A long time ago (albeit in our own galaxy), the Star Wars franchise was limited to a modest original trilogy. For better or for worse, George Lucas added to that with his controversial prequel trilogy almost two decades ago.
Now that Disney owns Star Wars, though, all bets are off. We’ve got a new Star Wars sequel trilogy going, with multiple other trilogies and spinoffs planned. We seem destined for a nonstop array of Star Wars standalone movies, TV shows, and the usual array of comics, books, and games.
One effect that all of this Star Wars has had on fans is that it has intensified debate over which shows and movies are the best. This is serious business to some fans; whether or not you like Empire or A New Hope best can cost you friendships. To certain segments of the fandom, opinions on how good The Last Jedi is are really more controversial than anything your family is likely to bring up over the holidays.
We didn’t let that stop us, though. We’ve compiled the definitive ranked list of Star Wars movies and television shows thus far.
To see where your favorites landed, keep scrolling to see Every Star Wars Movie And TV Show, Ranked From Worst To Best!
20 The Holiday Special
You knew this thing was going to be at the bottom of the list as soon as you clicked on the article! The Star Wars Holiday Special is arguably the worst Star Wars media of all time. Even George Lucas agrees: this special has the weird distinction of never being released on VHS, DVD, or Blu-Ray. In fact, it was only broadcast one time on television, so the only way to watch it now is to watch digitized versions that fans made after taping it back in the late 1970s.
The plot loosely involves Han Solo and friends trying to get Chewbacca back to his home planet of Kashyyyk in time for Life Day, which is basically the Wookiee equivalent of Christmas. This is all just a framing device, though, to tell a series of interconnected skits. Sometimes, you get a Wookiee watching a dance in virtual reality; other times, you get Bea Arthur singing.
In-between, you get countless scenes of dialogue between Chewbacca’s extended family. Oh, did we mention that none of these long Wookiee scenes have subtitles for their dialogue?
Pretty much the only good thing about this special was the weird cartoon in the middle that introduced us to Boba Fett!
19 Ewoks: The Battle for Endor
Nowadays, fans almost universally accept that the Ewoks were a dumb addition to the Star Wars universe. They were a cheap attempt at marketing to kids (a demographic that already loved Star Wars), and the original idea for Return of the Jedi was to feature Wookiees instead - something we would eventually see in Revenge of the Sith. However, George Lucas gambled pretty hard for the Ewoks, going so far as to produce two made for TV movies as well as a cartoon featuring the little critters!
Ewoks: The Battle for Endor is the second movie focusing on the Ewoks. It focuses on a little girl who is being raised by the Ewoks and helping them protect their forest moon of Endor from invading marauders.
Overall, the entire thing comes across as Star Wars lite.
Instead of featuring music from John Williams, we get a more basic score from Peter Bernstein. Instead of the practical effects that helped the original trilogy age so well, we get a whole lot of stop-motion animation that has aged very poorly. And, of course, there aren’t many other characters for the Ewoks to play off of, so only watch this one if you really love these little guys!
18 Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure
Well, it’s only fitting that these two stick close together here near the bottom of the ranking. Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure is the first direct-to-TV movie featuring the Ewoks. It’s another very kid-friendly film, focusing on a brother and sister who must work with the Ewoks to try to save their parents from a monstrous creature known only as the Gorax. Shocking no one, the siblings are able to successfully navigate a painful movie full of stop-motion animation and eventually reunite with the parents.
At the end of the day, this isn’t the absolute worst Star Wars media you could watch (that will always be the Holiday Special). However, it fails to meet pretty much any of the high standards set by Star Wars. We’re not just talking about effects, here: the story itself is pretty bad. Or, as The New York Times put it way back when, the plot is “aggressively simple” and nothing in it is “terribly astonishing.”
If you were a kid in the '80s looking for something to watch on TV, this would definitely help to pass the time, but it doesn’t really deserve to have the Star Wars name on it at all.
Whenever you have a ranked list of pretty much anything, some people will end up salty about the rankings. This is understandable: there are few objective measures of quality, and one person’s least favorite thing will be another person’s absolute favorite. However, there is one thing we’re pretty certain of: Ewoks don’t make for good entertainment.
