The sentence “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” is not only the opening sentence to every Star Wars film in the ‘Skywalker Saga’, but also a sentence that defines generations of fans who have all experienced the happiness and sadness George Lucas gifted humanity. In total 9 episodic films, consisting of three separate trilogies (prequel, original, sequel), 2 anthology films, and 1 animated film make up a fraction of the galaxy full of hope, tyranny, heroes, villains, droids, aliens, light, dark, conflict and ultimately a satisfying adventure through the stars. There’s plenty more stories out there consisting of novels, videogames and television series but the focus here is on the 12 feature films that tell a complete and overarching and sometimes frustrating story.
Depending on what decade you were born in, you most likely gravitated to a particular trilogy which would subsequently serve as your introduction to the galaxy. For this critic, growing up in the 1990’s my first theatrical experience came in 1999 with Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace. That being said, it’s the original trilogy with Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia Organa along with an Astromech droid named R2-D2, his humanoid robot pal C-3PO and a Wookie named Chewbacca that sucked me into the space opera as the heroes race against the evil empire led by Darth Vader to save the galaxy.
For it’s time the formerly titled Star Wars was unlike anything else put on screen. From the scope and spectacle of it all to its relatable characters and their missions to the dazzling visual effects and production design, George Lucas unbeknownst at the time would change pop culture for decades to come. And then came the sequel The Empire Strikes Back with a darker tone and more mature themes – Star Wars invites you into a diverse galaxy and invites you for the ride full of unexpected twists and turns along the way. In a word, the original trilogy can be best described as magical.
The other two trilogies – not so much, though they have their ups and downs respectively.
While the original trilogy starts the story in the middle, literally episode 4, the prequel trilogy paints a bigger picture, bringing politics into the foreground, when in the original trilogy it was more of a footnote. At its core Star Wars is a political story, destiny a close second – it’s a balance of power and control. Some like Emperor Palpatine and his empire want absolute control using force (no pun intended) and aggression to achieve it while opposite them is the rebellion fighting tooth and nail for the freedom they deserve.
One aspect the prequels gets right are the impressive lightsaber fights complimented perfectly by John Williams music. To this day no piece of music in the franchise is as memorable as ‘Dual of the Fates’ set to Jedi Master Qui-Gon Gin, his padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi fighting the sinister Darth Maul. For how spectacular the lightsaber fights are and the visual effects, the prequel trilogy doesn’t come close to the excellence of the original trilogy started with. Not until Episode 3 – Revenge of the Sith when Anikan, the ‘chosen on’ to bring balance to the force, turns to the dark side.
But this is not an outline of the franchise – it has its peaks and valleys like all franchises do with the good far outweighing the bad. And now that the sequel trilogy (not everyone’s favorite) has wrapped up with its less than remarkable conclusion, the hope is to expand the universe. My gripe throughout all of the films and tv series now that Disney is owner of Lucasfilm has been the focus on one family – the Skywalkers. It’s time to move on and after the sequels who had no idea what they were doing and lacked a clear cut plan and identity to try something new – maybe explore the high republic or the creation of the Jedi and Sith, particularly the Sith and the rule of 2. The point is, Lucas created such a rich mythology taking inspiration from Japanese and other countries film cultures to create a franchise with such a cult following to only focus on one story thread.
All of that being said, and its a mouthful, what draws me to Star Wars is the adventure the various filmmakers have taken us on. The music from John Williams, Michael Giacchino and John Powell tell stories in their own right with the crawl having the ability to instantly cheer someone up after a rough day. From the escapism to the legendary actors who lose themselves in their legendary characters to the hope being a rebel brings against the tyrannically empire, Star Wars is timeless – being passed down generation to generation for the next wave of obsessed fans to pour hours into.
Whether you love them or hate them, Star Wars will always have a re-watchability to them, and within that finding new nuanced things to love and or dislike. But to get a more complete timeline of events, the tv series are a necessary watch and should be added to the queue. Hope can be found in the darkest of places, rebellions are built on it. Until the next trilogy is announced or even a film that gets released, below is my ranking for all 12 theatrical Star Wars films.