Put those thermal detonators away, folks. For the record, I’m not suggesting that The Force Awakens is the best Star Wars movie ever. In my personal rankings, I’d slot it third, behind The Empire Strikes Back (for originality, script, that reveal and more) and the original Star Wars (for being the originator and its overall cultural impact).
But the reason we’re even talking about this is that the reception to The Force Awakens has been such that it at least deserves to be in the conversation. Its record-setting box office performance is part of it, but what I’m really talking about is the feedback from critics and moviegoers.
Summarizing the feelings of all those people isn’t hard thanks to Rotten Tomatoes. The review aggregator currently has The Force Awakens with a 94 percent fresh rating on the strength of 274 positive critics’ reviews and just 16 negative or “rotten” reviews.
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Is that the best Star Wars score ever? Believe it or not, that puts it in a tie with the first movie, whether you prefer calling it A New Hope or simply Star Wars, and The Empire Strikes Back. To break the tie, we can add in the audience scores, and there we find that Empire takes the crown with 97 percent approval, followed by A New Hope at 96 percent and The Force Awakens at 92 percent.
So the answer to our original question by the most subjective measures we have is that no, The Force Awakens is not the best movie in the Star Wars saga, but it’s pretty darn close. That’s impressive considering that it’s been 35 years since The Empire Strikes Back, and none of the four films released in the series since then have really come close.
Just for reference, here’s how all seven Star Wars movies stack up on Rotten Tomatoes:
- The Empire Strikes Back – 94 percent critics, 97 percent audience
- Star Wars – 94 percent critics, 96 percent audience
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens – 94 percent critics, 92 percent audience
- Return of the Jedi – 80 percent critics, 95 percent audience
- Episode III – Revenge of the Sith – 79 percent critics, 65 percent audience
- Episode II – Attack of the Clones – 66 percent critics, 59 percent audience
- Episode I – The Phantom Menace – 56 percent critics, 60 percent audience
Maybe the best thing The Force Awakens did is raise the bar for the series overall. Figuring its scores into the mix, the average Star Wars movie now gets love from just over 80 percent of critics and audience members. Episode VIII, you’re up next!