falcon has to contend with a huge, vacuum-breathing space octopus creature sitting right on the edge of the Maw. It’s Star Destroyer big, a writhing mass of roaring tentacles, and a worthy foe for Han and Chewie’s first big adventure.
“Never Tell Me the Odds”: Blame it on Star Wars fatigue, an imbalance in the franchise, or its critical drumming, but the odds weren’t favorable for Solo. It’s one of the lowest charting films in the franchise, nabbing $213,767,512 domestically and $392,924,807 worldwide. Not awful, but certainly not great. Let’s put it this way, the film’s blockbuster success (or lack thereof) makes it the underdog of the bunch. Fitting for Han.
May the Force Be with You: Solo spends less time with the Jedi and the Force than any Star Wars film to date – luck, scheming, and good aim are the keys to survival, not fancy mind tricks. It’s no wonder. Han starts A New Hope believing the Force is a bunch of mumbo jumbo, so it would stand to reason he doesn’t get to see it at work.
Lightsaber Options: While there’s no real Force use in Solo, suffice it to say you may or may not see a lightsaber at one pivotal moment late in the film. However, it’s best to leave this one a surprise.
Strangest Marketing Tie-In: Come on, you know which one we’re going for. As soon as the film’s title dropped, we all knew the unstoppable Star Wars marketing machine would come to this. Behold, courtesy of Twitter user @tastefactory: “Everything that has happened since the dawn of mankind has been leading to this:”
The Scene You’re Looking For: Solo’s off-kilter nature as a space Western never works better than Han’s first big job with Beckett’s crew – a train robbery atop a two-sided, constantly rotating hovertrain. It’s an action-packed heist of the highest order, fast-paced and exciting while keeping the emotional beats grounded in Han’s first taste of life as a scoundrel, as well as his budding friendship with Chewbacca.
“I’ve Got a Familiar Feeling About This”: In many ways, Solo tests the limits of Disney’s new model for the Star Wars universe. While Rogue One was a prequel of sorts, it didn’t rely on a lot of pre-existing characters; Solo, on the other hand, is an origin story to a fan-favorite character whose entire thing is that we don’t know a lot about him. Combine that with behind-the-scenes drama like original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller being booted from the film (to be replaced by consummate journeyman Ron Howard), and you’ve got a recipe for franchise disaster.
The weight of the franchise itself doesn’t help it, to be sure – Solo still has to grind through all the origin-story business in the space of two hours, making Han’s life seem pretty small. Every bit of Han’s eventual aesthetic and personality is given universe-shattering significance, from his choice of blaster to the look of the Falcon to even his last name (you think he was born with the name Solo? Oh, you simple Padawan). There’s even some universe-building late in the film that’s liable to make you scratch your head in confusion.
And yet, despite all odds, Solo really works. It’s still messy in that very specific way that comes from a last-minute director change, but it’s got more than enough charm to coast through all the fan service beats it’s contractually obligated to hit. Ehrenreich doesn’t hold a candle to Ford, but you can see glimmers of the cocksure scoundrel Han would eventually become in his boyish con man. Sure, the actor’s a bit green around the gills, but his chemistry with Chewbacca is fantastic, and Solo works best when it’s centered around their friendship – and when it lets supporting players like Glover and Waller-Bridge steal the spotlight in vital moments.
In the final estimation, Solo works really well as an exploration of the darker side of Star Wars, tightening its focus to a group of criminals just trying to get by in a harsh universe of galactic regimes and unscrupulous gangs. No Jedi, no lightsabers – just a scrappy smuggler and his furry friend learning to build a life together.
03. Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)
Opening Crawl: Luke Skywalker has returned to his home planet of Tatooine in an attempt to rescue his friend Han Solo from the clutches of the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt. Little does Luke know that the GALACTIC EMPIRE has secretly begun construction on a new armored space station even more powerful than the first dreaded Death Star. When completed, this ultimate weapon will spell certain doom for the small band of rebels struggling to restore freedom to the galaxy…
The Light Side: Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), Yoda (Frank Oz), and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker)
The Dark Side: Darth Vader (James Earl Jones), The Emperor/Darth Sidious (Ian McDiarmid), Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch), and Jabba the Hutt
“Thanks, Wedge!” As Chancellor of the Rebel Alliance, you would think Mon Mothma might have received a little more screen time. She gets the last laugh, though, as her most quotable line — “Many Bothans died to bring us this information” — is rumored to be the inspiration behind the upcoming stand-alone film, Rogue One. Oh, there’s also that badass pilot who flew his A-wing into the bridge of a Super Star Destroyer during the Battle of Endor. Compare that dude to the perennially overrated Boba Fett, whose big claim to fame is falling into a Sarlaac’s mouth.