While it ends up being the best of the bunch, this Ewoks cartoon show is barely better than the live-action Ewok movies.
This show helps to illustrate why Star Wars and prequels are often a bad mix! In case it wasn’t obvious, the live-action Ewok movies were meant to be prequels to Return of the Jedi. This Ewoks cartoon came later and was meant to be a prequel to those made-for-TV films.
Here, we can see an early example of that George Lucas logic that fans would come to hate: the need to provide extensive backstory for characters and events that no one cared much about to begin with. The cartoon itself is passable, though the second season is much worse than the first. Unless you want to dive into lore about Ewok tribes, you're safe to go ahead and skip this particular cartoon.
It’s only fitting that the Droids TV show is nestled so closely with the Ewoks cartoon. They were originally broadcast separately and then packaged together as part of The Ewoks and Droids Adventure Hour. If you’re directly comparing the two cartoons, then Droids is the clear winner: it at least has the charm of Anthony Daniels voicing C-3PO, and its loose premise - showing what has happened to our favorite two droids over the last couple of decades - is more entertaining than learning endless facts about Ewok culture.
However, let’s be real: saying that Droids is better than Ewoks is truly damning it with faint praise. The series deserves some props for being an early attempt to expand the Star Wars universe, and there is even some interesting fan service as the droids clash with cool characters like Boba Fett and IG-88. But at the end of the day, the actual characters are not that interesting. C-3PO and R2D2 are the comic sidekicks of the franchise, and they can enhance plenty of scenes that they are in.
An entire sidekick show is not really a good idea in the first place, and Droids is basically Exhibit A for that particular argument.
15 The Phantom Menace
It feels like there is not much to be said about The Phantom Menace that hasn’t already been said. Expectations were high for this film: not counting things like TV specials and special editions, this was going to be our first new Star Wars movie in sixteen years. Needless to say, it did not live up to the hyp. Fans were expecting a serious expansion of the Star Wars mythology and they got things like CGI monstrosity Jar-Jar Binks stepping in animal poop and getting farted on.
The new generation of Star Wars movies got off on the worst possible foot!
However, the years have been kind to The Phantom Menace (kinder, arguably, than the movie deserves). Extended Star Wars media like comics, novels, and TV shows helped to expand upon the cool parts of the movie (such as Darth Maul), while a generation of memes and irony helped people laugh at the bad parts.
When the smoke cleared, you get a mixed movie: this is definitely the worst Star Wars movie that is part of a major trilogy. But, like Anakin himself, it has a lot of good mixed in with the bad, so long as you know where to look!
14 The Clone Wars
Obviously, this list is a mixture of both movies and TV shows. There are a few things on here that straddle both worlds, and this is one of them. The Clone Wars movie (not to be confused with the two-dimensional cartoons) served as an introduction to the Clone Wars TV show, introducing us to new characters like Ahsoka Tano. In that way, it feels like an extended pilot episode, but Lucas treated this as if it was a proper movie: it had a brief theatrical run and everything!
This movie is ultimately a mixed bag. There are many good things going for it, including top-notch animation and voicework. The interplay between characters is also very good, as we see the relationship between Anakin and Obi-Wan grow beyond the snipping at each other from the movies. However, there are a few strikes against this movie: Ahsoka comes across as very annoying at first glance, and the movie uses Hutts as a weird source of humor. This ranges from a gassy infant of Jabba’s to a Hutt that sounds like he’s doing his best Truman Capote impression.
Throw in some action that is a mixture of “really cool” and “feels like we’ve done this before,” and you can see why the movie has poor reviews!
13 Attack of the Clones
Attack of the Clones is a relatively divisive movie. While most fans can agree that Phantom Menace was the weakest film of the trilogy, some fans really enjoy what Attack of the Clones added to the mythology. We get to see the growing, doomed romance between Anakin and Padme while we get introduced to compelling new heroes and villains such as Clone Troopers and Count Dooku. There is lots of fan service going on here, including a Jango vs. Jedi battle that gives us the onscreen Boba Fett action we never got before.
