So 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' just recently came out, and audience reaction has been pretty divided. There are those who are saying that it's the best Star Wars movie since 'Empire Strikes Back,' and those who are creating online petitions for Disney/Lucasfilm to call a mulligan and REMAKE IT, BUT DO IT RIGHT THIS TIME. If you ask me, it's pretty ridiculous for an audience to think they have any right to demand that storytellers tell a story the way that they think it should go. I've yet to see it, so I can't way in on the 'best ever or the worst ever' thing. I've just been trying my best to avoid spoilers, which is hard because I apparently spend 25 hours a day on the internet, and that's the place spoilers call home.
What I can do is ask a simple question: Who ever said that 'Empire' was the best one in the first place? And yeah, before you say "Like, Everybody? Duh?" it's a rhetorical question. What I mean to say it that 'Best' is a OBJECTIVE term. It's a universal truth, rather than a preference. 'Favorite' is always a better way to describe a movie, because 'Favorite' is a SUBJECTIVE term. Odds are good that that somebody out there really really hates your favorite movie. Therefore your favorite movie cannot be the 'best movie ever' because best is a universal truth.
Think of it like you would your favorite ice cream flavor. Is Mint Chip the best ice cream? As far a universal truths go, that one is pretty debatable. Is it one of my favorites? Yup. And I try to apply the same logic to movies.
And before you try to tell me that 'Empire' is the best from a critical standpoint, or from as storytelling standpoint, let's take a quick look at one of the first scenes in the movie. It's the first scene where two of the characters we'll be spending way to much time with (AKA Han and Leia) interact. And I find this scene really painful to watch EVERY SINGLE TIME. So Han comes back from a scout trip and informs his superior officer that he's leaving the resistance to go pay off his debt to Jabba the Hutt. Hey, good use of foreshadowing right? Right.
The problem is that Leia clearly shown within earshot and is presumably eavesdropping. So anyway, Han goes over to say goodbye to Leia, and she gives him the royal brush-off. So he leaves in a huff, and the next thing you know she's chasing after him, acting shocked that he's leaving even though she clearly overheard that he was leaving, heard him give his reasons for leaving, and he basically said 'Bye Leia, I'm leaving now. Here's lookin' at you, kid.' The way this scene is written and edited together, in my opinion, makes Leia look really really dumb. And we know Leia's not dumb. So, tell me again how 'Empire' is the best from a storytelling standpoint?
A lot of Star Wars fans like 'Empire' best, and that's their prerogative. There is this mindset though, that if you don't think 'Empire' is the best, you're somehow a not a real fan. Except, going back to my ice cream analogy, there's no such thing as a best movie. So, is 'Empire' really your favorite, or do you just like it because somebody else said it's the best one? Because if it's only your favorite because a lot of people say it's the best, well, quite frankly that makes you a sheep.
Here's a list of the Star Wars series in the order of my favorites.
#1: Return of the Jedi: I love a good ending to a story. 'Jedi' isn't a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination but that doesn't stop it from being my favorite. In any good trilogy the final installment SHOULD be the most satisfying, because we've traveled with the heroes on their journey and have watched them grow into the characters that they're supposed to be. Lately a lot of third installments have felt like disappointing cash grabs, like Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, but in the Original Star Wars trilogy and in Indiana Jones, this rule holds true for me. My favorite part of 'Return of the Jedi' is the way our attention is divided between the Luke's fight with Darth Vader and the Emperor, Lando Calrissian's space battle, and Han and Leia's struggle on the Moon of Endor. We cut back and forth between these three battles, and I'm equally invested in all of them. It's pretty intense. And the themes of redemption and the culmination of Darth Vader's relationship with Luke is so satisfying. 'Return of the Jedi' gets top spot from me.
#2: A New Hope: Hey, it's iconic. The movie that stated it all. It's hard to think Star Wars without thinking of Jawas, Obi Wan mentoring a young and naive Luke, twin sunsets, Leia's cinnamon roll hairstyle...the list goes on. A well earned #2 spot, and if I wasn't more interested in the ending of story arcs then the beginnings, it would be an easy #1.
