There are a great many things that Star Wars is known for. But one that people don’t often think about is the fantastic documentaries that have accompanied the saga.
In fact, a couple of these documentaries, which look at the making-of certain films, are widely considered gold standards not just amongst Star Wars but amongst movies in general. I thought it would be fun to highlight what I think are the five best Star Wars documentaries, and all but one of these are available to watch right now on Disney+!
I love the behind-the-scenes features and to learn more about the process that goes into making Star Wars, so I love watching these. Maybe you would too!
5. The Skywalker Legacy
With the conclusion of the Skywalker Saga, the documentary that was released alongside The Rise of Skywalker opted to focus on how the film sought to wrap up and honor the saga as a whole – and it worked! The documentary does give a behind-the-scenes look at making the final film in the saga, but also on how it honored what came before. The documentary isn’t nearly as open as some others (so it very quickly becomes apparent why the top two on this list stand apart), and you’d be led to think that the production had no problems or disagreements. So it opts instead to focus more on what was happening rather than the decisions or thought-process behind that, which limits it somewhat. But without question this documentary still does a very good job of drawing Star Wars fans into the making of a movie that not only sought to stand on its own as an enjoyable film but also sought to wrap up the whole saga. No pressure, right? This is a fun look behind-the-scenes at how they did that.
4. Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian
In 2019, coinciding with the release of Disney+, Lucasfilm released the first-ever live-action Star Wars show, the very well-received The Mandalorian. And following the release of that show, Lucasfilm released a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the show, featuring extensive roundtable interviews with the directors and the cast. The documentary series looks at different aspects of bringing the show to life, including honoring the Star Wars legacy, the innovative filming techniques, the score, and much more. The episodic format really helps this show be able to focus on particular areas while keeping a clear focus, and it also gives Dave Filoni a chance to shine, which is always great. Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian does a really good job of showing fans the amazing ways in which they brought the show to life, but also serves in many ways as a look behind the curtain at why they did what they did, and at some points it even serves as a commentary on Star Wars in general. It’s really good.
3. Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy
The best three Star Wars documentaries are, in my opinion, super easy to decide. Regardless of what order you want to put them in, I’m very confident in saying that these are the three best ones. And Empire of Dreams unquestionably deserves its spot here. Unlike the others on this list, Empire of Dreams wasn’t released as a making-of look at a specific film/show, but rather was released many years later as a look at the making-of the original trilogy in general. Directed by Kevin Burns and released in 2004 to coincide with the release of a new Star Wars DVD edition, this feature-length documentary peels back the curtain looking at how George Lucas and company brought Star Wars to life. The bulk of the attention is focused on A New Hope, understandably, as it was the beginning of the entire thing, but the whole original trilogy is in focus. It’s very nostalgic for Star Wars fans, but also very informative and an incredible look behind-the-scenes at the making of the Star Wars trilogy.
2. The Beginning: Making Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace
This documentary has for a long time been considered the gold standard when it comes to making-of documentaries, not just for Star Wars, but for films in general. So it’s probably a surprise that it’s only number two on this list, but don’t let that diminish your view of this one in any way. The Beginning isn’t on Disney+, but you can watch the whole thing right now on the Star Wars Youtube page. This gives fans a behind-the-scenes look at George Lucas returning to the franchise to begin the prequel trilogy, making The Phantom Menace. It shows his vision for the film (which is perhaps the truest representation of Lucas’s Star Wars vision), it shows the pressure and excitement of returning to Star Wars after all those years, and it shows the struggles in doing so. This isn’t a documentary that sugar-coats things; it dives into some of the struggles and issues and doesn’t shy away from them. “I may have gone too far in a couple of places,” Lucas suggests at one point, and it’s precisely that kind of honesty and transparency that makes this such a compelling look at the making of this film. You’ll experience plenty of thrills, excitement, and nostalgia watching this; you’ll come to a deeper understanding and appreciation for the filmmaking process (both good and bad); and you’ll come away having watched a documentary that stands on its own as a compelling making-of look at a highly-anticipated movie.
1. The Director and the Jedi
While it’s hard to say that there’s any documentary better than The Beginning, I actually think The Director and the Jedi edges it out. It shares many similarities with The Beginning in this regard: it does not shy away from the struggles and creative differences behind making the film, The Last Jedi. In fact, the heartbeat of this story – for make no mistake, this isn’t so much a behind-the-scenes feature as it is a film in its own right – is over the character of Luke Skywalker, and how Rian Johnson and Mark Hamill didn’t agree on it, yet both gave the film their all. There’s a mutual respect and appreciation between the two of them that comes through, even amidst the disagreements. And the fact that this documentary doesn’t shy away from that but actually leans into it all the more to make it the central point of this film is incredibly admirable, and a large part of why this takes the top spot. But so too does this documentary do a terrific job of showing fans what goes into making a film of this scope, of the joy and excitement and planning and discussion and travel and logistics that people don’t even think about. It’s a very comprehensive look at it, yet it manages to do so without losing focus on telling a compelling story in its own right. That’s probably the biggest reason this takes the top spot on the list, ever-so-slightly nudging out The Beginning: This documentary, directed by Anthony Wonke, is very clearly its own compelling movie even though it’s about another one.