The Star Wars Saga – The Definitive Ranking Part I: The Prequels

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The time is finally upon us. Tomorrow, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens – the most anticipated film of the year and perhaps the entire century – will be unleashed on audiences worldwide. (And for some of us, the Force will be Awakening a little later on this evening at early screenings)

To get you pumped for the new entry in The Star Wars Saga, two of our biggest Star Wars fans Shawn Eastridge and Richie Pepio have provided their definitive ranking of the entire series thus far from worst to best!

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6. STAR WARS EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES

SHAWN: So, Richie…

RICHIE: Yes, Shawn?

SHAWN: I think we’re pretty much in agreement that Episode II ends up at the bottom of our ranking.

RICHIE: The very bottom.

SHAWN: People are probably going to be shocked that we ranked this lower than The Phantom Menace, but The Phantom Menace feels a little bit more like a Star Wars movie to me. I don’t know why, exactly, but it just does.

RICHIE: Right. It’s the pacing, the fact that it was shot on film…

SHAWN: There are more physical sets…Attack of the Clones is more reliant on horrible special effects and it’s more of an amorphous blob storywise. Not only is it an awful Star Wars movie, it’s just a terrible move in general. Honestly, I’d put this on a list of the worst films I have ever seen.

RICHIE: It’s got a lot of bells and whistles, but you can’t put lipstick on a pig or a Gungan for that matter. Even though George Lucas promised us that this second movie would be darker and have more action, there are a lot of really boring conversational scenes masquerading as character moments that don’t go anywhere.

There are a bunch of ideas that feel like Lucas was saying, “I want to hit this plot point and this plot point and this plot point! Cloning! Mystery! Romance! I’m done!” And then he just threw it on screen in a big ol’ explosion fest.

SHAWN: It looks faker and because it relies less on spectacle like The Phantom Menace did and more on performance and character, I think that’s where it really falls apart. And I’m just realizing this now as we’re talking to each other, but I really think that’s why this one rings more false to me and why it’s so much worse. Episode I hinged more on spectacle and action; it was very plot driven. Episode II tries to convince us it’s a character drama and fails because the writing and the performances aren’t up to par. You have Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman, who aren’t even horrible actors, but they have a shoddy script to work with and practically no direction from Lucas. We’re being asked to invest in these characters and performances, but they don’t have any quality or substance.

RICHIE: And here’s something else I’m realizing, and you can take this or leave this, but you know how the Force is all about choices? You know, you choose the Light Side of the Force or the quicker, angrier way of the Dark Side. But a lot of what causes Anakin to go to the Dark Side is just circumstantial. His mother was kidnapped and that causes him to murder the Sand People, but it’s not as much up to him. I mean, he decides to kill all the Sand People, but he’s more like a victim in that situation. He doesn’t really give it a lot of thought and he doesn’t feel guilty about it after. Although he’s framed as a victim, he’s really just a psychopath. It ruins any desire from the audience to see his redemption later. Darth Vader deserves to die. I’d argue that after falling into the lava, he became a more rational person.

SHAWN: Right. He doesn’t make a whole lot of decisions on his own. He’s kind of whiny and just gets pushed around a lot.

RICHIE: Exactly. He’s so easily manipulated and he’s supposed to have this deep connection to the Force that should have given him greater wisdom and discernment. Also, he spent 10 years training under this great Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi and it feels like he learned nothing! He’s one of the most pathetic characters in the entire franchise.

SHAWN: It also feels like Attack of the Clones, moreso than The Phantom Menace, relies a lot more on CGI and green screen. Its special effects just look so much worse because so little is real. It feels more like you’re watching a video game. And even the extended action sequence at the end in the arena didn’t thrill me because I don’t care about anyone involved and it’s just a bunch of flashing lights and explosions. It’s all animated.

RICHIE: Not to mention the awful comic relief of C-3PO in that scene, which, I guess because they’d reduced Jar-Jar’s role, they felt like they had to spread out the puns and crappy jokes amongst more fake CG characters like Dexter Jettster. But, it doesn’t work, especially not with C-3PO. It feels forced and out of character. Any attempt at humor in this movie sticks out like a sore thumb.

SHAWN: Do you remember your reaction when you first saw Attack of the Clones in theaters?

