Since the debut of George Lucas’s original Star Wars in 1977, the franchise has remained one of the most significant in cinema history. With a multimedia empire that ultimately sold to Disney in 2012 for $4 billion, the saga has changed the industry in both a creative and business sense, inspiring generations of moviegoers along the way. However, while the original Star Wars trilogy is widely beloved (despite a few minor issues of its own), the remaining films in the franchise feature a more divisive response from hardcore fans and casual moviegoers alike.
2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens marked a return to form after the much-maligned prequel trilogy, but the franchise has certainly stooped lower to keep itself relevant and thriving. After all, the “galaxy far, far away” has taken some significant hiatuses during its decades-long run, and the films that have emerged to fill that void haven’t always been up to the standard many fans would hope to see from a film series as ground-breaking and beloved as Star Wars. Here are a few examples of the Star Wars franchise decidedly not at its best.
1. Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)
After the original film became a runaway success, the Star Wars world was eager to expand its newfound fan base. Sadly, that desire to churn out more Star Wars product led to this, the undeniable low point for the entire series.
Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher all reappear to help Chewbacca spend “Life Day” with his family in this musical television special (yes, you read that right) that is so horrendously bad that George Lucas himself has actively kept it from ever receiving a proper home video release (don’t worry: the curious among you can find it in full above). In fact, the only memorable part of the special is the animated sequence that introduced the world to soon-to-be fan favorite Boba Fett, who would then be introduced into live-action in The Empire Strikes Back two years later.
2. Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure (1984)
After Return of the Jedi, it appeared that the franchise was finished. With Darth Vader dead and the Empire seemingly destroyed, where else could the films go? Well, to Endor, for one. This TV movie — which aired on ABC but received a theatrical release in Europe — put the trilogy’s cuddly Ewoks front and center. The plot centers on a pair of children who are stranded on the Ewok homeworld, as they try to reunite with their parents.
Though the film didn’t exactly reinvigorate the franchise, it is clearly intended for younger audiences and managed to take Star Wars into a new direction during the 16-year break between Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace (more on that later).
3. Ewoks: The Battle for Endor (1985)
The sequel to the aforementioned Caravan of Courage, this film hit the airwaves just a year after its predecessor. Aubree Miller reprises her role as Cindel Towani, who becomes orphaned and helps defend Endor alongside the Ewoks. Like the first film, this one received a mixed response from fans but retained the child-friendly, fairy-tale tone.
Though a bit underwhelming, the pair of Ewoks films made a valiant effort to expand the Star Wars mythology before the now-defunct Expanded Universe really got underway. For this reason above all else, these two TV movies — which have, to some, become cult classics — were instrumental in keeping the saga part of the pop cultural conversation during its off-years.
4. Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace (1999)
We know what you’re thinking. How could one of the highest-grossing Star Wars films be forgotten? While we’re not discounting the fact that an entire generation grew up with the prequels as “their” Star Wars films, the fact remains that The Force Awakens and all upcoming entries are unlikely to tap into the many missteps that started with this film (midi-chlorians, anyone?). Even the subsequent prequels aimed to downplay the hairier aspects of this film, with Jar Jar Binks barely showing up at all by the time Revenge of the Sith rolled around. We’ll always be thankful to The Phantom Menace for putting Star Wars back on top, but it was certainly a rocky restart.
5. Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008)
The only big-screen animated Star Wars film to date, this one essentially serves as a feature-length pilot to the television series that would ultimately run on Cartoon Network for five seasons and Netflix for the last batch of episodes. That animated series would go to great lengths to legitimize the prequel trilogy and expand on the adventures of Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi during the titular battles.
However, this film is far from the best we’d see of director Dave Filoni’s work. Saddled with a subpar story involving Jabba the Hutt’s son, the film failed to capture what would work so well on the small screen with Star Wars Rebels.
6. Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones (2002)
The prequels are considered to be the worst of the regular Star Wars films, but many have debated whether Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones deserves the dishonor of being at the very bottom. And though we feel Episode I is ultimately the lesser of the two, its follow up also deserves a spot at the table.
Here’s why: For one thing, it can be hard to make a complete 360 after a bad start, and Attack of the Clones, stuck in that middle spot, was tasked with trying to amend the sins of its predecessor. Another thing to consider? For two talented actors, Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman come off terribly in this flick, and it’s really only Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi that fans find themselves rooting for. And finally, this is the movie that produced the infamous “I don’t like sand” moment, which just sums up the poor quality of the script in one line.
Additional reporting by Becca Bleznak.
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