When it comes to major movie franchises there’s one undisputed heavyweight champion not just of the world but of the whole universe.
That’s surely why Disney were happy to buy Lucasfilm, and the Star Wars name, from George Lucas for a reported $4.05 billion in 2012. With an outlay like that you need to be pretty confident that the films that result are not going to just beat box office records but smash them out of the park.
Now, some 40 years on from when we first met Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader it’s a very different picture especially when you consider that George Lucas was so sure that Star Wars would be dismissed as a throwaway kids’ film that he made one of the most foolish bets of all time with Steven Spielberg that Close Encounters of the Third Kind would do better. The rest, as they say, is history with Star Wars making more than double the amount of Spielberg’s tale of visiting aliens.
The cult mythology of Star Wars has also far exceeded anything that anyone could possibly have predicted with literally thousands of websites and forums debating every imaginable point.
But one of the most fevered and hotly disputed topics is ranking the 12 films to date in order of brilliance. For every die-hard fan of Revenge of the Sith there are others who will swear that Attack of the Clones was where the series reached its pinnacle. But some quick searching online does seem to find a surprising level of consensus about people’s top four.
In reverse order, fourth on many people’s list is the JJ Abrams re-boot of the series 2015’s The Force Awakens. While critics and fans alike agreed that it had really captured the spirit and tone of the first ever Star Wars film many also felt it hadn’t moved it on in any meaningful way. But there is a widespread acknowledgement that this is just the first chapter in a new era for the films and one whose newly-introduced characters like Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren will develop in future films.
At number three there’s the original 1977 film, now re-titled A New Hope. It’s where it all began and was quite unlike any other space film ever seen before. Its combination of action, drama and even comedy meant it worked on many levels and was the perfect scene setter for what was to follow.
Next up is the third in the initial trilogy, The Return of the Jedi from 1983. In the course of the first three films Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker had matured as a character and is a genuine hero as he recues Han. It also concludes with the incredible battle of Endor which is still considered to be one of the most stunning special effects achievements ever in film.
But the one film that most consider to be the crowning glory is the first sequel, The Empire Strikes Back. Characters have been established in the first film and grow. For example Leia matures into being a military commander and her romance with Han flourishes. There’s also the spine-tingling light sabre duel between Luke and Darth Vader – and for all this it’s still the lowest grossing film in the series having made a “mere” $538 million.
So there we are – until December’s release of The Last Jedi that’s the top four to date. Whether film 13 in the sequence will be lucky enough to trump them all, only time will tell.