RICHIE: I was very confused. The critical reaction was more positive than with The Phantom Menace. Although, I remember Roger Ebert giving Attack of the Clones a negative review and Richard Roeper giving it a positive review…

SHAWN: What a jerk.

RICHIE: And Roger Ebert gave a positive review to Episode I. I think I agree with Ebert on that one. Not that it’s a good movie, but that it’s better than Episode II. It’s just, everything stood out to me as fake in Attack of the Clones and I didn’t understand necessarily why I didn’t enjoy the movie but I was confused as to how I could not enjoy a Star Wars movie. It was a major crisis of conscience for me.

SHAWN: When I saw it in theaters, I hadn’t yet developed the ability to really discern between a good film and a bad one. Chances were that if it was a film I was anticipating and wanted to see, I was going to end up enjoying it. This was the first time I can recall seeing something that I knew I was supposed to like and not liking it in the slightest. And everyone around me was hyping it up as, like, “Oh man, it’s so much better than Episode I! It’s darker and it’s got more action and Yoda fights at the end!” And I remember being like, “But why don’t I care about any of this?” And when you get older you realize, “Oh wait, that’s right, because it sucks.”

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5. STAR WARS EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH

SHAWN: I can already hear millions of fanboys cry out in terror and finally silenced due to us putting this one below The Phantom Menace.

RICHIE: Okay, look, people, here’s the deal: Revenge of the Sith has all the moments you’ve been waiting for, but none of the payoff. We’ve been looking forward to this s*** happening for some thirty-odd years and it doesn’t deliver. In fact, it doesn’t make sense.

SHAWN: None of it does! The whole point of the entire prequel trilogy was to get to this movie and it ends up being just as bad as the rest of the prequels, almost moreso because it fumbles big moments that should have had emotional weight. We have characters and character motivations that don’t feel developed – Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side is rushed and makes no sense. And then they try to wrap it up with a nice little bow on top so that it ties into A New Hope.

And, you know, I’d hate to give credit to The Phantom Menace for, well, anything, but at least it felt like it had some space to breathe and tell its story (whatever that was). Revenge of the Sith puts its time and focus into all of the wrong things instead of giving us a reason to care about any of the characters we’ve been following for the past two movies and then rushes to get to the finish line.

RICHIE: We spend more time on Wookiee Island and fricking Utapau than developing the relationships between Anakin and Obi-Wan or Anakin and Padme. This trio lacks any kind of chemistry. Even Obi-Wan and Padme, who are supposed to have been friends for the past fifteen years, barely say a single word to each other in this entire trilogy! The first time they even have a conversation that lasts more than two lines is right before Padme goes unconscious for the rest of the movie.

When Episode III does try to have a character moment, it brings you into the palm of its hand and it closes it fingers and it crushes the little life you have left out of you. That freaking “Noooo!” at the end of the movie. I mean, really? I’m finally on board with the movie – even though I don’t believe James Earl Jones’ voice would ever say the name ‘Padme’ – I’m on board with what George Lucas is going for here because we’re finally getting some emotion from these scenes and characters and then Vader shouts ‘Nooo!’ like a dumbass Frankenstein monster cartoon character.

SHAWN: One of the core problems with the prequels is that they spend more time telling us things than actually showing us. ‘Oh, Anakin and Obi-Wan are best friends.’ ‘Oh, Anakin’s the best pilot in the galaxy.’ We’ve been told all that, but we’ve never seen any evidence of it. I mean, we see a little bit of it when he saves Obi-Wan from the buzz droids and when he’s flying that stupid car thing in Episode II and then the podracing in Episode I, but I don’t know. It feels like we only get bits and pieces of examples when they should have spent more of the movie showing us putting all his skills to good use.

RICHIE: We’ve already been told all this in Episode IV! We need to see it!

SHAWN: Apparently all the character development happens between the movies. Maybe you were supposed to play a video game or watch a TV show or something. Characters just don’t feel consistent with what’s come before.

RICHIE: No, especially Padme. She’s been built up as this kind of strong leader who sacrifices her life to be a queen and to rule her people. Now she’s going to give herself up for a psychopath that she’s married.

