1. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)

IMDb rating: 8.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 92%

Storyline: In a galaxy far, far away, the Rebel Alliance has stolen plans to the Galactic Empire’s Death Star, a devastating weapon capable of destroying an entire planet. These plans land in the hands of young farm boy Luke Skywalker, who soon finds himself swept up in a grand adventure. Alongside the wise Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi, smuggler Han Solo, Princess Leia, and a pair of quirky droids, Skywalker embarks on a mission to deliver the plans to the Rebellion and confront the dark might of Darth Vader.

Why it’s a major movie: Star Wars: A New Hope revolutionized film making with its innovative use of special effects, creating a visually stunning and immersive universe. These groundbreaking effects, coupled with its captivating storytelling and iconic characters, made the movie a cultural phenomenon. It established Star Wars as a seminal franchise that has since inspired countless other sci-fi works.

Why it’s a major movie: Beyond its technical achievements, A New Hope harbours a timeless tale of good versus evil. The film expertly balances drama, action, and humour, while introducing audiences to a richly developed world with a uniquely compelling mythology. Its memorable score, iconic performances, and the universal resonance of its core themes contribute to making A New Hope an enduring cinematic masterpiece.

2. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

IMDb rating: 8.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 94%

Storyline: In the second episode of Star Wars, the Rebellion is scattered after their base on the ice planet Hoth is raided by the Empire. Luke Skywalker seeks the tutelage of Yoda, an ancient Jedi master, to harness his newfound potential. Meanwhile Han Solo, Leia and the rest of the crew evade pursuit from the relentless Darth Vader and his Imperial forces.

Why it’s a major movie: Known for its darker tone, The Empire Strikes Back is often hailed as the best film in the Star Wars saga. It introduced audiences to iconic characters like Yoda and Lando Calrissian and delivered one of the most shocking plot twists in film history. Its character development, emotional depth, and expansive lore solidified its standing as an enduring cinematic triumph.

Why it’s a major movie: The Empire Strikes Back crafts a thrilling, emotionally stimulating continuation of the Star Wars saga. Lucas expertly exploited the established universe, but also increased its complexity with a focus on inner conflict and moral ambiguity. The groundbreaking special effects, combined with excellent character development, sophisticated themes, and unpredictability, ensure that The Empire Strikes Back remains an evergreen audience favorite.

3. Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)

IMDb rating: 8.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 82%

Storyline: The final instalment of the original Star Wars trilogy finds Luke Skywalker returned as a matured Jedi. He leads a daring mission to rescue Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt, while the Rebel Alliance prepares to launch a full assault on the Death Star. As Luke confronts his father, Darth Vader, he faces a final test to gain full mastery of the Force and restore freedom to the galaxy.

Why it’s a major movie: Return of the Jedi serves as an epic culmination of the original Star Wars saga, releasing complex character arcs and the thematic clash of good versus evil with a bang. Garnering acclaim for its dramatic battles, inventive creatures, and high emotional stakes, the movie offers an exciting and satisfying resolution to the beloved franchise’s opening trilogy.

Why it’s a major movie: As with previous entries, Return of the Jedi showcases Lucas’ groundbreaking visual and sound designs, effectively blending practical and digital effects to create a captivating universe. It is also remembered for introducing iconic characters like the Ewoks and delivering emotionally resonant scenes, thus ensuring its place in cinematic history.

4. American Graffiti (1973)

IMDb rating: 7.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 96%

Storyline: American Graffiti is a nostalgic look at the early ‘60s, focusing on a group of high school friends on the cusp of adulthood. Over the course of a single night, the friends cruise the streets of Modesto, California, as they grapple with life and love before embarking on divergent paths, all to the rock and roll soundtrack that defined the era.

Why it’s a major movie: American Graffiti marks a significant departure from George Lucas’s later, more famous works, but the movie’s impact and success are no less significant. It captured the cultural zeitgeist of the ‘60s, displaying Lucas’s gift for storytelling while featuring early performances from future stars such as Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfuss, and Ron Howard.

