Disney has overseen five Star Wars movies to date. After the box office flop of Solo, though, Lucasfilm has instead prioritized making TV shows over the next few years, where it's drawn considerable acclaim for The Mandalorian and The Clone Wars. The next Star Wars movie to release on the big screen will be Patty Jenkins' Rogue Squadron in late 2023, which promises to be very different to the nine saga movies.
While Star Wars hasn't reached its full potential under Disney yet, there's plenty to like in these five movies. They're a contentious bunch, yes – you'll find people who love and hate all of the movies below, such is the case with many pieces of Star Wars media – but each of the films it released across 2015-2019 are wildly different from each other. There's a push-and-pull between more experimental and traditional takes across these movies that's resulted in some fascinating, flawed end products.
Below, we've ranked the five movies according to our preference, just to celebrate May the 4th – also known as Star Wars Day.
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5. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
What happens in it? The dead speak! Emperor Palpatine is back, delivering grim broadcasts across the galaxy, as the remaining forces led by Leia and Rey prepare for a final showdown with the First Order – or Final Order, as they're eventually known in this film.
What we think: The Rise of Skywalker attempts to close the Star Wars saga with a storyline that taps into each of the three trilogies – it does this by reviving Emperor Palpatine as its villain, a contrived move that made the film feel too safe.
The Rise of Skywalker did make the smart move to bring three leads Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) together on-screen again, but the movie's plot amounts to a messy MacGuffin chase across the galaxy. The final battle lacks a bit of drama – and the movie struggles to give every character their moment, as it works a little too hard to try and crowbar in fan service-y moments. The Wedge Antilles cameo in this film is super embarrassing, too.
If The Last Jedi tried boldly to play with Star Wars' conventions of heroes and tragic villains, the light and the dark side, The Rise of Skywalker takes it all back in a way that ends up feeling oddly sour. It has its fans – our reviewer enjoyed the way it subverts elements of Star Wars – but this felt like a flat end to the sequel trilogy.
4. Solo: A Star Wars Story
What happens in it? Young Han Solo joins the Empire to escape his deadbeat life on Corellia, and years later, gets caught up with a group of smugglers in serious debt.
What we think: Solo's big crime against Star Wars lore is that it tells us Han Solo got his surname because he was by himself when he applied to join the Imperial navy. Brush that aside, though – as well as any expectations this is going to be a galaxy-sized movie in its scope – and Solo is a fun film, despite being the box office bomb that curtailed some of Lucasfilm's plans for Star Wars on the big screen.
As a Han Solo origin movie, you have to swallow the impossible pill that someone other than Harrison Ford can play the character – which is tough for actor Alden Ehrenreich, who gives it a solid shot. It's a lot easier for Donald Glover's Lando Calrissian, however, whose charming performance ranks as one of the movie's true highlights.
Solo definitely has its moments, like the brain-spinning cosmic strangeness of the Kessel Run sequence, and an engaging dynamic between Han and his criminal mentor, Tobias Beckett. Weirdly, it feels like a pilot episode for a TV show that doesn't exist. Hopefully the upcoming Lando series will continue some of the same story threads, as there's plenty to like here, even if it's not a classic.
3. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
What happens in it? A group of Rebels mount a daring attempt to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Galactic Empire's new planet-killing weapon.
What we think: Rogue One is an absolute crowdpleaser of a prequel film – helped by its deep ties to A New Hope, which allows it to use plenty of the imagery we associate with that classic movie. Shots of the Death Star, Yavin and a frantic final battle make it feel very Star Wars, and paper over the cracks of some of the wonky characterization and plotting that occasionally drag it down.
And what a final battle: the sequel trilogy failed to give fans a great spaceship combat sequence, but here director Gareth Edwards course-corrected in a big way, as the Rebels tried to hold off the Empire enough to secure the Death Star plans. Meanwhile, Jyn Erso, Cassian Andor and pals pay the ultimate price to help kneecap the Empire in the long run, giving the finale some real emotional weight.
Rogue One's first half is uneven, but it seriously picks up later on, and Alan Tudyk's smart-talking K-2SO is probably the best character in the movie. Ben Mendelsohn's Orson Krennic, too, who spends the whole movie about to be usurped by Grand Moff Tarkin, makes a top villain.
2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Is The Last Jedi the most divisive movie ever made? Almost four years after release, it sure feels like it. Rian Johnson's follow-up to The Force Awakens has higher peaks than its predecessor, particularly in the way it digs in to the growing relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren, and the post-Return of the Jedi story of Luke Skywalker, but it also features a few key weaknesses of its own.
The movie struggles to make Rose Tico and Finn's story on Canto Bight matter as much as the plot's other threads – despite their actors' best effort – even if this doesn't take away from how fresh the movie feels generally. Johnson cleverly interrogates Star Wars' ideas of good and bad, and encourages its audience to re-examine the legacy of the Jedi (and the Skywalkers). This is probably why it's so hard for some fans to accept it – but this new, contemporary approach is something that Star Wars sorely needed.
The movie's a tougher watch than some of the others on this list, simply because it's a Star Wars film where it rarely feels like good is triumphing over evil at all. The First Order spends most of this movie picking off the Resistance in a long chase across the galaxy. But it's a smart, memorable and beautiful-looking film – a shot in the arm for Star Wars that wasn't just content to repeat what had come before it, as The Force Awakens did.
1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
What happens in it? Amid the rise of a new danger in the galaxy, desert-bound smuggler Rey and escaped stormtrooper Finn join Han Solo and Chewbacca to help find a way to stop it.
What we think? Okay, this is a safe choice for number one – The Force Awakens definitely recycles beats from A New Hope in a way that makes it almost feel like a cover version from director JJ Abrams. But in the post-prequel world of 2015, where Star Wars had been dormant on the big screen, it's hard to overstate just how much we needed this.
The Force Awakens resets everything – we're in a peaceful galaxy that's suddenly upset by an emerging dark power in the First Order, while the Resistance, led by Leia Organa, struggles to convince everyone else that it's actually real until it's too late. It's a big, satisfying blockbuster that's awash with great Star Wars imagery.
Sure, a lot of the plot beats here are retreads – but The Force Awakens did do something miraculous. It introduced a host of new characters to the series and actually made us care about them, which, as we learned with the prequel movies, isn't that easy to do. We also got one final, delightful turn from Harrison Ford as Han Solo.
While the conversation around Star Wars got more complicated – and, honestly, nastier with the next two films – this one was easy to enjoy, and reminded viewers of why they liked this fictional universe so much in the first place.
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Samuel is a PR Manager at game developer Frontier. Formerly TechRadar's Senior Entertainment Editor, he's an expert in Marvel, Star Wars, Netflix shows and general streaming stuff. Before his stint at TechRadar, he spent six years at PC Gamer. Samuel is also the co-host of the popular Back Page podcast, in which he details the trials and tribulations of being a games magazine editor – and attempts to justify his impulsive eBay games buying binges.