SHAWN: And, again, we don’t really know why they’re in love with each other. We’re told they are, but we don’t see any evidence of it. Although, I’ll give Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman credit – they do their darndest to try and make it work in this one.

RICHIE: And they do have some good moments, which is nice to see. I don’t mind some of the earlier scenes between them. I mean, the dialogue is not good. At all. But seeing as how everyone in these movies speaks like they’re asleep, it’s nice to see some variance in their voices and something resembling inflection.

SHAWN: Eh, at least they’re trying. They’re giving it at least some kind of a shot. Another thing that baffles me is people who try to say this is better than Return of the Jedi. Like, they can’t quite bring themselves to accept that George Lucas didn’t ruin it entirely, that he couldn’t finish on a high note. And, sure, Return of the Jedi is arguably the weakest of the Original Trilogy (spoiler alert), but it’s still head and shoulders above Revenge of the Sith. It’s fun, it’s exciting, you’ve got great character moments, things we’ve been building to, it feels like there’s some level of payoff. With Episode III, there’s nothing.

Seriously, if the whole movie is about Anakin turning to the Dark Side and becoming Darth Vader, why do we spend, like, 30 minutes with Obi-Wan riding around on a giant iguana on Utapau and then another 30 minutes on Wookiee Island doing nothing?

RICHIE: We meet Chewbacca who we don’t need to see ‘cause he’s got a great introduction in Episode IV. Wait a movie! Be patient.

SHAWN: And poor Hayden Christensen who’s been practically carrying this whole trilogy on his shoulders doesn’t get anything to work with, because Anakin’s transformation to Darth Vader happens so quickly and the motivation is so unclear. Like, okay, he wants to stop Padme from dying, but everything he does in this movie is based on assumption – he doesn’t know for certain that she’s going to die. I mean, Anakin seems like a generally together person. Sure, he murders Count Dooku at the beginning, but he seems like he’s in an okay headspace. Then, over the span of, like, twenty-four hours, he’s turned to the Dark Side, he’s killing children, he’s murdering his wife, he’s fighting his best friend, and it all happens so quickly and makes no sense. You never really buy into the idea that he’s suddenly evil because there’s so little build up and no clear explanation for why.

RICHIE: If you want to do a tragedy, you make us care about the characters before you kill them.

SHAWN: Very true. So, is there anything we like about this movie?

RICHIE: Um…I like that Natalie Portman is trying. I like that Palpatine is HIGH-LARIOUS. Ian McDiarmid gives a tour-de-Force performance, but he belongs in a Power Rangers movie as Ivan Ooze. Ewan McGregor is great. You see him grow as a character and his performance culminates in the speech at the end.

SHAWN: He’s really the shining beacon of the Prequel Trilogy, performance-wise. He’s the only aspect of these movies that I can watch and not feel totally embarrassed. I hate anything that tries to connect the Prequel Trilogy with the Original Trilogy – they are separate entities – but I can buy into the idea that Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan becomes Sir Alec Guinness’ Obi-Wan.

RICHIE: You know what? I think it’s stupid, but I’ll give credit to the Emperor and Yoda fight because I had no expectation that that would happen at all. Stylistically I like Padme and Anakin ‘dying’ at the end, those intercut moments, with the Qui-Gon Jinn funeral march playing in the background. Visually, it’s a nice touch, but I just don’t care about them.

SHAWN: Exactly, at the end of the day Revenge of the Sith is just too full of CGI, too full of unnecessary plot points…

RICHIE: It even has CGI babies!

SHAWN: …and CGI babies. All of these movies are so fake and there’s this layer of artificiality to them, not just with the effects, but with the writing and the performances and the direction. It prevents you from investing in the story and characters.

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4. STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE

SHAWN: This is where we officially lose everybody. People are just going to hate us.

RICHIE: That’s right, folks. We like The Phantom Menace more than Revenge of the Sith.

SHAWN: And that’s not to say we even really like this movie, but we were both young when we saw it…

RICHIE: We were both about 11, right? And I literally fell in love with Episode I. I swear to you – and this is going to make me sound like the worst person in the world – but I was obsessed with this movie. I saw it five times in theaters and I could quote the whole thing. I still quote it.

SHAWN: I have the soundtrack. It’s a great soundtrack.

