Last week, Star Wars fans were treated to two great big scoops. Not only did we receive the exciting first trailer of the final film in the Skywalker saga, but we got the title as well. And that title is…
There’s a lot to unpack with this title. Luke Skywalker has passed on. Will he return? Force ghost: yes. Crude matter: no. But then, he’s probably not the Skywalker to which the title is referring. Is it Kylo Ren’s redemption? Could Rey be a secret Skywalker?
All those questions are interesting, but that’s not what we’re here for. No, today, we’re going to debate The Rise of Skywalker’s place amongst the other Star Wars titles.
Star Wars Titles… Ranked!
Here we go; from worst to best!
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Solo: A Star Wars Story‘s troubled journey from script to screen is well-documented. Cringe-inducing moments (like how Han Solo got his name) are now canon, with some fans claiming that under the Phil Lord and Christopher Miller cut, such scenes would have been presented as jokes; a sly commentary on how unnecessary origin stories can be.
The title, like the movie itself, sets out to do one thing and one thing only; establish this as a Han Solo film. There’s nothing clever or unexpected in this title and the same goes for the finished product.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
I don’t like the ‘Star Wars Story’ conceit, clearly. I understand the desire not to confuse audiences with an Episode 3.5 title, but I still don’t like it. It feels like The Holiday Special, or the previously mentioned Caravan of Courage, a VHS I rented as a child excited for a Star Wars movie I didn’t even know existed only to instead find a cheap knock off.
Rogue One is not cheap. Not in the slightest. In fact, of the Disney films, Rogue One feels the most like a logical extension of the franchise. The costumes and cinematography are all top notch. The sets are grimy and lived in on Jedha and cold and sterile aboard the Imperial Star Destroyer. The characters need work but the film contains more than its share of memorable moments.
Ironically, the film’s title is symbolic of its greater flaws. The ‘Star Wars Story’s’ never figured out their identity, most notably illustrated by their lack of the iconic ‘Main Theme.’ All the hard work is hindered by a chintzy title and a lack of fanfare that Star Wars doesn’t just deserve, but requires.
The Rise of Skywalker
Obviously, I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I can’t say how well this ties into the story at hand. All I know is that The Rise of Skywalker feels like a clunky title, and as the ninth chapter in an epic, generations-spanning saga, it feels a little fan-servicey.
Still, we’re into solid footing here. While Rogue One and Solo used “A Star Wars Story” to justify their existence, the ‘official’ movies use their titles to tell us a bit about the movie we’re about to see. The title is almost too ambiguous to work but it still leads a sense of anticipation, giving the audience an answer and encouraging us to ask “what is the question?”
I think Rise of the Skywalker would have been a better title.
Revenge of the Sith
I am a Revenge of the Sith fanboy. In fact, I think it is better than some of the latter films in the franchise. The problems in the prequels are well-known and bludgeoned to death, but I maintain that they have more interesting ideas than almost any modern-day blockbuster, and the sense of importance and tragedy in this final chapter is palpable.
Revenge of the Sith sets out to complete the story that The Phantom Menace began, with the Sith revealing themselves and taking over the galaxy, coinciding with the fall of Anakin Skywalker as he becomes a robotic husk of his former self, while simultaneously becoming the personification of everything he sought to destroy as a child; killer of Jedi, enslaver of the galaxy.
It’s a downer of an ending, as first acts in a trilogy go, and its title is appropriately bleak… or is it?
This one comes down to semantics. What are the Sith revenging here? The movie never makes it clear. But it is a dark title, and for this movie, that works.
Attack of the Clones
Attack of the Clones harkens back to the Flash Gordon serials that inspired George Lucas in the first place. Presented more as a soap opera than a war epic, Attack of the Clones chronicles the budding love between Anakin and Padme, while Obi-Wan hunts down an assassin and uncovers an army of clones bred for a war that hasn’t yet begun.
All of this culminates in a battle in a coliseum where our three heroes face off against three different monsters while bug aliens cheer for their blood.
All this is to say, the pulp serial influences that inspired Lucas in the ’70s were still alive in Attack of the Clones, and while many deride the film, its title is engaging, effective, and a little silly.
Return of the Jedi
Remember earlier when I mentioned Return of the King? Well, here it is, America’s response to J. R. R. Tolkein’s masterpiece.
Almost titled Revenge of the Jedi until Lucas correctly realized that a Jedi would never seek revenge, Return of the Jedi was the original end of the end. With the Jedi almost extinct, the Emperor destroyed, and Darth Vader redeemed, it was time for the Jedi to prosper once more. Of course, if you’ve seen the more recent films, you know that return was not to last, but the title works well as the capper to a trilogy, a resolution to the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker, and as the end of the second act of a trilogy of trilogies.
The Force Awakens
The Force Awakens was met with a resounding “that’s it?” from the fanbase at large. But in a way, that was always going to be the case. Star Wars had been over, done, finito for almost a decade when the new films were announced. Any title would seem underwhelming against the massive expectations placed upon the new trilogy.