“I Don’t Know? Fly Casual!” Return of the Jedi introduced several iconic Rebel starfighters during the Battle of Endor, including the versatile B-wing and the whip-quick A-wing. It’s also hard to forget those speeder bikes, which make our world’s motorcycles look downright safe by comparison.
“Who’s Scruffy Looking?” Fanboys love to hate on ‘em, but the Ewoks are fine. Not great, mind you, but if you can’t get down with a teddy bear capable of murdering a bunch of Stormtroopers, maybe that’s on you. With that said, the real memorable alien here is Jabba, who’s basically a combination of Marlon Brando’s Vito Corleone and a sweaty beanbag.
“Never Tell Me the Odds”: The final entry in the original Star Wars trilogy raked in $572 million worldwide. Its cause was undoubtedly helped by the big reveal at the end of The Empire Strikes Back.
May the Force Be with You: Luke comes out swinging in this one, using some Class-A Jedi mind trick action on Jabba’s chief of staff, Bib Fortuna. The Force continues to play a big role from there, alerting Darth Vader to his son’s presence on Endor and setting the stage for the climactic final lightsaber duel. We see some pretty cool Dark Side stuff in the Emperor’s throne room, as well, including our first taste of Palpatine’s Force lightning.
Lightsaber Options: Luke lost his blue lightsaber on Cloud City, but he’s constructed a nifty green number to replace it. Vader keeps it 100 with the classic red option.
MVP Action Figure: Hey, kids! Have fun with this custom Slave Leia action figure, and welcome to your sexual awakening.
Essential Video Game Tie-In: Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi for the Super Nintendo. This traditional run-and-gunner outpaced its two predecessors in terms of graphic design and playable characters, though why anyone would want to play as Wicket the Ewok is beyond me.
Strangest Marketing Tie-In: Does the entire race of Ewoks count? These guys are cute and cuddly and whatnot, but let’s be real: They’re only here to sell toys. I’m not sure how many languages they speak on Endor, but George Lucas made sure that money is one of ‘em.
The Scene You’re Looking For: In Jedi’s best and most iconic scene, Emperor Palpatine burns Luke to a crisp while an emotionally tormented Vader looks on, debating whether he should intervene. Don’t just stand there, Vader! He’s your son! Sheesh, talk about a stressful 40 seconds.
“I’ve Got a Pretty Great Feeling About This”: There’s no denying that Return of the Jedi represents a slight step down from its two predecessors, both of which seem less compromised by Lucasfilm’s commercial aspirations. The haphazardly cut final battle sequence is the biggest offender; seriously, do we really need three climaxes in one film? I’m pretty sure The Empire Strikes Back did just fine with one.
But minor grievances aside, Jedi is a pretty awesome conclusion to the original Star Wars trilogy. It’s a swashbuckling adventure that capably juggles some of the most iconic scenes and imagery in the entire saga. The Rancor? Terrifying. Speeder bikes? Hell yes. “It’s a trap!”? Yes, it is definitely a trap! I’m afraid this film is (puts on hooded robe) quite operational.
02. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)
Opening Crawl: It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet. Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy….
The Light: Obi-Wan Kenobi (Sir Alec Guinness), Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker)
The Dark Side: Darth Vader (James Earl Jones/David Prowse), Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing), General Cassio Tagge (Don Henderson), and Moradmin Bast (Leslie Schofield)
“Thanks, Wedge!” Poor Biggs Starlighter. Most of Garrick Hagon’s scenes as Luke’s longtime childhood friend were left on the cutting room floor, namely due to pacing issues and the decision to separate Star Wars from Lucas’ previous film, American Graffiti. Editor Richard Chew explained the excision: “In the first five minutes, we were hitting everybody with more information than they could handle. There were too many story lines to keep straight: the robots and the Princess, Vader, Luke. So we simplified it by taking out Luke and Biggs.” So, what we’re left with is a quaint reunion on Yavin 4, which was extended in the 1997 Special Edition, an appearance that spawned multiple threads in the former Expanded Universe. However, some of the scenes have popped up online, specifically through fan-edited footage that pairs John Williams’ score with bits of dialogue spotted in from a radio play. If anything, it’s a neat peek into Luke’s ordinary life before he became an overnight hero.