RICHIE: It’s actually one of John Williams’ greatest scores. If you actually listen to the themes that he comes up with, he’s got a wealth of material in this for a new Star Wars Trilogy that really doesn’t live up to his talents.

SHAWN: Right. And, look, this is not a defense of The Phantom Menace. We both agree it’s a terrible movie, but we were the perfect age to see it when it first came out. We weren’t looking at it with a critical eye.

RICHIE: We were just following orders. And this was the first time we’d ever seen a new Star Wars movie. We’d worn out our Original Trilogy VHS tapes and needed something new.

SHAWN: And I think the reason we like this one more than the other Prequels is, first of all, it was shot on film and there’s a reality to this one that isn’t evident in the other two Prequels. Those ones really went CGI crazy.

RICHIE: Right. They shot a lot of this on location. It’s shot in Italy, shot in Tunisia…

SHAWN: There’s green screen in this movie, of course, and tons of stupid CGI, but there are sets, there are real locations. It feels more real. And even the story is somewhat passable. And good Lord, the story is not great by any means and the characters are not interesting…

RICHIE: And everyone is right when they criticize The Phantom Menace for being essentially pointless in the grand scheme of things. The only purpose it serves is to introduce all these characters and put them all together in a situation so they could meet, but there’s no real point or need for us to see it.

SHAWN: Exactly. But, there’s a spirit of adventure in Episode I that’s missing in Episodes II and III, which feel more like assembly line movies. There’s even an actual assembly line in Episode II! Now, The Phantom Menace isn’t all that fun to watch, but there’s a sense of carefree lightheartedness to it.

RICHIE: Right, all the actors are bored and don’t want to be there, but George Lucas had the freedom to make any kind of story he wanted, whereas in Attack of the Clones he knew Anakin and Padme had to fall in love and in Revenge of the Sith he had to kill people and turn Anakin into Darth Vader. With The Phantom Menace he had the storytelling freedom to do pretty much anything.

SHAWN: And while it was ultimately pointless to the over-arching story, you get the sense that he didn’t feel constrained by a need to hit any preconceived story beats.

RICHIE: I actually will say that the first 30-minutes or so, when I first saw Episode I, I absolutely loved them. The middle hour, I was like, “What? I’m so bored. I don’t know what’s happening.” I didn’t even like the podrace when I was a kid…

SHAWN: See, I liked the podrace!

RICHIE: I think most kids did…I was just different.

SHAWN: It was just such a fast-paced action scene and it had a lot of energy and a sense of fun.

RICHIE: I just didn’t like it as much because it felt like the most pointless. Of ALL the pointless things in this movie, this is the one that stood out the most to me as a kid. I’m just thinking to myself, “Why is this happening? This has nothing to do with the plot.” I mean, they need to win the race to get the hyperspace drives, but couldn’t it have gone by faster? Did we need to see three freaking laps? I don’t care about any of these cartoony aliens.

And actually the podrace is kind of a teaser of Geonosis and things to come in the other movies because it is an over-abundance of CGI aliens and cartoony characters that were meant to sell toys.

SHAWN: What’s funny about this movie is that there a lot of things that are the staples representing why the Prequels are so terrible. We’ve got the introduction of midi-chlorians, which are so stupid and unnecessary.

RICHIE: And they’re never really mentioned again in the entire film saga. And not to mention the virgin birth of Anakin, Jar-Jar Binks, who’s really actually kind of funny because he’s so terrible. It’s like watching a character in an Ed Wood movie. It’s so crazy I can’t look away.

SHAWN: For people who were excited for this movie, and weren’t young enough to enjoy its many quirks, this was the first evidence that George Lucas really had no clue what he was doing. It must have been a scary thing, because you’ve got a movie that’s not very involving and is setting the template for things to come. The fun of the Original Trilogy abandoned for a really childish, pandering sense of humor.

RICHIE: And politics!

SHAWN: Exactly! So who the hell is this movie supposed to be for? Tonally, it makes no sense! I think I was so distracted by the lightsabers and flashing lights as a kid that I never noticed just how boring this movie is.

RICHIE: Episode I opens talking about how shipping has been shut down on the planet of Naboo. Who gives a s***?! We’re told all these people are suffering but we don’t see any evidence of suffering. The planet looks just fine and dandy.

