Happy Star Wars Day to all who celebrate

These are—officially—the best films in the franchise

May the fourth be with you! Although this cringe-inducing pun has been in-use since at least the late ‘70s, 2011 was when Star Wars Day became canonized. What began as a silly in-joke uttered among Star Wars fans at geek cons and within internet message board penetralia is now recognized by the powers that be, a.k.a. Disney. It even has its own official website!

For this Star Wars Day, Portland State Vanguard asked its editorial staff to name their favorite film in the Star Wars franchise—and to defend their position, because this is Star Wars, after all. Nobody chose Star Tours or Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure, much to my chagrin, but our opinions might still surprise you. And in case you haven’t seen these films, some of which are nearly half a century old, beware: spoilers abound!

Nick Gatlin, Opinion Editor and Interim News Editor: Return of the Jedi is, to me, the quintessential Star Wars movie. It’s got heart-racing action, intense moral dilemmas and crazy alien creatures. It just so happens that those creatures are Ewoks.

The film starts with possibly the coolest opening sequence of the movie: Luke rescues Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt after fighting his way past a massive Rancor, and the two escape certain death in the Sarlacc pit. This leads to an incredible action sequence where Luke performs a sick front flip and murders a bunch of dudes with his new, green lightsaber. And then Leia chokes Jabba to death with her own chains! Does this plan make sense? No. Is this whole sequence dumb as hell? Sure. But isn’t that what makes Star Wars great?

For better or worse, no one can forget the Ewoks, the aliens native to the forest moon of Endor. These little teddy bears were almost certainly created in order to sell more toys to kids, and that’s why they’re wonderful. Who needs serious alien races when you get sentient children’s toys?

And who can forget the second Death Star?

The final battle between Luke and Vader is possibly the best in the series, as the awkward old-man lightsaber duels of the previous films gives way to a quick, athletic performance. And Vader’s decision to finally—spoilers—kill Palpatine and sacrifice himself in the process gets me every time.

RotJ is, un-ironically, my favorite Star Wars movie. Despite its faults, it’s like comfort food for my soul. Sure, Empire is probably the objectively better movie. But who needs that when you’ve got sick green lightsabers and talking teddy bears?

Nick Townsend, Managing Editor: The best Star Wars product is not a movie at all. No, my friends, it is the sublime masterpiece of engineering and art—forged in a single mold—that is 2007’s Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga. As an adult, watching a Star Wars film is an exercise in entertaining the insane neuroses of George Lucas and criticizing the CGI or an unnecessary reference to midichlorians. Only playing through Lego Star Wars, preferably on a PlayStation 2, can capture the pure childlike wonder of experiencing Star Wars for the first time. Although it’s essentially a vehicle to sell Lego products to children, it remains the best experience I’ve ever had with a Star Wars product. The ability to play through every scene in the prequels and original trilogy and toggle back and forth between all the characters in each scene creates absolute chaos, and also means that you can change who your favorite character is on the slightest whim. Many fights between siblings have been started over who gets to play Anakin or Obi-Wan in a particular level. At its core, Lego Star Wars is what Star Wars was always meant to be: a product for children that is so rapturous that I want to experience it as an adult over and over again.

Sophie Concannon, Copy Chief: I haven’t seen Rogue One in well over a year, but I still think about it every goddamn day. I distinctly remember the teaser trailer dropping—it’s formulaic, interspersing shots of stuff blowing up, a bad guy in a cape and stormtrooper helmets with shots of the Katniss Everdeen-esque main character just sort of walking around. 52 seconds in, though, Michael Giacchino’s expert rendering of the imperial alert mixed with a rendition of the oh-so-familiar Star Wars leitmotif indicates instantly that Rogue One is not like other girls. The story fits the niche category of being somehow both a prequel and a sequel, a position that screams cash grab so loudly you have to pretend that it didn’t actually come out on Christmas Day to make it watchable. It is a really good cash grab, though. So rarely does a prequel actually enhance the world in which it exists that my first reaction to watching Rogue One was to go and check the Star Wars wiki to make sure the events of the movie didn’t accidentally cancel out an entire plot line or something. It really has it all: arguably the scariest iteration of Vader across the franchise, music to rival the original film and Mads Mikkelsen playing a cool DILF, as is his God-given right. 

Rogue One is more than a pretty score and kick ass robot legs, though. In the original trilogy, the biggest consequence for the titular star war is unnamed Rebel pilots dying off-screen—main characters Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie live happily ever after, presumably so Lucasfilm could ruin their characters for profit later. Or for theme park reasons, I don’t know. Still, the ending of the trilogy fits the tone of the movies: if you do the honorable and just thing, you get to live. Rogue One does not take that tone. Rogue One throws that tone into a garbage disposal and says “look, motherfucker, this is war.” If you ignore the American propaganda that I’m sure is nestled gently in there somewhere, this movie pays homage to the concerted effort of talented, brave, soulful people joined together to shed blood and tears over one task so menial that it saves the galaxy. It’s not a story of brave Jedi knights or genetically-chosen ones—it’s the story of engineers, cargo pilots and prisoners across the galaxy choosing to die fighting for a world that seems a little better than the one right now.

