With the Skywalker Saga and The Clone Wars both having recently wrapped up, it feels in many ways like the first chapter of the Disney Star Wars era has concluded.
And while there’s a cynical group of fans who will ridicule the era, it has been the golden era of Star Wars, with an incredibly large amount of content, from movies to shows to other media. And there’s been a lot of really good stuff from it, so much so that many of these are difficult decisions. But I decided it would be fun to take a look at the Disney era of Star Wars storytelling so far and give out some awards of the best of the best. Let’s dive in!
Winner: The Last Jedi
The discussion of whether something is the “best since Empire” is one that gets brought up many times among Star Wars fans, but it’s a discussion that truly applies here: The Last Jedi is the best Star Wars since The Empire Strikes Back. Picking up on threads left by The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi is more than just a fun Star Wars film but a commentary, interaction, and treatise on Star Wars itself. It is a commentary on the nature of the Force and the Jedi, on the motivations behind fighting, on the reality of failure, etc. It’s not what you’d expect, but it’s better because of it. Rian Johnson demonstrates a remarkable knowledge of what makes a true Jedi, which produces a heroic Luke Skywalker more powerful and Jedi-like than any we’ve seen before. He understands the two protagonists, Rey and Kylo Ren, and does wonders for their story and their dynamic. He challenges his characters and, by extension, the audience – but in the midst of it all we all come away having grown. This film features an incredible story that goes beyond excitement but to inspiration and true meaning, it features the best acting in the entire saga (more on that in a bit), it features a phenomenal soundtrack by John Williams (no surprise there), it features stunning visuals (the Battle of Crait in particular is amazing), it features some of the best scenes in Star Wars ever (the Luke/Yoda scene, Throne Room fight, the Holdo maneuver, the Spark) – in short, it’s the best Star Wars since Empire – and maybe ever.
Honorable Mention: Rogue One
The Siege of Mandalore (the final arc of The Clone Wars) is without question the best thing Star Wars animation has ever done, but for this award I’m going with Star Wars Rebels, since I’m taking into account the whole. Much of The Clone Wars was made before Disney took over, but furthermore, I think Rebels holds up really well compared to it. Some people gave it a tough time early on, thinking it was too childish (but let us never forget that Star Wars is for kids), but the final two seasons of the show take things to another level, producing some of the very finest Star Wars storytelling we’ve seen. Both The Clone Wars and The Mandalorian are terrific in their own right but are hurt a bit by not having the same level of completeness to the storytelling as Rebels did. If we’re talking about the show as a whole, Rebels was an easy choice for me here.
Honorable Mention: The Clone Wars, The Mandalorian
Winner: The Siege of Mandalore
I know it might be cheating to put an entire arc rather than a single episode, but if that’s problematic, then simply put your favorite of this four-episode arc as the best episode, since I think they’re the four best episodes. Point being: the Siege of Mandalore takes the crown here. As I’ve already said, it’s the best animated content Star Wars has ever done, and among the very best Star Wars content period. There are some really great Rebels episodes that deserve recognition too, but there’s nothing that can top what The Clone Wars was able to do with its final four episodes.
Honorable Mention: “A World Between Worlds”; “Family Reunion and Farewell”
Winner: “Rey’s Theme”
Some things never change, and one of them is that the music for Star Wars continues to be top-notch. The legendary John Williams returned to score all three films of the sequel trilogy and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score for all three of them (plus he also composed a theme for Han Solo for Solo: A Star Wars Story and the theme for Galaxy’s Edge too!). All three scores are fantastic and feature some of my favorite pieces from Star Wars, but none of them are better than Rey’s theme. In fact, I think it’s one of the best themes Williams has ever written, and that’s saying a lot. But while Williams remained at the top of his game, one of the most exciting parts of this era of Star Wars has been the terrific contributions of other composers too. Kevin Kiner (Rebels and The Clone Wars), Michael Giacchino (Rogue One), John Powell (Solo), and Ludwig Göransson (The Mandalorian) also composed for Star Wars, and their stuff was really, really good. They kept up the legacy of brilliant music for the saga while advancing things as well. They produced some of my favorite stuff too.
Honorable Mention: “The Spark”; “The Mandalorian”; “Thrawn’s Theme”; “Mine Mission”; “Jyn Erso & Hope Suite”
Winner: Jedi: Fallen Order
Unfortunately there’s not a ton of options to choose from in this category, but even if there were I have a hard time imagining a game dethroning Jedi: Fallen Order from the top spot. As I wrote at the time it released, it’s the Star Wars game we’ve been waiting for. It features an incredible story that’s equal parts exciting, suspenseful, and emotional, it features great characters (Cal Kestis is awesome), it features great gameplay mechanics, it features great music (to follow-up on the previous award), and much more. But Battlefront 2 also deserves some love, as it’s a great multiplayer game that made such massive strides and turned into a fantastic game that is a worthy successor to the Battlefront legacy.