“I Don’t Know? Fly Casual!” Star Wars was firsties to premiere all the fun ships, gadgets, and what have you. The Imperial Star Destroyer Devastator and the Corellian corvette, the Tantive IV, tip off the entire series. Then there’s the Jawa sandcrawler, Luke’s landspeeder, and, naturally, the film’s magnum opus of a light freighter ship, the Millennium Falcon. Although it’s a more integral set piece in The Empire Strikes Back, a number of the ship’s clever features hallmark several of the film’s scenes, from the holographic game of Dejarik (“Let the wookie win!”) to the dual gun turrets that Luke and Han put to good use (“Great, kid! Don’t get cocky!”). Again, everything is up for grabs with this entry — the X-wings, the TIE fighters, the goddamn Death Star — but the Falcon is impossible to dismiss. And really, without it, there’s no way Luke would have been able to “blow this thing and go home.” Hmm. That didn’t sound right.
“Who’s Scruff -Looking?” Again, the same dilemma applies to the dozens of creatures that litter the original. The obvious choice here is Peter Mayhew’s iconic Chewbacca, who provides the film with plenty of comic fodder as opposed to the emotional rescue he later offers in the film’s sequel. But c’mon! That entire Mos Eisley Cantina scene was at one time the closest thing fans had to a galactic rolodex for Star Wars mythology. Cornelius Evazan? Doikk Na’ts? Kardue’sai’Malloc?! It’s an overwhelming task to choose just one, so in order to avoid disappointing you readers by tagging any corollary favorites (although, Momaw Nadon comes close), let’s go with a more embellished character like Greedo. “Han shot first” controversy aside — which, by the way, refers to Lucas’ Special Edition tinkering to have the Rodian fire the first shot, in an effort to make the smuggler less of a cold-blooded bad ass — the unfortunate bounty hunter is just such an inspired design. Those silver globes, tiny ears, and Anteater mouth just begged for an action figure.
“Never Tell Me the Odds”: When you account for the film’s two re-releases — 1982 and 1997 — Star Wars has grossed a whopping $775 mil at the global box office. Adjusted for inflation, that comes out to just under $1.5 bil. Fortune and glory, kid. Ah, wrong franchise.
May the Force Be with You: The Force is merely introduced as a spiritual entity in Star Wars. We see glimpses of its reach, both from the light (Kenobi’s guidance and disappearing act) and the dark (Vader’s choke hold), which, in hindsight, worked to the original trilogy’s advantage. However, in the scope of the entire series, specifically the addition of the Force-heavy prequel entries, Star Wars now comes across as a recess break for any Jedi or Sith-related innuendo. It’s funny to think that, at one time, fans likely thought they’d never see Obi-Wan again.
Lightsaber Options: Vader wields his iconic ruby red, while Luke plays around with his old blue. It’s kind of endearing when you think about it. Kind of. Obi-Wan also has a blue lightsaber — likely because it was originally intended to be blue vs. red? — which was left behind on the Death Star. According to the former Expanded Universe, Obi-Wan’s saber wouldn’t be recovered until years later, when Luke’s new Jedi Order stumbled into Vader’s former retreat on Vjun. It then exchanged hands, but who cares? None of that exists anymore. In the meantime, it’s been destroyed? Floating around the galaxy? We’ll find out (again) eventually.
MVP Action Figure: Kenner had a field day with Star Wars back in the late ’70s, when the demand was so high that the company was forced to sell empty boxes to disgruntled parents. (Fun fact: Said boxes are worth thousands of dollars today. Who’s laughing now, ma?) Out of all the original figures, though, the best pick was Princess Leia. Do you know how rare it was for any female characters to get a figure? True collectors know it’s best to grab the ladies first. Okay, that’s enough, Mike.
Essential Video Game Tie-In: Super Star Wars and the film’s multiple arcade titles were solid, but the original 1991 Nintendo port of Star Wars remains the most faithful adaptation from beginning to end. You could play as Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia Organa; you could pilot the landspeeder, the Falcon, and an X-wing. The first half was almost an open-world format, too, where you had to find R2, Obi-Wan, and several Falcon shields before heading to Mos Eisley. There was also a stellar 8-bit soundtrack (see: “Han’s Theme”) and this nifty ability to win back lives by consulting Kenobi. For completists, the Game Gear port actually added a Princess Leia level to the beginning that was fun, but the goddamn batteries on that thing!
