Note: This excludes canon adjacent material like Star Wars Visions and Genndy Tartakovsky’s The Clone Wars. Also not including shorts like A Galaxy of Adventures and Forces of Destiny.
18. Rise of Skywalker – Ben Solo
While Rise of Skywalker is my least favorite film, the best thing about it is Adam Driver’s Ben Solo. And, like the Original Trilogy, it attempts a redemption arc for Kylo and his transformation back to Ben which doesn’t completely work, but Adam still sells it brilliantly. Once Kylo Ren becomes Ben Solo, he only has a single line (“Ow”) and the rest is action and face acting.
This is a testament to Driver’s impressive shift in mannerisms once he comes back to the light side that he mirrors his father, Han Solo and makes me wonder what might have been if they had opted not to kill off the character like they did Anakin Skywalker. We will never know but one thing is sure, Ben Solo is the best thing from the last chapter of the Skywalker saga.
17. Attack of the Clones – Jango Fett and the Clones
Attack of the Clones is probably close to the bottom of a lot of Star Wars rankings but it also might be the most influential film on the Star Wars streaming universe. The introduction of Jango Fett, the Mandalorian (confirmed) bounty hunter and template for the massive clone army on Kamino, is only on screen for about 10 minutes minutes but Tameur Morrison made an impression. His fight with Obi Wan and the seismic charge are two of the more positive memories from the film. Not to mention the clones themselves would be the catalyst for some of the most compelling storytelling in shows like The Clone Wars and The Bad Batch. Even though Jango was killed off in the film, Morrison returned to Star Wars in The Mandalorian as Boba Fett and The Book of Boba Fett. So, even though Attack of the Clones might not be the best piece of Star Wars, elements introduced in the film continue to shape Star Wars canon.
16. Star Wars: The Clone Wars Film – Captain Rex
I know it is shocking that I didn’t say Ahsoka but, at the time, there was a lot of toxicity surrounding that character when this film released in theaters in 2008. Now it is a complete 180 and the character is going to be almost overexposed in the next few years. So, I want to focus on the OTHER popular character to emerge from this film, Captain Rex (CT-7567). The Clone Captain finds himself in the middle of a grown-ish Anakin and a tween Ahsoka and handles it with grace. He is the first one to warm up to Ahsoka and their relationship would continue to develop through The Clone Wars series and Star Wars Rebels. There is a high chance of them reuniting in the upcoming Disney Plus series, Ahsoka, but it all started here with The Clone Wars.
15. The Phantom Menace – The Costume Design
In stark contrast to the simplicity of costumes for the Original Trilogy, The Phantom Menace was a showcase of intricate costumes, particularly for the Naboo Queen Amidala (played by Natalie Portman) and her handmaidens. Inspired from a smorgasbord of Asian culture, Amidala’s iconic looks include the red Theed throne room dress with exaggerated side buns and gold and brown ornamental balls along the bottom. Trisha Biggar, the costume designer for all three prequel films, was shamefully never even nominated for an Academy Award for creating some of the most eye popping costumes in and outside of Star Wars (and good luck every getting her book Dressing a Galaxy for under 300 USD). Still, The Phantom Menace set the pace for the rest of the Prequel Trilogy and Biggar’s costumes continued to be the highlight.
14. The Book of Boba Fett- The Tusken Raiders
The discourse around The Book of Boba Fett revolved around the issue of the title character being consistently overshadowed by other characters. However, the first two episodes, particularly “Chapter Two: The Tribes of Tatooine,” highlighted the potential that the show never lived up to. Tatooine has been around in canon since the beginning of Star Wars but this episode was a history lesson taught through the eyes of the Indigenous Tusken Raider tribe. The Tusken tribe that Boba Fett joins is given more agency and culture than any other Tusken Raiders in canon thus far. Tribe roles and customs were shown and the importance of a gaffi stick within both of those was showcased. What started in The Mandalorian was built upon in The Book of Boba Fett and Star Wars fans will never look at Tusken Raiders the same (and that’s a good thing).
13. Star Wars Resistance – The Animation Style
The ranking number on this is a little misleading since I enjoyed Star Wars Resistance for the most part (understanding that it was going to be geared more towards children helps with expectations). Resistance was announced as an animated series inspired by anime and, when the first trailer was released, there was some debate on the quality of the animation but it worked for me. The style and color palette was new and a splatter of bright blues, greens, oranges, and purples. It focused on racing culture in Star Wars amidst the backdrop of the war between the Resistance and First Order. Despite the rollercoaster of storytelling quality, the look and feel of the show and world was fresh but still Star Wars. Even though Resistance was perhaps the least appealing show to general audiences that Lucasfilm has put out, its existence is important as Star Wars continues experimenting with animation styles.