Honorable Mention: Battlefront 2
Winner: Bloodline (by Claudia Gray)
In this category, there are a lot of really good and worthy choices – as you might be able to tell by how many books I included in the honorable mention section below! And even more notable is the fact that four of the seven books I’ve mentioned here were written by Claudia Gray, so I guess it’s safe to say that she’s been awesome. Anyway, there are a lot of books that could take the top spot here, but I’m going with Bloodline. Surprisingly, we haven’t gotten many stories about the original heroes in-between the original and sequel trilogies (something I’m hoping changes in the years to come), but one notable exception was this book focusing on Leia Organa. This book was really well-written, immensely entertaining, and also incredibly significant. It explores the New Republic and its politics, shows the galaxy finding out about Leia’s true parentage, shows hints of the growing First Order in the shadows, and shows Leia forming the Resistance, to name a few. This is the best of what Star Wars books can be: both integral to our understanding and riveting in its storytelling. Claudia Gray understands the character of Leia Organa in a really great way (also shown in her other novel about the character), and it pays off here.
Honorable Mention: Master & Apprentice (by Claudia Gray); Lost Stars (by Claudia Gray); Leia: Princess of Alderaan (by Claudia Gray); Thrawn: Alliances (by Timothy Zahn); Catalyst (by James Luceno); Resistance Reborn (by Rebecca Roanhorse)
Winner: Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith (by Charles Soule) and The Rise of Kylo Ren (by Charles Soule) (tie)
Similar to the books, there have been a lot of really good and worthy choices in the comic category, thus the number of comics listed, and there’s also the notable reality of a dominant author – this time, it’s Charles Soule, who wrote both of the comics that tied for first and another honorable mention. And actually, both of the comics that tied for first are similar: one of them is about the rise of the villain known as Darth Vader, seeing Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into the Sith Lord, while the other is about the rise of the villain known as Kylo Ren, seeing Ben Solo’s fall to the dark side. Both of these comics are entertaining, surprising, revealing, and add tons to our understanding of their main characters.
Honorable Mention: Poe Dameron (by Charles Soule), Darth Vader (by Kieron Gillan), Age of Republic (by Jody Houser), Son of Dathomir (by Jeremy Barlow)
Winner: The Director and the Jedi
Star Wars has been the focus of a number of fascinating making-of stories and documentaries over the years, and that has continued over the past decade – which is why I’ve included this as a category. Even now, the eight-part series Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian is giving us a really great look behind-the-scenes of the first ever Star Wars live-action show. But without any doubt, The Director and the Jedi is the runaway winner here. It stands not just as maybe the best Star Wars documentary ever made (sorry to The Phantom Menace documentary, which is also a worthy contender), but as one of the best behind-the-scenes looks at filmmaking period. What sets this documentary apart is that it’s telling an entertaining story of its own that isn’t just a collection of highlights about making The Last Jedi. There are absolutely plenty of really interesting and entertaining parts, and you get to see things from the perspectives of Rian Johnson (director), Ram Bergman (producer), and others as you come to see what making a Star Wars movie is really like. But at a deeper level than all of that, this documentary is about the relationship between director Rian Johnson and star Mark Hamill. It’s no secret that the two had differing opinions about Luke Skywalker’s character in the film, and this documentary doesn’t shy away from those sentiments but actually gives them time to be played out, and through it all we see the immense professionalism, love, and respect the two men have for each other. This isn’t just a look at the making of a Star Wars movie; it’s a truly entertaining documentary in its own right.
Honorable Mention: Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian
Winner: The Force Awakens trailer #3 and The Last Jedi trailer #2 (tie)
For most of us reading a site like this, a trailer for a Star Wars movie is a luxury – it’s thrilling and exciting and gets us talking, but it does nothing to make us go see the movie – because we were going to anyway! But there have been some really good trailers for Star Wars over the last several years, though in my opinion the final trailers for The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi stand a notch above them all. Allow yourself to reminisce over the memories of these trailers below:
There are others that were really good, but I think these two were the best.
BEST CELEBRATION PANEL:
Winner: 40 Years of Star Wars (Celebration Orlando 2017)
Star Wars Celebration is an (almost) annual gathering of fans from across the world as there are tons of panels and the like – it’s great! And there have been a lot of really good panels over the years, but none of them was better than the panel that kick-started Celebration Orlando 2017 by celebrating the 40th anniversary of Star Wars. George Lucas, Kathy Kennedy, Warwick Davis, Dave Filoni, Ian McDiarmid, Hayden Christensen, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford (who was an unannounced surprise guest), Peter Mayhew, Billy Dee Williams, and Anthony Daniels were panelists at various points throughotu the show, and then George Lucas, Kathy Kennedy, and Billie Lourd gave a moving tribute to Carrie Fisher that segued into John Williams conducting iconic Star Wars music live. Celebration panels don’t get any better than that.