SHAWN: So, again, evidence of the plottiness that Georgie-boy would exhibit in the other two Prequels. But, Episode I has the spirit of this kind of rip-roaring, anything goes adventure to it. It also has the first example of Jedi being total badasses at the peak of their powers, their fighting skills. Darth Maul is pretty cool and that fight at the end is fantastic.

RICHIE: Best lightsaber fight of the entire Prequel Trilogy.

SHAWN: Right. Fantastic choreography. But, ultimately, their battle is completely empty – it means nothing. It’s just three people fighting each other. Qui-Gon gets killed and that doesn’t even ring any emotional bells.

RICHIE: And it was spoiled on the back of the soundtrack’s case! Here’s a tip for all you soundtrack people: don’t name the second to last track on your CD ‘Qui-Gon’s Noble End.’

But, back to the story. The great thing about The Phantom Menace’s story is that it’s more focused than it is in Episodes II and III. It’s just unfortunate that everything about Naboo is just ridiculous when you break it down. Before you realize just how goofy Episode I is, you’re first introduced to Naboo and you’re kind of like, ‘Oh, this is a pretty-looking planet. I wouldn’t mind spending the summer there.’ But, when you get down to it Dagobah is the swamp planet, Tattooine’s the desert planet and Naboo is the planet for assholes. It’s a Roman-Kabuki Jamaican waste land.

SHAWN: It really is. So, let’s talk about performances. Performance-wise, The Phantom Menace is all over the place. Nobody in the cast is really excited to be there. Except for Ahmed Best, who gives it his all as Jar-Jar Binks. Jar-Jar is such a terrible creation but Ahmed really brings his a-game.

RICHIE: He’s not bad at all! He’s great AS Jar-Jar Binks; Jar-Jar Binks is just terrible.

SHAWN: Ewan McGregor doesn’t really do anything.

RICHIE: Right, he’s okay. He’s the best of the tired people.

SHAWN: Natalie Portman didn’t want to be there…

RICHIE: No. She’s 17-years-old and you can see her tears in the Senate scene because she wanted to be with her high school friends.

SHAWN: Liam Neeson is fine.

RICHIE: He carries the movie, even though he looks so exhausted. Give this guy a nap. And then give his daughter back. Ian McDiarmid is great because his performance hasn’t devolved into cartoon territory yet and he’s really committed to being this kind of snaky, back-stabbing man of the people.

SHAWN: So, while it must be crazy to see The Phantom Menace at the top of any Prequel ranking, but I really think it’s the best of the three, partially because of my nostalgia, but also because it doesn’t try to be anything more than it is. With Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, not only are they overflowing with bad CGI and awful performances, they try to exhibit this emotional weight that doesn’t work; the writing’s not there. George Lucas gave himself a break with this one because the story doesn’t really demand any writing prowess, so the flaws are less evident to me than they are in the other ones.

RICHIE: And the script isn’t as bad as the other two. I don’t mind Episode I. Episode II is a bridge between I and III, and Episodes II and III are a bridge to the original trilogy. Episode II is the worst because it’s the bridge of a bridge. Episode III is the 2nd worst because it’s a bridge from a bridge to a better thing. Episode I is a starting point that doesn’t need to exist. That may not make sense, but neither does the plot of the entire Prequel Trilogy. In the grand scheme of things, Episode I didn’t really need to impress us and therefore it didn’t.

Check out Part II of our ranking, which focuses on the Original Trilogy.

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About Author

One of Shawn Eastridge’s earliest memories is sneaking out of bed during naptime at the age of 4 to watch Superman II for the first time. Between that and repeat viewings of Back to the Future and Return of the Jedi, his life has been a downward spiral ever since. Shawn loves all things movies, music, books, video games, and TV and he will find any and every excuse to discuss all of these things as often as possible. He’s been writing film reviews for the past seven years and has a Bachelor’s Degree in Cinema/Television. He hopes to one day get paid to discuss all the things that make him geek out on a regular basis. He is currently the full-time Social Media specialist for a trade association. His all-time favorite TV shows are Freaks & Geeks, Arrested Development, Breaking Bad, The X-Files, Doctor Who, The Simpsons, Undeclared, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Spaced, and Avatar: The Last Airbender.

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