Béla Kurzenhauser, Science and Technology Editor: Approximately three years and four and a half months ago, Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi—the highly-anticipated sequel to 2015’s controversial revival of the Star Wars franchise—wriggled itself outside of its dimly-lit, studio lot womb and onto the shimmering, shining lights of the silver screen. The film was immediately met with high critical acclaim and equally glowing commercial success, shattering the box office and infiltrating every conversation of the week. 

Despite its success, The Last Jedi’s legacy is not one of achievement and celebration among one of pop culture’s most enigmatic and landmark franchises; but rather, one of toxicity, controversy and years of persistent debate over what kind of weird milk Luke Skywalker was really drinking in the movie. However, to me, The Last Jedi represents two incredible accomplishments in recent blockbuster history. 

First, The Last Jedi is quite possibly the finest case study of media and culture in the entire 21st century; It captures one of the fiercest periods in reactionary media not just as a singular moment in time, but as a fluid and dynamic cultural debate spanning years of heated discussion. From afar, The Last Jedi carries with it the baggage of 40 years of pop culture iconography, yet refuses to shed any of the miasma present in its equally iconic and infamous fanbase.

The second achievement lies in its singular ability to convey the same themes that Lucas attempted to with his original series, weaving together a complex and ever-changing tapestry of politics and emotion, emblazoned with a sense of rugged heroism and collectivism that was tragically shattered by its immediate successor two years later. The Last Jedi is a film filled to the brim with troubled ragtag protagonists who save the galaxy not with violence but with love and empathy, restoring a world full of peace and free from oppression. It’s unlikely we’ll ever see a Star Wars film like The Last Jedi ever again.

Justin Grinnell, Editor in Chief: My favorite Star Wars film is a toss up between Empire and Rogue One, but I’m not going to waste your time with the best films the franchise has to offer. Instead, I’m wasting your time with the best of the worst: The Phantom Menace.

So, I get it, the prequels don’t live up to the originals—most of them aren’t even good—but Phantom Menace is like an uncut, unpolished diamond. Beneath the dirt and rough edges is a radiant gem that any betrothed would be proud to wear. I’m actually really looking forward to the day I get down on one knee and propose with my VHS copy of Episode I.

While The Phantom Menace is weighed down by the sleep-inducing politics of galactic trade federations, it is also elevated by high-stakes pod racing through the desert canyons of Tatooine along with one of the best lightsaber battles in the franchise. And while Episode I proves every Gungan is born a horrible mistake, the film also gives us Darth Maul, who is by far the most badass Sith in the series, armed with the coolest lightsaber. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the awesomeness that is Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn. I don’t know what it is, but I love a Jedi master on the council who likes to walk the line separating the light side of the force from the dark. 

The Phantom Menace may never be the best Star Wars movie, but if Disney keeps its current course—Solo, The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker—I think it can get close enough to find a place near the top of fans’ lists.

Morgan Troper, Arts and Culture Editor: When I first saw Star Wars, I was a little too young to appreciate it. My grandpa took me to see the digitally restored, special edition of A New Hope when I was four years old, and I fell asleep—and, to be fair, the first hour of that movie is extremely slow by today’s standards. About a year later I rented The Empire Strikes Back on VHS and fell in love with the series. My parents had just separated and the familial histrionics really spoke to me. I was mesmerized by Yoda’s faux-spiritual adages and some of my earliest kid drawings were of AT-AT walkers. 

While Empire is probably the Star Wars film that had the biggest impact on my life, Revenge of the Sith is the one I find myself wanting to rewatch most often. With the advent of Disney’s sequel trilogy, it’s become something of the series’ black sheep—it lacks the sentimental value millennials ascribe to The Phantom Menace, but it isn’t objectively awful like Attack of the Clones. It’s strange that it has this reputation, since in many ways, Revenge of the Sith is the series’ linchpin. It’s the film where—spoilers—Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader and it’s arguably the ultimate realization of George Lucas’ original vision for his saga, warts and all. 

Rachel Owen, News Editor: Out of all of the Star Wars films in the galaxy, it is as obvious as Chewbacca’s hair is long that Solo: A Star Wars Story is the best. 

Over the span of two hours and fifteen minutes, this supplemental feature provides the quirky backstory to everyone’s favorite intergalactic bad boy, Han Solo. Solo provides additional context to Han’s life and damaged personality, as seen throughout the rest of the franchise.

Viewers learn that Han is from Corellia where he and his true love, Qi’ra, are at the mercy of an oppressive government. The opening scene introduces their love both for each other and the destruction of their leader, the great Lady Proxima. Once they kill her, the two plan their escape. Can you say “aww?” During their escape, Qi’ra is captured and Han must leave without her. He swears he will become “the best pilot in the galaxy” and return to save her some day. 

The rest of the film finds Han looking for a way to save his true love and live out his outlaw dreams. Along the way, he meets Tobias Becket, Chewbacca, a droid named L3-37 and the notorious gambler, Lando Calrissian. They band together to form a crew that would make Luke and Leia proud. 

What this movie lacks in female representation and a pass of the Bechdel test, it surpasses in cheesy acting, off-putting death scenes and lines that will make you ask “was that supposed to be funny?” Overall, Solo is truly the most entertaining of the Star Wars films because of its overwhelming ridiculousness and presentation of Han Solo as the bachelor he truly is.