Look, I know there’s lots going on in the world. The GOP Obamacare replacement has passed the House. Trump signed a religious liberty executive order. Venezuela is teetering on the brink of revolution. But national holidays are national holidays, and May the Fourth is “Star Wars Day,” and it demands comment. So why not rank the films? Here is the truly definitive ranking (at least until the next film):
1. Empire Strikes Back: Not only is Empire the best Star Wars movie, it’s the best sci-fi movie in the history of human civilization. I consider myself something of a free speech absolutist, but if anyone argues against Empire, I’ll don the black uniform of antifa and tear gas them into submission. There’s free speech, there’s “fighting words,” and then there’s the belief that Empire is anything but the best of the bunch. Tolerance has its limits.
2. A New Hope: This one’s also easy. It’s not only a revolutionary film in its own right (the first sci-fi movie with the special effects to truly transport viewers to a “galaxy far, far away”), but it deserves its place in the pantheon for the lightsaber alone. Would Star Wars be Star Wars without the lightsaber? Knights in space? With the coolest weapon ever created? And the climactic trench run was the most exciting thing my young eyes had ever seen on film. A glorious movie.
3. Rogue One: I’ve already gushed about this movie, so I’ll be brief. Everything about it was great, and there were multiple elements that were super-great — like the entire last 40 minutes of the movie. The sight of the Death Star hovering in the sky in the final battle was worth the price of admission. Darth Vader’s moment was exquisite. The ending was perfect.
4. Revenge of the Sith: What? A prequel movie cracks the top four? Ahead of Return of the Jedi? Here’s the thing about Revenge — Anakin’s turn to the dark side just works. You can see why he did it, why it made sense, and why a Jedi would turn on his own order. I don’t know if this was Lucas’s intent, but he spent the prequels making the Republic (and the Jedi) look like an intergalactic U.N., wielding their lightsabers to lop off the heads of anyone who dared to exercise the slightest degree of self-determination. Revenge made me like the Sith. It made me root for the emperor.
5. The Force Awakens: Putting this movie fifth doesn’t mean it was bad or disappointing or anything other than a delight. The other four are just better. The movie’s enduring contribution is rebooting the franchise, revitalizing it with the spirit of the original trilogy, and introducing characters we’ll talk about for years. Rey is a worthy heroine, Kylo Ren is a compelling villain, and his broadsword is a spectacular addition to the lightsaber family.
6. Return of the Jedi: In hindsight, this is when we should have known that Lucas was running off the rails. He took a spectacular movie and added . . . Ewoks. I was a 14-year-old fanatic when the movie came out, and even I couldn’t suspend disbelief when a pack of stone-throwing badgers took down Imperial stormtroopers in pitched battle. The perceived “success” of the Ewok concept gave us the “comic relief” of Jar Jar Binks, and Jar Jar Binks almost destroyed Western civilization. He still might.
7. Star Wars Holiday Special. George Lucas hates it. Everyone hates it. But this 1978 television movie/event is far, far better than either of the first two prequels. Here’s a taste:
8. Any single episode of Happy Days after Fonzie jumped the shark.
9. Any single episode of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s version of Celebrity Apprentice.
10. A Brooklyn Nets basketball game.
11. The zombie apocalypse.
12. Attack of the Clones. Words cannot describe the awfulness of the love story in this film. Nor can words describe the silliness of the final battle. It’s just best to move on.
13. The actual apocalypse.
14. The Phantom Menace. There are two (no, three!) unforgivable elements in this movie — Jar Jar, wasting Darth Maul, and midichlorians. The idea that you could blood test the future Darth Vader to determine his potential power drained all the mysticism right out of The Force. Darth Maul was the best character in the movie, a truly menacing villain, and he had the coolest lightsaber in the entire series. What did Lucas do? Gave him about nine seconds of screen time and killed him off with a Jedi apprentice. I’ve already said more than enough about Jar Jar. It’s bad luck to even utter his name. In fact, it’s better for everyone if we just pretend that Phantom Menace never happened. In fact, neither did Attack of the Clones. Star Wars is the best six-movie franchise in the history of film.