Why it’s a major movie: Besides its commercial and critical success, American Graffiti served as a window into a now-vanished era, providing a poignant reflection on adolescence and the inevitability of change. The film stands as a testament to Lucas’s versatility as a filmmaker and his ability to craft engaging, relatable characters.

5. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)

IMDb rating: 7.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 80%

Storyline: The third episode of the prequel trilogy unfolds the tragic fall of Anakin Skywalker and the birth of Darth Vader. Amid a brutal war, Anakin falls prey to the dark machinations of Senator Palpatine and gradually succumbs to the dark side of the Force, setting the stage for the rise of the Galactic Empire.

Why it’s a major movie: While the prequel trilogy has often been a subject of debate among Star Wars fans, Revenge of the Sith is widely acknowledged as the strongest entry. The film’s dark tone, complex characters, emotional depth, and the spectacular portrayal of Anakin Skywalker’s fall make it a major movie.

Why it’s a major movie: Revenge of the Sith succeeds in bringing a sense of tragic inevitability to the downfall of Anakin Skywalker and the rise of the Empire. With its grand spectacle, intense performances and memorable score, the film marked a high point in the prequel trilogy and reaffirmed Lucas’s status as a visionary filmmaker.

6. THX 1138 (1971)

IMDb rating: 6.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 86%

Storyline: In Lucas’ directorial debut, THX 1138 presents a dystopian future where all emotions are suppressed by drugs and where everyone is designated by alphanumeric codes. When THX 1138 stops taking his medication, he awakens a range of suppressed emotions and desires, including a longing for freedom.

Why it’s a major movie: THX 1138 marked George Lucas’s debut as a feature film director and provided glimpses of the creative genius he would later completely realise in Star Wars. Its striking visuals, eerily prescient social commentary, and an excellent performance from Robert Duvall contributed to its cult status.

Why it’s a major movie: The film is an admirable showcase of Lucas’s early directorial style distinguished by its striking imagery, efficient storytelling, and ability to provoke thought. Despite its bleak setting, THX 1138 stands out as a potent exploration of themes such as individuality, state control, and the search for identity.

7. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

IMDb rating: 6.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 52%

Storyline: The first episode in the Star Wars prequel trilogy takes us back to Anakin Skywalker’s roots as a young slave on Tatooine who is discovered by two Jedi. The film traces the early stages of his journey to becoming a Jedi while simultaneously unveiling a shadowy menace plotting the downfall of the Galactic Republic.

Why it’s a major movie: The Phantom Menace marked Star Wars’ long-awaited return after a gap of 16 years. The film is particularly noteworthy for pushing the boundaries of special effects at the time, introducing midi-chlorians, and giving audiences their first look at the pre-Empire universe of Star Wars.

Why it’s a major movie: Regardless of the polarizing response it generated amidst fans and critics, The Phantom Menace remains a significant part of the Star Wars saga for its major narrative developments. The film’s action-adventure elements — particularly the pod-racing sequence and Duel of the Fates lightsaber battle — remain some of the most adrenaline-charging moments of the franchise.

8. Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)

IMDb rating: 6.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 65%

Storyline: The second episode in the prequel trilogy further unravels the groundwork laid in Episode I. As Anakin Skywalker grows into a skilled Jedi apprentice, his forbidden love for Padmé Amidala and growing disillusionment with the Jedi Council stir his journey towards the dark side. Meanwhile, an escalating conflict sets the stage for the Clone Wars.

Why it’s a major movie: While Episode II updates much of what made Star Wars a popular phenomenon in its time, it also brings to light new and quintessential story elements. From Anakin and Padmé’s romance to the inception of Clone Wars, to an enlarged role for Obi-Wan Kenobi, the film deepens the Star Wars saga with compelling storytelling and impressive visual scope.

Why it’s a major movie: Attack of the Clones may not be the best reviewed film in the Star Wars franchise, yet it remains significant for charting Anakin’s descent into the dark side of the Force. Furthermore, with groundbreaking digital effects and a grand-scale battle sequence, the movie effectively broadens the galaxy far, far away, reinforcing George Lucas’s status as a pioneer in the realm of cinematic imagination.