Strangest Marketing Tie-In: So, about those boxes from before…
The Scene You’re Looking For: Here’s another pick-and-choose situation. You could go with the aforementioned cantina, or the destruction of Alderaan, or the garbage compactor, or the climactic and triumphant trench run. But nothing compares to the binary sunset on Tatooine, an emblematic portrait not only for Luke but for the entire Star Wars series as a whole.
“I’ve Got a Great Feeling About This”: Star Wars changed everything. George Lucas pulled a fast one on the entire world with his epic space opera in 1977, evolving the Hollywood blockbuster even further than Steven Spielberg’s 1975 summer spectacle, Jaws. It turned Harrison Ford into a household name. It made science-fiction accessible to the masses. It was rock ‘n’ roll filmmaking that literally shook critics and fans into submission. There just wasn’t anything like it. It was a phenomenon that went beyond the traditional confines of the silver screen. An entire culture was born and it’s only expanded over the past few decades.
With regards to the series as a whole, Star Wars — or rather begrudgingly, A New Hope — often rides shotgun to Empire. Purists, however, will point out that the original is more self-contained, like director Joss Whedon, who has famously argued: “I still believe that even though The Empire Strikes Back is better in innumerable ways than Star Wars, Star Wars wins because you can’t end a movie with Han frozen in Carbonite. That’s not a movie, it’s an episode.” Many fans scoff at that argument, including writers on this very feature, but his words inarguably hold some weight of truth.
On another level, the difference between the two is somewhat like the age-old chicken and the egg debate. Without the chicken (Star Wars), you wouldn’t have the egg (The Empire Strikes Back), and while the latter undoubtedly digs deeper into the characters, broadens the world at hand, and introduces some stakes that would change the way sequels would be conceived forever, the former actually wrote the goddamn blueprint. Moving on, Star Wars is a fantastic standalone adventure that’s equal parts innocent and imaginative and the only entry in the saga devoid of any complications.
It was just a story about a farm boy. That simplicity will always be charming.
01. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Opening Crawl: It is a dark time for the Rebellion. Although the Death Star has been destroyed, Imperial troops have driven the Rebel forces from their hidden base and pursued them across the galaxy. Evading the dreaded Imperial Starfleet, a group of freedom fighters led by Luke Skywalker has established a new secret base on the remote ice world of Hoth. The evil lord Darth Vader, obsessed with finding young Skywalker, has dispatched thousands of remote probes into the far reaches of space….
The Light Side: Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), Yoda (Frank Oz), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker)
The Dark Side: Darth Vader (James Earl Jones), Emperor (Clive Revill), General Veers (Julian Glover), Admiral Ozzel (Michael Sheard), Captain/Admiral Piett (Kenneth Colley), and Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch)
“Thanks, Wedge!” I don’t think people give Zev Senesca (Christopher Malcolm) enough credit. Everyone remembers Luke, Wedge, and even Dak (Mr. “I could take on the whole Empire myself!”), but Zev’s the guy who flies out to find Luke and Han and saves them from freezing to death during a serendipitous landspeeder patrol. (Hint: he’s the guy who gleefully jokes around with Han after spotting the Tauntaun-encased pair and reports with a grin, “We found them. I repeat, we found them!”) Even later, during the Battle of Hoth, he gives his life holding formation with Luke and the rest of Rogue Squadron, despite being pretty badly hit by the time we see him again. Star Wars is a world of endlessly recognizable faces, and the film gives us just enough of this stalwart hero to make us sad that he doesn’t make it.
“I Don’t Know? Fly Casual!” After Star Wars successfully sold the all-encompassing scale of the Empire with its mesmerizing opening shot of a Star Destroyer looming large over the Tantive IV, Empire had to up the ante to make its titular striking back a serious threat. Hence the arrival of the Super Star Destroyer Executor, introduced by casting a haunting shadow over the same Star Destroyer that awed us in the first film. Vader’s flagship of choice cut through space like a broadsword, impressing upon audiences the sheer magnitude of the Empire’s reach and resources, reminding us ever more that the Rebels, despite their victories, will perpetually be a group of outlaws on the run from a vastly superior force. With its dark blue hues and luxurious control room, the Executor offered an ornate stage on which Vader could lead the chase against the Rebels – and his own son.