I am not the first person to suggest that the meta-text of this trilogy has been about these new films and their place in Star Wars. It’s clear in the plot of the film being beat-for-beat A New Hope, with Rey growing up hearing about the myth of Luke Skywalker, and Kylo Ren, being a Darth Vader fanboy, worried he’ll never measure up.
The Force Awakens continues that line of thinking, not just with Rey realizing her potential but with the series returning after a ten year hiatus. And with the new trilogy now clearly laid out before us, it turns out to be a clever title at that. As Snoke says in The Last Jedi, “darkness rises and light to meet it.” The Force Awakens symbolizes the rise of a new Jedi as well as a return of Star Wars. Its clever, memorable, and more than a little bit nostalgic, which is what was called for.
A New Hope
A New Hope is the first title for any Star Wars film given after the fact. Of course, when Star Wars premiered in ’77, it was simply Star Wars. In fact, it wasn’t until the rereleases in ’97 that the film was given its title and the other films given chapters.
That said, despite being a grafted onto the film after the fact, A New Hope is an absolutely perfect title for what the film aims to be. It completely recontextualizes everything you knew before and prepares you for the dark tragedy to come in the form of the prequels.
A New Hope conjures the image of a flickering light in a sea of darkness. It is a title that is as romantic as it is optimistic and presents our hero as a fragile but vital keeper of the flame.
The Phantom Menace
The Phantom Menace is a great title. But more importantly, it is a great chapter. It looms large over the proceedings like Darth Maul in the poster. The film makes its intentions known from the minute you see those big block letters in the scroll through the stars.
There is a bad guy you’re not seeing.
Or, as Yoda and Mace Windu contemplate; “Always two there are, a Master and an Apprentice/But which was destroyed? The Master or the Apprentice?”
The trilogy gets a lot of flack for its over-reliance on computer generated effects, clumsy writing, and wooden performances, none of which I will debate you on. However, one aspect of The Phantom Menace that I adore and will defend to my dying breath is George Lucas’ determination to shake up the status quo.
The prequel trilogy knew what you thought Star Wars was and expanded it in all directions. The worlds, the cultures, the civilizations, the sports–it all exploded with creativity and life. And despite its rampant expansion, it still felt like Star Wars.
If Episode I were the worthy successor of the original trilogy, this would be regarded as one of the best titles of all time. It is the titular representation of “there’s a storm coming” while being coy, intriguing, and 100% Star Wars.
The Last Jedi
The Last Jedi is a flawed movie. Nobody wants to debate the film with any sense of nuance or depth. It’s all binary. But like The Phantom Menace, one aspect of the film that is absolutely dead-on is the title.
I still remember the feeling when the title was revealed, and when Luke uttered the words “its time for the Jedi… to end.” Chills, man. Shivers up my spine. I didn’t know what Rian Johnson was going to do. I had no assurances he would handle the franchise with care. For all I knew, he was going to chuck the whole thing!
Few titles are capable of filling your heart with dread. There was a sense as I entered the theater that this was going to be the end of the Jedi, a noble lineage of Knights I had idolized and pretended to be for as long as I could remember.
And then there was that moment, that beautiful, wonderful, transcendent moment, when Luke tells Kylo Ren that he is not going to be the Last Jedi.
The climax of the story, the end of Luke Skywalker as a physical being as he becomes one with the force, the passing of the torch to Rey, the Jedi who will now have to learn on her own and rebuild a shattered Resistance, it all came together into a beautiful package.
The Last Jedi tells the story of how Luke became the greatest Jedi to ever live and also how he passed it on. It also does what no other title has done, subverted my expectations.
The Empire Strikes Back
That’s right! The best film in the series also has the best title!
Look, The Empire Strikes Back is just a cool title. It is strong, violent, aggressive, and powerful.
After winning a major victory at the Battle of Yavin with the destruction of the Death Star and the death of Grand Moff Tarkin, Empire Strikes Back finds our heroes on their heels throughout the entire film, constantly retreating from a vindictively unhinged and unleashed Vader.
The Empire Strikes Back is such a banger of a title, it almost needs no introduction. Our heroes flee for their lives as the Empire throws Starships through asteroid fields just to get them. The results are across the board losses for our side, where making it out alive counts as a win, with Han frozen in Carbonite, Leia losing the love of her life, and Luke losing his hand as well as his innocence. The fight is grander, more brutal, and infinitely more personal and the way ahead is far from clear.
The Empire Strikes Back is a title that is going to ring some bells. It announces its presence as well as its intent. There has never been a title that deserved an exclamation point as much as this. The Empire Strikes Back!
Last Word On… the Star Wars titles.
Obviously, my word is gospel and should be followed, but this is Star Wars we’re talking about and no one agrees on anything.
How do you feel about the new title? Are you excited for the films ahead or are you Star Wars’d out?
I for one, can’t wait. And while this may be the end of the Skywalker saga, something tells me we haven’t seen the last of Rey, Finn, Poe, or BB-8.