12. Revenge of the Sith – Order 66
Revenge of the Sith seems to be the favorite of most people from the Prequel Trilogy but it also has the most important event to Star Wars as a whole. Order 66 is the most significant event in the Star Wars canon timeline. The execution of most of the Jedi Order by their Clone Commanders and soldiers has been the catalyst for more Star Wars stories than one can count. The presence of Order 66 lingers over shows like Star Wars Rebels, The Bad Batch, Jedi: Fallen Order, and will play a large part of Obi-Wan Kenobi. We might move on from the Skywalker Saga, but we will never not have a story that somehow involves Order 66.
11. The Bad Batch – The Early Days of Imperial Occupation
Star Wars has covered the time right before the Empire with The Clone Wars and we have seen the prime years of Imperial Occupation with Solo: A Star Wars Story and Star Wars Rebels . The Bad Batch covers the period immediately after The Clone Wars as the Empire is starting to grip the galaxy through force. And most of it is through the point of view of Clone Force 99 (aka The Bad Batch), exploring what happens when soldiers who were bred for fighting have nothing left to fight for.
The Bad Batch season two will arrive later this year but the first season has already answered some long desired questions about the early days of the Empire: The fate of Kamino, why Clone troopers started to get phased out and replaced, and the beginnings of the Free Ryloth Movement. Season two hints at connecting the Empire to the First/Final Order but the best parts of season one have been watching the Empire place their chess pieces on the board.
10. Solo: A Star Wars Story – Crimson Dawn
The criminal underworld has always been more of companion canon material in Star Wars, relegated to novels, comics, games and occasional arcs in The Clone Wars. And bounty hunters have always been the main face of that part of Star Wars. Solo: A Star Wars Story introduced us to a major crime syndicate operating during Imperial Occupation, Crimson Dawn. The public figurehead was Dryden Vos working with his Lieutenant, Qi’ra. Secretly, Crimson Dawn was run by Darth Maul, former apprentice to Darth Sidious. The most impressive thing about Crimson Dawn? That ship, the First Light, which is basically a luxury yacht.
Crimson Dawn has since appeared in other canon material, particularly Marvel Star Wars: War of the Bounty Hunter run and a quick easter egg in the seventh season of The Clone Wars. There was a rumor that a series was in the works. I am not sure if Crimson Dawn could sustain a whole series but it was a great addition to canon from an average Star Wars film.
9. The Last Jedi – Kylo Ren Kills Snoke
For all the similarities of The Force Awakens to A New Hope, one of the most underwhelming elements was Supreme Leader Snoke. And there was very little interest in this Palpatine-light (Snoke toys were not exactly flying off the shelves). So when Kylo Ren uses the Force to slice him in half with a lightsaber and you see his dead corpse up close, it was one of the most shocking moments in a Star Wars film. And the setup of Kylo being the final big bad at the end of The Last Jedi was exciting. Now, what JJ Abrams chose to do instead was truly horrific, but the downer ending of Rey closing the door on getting Ben Solo back was the closest The Last Jedi got to The Empire Strikes Back.
8. Star Wars Rebels – The Focus on Lothal
I know the characters always being on Lothal is often cited as a negative of the show, but for me it is a positive. I think it is just as important to see what occupation does to one place over time than a whole galaxy. As the Imperial blockade and occupation continues, we see Lothal’s environment worsen and its natural resources deplete. Lothal is Ezra Bridger’s home and where he met the rest of the Ghost Crew, but it is also home to important Force artifacts and landmarks in canon. Kanan sacrifices his life on Lothal and Ezra risks his life to get Thrawn’s fleet off planet, leading to its liberation from the Empire. It is possible that we could see a live-action Lothal in Ahsoka (through flashbacks). But even if we do not, Lothal will still have some presence as characters from Star Wars Rebels will be making their live-action debut in Ahsoka.
7. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – The Third Act
The fans who adore Rogue One and even suggest that it is the best Star Wars film outside of the Original Trilogy almost always reference things that happened in the third act. The part of the film that includes The Battle of Scarif, the sacrifice of the entire Rogue One crew, and, oh yeah, that Vader hallway scene. Getting to see a Star Wars battle on a beach was the big highlight for me. And killing off the entire main cast was a choice that I wasn’t sure Disney had in them to execute. Of course, the way the franchise releases content, none of it matters as we can continue to see those characters (and will with Andor coming later this year), but there is a lot to love from Rogue One. And 90% of it is in the third act.
