Star Wars Movies Ranked

We recently rewatched the Star Wars movies. We decided to individually rank the movies from favorite to least favorite, then compare notes. First, our brief thoughts on each movie individually.

Star Wars Movies We Own

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

Erik: Visually beautiful, but the plot drags and the dialogue is ludicrous. Like the other prequel movies, it at least has a clear narrative purpose that operates on two levels: the corruption of Anakin Skywalker and the fall of the Republic.

Eppu: Too messy all round; a travesty of writing not helped by (some of) the acting.

Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones

Eppu: Least bad of the prequels; only Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman save the movie.

Erik: Despite its weaknesses (especially in the Anakin/Padme storyline), this film comes the closest to the series’ classic pulp sci-fi inspirations.

Star Wars: Episode III – The Revenge of the Sith

Erik: More weak plot and ridiculous dialogue, but there is an atmosphere to this film that sustains it, a palpable sense of an age of beauty and light coming to an end.

Eppu: An intelligent woman—and playing the Smurfette part to boot—is reduced to a walking womb. Yuck.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Eppu: The learning-to-work-together aspect and found family vibes with a heaping of nostalgia offset the grimdark.

Erik: A love letter to the original trilogy, filled with great characters.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Erik: An unnecessary, self-indulgent piece of fanfiction with neither the spirit of the original trilogy nor the narrative purpose of the prequels.

Eppu: It’s just weak all round, and Alden Ehrenreich certainly can’t pull off the role of young Han. (Well, except for propping, sets, and CGI, which at least are very professionally done if not always terribly imaginative.)

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope

Eppu: Can’t beat a classic: well edited, scored, acted, with decent if at times very concise writing. Feels a little sparse or basic compared to today’s movie plots, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Erik: There is beauty in how spare the writing and worldbuilding are, giving us just enough that our imaginations can fill in the rest.

Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back

Erik: Some great action sequences and character development, but it doesn’t feel like they all belong in the same movie.

Eppu: Darker and more desperate, again well constructed. Nostalgia helps here, too.

Star Wars: Episode VI – The Return of the Jedi

Eppu: Loved it as a kid, but the present me sees the ridiculousness of Ewoks fighting stormtroopers.

Erik: I love seeing Luke’s growth as a Jedi, both in skills and self-awareness, and I like Ewoks versus stormtroopers.

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens

Erik: While the movie is overly focused on being as Star Wars-y as possible, the new characters are all clearly defined and well acted.

Eppu: Tries to hit all of the same spots as the original trilogy, but ends up trying too much.

Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi

Eppu: Despite its confusion on what the movie wants to be, General Leia and Vice Admiral Holdo kick ass. The entertaining side plot with Rose is also a plus.

Erik: So much wasted potential. This could have been the best movie in the entire series, but it is too obsessed with its concepts to actually tell a story with them.

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker

Erik: An overstuffed mess of contrived events, plot gimmicks, and fanservice for the worst parts of the Internet.

Eppu: I like best the Rey plus Kylo Ren conflict-turns-into-understanding arc. Palpatine and his cronies are comically, hilariously dark and corny, which almost makes me snort my way through those parts.

Here’s our individual rankings.

Erik’sEppu’s
1Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the JediRogue One: A Star Wars Story
2Rogue One: A Star Wars StoryStar Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
3Star Wars: Episode IV – A New HopeStar Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
4Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force AwakensStar Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi
5Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes BackStar Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
6Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the ClonesStar Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi
7Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last JediStar Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker
8Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the SithStar Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
9Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom MenaceStar Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
10Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of SkywalkerStar Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
11Solo: A Star Wars StorySolo: A Star Wars Story

Erik’s comments:

I put Return of the Jedi first for a couple of reasons. First, I love the opening act with the rescue of Han from Jabba’s palace. It’s so well structured, gradually reintroducing us to all the heroes and showing us Luke’s growth as a Jedi. Second, I’m a sucker for any fight in which low-tech beats high-tech, and the Endor battle is one of my favorites.

I like The Force Awakens more than The Empire Strikes Back. I’ve never really been a fan of Empire, although I know it’s widely considered the best movie of the original trilogy. I won’t argue about the strengths of Empire or the weaknesses of Force, but I just enjoy watching Rey discover her Jedi powers and Finn find his footing in the Resistance more than I enjoy watching Luke run around a swamp and Han try to kickstart the Falcon.

