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A Grownup's Guide to 'Star Wars'

Here are all 11 films from the franchise, ranked from worst to best

spinner image Mark hamill Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford in a scene from Star Wars Episode 4 A New Hope
Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

What's the best way to celebrate Star Wars Day, May 4? Watching the films, of course. But in case you don't have time to stream all 11 live-action theatrical releases (combined running time: 24 hours 52 minutes), here's a list ranking them, from the most excruciating to the most exhilarating. Good luck, and may the Fourth be with you.

Eleventh best: Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

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Fans waited 16 years for this — the first Star Wars since 1983's Return of the Jedi — and what'd they get? Jar Jar Binks, cinema’s most-hated character since George Lucas produced 1986’s Howard the Duck. Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi) and Natalie Portman (as Luke and Leia's future mom) are gallant, but this Darth Vader origin story was deadly from the opening scroll: “Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute...[zzzzzzz]."

Tenth best: Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)

Casting Hayden Christensen, who looks like a refugee from Melrose Place, as Anakin Skywalker, the future dark lord of the universe, made no sense. But his courtship of Padme (Natalie Portman) is so bad it's entertaining, especially his hilariously silly pickup line: “I don't like sand."

Ninth best: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Christensen's Anakin finally turns to the dark side, scowling and grimacing like he's desperately in need of a bathroom. But the film's high points are exhilarating, like Yoda's light saber battle with Darth Sidious, who growls, “At last, the Jedi are no more.” “Not if anything to say about it I have,” Yoda replies, squinting like a dyslexic Clint Eastwood.

Eighth best: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)

Some fans were infuriated, some delighted when writer-director Rian Johnson gleefully tore up the rules of 40 years of Star Wars mythology — like, how did Princess Leia suddenly learn to fly through space without a ship? Never mind. This one has some nice special effects and cinematography.

Seventh best: Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

How did J.J. Abrams wrap up the entire Skywalker story line in one film? Especially after one of its central actors — Carrie Fisher, as Leia — died before filming could begin? Abrams’ solution was to bring back the dead: Fisher (who appeared in CGI and repurposed old footage) and the long-deceased Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). The resurrections work, for the most part.

Sixth best: Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

There's a lot to like about this decent Han Solo origin tale: Phoebe Waller-Bridge's voicing of sassy robot L3, Donald Glover as a young Lando Calrissian, and Alden Ehrenreich channeling young Harrison Ford's cocky swagger to portray swashbuckling smuggler Han as an unmoored 20-something.

Fifth best: Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)

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J.J. Abrams’ first attempt to do for Star Wars what he did for Star Trek — zap a dormant franchise back to life — felt a lot more like Star Wars than any of Lucas’ prequels. That's partly because the film rehashes the original 1977 blockbuster's plot: Young Jedi meets droid; droid has secret info inside its programming; a Death Star blows up in the end. Plus, it introduced Daisy Ridley's Rey, one of the best characters in decades.

Fourth best: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)

At one point, Steven Spielberg was going to direct this. But instead we got Richard Marquand unleashing Ewoks, the cringingly cute teddy bear warriors. Still, the first half — with grownup Luke liberating Leia from Jabba the Hutt and completing his training with Yoda — is as good as anything in The Empire Strikes Back.

Third best: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Director Gareth Edwards pulled one tiny plot thread from the original Star Wars — how Leia got the stolen Death Star plans — and spun it into one of the most satisfying and seamless preludes in movie history. Watch the last 10 minutes of Rogue One and the first 10 of A New Hope and it's darn near impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins.

Second best: Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)

Despite a plot so thin that the New York Times said it “could be written on the head of a pin and still leave room for the Bible,” Lucas’ original vision was so fresh and exhilarating that it set the table for the most successful sci-fi franchise ever, which still echoes through pop culture 43 years later.

Best: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

No Star Wars movie is perfect, but this one comes close. Lawrence Kasdan's screenplay gives the original film's paper-thin characters a Shakespearean depth ("I am your father, Luke!"), while director Irvin Kershner delivers the eye candy: the Millennium Falcon zooming through an asteroid field into a giant space monster's mouth, Han Solo flash-frozen in carbonite. The Force is indeed strong with this one.

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