Honorable Mention: The Last Jedi panel (Celebration Orlando 2017), The Force Awakens panel (Celebration Anaheim 2015), Star Wars Rebels season 3 panel (Celebration Europe 2016), An Hour with Mark Hamill panel (Celebration Europe 2016), Mark Hamill’s Tribute to Carrie Fisher panel (Celebration Orlando 2017), The Rise of Skywalker panel (Celebration Chicago 2019)
Winner: The Clone Wars returns!
In July 2018, at San Diego Comic Con, Dave Filoni and others from The Clone Wars returned for a panel reflecting upon the show. But at the end, Filoni said that he had a way of saying “thank you” and dropped a teaser trailer that revealed that The Clone Wars was saved and would be returning. Though there had been some wondering leading up to it, it was the best kind of surprise, as the beloved show was brought back for a seventh and final season.
Honorable Mention: Thrawn returns; Palpatine’s return in The Rise of Skywalker; Maul’s cameo in Solo
Like The Clone Wars in the consideration for Best Show, Ahsoka Tano is hurt in the running for this one because much of TCW isn’t considered. Still, she makes a compelling case based on her role in Rebels and the final season of The Clone Wars, and I think she’s one of the best Jedi we know – but she is edged out here by another character who stands as one of the best Jedi: Rey. The scavenger from Jakku is thrust into a life of adventure as the Force awakens in her and calls to her, and that takes her on the path of destiny. Both in not knowing her parents and then in knowing her lineage, Rey confronts the inner turmoil that she doesn’t belong in this story as the hero – and she overcomes. She plays a pivotal role in restoring hope to Luke Skywalker and bringing Ben Solo back to the light, and she defeats Sheev Palpatine once and for all (we think). She is the apprentice to Luke and Leia who grows into a powerful and noble Jedi in her own right.
Honorable Mention: Ahsoka Tano
Winner: Kylo Ren
Rey’s foe in the sequel trilogy is Kylo Ren, but it’s not that simple. Kylo Ren is the bad guy, yes, but as we go along we come to know Ben Solo – and see that he can still be redeemed. The Last Jedi does wonders for this development, though it’s The Rise of Skywalker that finally pays off on Ben’s redemption and his love with Rey. So it feels a bit weird to include him as the best villain, but at the same time, part of the reason why he’s such a great villain is because of the complicated characterization given to him. He’s working for the bigger bad guys (first Snoke and then Palpatine), but he’s broken and conflicted. He’s not the simplistic faceless evil; he’s a complex character whose actions and motivations aren’t exactly good, but who winds up becoming a hero once more in the end. You could easily give Ben’s grandfather the title here as well, though, as Darth Vader is the star of two terrific comic books and plays a small yet significant role in Rogue One.
Honorable Mention: Darth Vader; Maul; Thrawn
Winner: Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley (tie)
As I said earlier, The Last Jedi features the best acting of the entire saga. It is the shining performance for both Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley, but to be honest, they’re terrific in all three films of the sequel trilogy and carry every scene they’re in – but especially when they’re together. They are both incredibly gifted and talented, and they put every ounce of that talent to use in these films. I also want to give recognition to Mark Hamill here, though, and I almost went with a three-way tie for first. Hamill in The Last Jedi gave what is in my opinion the best performance of his career, brilliantly playing a changed and less hopeful version of Luke Skywalker, yet still making clear that he was the same hero at heart. Hamill was absolutely fantastic, and he too poured every ounce into making the film successful. He was so, so good – but so too were Driver and Ridley. The fact that they did it over three films gives them the slight edge, but all three are immensely deserving of this.
Honorable Mention: Mark Hamill
Winner: Dave Filoni
As you’ve been reading this, I hope you’ve been reminded of just how many great stories there have been (we’ll get to that one next) and seen just how many great storytellers there are behind those stories. There are plenty more than the ones listed here, too, but I think these are the best. Claudia Gray wrote several amazing books, Charles Soule wrote a number of awesome comic series, and Rian Johnson put together one of the best Star Wars stories we’ve ever seen – but without a doubt I think Dave Filoni takes the title here. He was the showrunner on Star Wars Rebels and The Clone Wars, the creator of Star Wars Resistance (though not working on it day-to-day), and executive producer and director on The Mandalorian. I’ve long maintained that Filoni understands Star Wars and the Force on a deeper level than perhaps all but George Lucas, and that has shown up again and again.
Honorable Mention: Rian Johnson; Claudia Gray; Charles Soule
Winner: The Last Jedi
I already wrote about The Last Jedi when we discussed the best movie, but it also takes the title of best overall story. The Siege of Mandalore and the entirety of Star Wars Rebels are close contenders as well, and in writing this it’s been super fun to think back over all the terrific stories that have been told. The Disney era so far has been incredibly successful and produced tons of great content, but these are the best – with TLJ taking the top spot.
Honorable Mention: The Siege of Mandalore; Rebels