I didn’t think there could be a Star Wars movie worse than The Phantom Menace, but then came Solo and The Rise of Skywalker. Phantom at least has beautiful sets and costumes, an action hero queen, and a fantastic lightsaber fight. Rise is a jumbled and unnecessary mess, and Solo is just answering questions that didn’t need answers.

Eppu’s comments:

Overall, I found the nods towards the original trilogy in Rogue One an absolute delight the very first time we watched the movie, and I’ve continued to enjoy them a lot despite the fact that many of them are basically direct copies of dialogue or shots. For me, it’s very close to a perfect combination of homage plus original material. Director Krennic is the only acting job that comes close to unbearable ham (but that may have been how Ben Mendelsohn was directed, as he’s great in other productions).

The strength of Empire for me is the exploration of Luke’s, Leia’s, and Han’s characters when they each hit a rough patch, which is why I ranked it higher than Return. Also Lando turns out to have more depth right from the bat than, say, Count Dooku.

Sadly, the sequels are almost as bad a mess storywise as the prequels, but fortunately they picked more talented core actors and did *not* write in an inept, ham-fisted Asian caricature. (Then again, I gather that the production of the sequels was exceptionally convoluted and involved lots of back-end drama.) Cinematographically, though, the sequels are light years ahead of any of the others, I think.

In hindsight, maybe I should’ve bumped Clones a step down and Phantom a step up—Anakin behaves so fecking creepily towards Padme it’s upsetting to watch. At least in Phantom he behaves more maturely, as odd as it is to say about a little kid, and, like Erik said, there’s pretties to see.

There’s a marked difference in quality between the original and prequel trilogies. I’ve often wondered why that is. (Not having really cared to look for an answer online, though, I can only speculate.) I do have a vague impression of having read somewhere that one reason for the success of the original trilogy was that the editing team—if I remember right, especially Marcia Lucas—wove the storylines into a cohesive, tight, smoothly moving arc. In the prequels, the core of the story largely gets lost among the bling. In a way, it feels like once Lucas effectively was the boss, it was to the detriment of the story.

Granted, we finally got the fight scenes worthy of the jedi; that, plus improved effects (including makeup and costuming), are what the prequels did absolutely right. In the end, however, they visuals are not enough in themselves to pull the prequels up from the bottom.

From the point of view of current viewer (i.e., setting aside any past significance from a technological point of view), action scenes and special effects have improved so much in the past few decades that the prequels cannot offer anything memorable. It’s the strength of the story, the characters, and the acting that a movie must stand on now. In that sense, the prequels have very little to offer me. Moreover, it’s actually rather impressive that we both ranked Solo as the absolutely last one, below the prequels—a mark of a true washout. I’m only sad that the tanking of Solo means my fellow Finn Joonas Suotamo likely won’t get hired for more Chewbacca roles.

There’s so much you could say about all of the movies. At times ranking really wasn’t very straightforward. (How do you properly gauge the messiness of the prequels, for instance. I’m sure if you were to ask me two years from now, I’d list some of the movies differently.)

We know other people have different opinions from ours; we’d like to hear yours!

Image by Eppu Jensen

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Willow Trailers

Willow is joining the 1980s franchise reboots. The new incarnation bears the same name as the 1988 movie, but this time it’s going to be an 8-episode series. Here is the official teaser trailer:

Willow | Official Teaser Trailer | Disney+ by Lucasfilm on YouTube

And the official trailer:

Willow | Official Trailer | Disney+ by Lucasfilm on YouTube

At first is looks like the only returning characters are Warwick Davies’ Willow Ufgood and Joanne Whalley’s Sorsha. However, at least one of the two pixies—Rool and Franjean in the original—sounds awfully familiar. Their actors aren’t listed in IMDB, however, but the cast listing is very cursory overall at this writing, so who knows.

I am of the generation who grew up with Willow. In fact, we recently re-watched it for nostalgia’s sake. (Little did I know that there would be more soon!) It’ll be fascinating to see what they’re going to do effects-wise, since the old Willow was already a trailblazer: it was the first time we saw successful, computer-animated morphing on the big screen. (Some other effects looked clumsy now, but the morphing was spot-on.)

Anyway, it’s hard to say anything definite on the basis of the short teaser, except there’s great potential for learning to work together. I saw comments elsewhere to the effect of this series looking like a bargain-basement version of Shannara, or a copy of the new Wheel of Time series. The full teaser looks a lot better, however.

Still, not knowing two of the three listed writers (John Bickerstaff and Hannah Friedman; Jonathan Kasdan I only know from Solo and an episode of Freaks and Geeks) I just don’t know if this is worth investing my time in, 80s nostalgia or not.