However, for every good thing about this movie, it feels like we get something bad. Count Dooku is cool because Christopher Lee is amazing, but as a character, he has basically zero development. Jango Fett is similarly undeveloped: he’s a cool bad guy toy that the film plays with and then disposes of.
While it’s necessary to see Anakin and Padme develop as a couple, their scenes together give us some of the most excruciating Star Wars dialogue ever.
Even the cool sight of a bunch of Jedi fighting at once serves as a reminder that these movies quickly became CGI-driven spectacle instead of plot-driven mythology long ago.
You know that scene in Revenge of the Sith when Padme tells Anakin that he’s breaking her heart? That’s pretty much how many fans felt about Solo: A Star Wars Story before its release. On one hand, it makes a lot of sense to focus a movie on Han Solo: he’s by far the most interesting Star Wars character, and both his morality and his past are ambiguous, giving us a good chance to learn more about him. On the other hand, Han Solo already had a complete character arc. We see him go from smuggler to hero to father, and he is willing to give his life to try to save his son.
Unfortunately, it turns out this wasn’t really a movie worth telling. Instead of surprising us with details about Solo himself, it’s mostly an excuse to give fans more of what they have already had: more Chewie, more Falcon, and more Lando - though Glover’s Lando Calrissian is definitely the best part of the movie. The writing was on the wall, though: Disney fired original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller and hired Ron Howard to fix the movie after much of it was already filmed.
The result is an entertaining romp that is somewhat generic - not a flat-out disaster more satisfying to casual moviegoers than it was to true fans.
11 The Clone Wars, Vol. 1
Many defenders of prequel-era Star Wars media argue that it was designed for younger fans— the children and the grandchildren of the original Star Wars fans. Ironically, though, many of these younger fans have never seen the next item on our list: the original Clone Wars cartoon.
While it was the later 3D cartoon that got most of the attention, the idea of a separate Clone Wars series all started right here.
The series had a high pedigree: it was directed and produced by Genndy Tartakovsky, the animation hot-shot best known for his hit Samurai Jack cartoon.
This first volume of cartoons was split up into three minute short films. This allowed us to focus on characters like Kit Fisto that don’t often get time in the spotlight. This short episode runtime was the double-edged sword of the series: while it allowed them to cover a lot of ground in the Star Wars universe, it also meant there was little room for a deep narrative to build much momentum. Still, this series stands the test of time: it has absolutely beautiful designs and eye-popping action scenes. Show this to your friends who think nothing good ever came of the prequels!
10 The Clone Wars
Now, we’re hitting the top half of the list. That means every one of the following films or shows is in our “top ten,” and it all starts with the three-dimensional Clone Wars cartoon. First, this series gets points for sheer ambition: it represented an attempt to really bridge the gap between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith with new adventures. Along the way, we got a fun mix of new characters and added depth for other characters that were mostly background actors in the films.
When it comes to character development, this series practically has cheat codes on. Many fans criticized the prequels for rushing through the relationships between Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Padme, and barely fleshing out villains like Count Dooku and General Grievous.
The longer form of the six-season show allowed the creative team (led by superfan Dave Filoni) to add depth and texture to this entire period of Star Wars mythology. The show wasn’t afraid to go bold, either, doing things as controversial as diving into Mandalorian culture and even resurrecting fan-favorite villain Darth Maul! This show was so good that Filoni was entrusted with further animated Star Wars endeavors such as Rebels - more that show later.
9 Rogue One
Many fans were skeptical when Disney announced the idea of standalone Star Wars movies. It seemed to be a big risk to release these special anthology films at the same time that they released entries into their new trilogy. While the anthology films aren’t always a great bet, Rogue One is the movie that showed us just how good these things can be. Because of its high quality, we are excited to see what the future of these anthologies will be!
Part of what made Rogue One so successful was the plot: it was all about finding and delivering the Death Star plans to the rebels.
It sounds simplistic, but the movie was focused on answering questions fans have had since the opening crawl of A New Hope.
These questions include “how did Leia get the plans” and “what was the major battle that the Rebels won?” Along the way, Rogue One gave us some truly memorable characters and great action sequences. Director Gareth Edwards wasn’t afraid to use the standalone nature of the film to break our hearts by taking out pretty much all of its major leads. In this sense, everything in A New Hope now has added depth.