“Who’s Scruffy Looking?” Empire introduced us to Yoda, and it just wouldn’t be right to discuss this film without everyone’s favorite green sage. Played with remarkable dexterity and range by puppeteer extraordinaire Frank Oz, Yoda shifts between whimsical old man and portentous distributor of ancient wisdom within words. It’s easy to forget with hindsight that Yoda spends most of his first few scenes pretending to be a crazy old coot who’s messing with Luke and R2 to figure out their intentions and motivations – Oz plays those levels and more, imbuing a tiny green puppet with volumes of pathos and credibility.
“Never Tell Me the Odds”: Piggybacking off Star Wars’ immense success, Empire has amassed more than $538 million worldwide as of 2007.
May the Force Be with You: Empire took the smart move of escalating the Force’s power and scope in small but effective ways: while Star Wars saw it mostly as a zen-like intuition (and vehicle for long-distance choking), Episode V gave it real-world shape and scope with Yoda’s training montages and the final saber fight between Luke and Vader. Objects are thrown, rocks are balanced, X-Wings are levitated out of swamp water, and more; as Luke learns about the Force’s potential, so do we.
Lightsaber Options: The only sabers we see throughout the film are Vader’s classic red and Luke’s blue lightsaber (which used to be Anakin’s as well). However, Luke loses it along with his good hand on Cloud City.
MVP Action Figure: Despite having the most swagger out of anyone in the galaxy, Lando Calrissian’s Empire action figure left a lot to be desired. His weird, gray cape looked more like something Grace Jones would throw on to grab groceries, and his wide, bleached-white smile was more creepy than charming.
Essential Video Game Tie-In: While whole games have been dedicated to the plot of Empire, the best game-related representation of the film has to be in the first level of its in-canon follow-up, Shadows of the Empire, which featured a pitch-perfect recreation of the Battle of Hoth as its first level. The run-and-gun mechanics of Shadows’ first level was so much better than the rest of the game that the Rogue Squadron series was built from that sequence’s popularity.
Strangest Marketing Tie-In: Okay, sure, it started as a gag gift, but ThinkGeek’s April Fool’s Day Tauntaun Sleeping Bag item proved so popular that LucasFilm worked with the website to make it real. Now, you too can enjoy the thrill of sleeping inside a dead animal who, according to reports, smells much better … on the outside.
The Scene You’re Looking For: Perhaps the most awe-inspiring use of the Force in the whole of the original trilogy was Yoda’s demonstration of its sheer power to a frustrated Luke, lifting his X-Wing out of the water just to prove a point about belief. “I don’t believe it.” “That … is why you fail.”
“I’ve Got a Great Feeling About This”: Star Wars was big, bright, bold, and brassy, a high-spirited celebration of the science fiction razzle-dazzle moviegoers sorely needed in the ’70s. With all the cultural goodwill it had accumulated, it would be easy to follow it up with more of the same; it’s to Empire’s credit that it saw the potential for high drama and harrowing tension in the gee-whiz characters that populated the first film. Empire sees the Rebels as a truly ragtag group of guerrillas, constantly performing a holding action against the inexorable Imperial forces. Here, we truly see the bad guys as a terrifying force to be reckoned with.
The dramatic choice to split our three leads also paid off in huge dividends: Contrasting the more introverted, spiritual journey Luke embarks upon with Han and Leia’s desperate attempts to hide from Vader and his forces allowed for ample chances for spectacle and character development. Luke learns more about his weaknesses, his pride clouded by arrogance and impatience; Han and Leia’s budding relationship, meanwhile, is one of the most compelling romances in sci-fi history. The darker tone of Empire (and its cliffhanger ending) were certainly a risk, but one that paid off: “I am your father” is one of the greatest loose ends in film history.
It’s the smaller scale of The Empire Strikes Back that gives it its incredible appeal, not to mention the expert direction of Irvin Kerschner and pitch-perfect script from Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett. Episode V manages, like any sequel worth its salt, to iron out the (minor) weaknesses of the first and expand upon the universe and its characters in an interesting way, without compromising the spirit of what made Star Wars so timeless and popular in the first place.