Willow the series is scheduled to premiere on November 30, 2022.

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The Curious Case of the Maldraxxian Innkeeper with Potential Finnish Ties

I must’ve been quite absorbed in something—like grinding my last toons through Shadowlands, I think—to not notice until now(!) that at the Seat of the Primus in Maldraxxus there’s an innkeeper called Tapani Nightwish.

WoW Shadowlands Maldraxxus Seat of the Primus Innkeeper Tapani Nightwish Sm

It immediately caught my eye because of two things: Tapani is a Finnish male name, and Nightwish is a world-famous Finnish symphonic metal band.

Not being a fan, per se, despite having osmotically absorbed some of their music over the years, I had to immediately look up the band members. It isn’t a case of direct homage, but likely refers to an ex-bassist of theirs, Marko Tapani Hietala.

Woot! LOL! 😀

Image: screencap from World of Warcraft

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

First Trailer Is out for Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

The gloomily hilarious Knives Out is getting a sequel. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is also both written and directed by Rian Johnson, and the first trailer is now out:

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery | Official Teaser Trailer | Netflix on YouTube

The cast seems great, but otherwise it’s a little difficult to say what exactly to expect, except it feels like a cross between an escape room and the Agatha Christie novel And Then There Were None. Although, for my mysteries, I could completely do without the gratuitous gunplay, thank you very much; I’ll go to action movies for that.

At this writing, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is expected on December 23, 2022.

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.

A Paladin of the Blue Dragonflight

With Dragonflight on the horizon, I’ve been messing around with some dragon-themed transmogs. Hopefully the next expansion will give us some great new dragony appearances, but in the meantime, here’s my set for a paladin of the blue dragonflight.

The shield even breathes fire! Here’s the Wowhead dressing room link if you want to look up any of the pieces.

Image: World of Warcraft screencap

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

Ancient Pants for a Rider Reconstructed

The precise construction of ancient textiles is often a matter of educated guesswork, since fibers—if they survive in the first place—tend to rot in most soil types. Now we have a little more to go on: in March 2022, a study was published on the technical details of fabric and finishing techniques of eight wool garments, including a spectacular pair of pants, belonging to a rider buried ca. 1200-1000 BCE.

One of the oldest preserved pairs of trousers in the world, the garment was found at Yanghai, Turfan (also known as Turpan), in the Xinjiang area in Northwest China. It’s an area with a long history and multiple tombs, as befits a stop on the Silk Road.

The breeches were made from three pieces: one for each leg and one for the crotch to combine the two sides.

HS Archaeological Research in Asia Wagner et al Turfan Rider Pants1

All three pieces included some woven patterning. Besides striping, the leg pieces also had a decorative band in a T-hook pattern (a kind of geometric design) around the knees.

HS Archaeological Research in Asia Wagner et al Turfan Rider Pants2

Interestingly, it seems that the pant pieces were woven on a loom into the final size and shape; no cutting from a longer length of cloth was involved. A combination of multiple techniques was also discovered: regular twill weave on the majority of the work, the weave on the knees, and a third method on the upper areas to create a thick waistband.

All this means a high skill level was needed in gauging not just the size of the future wearer, but also the amount of yarn required, plus naturally the various weaving techniques.

In the course of studying these clothes, reproductions were made. The outfit consists of the trousers, a poncho with belt, two pairs of braided bands (one below the knees and another at the ankles), and a wool headband.

HS Archaeological Research in Asia Wagner et al Turfan Rider Pants3

I’ve recently done some reading on recreating prehistorical clothing from scratch, and let me tell you, all of the shearing, washing, sorting, carding, spinning, dyeing, and—only at the very end—weaving plus sewing was no mean feat. The gorgeous (pre)historic garments we have managed to find must have taken a simply enormous amount of work to create. Even with a little weaving and band making plus a lot of sewing under my belt (pun intended—sorry, not sorry) I have a hard time imagining the magnitude of effort required in textile production before modern machinery.

Found and images via Helsingin Sanomat. (NB. Finnish only.) In English, you can read more at Science News.

How It Happens is an occasional feature looking at the inner workings of various creative efforts.

Trailer for Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

I had completely missed the news that there was a big budget D&D movie in the making! On the basis of this trailer, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves looks kinda bad, but fun kind of bad. Take a look yourself:

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves – Official Trailer | Comic Con 2022 by IGN on YouTube

I’ve been playing so much World of Warcraft in recent years that I’m woefully out of date with D&D, but I think I spotted familiar things in the trailer. Also handsome, at least on a quick view; they sure churn out decent special effects these days.

