The winter holiday season is almost here, so it must be time for the latest Star Wars instalment, The Last Jedi. Back in the day, we had to wait three years between episodes but now they roll around every year. Of course, last year’s Rogue one was merely a “Star Wars Story,” whereas this latest movie is a full-fledged continuation of the original saga, unofficially “Episode VIII.”
Unsurprisingly, given my longstanding affection for the series, I’m eager to see this with my family. You can read my recollections of going to see all the earlier movies in my blog post from two years ago, written prior to watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). Then I said reverentially, “I have a good feeling about this,” and the movie largely met my expectations.
Interestingly though, I haven’t been particularly eager to watch it again since. This got me wondering about how perceptions of movies shift over time. The BBC Newsbeat article, “Fans shouldn’t worry if The Last Jedi gets bad reviews,” recalls how early perceptions from some critics of Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980) weren’t particularly favourable. Now, it’s generally regarded as the best of the series, superior even to the original, Episode IV – A New Hope (1977).
Motivated by this, I did a little research on user ratings of the Star Wars movies on the Internet Movie Database, IMDb.com. I used the fascinating Wayback Machine, which archives web pages from the past. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to go all the way back to pre-Internet 1977, but I was able to look up user ratings going back as far as 2003. The graph below displays how the ratings for the seven Star Wars episodes and Rogue One have changed over time.
The original trilogy films take up the top three places. The yellow line at the top for Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back shows its average rating moving slightly higher than that for Episode IV – A New Hope, which is shown by the red line. Ratings for Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (grey line) have steadily moved higher over this time period, putting it firmly in third place.
Episode I – The Phantom Menace (orange line) bumps along the bottom of the ratings, with Episode II – Attack of the Clones (blue line) dropping in favour since its release, with a current rating barely above that for the preceding film. Curiously, Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (green line) has also suffered a gradual drop-off in its rating; it started out with a rating similar to Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, but is currently rated midway between Episodes I/II and Episode VI.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (unofficially Episode VII) was probably the most-hyped movie in recent history. You can see this clearly in the ratings shown by the purple line falling precipitously from well above the ratings for the first two movies in the original trilogy to end up currently below Episode VI – Return of the Jedi. Expectations were tempered for Rogue One, giving rise to a more complex trend in its ratings (dark red line). Initial ratings were relatively low (on a par with Episode III – Revenge of the Sith), but then rose quickly before gradually falling off again, ending up with a current rating between Episodes VII and III.
What does all this mean for The Last Jedi? Currently (Dec 14), the average IMDb user rating sits at 8.2 (pink diamond), above The Force Awakens and Rogue One, but below the original trilogy. Time will tell whether this rating moves up or down over the coming weeks as more people go to see the movie. Will the early favourable critic reviews be reflected in equally high IMDb ratings from regular punters? Or will this episode turn out to have been over-hyped, just as The Force Awakens was, and suffer a calamitous drop in its average rating? Or will it end up with a legacy more akin to The Empire Strikes Back and earn an average rating that inches up over time?
Iain Pardoe is an online university instructor who enjoys the movies of Hayao Miyazaki even more than the kids and loves rewatching favourites from his youth with his family when he’s not playing soccer or skiing.