8 The Clone Wars, Vol. 2
We've discussed the success of Genndy Tartakovsky’s first Clone Wars cartoon. That was a project that had some great strengths (awesome designs, fun action, and an interesting focus on side characters) but also some weaknesses (like the short running time of episodes and the inability to focus much on a long-term plot). Fortunately, when Tartakovsky came back to produce a second volume of these cartoons, he took the criticisms to heart and made them bigger and better than ever before! A big part of his success started with the runtime of episodes.
The first volume had episodes that were mostly three minutes a piece. In the second volume, most episodes were at (or close to) fifteen minutes, giving the creators a lot of additional room to develop characters and narratives.
It's a volume that lets us have our cake and eat it, too: we get to focus on awesome new adventures with characters like Anakin and Obi-Wan, but the episodes also serve as a direct prequel for Revenge of the Sith, showing us how Palpatine was kidnapped by Grievous. This leads to some Jedi vs. droid battles on Coruscant cooler than anything we would see in a live-action movie.
7 Revenge of the Sith
“Third time’s the charm.” Sure, it’s a bit of a cliché, but in the case of George Lucas, it’s also completely true of his prequel trilogy. The Phantom Menace was plagued by a baffling script and many unlikable characters. Attack of the Clones spiced things up with plenty of action, but it also dropped the ball on showing us the development of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader. By the time we get to Revenge of the Sith, Lucas had belatedly found his groove.
Revenge of the Sith a movie that balances good action with lots of emotion and character development.
For instance, we finally see the consequences of Anakin trying to balance life as a Jedi and life as a secretly married man. Despite the horrific things we see him later do, Anakin comes across as a sympathetic character who is seriously out of his depth despite his fantastic power.
The films gives us great development for Obi-Wan Kenobi as well, showing us the horrors that transformed a vibrant and funny Jedi into a reclusive old man living on Tattooine. Ultimately, the worst thing about re-watching this movie is that you’ll wish the rest of the prequels were this good!
In many ways, Rebels was inevitable. It was created by Dave Filoni, who had previously expanded the era of the prequel trilogy through six seasons of his Clone Wars cartoon. Now, however, the pendulum was swinging the other way: a new Star Wars trilogy was on the horizon that would integrate characters from the original trilogy, and standalone movies like Rogue One were focusing on the original trilogy era. With all the original trilogy love in the air, a series focusing on the early years of the Rebels was something Disney couldn’t resist. To his credit, Filoni managed to pull off the impossible.
First of all, he improved upon his own work: as great as Clone Wars was, Rebels gave us better characters and tighter narratives. Plus, the designs are incredibly tight: their portrayal of classic designs like Vader and his Stormtroopers are top-notch.
Fans of the old Star Wars Extended Universe should love Rebels for its unrelenting desire to make fan-favorite stories and characters canon again, ranging from Darth Revan to Grand Admiral Thrawn! To date, Star Wars Rebels has the honor of being the best Star Wars TV show, though we look forward to seeing what the future holds.
5 The Force Awakens
Your reaction to this movie is almost entirely dependent on what you wanted out of a Star Wars movie. Haters were quick to point out that it felt a lot like A New Hope with a new coat of paint: once again, a Jedi and some rebels must fight a black masked man and the planet-destroying superweapon at his disposal. If you wanted a Star Wars story that felt entirely new and innovative, then Force Awakens is not going to be your cup of tea.
However, if you were after some great performances and character development, then this movie is one of the greats. First, it’s tough not to cheer at the return of awesome characters like Han Solo, just as it’s tough not to cry when we see him ended by his own son. The new characters absolutely shine: Kylo Ren crackles with raging menace while Finn and Rey bubble with infectious enthusiasm and earnest bravery, making them the perfect heroes for a new Skywalker trilogy. And while we don’t get enough of him, Poe Dameron shows us that the Star Wars tradition of the cocky, swaggering pilot will never die.
The movie ultimately accomplished its goal of making Star Wars cool and accessible once again.