At this writing, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is expected to release in theaters on March 03, 2023.

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Thoughts on Rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer

We recently rewatched the series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s been a fair few years since we last saw it, which is long enough to forget a lot of details, so there was pleasure in rediscovering some of what made the show so good. A few random thoughts inspired by our rewatch.

To begin with, we can’t avoid the fact that Joss Whedon has now been exposed as an entitled sex pest who created a hostile and unsafe working environment on his shows. This knowledge casts a pall over our enjoyment of the show and gives an ugly tint to some of the character interactions. Xander’s puerile lusting after Buffy or Buffy’s teen crush on a two-century-old vampire are harder to stomach knowing what Whedon was up to behind the scenes. It’s not impossible to enjoy the show now, but we have more than the usual amount of disbelief to suspend.

There are other things that require a little indulgence as well. The series is twenty years old, and it shows. The special effects don’t hold up particularly well, the stunts are a bit obvious, and the pop culture references have not all aged gracefully. Still, that’s par for the course when going back to something older, and we can’t hold it against the show.

Other things date the series, too. It is a clear product of third-wave feminism, with its insistence that girly girls can be strong and don’t need boyish boys to protect them, but the series still can’t fathom the idea that girls don’t need to be girly or boys boyish at all. The overwhelming whiteness of the cast is also hard to ignore—it takes seven seasons before we get a person of color as even a side member of the cast. The show was notable at the time for showing a happy, loving queer relationship; it is notable now for crushing that relationship for the sake of drama.

Those things being said, though, Buffy is much better than I remember. The early seasons hold up quite well. The characters are well developed, the dialogue snaps, and the jokes mostly land. The central conceit of taking the challenges and frustrations of young adulthood and turning them into literal demons is just as much fun to watch now as it was then. The idea of a young woman who needs no saving but can kick monster butt all on her own is not as revolutionary now as when the series first aired, but it’s still satisfying to see a woman whose heroism is not the product of overcoming weakness but of embracing strength.

I find it hard to remember how good the first few seasons are because my memory of the show is tainted by the failings of the last few seasons. The show lost something when it turned away from the monster-of-the-week-as-coming-of-age-metaphor formula in season five and went hard into dramatic arc territory with the mystery of Dawn, Glory, and Ben. Season six has its good and bad points: the good point is the musical episode “Once More With Feeling;” the bad points are everything else. The early episodes of season seven recover some of the magic of the early series by focusing on the friendships of the main cast, but those are soon sacrificed to the First Evil arc that drags on for most of the season.

Many fans have their own personal cutoff points where they choose to mentally end the series. The end of season three is a popular one and makes sense; there is great satisfaction in watching the senior class of Sunnydale High School pull together to slay a powerful demon, and the end of high school makes a natural end point for the show. The end of season five is also a popular contender, with Buffy sacrificing herself to save her sister and the world. For myself, I choose the end of season four. The season has its weaknesses, but I enjoy the early episodes that take the monster-of-the-week approach to adjusting to college life. The ending that sees Buffy and the Scoobies tap into the primal power of the slayer brings a nice conclusion to the themes of friendship, courage in the face of life’s horrors, and Buffy’s ambivalence about her calling that animated the early seasons. In fact, I now wish that the geek trio of season six had been the villains of season four instead of Adam and the Initiative. The trio’s overt goofiness was always an odd fit in the bleak season six, and their refusal to grow up could have made for an interesting counterpoint to Buffy and the gang’s rocky but earnest transition into adulthood. Ah well—these are such things as fanfic is made of.

When we were packing up our house for our big transatlantic move last year, I was considering getting rid of our Buffy DVDs. Now I’m glad we didn’t. It was a pleasure to rediscover the joys of the early seasons, despite all the show’s other problems.

Image: Buffy cast photo via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Epic Mashup: Captain R2-D2

We all know interesting mashups of genre characters, but this R2-D2 / Captain America mashup really takes the cake:

Twitter Daniel_Logan R2-D2 Captain America Mashup

When you think about it, R2-D2 is very like the Cap: starts small (although R2 never gets larger), doesn’t talk all that much, embodies persistence, can often jury-rig vehicles, kicks (space) Nazi butt, and despite modest beginnings turns out to be one of the most competent characters in the story. I’m all in with this one, LOL!

Image via Daniel_Logan on Twitter.

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