6. The Force Awakens – The First Act
While Rogue One finished strong, the film that preceded it in release, The Force Awakens, started incredibly strong. From the first line in the opening crawl “Luke Skywalker has vanished” to the introduction of Poe Dameron, Kylo Ren, and Finn involving an entire Jakku village getting wiped out, this film felt special for the first 30 minutes. With the introduction of Rey going about her daily life and playing with a x-wing helmet, it was close to being my some of my favorite Star Wars. And much of that first act still is, which involves mainly the new characters. Lost in a lot of criticism and toxicity of the Sequel Trilogy is that fact: Most of the great stuff within these films revolves around the new characters. And The Force Awakens was no different.
And there is also this…
5. The Clone Wars – The Theme in a Package Format
As someone who writes about themes in Star Wars, The Clone Wars might feel like a big wet blanket, showcasing the theme at the beginning of the episode. However, being an animated show that was still directed at a younger audience (even though it dives deep into politics more so than the Prequel films), it’s the perfect format. Kids who grew up watching The Clone Wars got the core themes that make Star Wars special in a weekly format. Star Wars never truly hides their themes but they also don’t start episodes with the theme flashed on the screen. The Clone Wars did and it worked.
4. The Mandalorian – Mandalorians
Like The Clone Wars film, I am not choosing the obvious answer for this, which most would say is Grogu. Grogu is a smart addition to canon from The Mandalorian from a marketing and pop culture perspective. But long-term and from a storytelling angle, the expansion of Mandalorian lore is the best addition. For so long, Star Wars has revolved around Jedi and some form of Imperials/fascist entity. But The Mandalorian brings a group that has been a part of Star Wars for decades to the forefront to potentially rival Jedi in popularity and legacy.
3. Return of the Jedi – Leia is Luke’s Twin Sister
Princess Leia was already an amazing character but making her a Skywalker and the secret twin sister to Luke Skywalker put her at the same level as the main hero. Yoda even says “There is another” in response to Obi-Wan Kenobi in The Empire Strikes Back. It is a shame that Lucasfilm never did anything with Leia being Force-sensitive (although until Disney purchased Lucasfilm there was little they could do outside of publishing). And by then, the studio was ready to move onto a younger cast for a new generation of fans. But one of the reasons Leia’s popularity has lasted for 40+ years is because she was a heroine placed on the same level as the hero by being another new hope.
2. The Empire Strikes Back – Yoda
Grogu has been a shot of revitalization for Star Wars and has, without a doubt, brought more fans into the franchise. However, without Yoda, there would be no Grogu (for the franchise and, possibly, within the universe as we still don’t know who Grogu’s parents were). The concept of Yoda could have gone horribly wrong in 1980 when The Empire Strikes Back released. And, when it comes to pop culture, Yoda still is on top with “Do or do not, there is no try.” A true achievement in puppetry at the time, Yoda had to emote more than any existing creation Lucasfilm had put on screen. His speech pattern and playful manner has made him one of the most popular characters in entertainment and a staple in Star Wars canon stories (Yoda is in all three eras of The Skywalker Saga and is featured in the new High Republic era).
1. Star Wars – The Hero’s Journey
Star Wars (now A New Hope) released in theaters in 1977 and was an inspiration for many young and aspiring filmmakers. Aside from being nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards (still the only Star Wars film to earn that honor), it was also nominated for Director, Supporting Actor (Alec Guinness), Score, Production Design, Film Edition and Best Original Screenplay. The latter might be the unsung legacy of Star Wars as the film has continued to be THE example of a Hero’s Journey.
For non-screenwriting/film enthusiasts, The Hero’s Journey (also referred to as Monomyth from Joseph Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces) is the common narrative of a protagonist going out into their world on a transformative adventure, and returning changed in some way. Depending on where you went to school, you may have been taught this in your literature class as well. Writers Digest has a good breakdown of each stage in A New Hope.
And A New Hope is the go-to for film schools to teach The Hero’s Journey (George Lucas even had a famous interview with Bill Moyers covering this and making Campbell a well known name in Hollywood).
None of the above films or shows get made without this film and the impact it had on pop culture. And it would not have been as impactful without nailing that Hero’s Journey.
And that is my ranking. Stay positive today (and everyday) Star Wars fans, and May the 4th Be With You!