Star Wars has been a cinematic juggernaut since A New Hope (then simply titled Star Wars) was released in 1977.

In the 40 years since we have seen eight further films, as well as two side movies and a slew of animated and live-action television content.

While the franchise took a decline with the prequel films released from 1999 to 2005, they were still successful financially and took an admirable contrasting tone to its original brethren. 

When Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012, encompassing both Star Wars and Indiana Jones canon, it was a relatively big shock as new life was breathed into the series.

But seven years on, and the release of The Rise of the Skywalker this Christmas, has the decision to buy paid off for Disney?

The Force Awakens (2015) – Directed by JJ Abrams

The Force Awakens, opening back in 2015, perhaps had the most difficult job of all of the new films. It introduced new characters, worlds and elements to a familiar universe, catching up with characters we had not seen for over 30 years and seamlessly reintegrating them both for fans old and new. 

This first outing was incredibly successful, with fans and critics alike. Detractors argue that it is a soft remake of A New Hope, but by bringing back a grizzled Harrison Ford as scruffy-looking Nerf Herder Han Solo and the regal Princess Leia it’s worth the entrance fee alone.

Peter Mayhew and Harrison Ford in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Peter Mayhew and Harrison Ford in Star Wars: The Force Awakens C: Lucasfilm

Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, and John Boyega were new, fresh faces and they helped to set up several threads that would come into play in Episodes 8 & 9, providing a solid platform to build on. 

Rogue One (2016) – Directed by Gareth Edwards

Rogue One came next, slightly under the radar, and has a very wide reach within the canon. The 2016 movie linked heavily to the animated Star Wars Rebels series and this year’s video game Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.

The film takes place before George Lucas’ originals, with a group of rebel fighters trying to steal the plans for the ominous Death Star. Tonally, it feels in keeping with the original trilogy but introduces new elements and boasts a grittier, war film vibe than anything previous. 

Action sequences in the movie are absolutely fantastic, particularly the final act which is simply exhilarating and sets the benchmark for future films to come. 

The Last Jedi (2017) – Directed by Rian Johnson

The most divisive new entry in the series thus far has to be 2017’s The Last Jedi, directed by Rian Johnson of Looper fame.

It is loved by a large majority of critics, with some labelling it as the best Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back

Adam Driver in Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Adam Driver in Star Wars: The Last Jedi C: Lucasfilm

Naysayers would argue it features a fair amount of misplaced humor and a lack of action. Undoubtedly, it skillfully blurs the lines in the battle between Dark and Light and adds a considerable amount of depth to the lore and universe. 

The audience’s expectations were certainly subverted somewhat and Kylo Ren’s arc in this film is fantastic, marking a bold new direction the series could go in. 

Solo (2018) – Directed by Ron Howard

Perhaps the most inconsequential of the Disney releases, you would not miss a great deal if you decided to skip it. Not unlike Rogue One, it captures the carefree attitude of the originals and does boast some fun set pieces. 

A heist atop a train is a particular highlight, while Donald Glover as a young Lando Calrissian is a hoot. Han and everyone’s favourite Wookie Chewbacca are such fun and the film taps into a more underground side of the galaxy far far away which we had only really seen through the Clone Wars and Rebels cartoons. 

A lack of box office success means we may not see spin-off films in the future, with projects like The Mandalorian and the upcoming series focusing on Obi-Wan Kenobi could spell the way forward as Disney look to cash in on the skyrocketing popularity of TV. 

The Rise of Skywalker (2019) – Directed by JJ Abrams

The supposedly final film in the “Skywalker Saga”,  has divided both fans and critics alike. Its much-maligned plot feels a little all over the place, with the Emperor’s return a missed opportunity.

Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker C: Lucasfilm

It does conjure up some of the old Star Wars magic and ensures a satisfactory conclusion for many of the sprawling storylines, as well as boasting more out and out action than the previous two entries.

Once again, Adam Driver is fantastic as Kylo Ren and both Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) get considerably more to do within a busy plot. 

The film had a difficult task of appeasing to those that didn’t like The Last Jedi with cameos and callbacks the method of choice used by Abrams in this bookender film.

Undeniably, there are merits in Star Wars films released since the Mouse House took over and many of the side projects are fantastic additions to the expanded universe. 

As Master Yoda once observed, “Always in motion the future is,” and we wait with bated breath for what plans Lucasfilm and Disney have next.