#3: The Force Awakens: Yeah, this is hard. As something of an original trilogy purist, I was rather disturbed when I realized I liked this movie more than 'Empire.' I have major problems with 'Awakens,' such as 'Starkiller Base' aka, 'we're too lazy to come up with an original plot device!' but I have more fun WATCHING this movie than I do 'Empire'. And as this is a favorites list, not a best list, how mush fun I have watching a movie is pretty important.
#4: The Empire Strikes Back: Um, I enjoy all the parts that have Luke in them? Here's the deal: Some of the SCENES in 'Empire' are my favorite SCENES in a Star Wars movie. The fight with the Wampa, the battle with the AT-ATs, the stuff with Yoda...and then there are all the parts that have Han and Leia in them. At least all the parts before Cloud City. I really cringe at most of the romantic stuff in this picture. And we spend so much time with Han and Leia, that Luke's scenes kind of make him feel like he's a minor character in his own story.
#5: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: This is the best Star Wars movie we didn't need. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed this movie. But when it was announced it felt like Disney was just making more Star Wars to make more Star Wars. Your getting a new Star Wars movie shoved down your throat every year for the next six years whether you want one or not. Oh, and we just canceled Tron 3. That movie you actually wanted to see. Because we're too busy making more Star Wars. What I like about Rogue One is that they made it definitively a stand alone movie. I respect Disney/Lucasfilm for not trying to create a dozen spin-off franchises with Rogue One. That said, part of what I likes so much about 'Force Awakens' is the way it opened up new story telling possibilities. It makes you excited for what comes next. Rogue One is a good movie in it's own right, but it doesn't leave you wanting more. It's biggest strength is sort of it's biggest weakness.
#6: Attack of the Clones: ...Is not a good movie. It's a bad movie with a good movie trying to get out. It's my favorite of the prequel movies because of it's potential. Every now and then I remember how much I really hate the Anakin and Padme love story, and C3PO's awful string of one-liners in the climax - "This is such a drag!" and think of the parts I like - such as the assassination plots, the web of intrigue Obi Wan is slowly unraveling, that part where Padme is trapped in a crucible that's about to fill with molten metal, the dumb fun flying car chase, the dumb fun booby trapped conveyor belt, and the dumb fun arena fight. If you're looking for a dumb fun action movie, this might just be the Star Wars for you. If I turn off my brain and put on Nostalgia Goggles, there are parts of 'Attack of the Clones' I really enjoy.
#7: Revenge of the Sith: ...Is a better movie than Attack of the Clones. A better Star Wars movie too. Too many of the parts I enjoy about 'Clones' don't really belong in a Star Wars movie - they're more like a Cyberpunk B-movie version of Minority Report. 'Revenge of the Sith' is the only movie in the prequel trilogy that feels like Star Wars. But refer back to my 'How much fun do I have watching it?' point from 'The Force Awakens' - I find 'Attack of the Clones' much more fun to watch, even though I think 'Revenge of the Sith' is a better movie.
#8: The Phantom Menace: ...Introduced Jar Jar Binks, Midi-Chlorians, and a child actor who does his best with the material he is given. Qui-Gon-Jinn is a good character, but his introduction as Obi Wan's mentor seemingly contradicts the original canon - Yoda is the one who trained Obi Wan. So much of this movie is either pointless, (like pod-racing) annoying, (like Jar Jar, Anakin, the Jedi Council, and Boss Nass) or contradictory to the cannon (like Midi-Chlorians and Qui-Gon). Phantom Menace doesn't bring enough new stuff to the table to make re-watching it ever again worth my time. It's the only Star Wars movie I can say that about.
So, That's my list. At least until I see 'The Last Jedi.' And I'd have to really love it or really REALLY hate it for it to replace my top or bottom slot.