4 The Last Jedi
The best and worst part of pretty much any fandom is definitely the fans. That’s the case for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which got seemingly endless grief over it being too much like what had come before. “Why,” fans lamented, “couldn’t they try to do something new?” Well, that’s exactly what happened with The Last Jedi, and the same fans wasted no time asking why the movie didn’t feel more like what they were used to.
As critics and many, many moviegoers proved, though, The Last Jedi was an ambitious and well-executed movie, and the finest Star Wars movie we've seen since the original trilogy!
Not only is the film exciting, but it shows a level of visual sophistication unmatched in any other Star Wars media.
Let’s get the bad out of the way first: the casino planet scenes are weak, and the decision to turn Leia into comatose space Mary Poppins was just weird. But the movie is otherwise fearlessly inventive: instead of training Rey to be a Jedi, Luke Skywalker questions the Jedi way. Instead of being Team Snoke all the way, Kylo Ren takes ou his master as soon as he has a chance. And instead of immediately bouncing back, we see the Resistance very nearly exterminated. As bleak as it was, the creative decisions behind his movie made us feel like anything could happen.
3 Return of the Jedi
Return of the Jedi is a great movie, but it’s generally regarded as the worst of the original trilogy. To some degree, this isn’t fair: Empire Strikes Back put a lot of plot points up in the air, and Return of the Jedi had to resolve all of those plots while simultaneously wrapping up the most anticipated cinematic story in history. While there were some stumbles along the way - such as the much-bemoaned inclusion of the Ewoks - this movie starts strong and ends even stronger.
First of all, Emperor Palpatine was everything fans were hoping for and more. He was seductive and manipulative, showing us the kind of man who was able to lure Vader to the Dark Side. At the same time, he’s filled with raw power, able to defeat Luke without even using a lightsaber. The action is absolutely sweet: Luke’s rescue of Han hearkens back to the very best serial movie tradition, while the attack on the Death Star - which was admittedly a derivative plot - set the standard for space battles onscreen. Finally, the movie shows us Darth Vader’s redemption, completing a character arc that united Episodes 1-6.
The ending is powerful and fulfilling, and we really couldn't ask for more.
2 A New Hope
This the one that started it all! Way back in 1977, George Lucas changed the cinematic world forever with the release of Star Wars. That’s all it was called when it first came out; things like “Episode IV: A New Hope” would come later, an early hint as to the need Lucas had to keep changing things.
This film was a beautiful synthesis of the Flash Gordon serial movies Lucas grew up with as well as archetypal myths like King Arthur. You’ll notice Star Wars is about a young boy with a destiny getting a magic sword from a wizard so he can storm a castle and rescue a damsel from a black knight.
Whatever you want out of Star Wars, this movie has it: vibrant characters, imaginative practical effects, and the introduction into a larger and sweeping mythology.
This wasn’t just a movie that defined a generation: rather, multiple generations have now been shaped by the sights and sounds of that galaxy far, far away. While newer movies try to redefine what Star Wars is (and fans try to answer that same question), this film will remain the standard. However, it’s not the best. As Yoda might say, “there is... another!”
1 Empire Strikes Back
It’s probably not a huge surprise to find Empire Strikes Back at the top of the list. Even non-Star Wars fans understand that this is the exception that proves the rule of sequels never being as good as the first film. This movie took all of our favorite characters and concepts and went to the next level. Luke grows as a Jedi in training while learning all about the mysteries of the Force. Han and Leia grow closer together even as they stay one step ahead of the Empire!
Part of what helped this movie age so well is that it was the Star Wars movie most definitively aimed at adults. This wasn’t because it was filled with gore or profanity; instead, it was a movie about human relationships that just happened to be set in the Star Wars universe. Han and Leia may be fantasy characters, but their messy romance feels way too real. Yoda may be a silly puppet, but his wisdom affects Luke so much that you’ll believe he really is nine hundred years old. While Luke and Vader wield vast cosmic power, their daddy issues family dynamic is one everyone can understand
. In a world of fantastic aliens and mystical powers, Empire Strikes Back isn’t just the best Star Wars movie: it’s the most human of them all.
What's your favorite Star Wars story? Let us know in the comments!