Total Recall

All Star Wars Movies Ranked By Tomatometer

We take a look back at the franchise's feature films to see how they stack up against each other.

by | December 6, 2017 | Comments

The Star Wars saga has inspired one of the most ardent fanbases in cinematic history, and with both a new trilogy underway and a number of standalone films to flesh out the canon, it’s only getting bigger every year. With that in mind, we thought it would be interesting to see where every film ranked against the others, so without further ado, it’s time for Total Recall, Star Wars style!


8. Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999) 55%

He’s become a popularly maligned figure in fanboy circles, but give George Lucas this much: he didn’t let the weight of expectations keep him from revisiting the Star Wars trilogy, even after more than a decade of pent-up demand for a return visit to a galaxy far, far away. That being said, there’s no denying that Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace came as a crushing disappointment to many of the filmgoers who so eagerly awaited it — partly because nothing could have lived up to the original movies, particularly after so many years away, but mainly because it simply wasn’t all that compelling on its own merits. Telling Anakin Skywalker’s story wasn’t an inherently bad idea, but a slow-moving plot, inconsistent acting, and heaps of CGI left critics and audiences wondering whether Lucas should have left well enough alone. “Mr. Lucas is not without a certain technocratic sagacity,” shrugged the New York Observer’s Andrew Sarris, “but I don’t think he’s communicating even with the young as astutely as he once did.”

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7. Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002) 66%

(Photo by Lucasfilm Ltd.)

The second chapter in the first trilogy set the standard for first follow-ups among a generation of Star Wars fans, so it was probably only natural that Episode II — Attack of the Clones would fall short in certain respects. Yet while there probably aren’t many viewers who’d put Clones anywhere near the same level as Empire, it isn’t without its charms; this installment marks the spot where the prequel trilogy’s narrative arc really starts to gather speed, and if the romance between Hayden Christensen’s Anakin and Natalie Portman’s Padmé Amidala is the least compelling element of a saga that’s ostensibly some sort of love story, it compensates with some cool set pieces and the poignant undertone that comes from knowing most of your main characters are about to meet a violent end. “The scale of the enterprise is thrilling,” wrote Slate’s David Edelstein. “It’s too bad the movie is so muddled on so many different levels.”

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6. Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005) 79%

(Photo by 20th Century Fox Film Corp.)

Simply by virtue of the fact that the prequel trilogy’s third chapter finds Anakin turning to the dark side and embracing his destiny as Darth Vader — a transition Star Wars fans had been waiting to witness for decades — 2005’s Revenge of the Sith faced less of an uphill climb with audiences than either of its predecessors. And while the end result was still larded with the same spotty performances and distracting CGI as the previous two chapters, Sith still had a feeling of urgency and heft they’d largely lacked. It all added up to a closing chapter that filled in some crucial components of the saga for Star Wars fans — and is largely remembered fondly despite Vader’s infamous cry of anguish in the final act. “Revenge of the Sith,” wrote the Washington Post’s Stephen Hunter, “is a brilliant consummation to a promise made a long time ago, far, far away, in a galaxy called 1977.”

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5. Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983) 80%

(Photo by 20th Century Fox Film Corp.)

George Lucas dropped one of the all-time greatest cliffhangers with The Empire Strikes Back, made fans wait three whole years to find out how it all ended — and then gave them Ewoks for their trouble. That’s the revisionist take on 1983’s Return of the Jedi, but cuddly merchandising bonanzas aside, this isn’t quite the redheaded Star Wars stepchild it’s been made out to be over the last couple of decades. While it definitely has its flaws (Boba Fett’s undignified death among them), it also boasts old-fashioned epic sweep, plenty of thrilling action, and a couple of nifty twists on its way to the Empire-busting conclusion three massive blockbusters in the making. “At the end of it all, after the three movies, we’ve taken an epic fantasy journey,” wrote Roger Ebert. “Lucas has in common with all great storytellers the ability to create a complete world.”

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4. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) 85%

(Photo by Jonathan Olley/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Lucasfilm Ltd.)

After reestablishing forward momentum with The Force Awakens, Lucasfilm dipped back into the Star Wars saga’s illustrious past for its next release. The first “anthology” film in the franchise, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story looks at the events leading up to the Rebels’ theft of the Death Star’s plans, introducing fans to new characters (like the cynical, fiercely independent Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones) and offering fresh — albeit occasionally somewhat off-putting — glimpses of familiar faces. In retrospect, it was a pretty daring experiment, and might have slowed the Star Wars revival’s momentum if director Gareth Edwards failed to pull it off; happily for all concerned, it delivered yet another massive blockbuster for the franchise, as well as a hit with critics like NPR’s Chris Klimek, who called it “a tense, well-made spacefaring war movie about a desperate and demoralized band of insurgents standing up against a rising authoritarian regime.”

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3. Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) 93%

Volumes have been written about the multitude of ways in which Star Wars exerted a paradigm-shifting impact on the film industry — from merchandising rights to sequels, special effects, and beyond, its massive success altered Hollywood’s approach to blockbuster entertainment, and we’re still feeling its effects today. We obviously don’t have the space to get into all that here; suffice it to say that for generations of filmgoers, the first Star Wars acted as a lethally effective gateway drug to the pleasures of the cinema, and established the narrative guidelines for a rich mythology whose boundaries and confines are still being explored nearly 40 years later. “Star Wars is not a film to be written about, it’s an experience,” argued the Boston Globe’s Bruce McCabe. “It’s that rare experience for both adults and kids that shortchanges neither. Go — and enjoy.”

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2. Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (2015) 93%

(Photo by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Lucasfilm Ltd.)

George Lucas’ prequel trilogy ostensibly wrapped up the Star Wars saga — and even if there was any indication he wanted to add further installments, the feeling of disappointment they left in their wake damped much of the demand. All of which is to say that when Disney bought Lucasfilm and announced their intention to revive the franchise, fans had every reason to be cynical — perhaps even more so when it was announced that J.J. Abrams, who’d recently rebooted the Star Trek franchise, was attached to direct — and it’s all the more impressive that the end results proved such a critical and commercial success. With 2015’s The Force Awakens, Abrams sent the series back to its roots, taking viewers to a distant desert planet where an orphan is thrown into the looming galactic conflict between authoritarian forces and the rag-tag band of rebels who oppose them. If the story was familiar to a fault, the return of much of the original cast (not to mention practical sets and effects) made its strong echoes of the past easy to forgive; as David Edelstein wrote for New York Magazine, “I bet you’ll have fun — I did, mostly. But it’s the fun of seeing something fairly successfully redone, with the promise of more of the same to come.”

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1. Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980) 94%

(Photo by Lucasfilm Ltd.)

The Star Wars franchise seems virtually unstoppable today, but after the first installment conquered the box office, it was still just one big hit — and a series that could have been stopped in its tracks if its first sequel failed to meet expectations. Needless to say, the stakes were crushingly high for The Empire Strikes Back, and by all accounts, it was a difficult production, but all that effort paid off with a second chapter that’s widely regarded as one of the best sequels ever made. To his credit, Lucas didn’t let Star Wars‘ incredible success keep him from taking risks; after ending the first film on a triumphant note, he took Empire in boldly dark directions, subjecting his beloved characters to an array of depredations that included torture, imprisonment, dismemberment, and one stunning cliffhanger. “It balances bloodshed with charm, spectacle with childlike glee,” wrote Gene Siskel for the Chicago Tribune. “It’s a near flawless movie of its kind.”

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