Can 'Star Wars’ Movie Runtimes Predict the Quality of the Movies?

Does longer mean better for 'Rise of Skywalker'? Let’s break down the numbers.

No one can agree on what makes a bad Star Wars movie bad or a good Star Wars movie good, but we can all agree that a Star Wars movie with more minutes in it is longer than one with fewer minutes in it. The question is: Does runtime matter? Han Solo did the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, but, he was famously conflating concepts of distance and time. Still, if Han can use two different units of measurement to prove a point, maybe we can use the same twisted logic to explain the quality of Star Wars movies by judging their runtimes, including Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.

Earlier this week, the brother of composer John Williams, a man improbably named Don Williams, claimed that The Rise of Skywalker will have 135 minutes worth of footage to score, quickly making people believe that The Rise of Skywalker is 2 hours and 15 minutes long. If it is, what does that mean? And can knowing the runtime of a Star Wars movie predict anything about the movie itself?

As Lando says: Better strap in baby. It’s about to get Force-crazy in here.

'A New Hope'
'A New Hope'

The Only Canonical Star Wars Movies Everyone Likes Are the Two Shortest Live-Action Films

People disagree about the greatness and terribleness of many, many Star Wars movies, but there is not a Star Wars fan on the planet who does not love the original film, A New Hope, and its direct sequel, The Empire Strikes Back. Respectively, the theatrical versions of these movies are 2 hours and 1 minute, and 2 hours and 4 minutes. But, to be totally clear, the contemporary iTunes versions of these movies are a little longer; Apple lists A New Hope at 2 hours and 4 minutes and Empire at 2 hours and 7 minutes.

This can easily be explained by the brief extra scenes from the infamous Special Editions, but the point still stands. Even the longest cut of Empire is still six minutes shorter than the next longest Star Wars movie: Rogue One. Think six minutes isn’t that long? Think again. The entire Yavin IV battle scene in A New Hope is only about 14 minutes long, and Luke is only in the Death Star Trench for roughly 4 minutes of that entire scene.

Let that sink in: Luke manages to lose both his wingmen (Biggs and Wedge) turn off his targeting computer, get rescued by Han Solo, talk to Obi-Wan’s ghost, AND blow up the Death Star in just four minutes of screentime. So, yeah, in a Star Wars movie, a lot can happen in under 6 minutes.

Boba Fett abusing a space animal. Just one more reason people are afraid to watch The Star Wars Holiday Special
Boba Fett abusing a space animal. Just one more reason people are afraid to watch The Star Wars Holiday Special

But, the Actual Shortest Star Wars Movies — Including Non Canon Stuff and Cartoons — Are Easily the Worst

In the above section, I made sure that we all understood that the two best live-action and canonical movies in all of Star Wars were also the shortest. But, if you remove one or both of those criteria, things get dicey. What is the shortest non-canon Star Wars movie that was still made by Lucasfilm? That would be Ewoks: Battle For Endor at 1 hour and 34 minutes. Then, there’s the Star Wars Holiday Special —which though not canon, features the first appearance of Boba Fett — and that sucker is 2 hours on the dot. And don’t forget the other Ewok movie, a film originally called The Ewok Adventure, but more commonly known as Caravan of Courage, which sits at 1 hour and 37 minutes.

Finally, whenever people talk about bad Star Wars movies, everyone forgets to talk about the 2008 animated feature, The Clone Wars. Uh-huh. It might be hip to love The Clone Wars TV series these days, but the theatrically released film that launched that series is not great. (Anakin and Ahsoka are charged with transporting a tiny Hutt baby. This is the real plot.) The Clone Wars movie is also 100 percent Star Wars canon and it’s also very short: 1 hour and 38 minutes, probably as a tribute Caravan of Courage.

So, you could say: “All the best Star Wars movies are short,” but you’d have to qualify that with both in-canon and live-action, because one canon animated movie is short and terrible, and three live-action non-canon movies are short and totally unwatchable. 

(Note, if you Google “Caravan of Courage runtime,” the internet will tell you it is like 3 hours long. This is false. It is conflating two movies into one thing. That’s not how these crumby TV movies were released in the eighties. I mean, think about it: “Hey kids wanna watch a 3 hour long Ewok movie?” Come on! Peter Jackson wasn’t making these things.)

Force Awakens
The Force Awakens

About Half of the Canonical Live-Action Star Wars Movies Are Nearly the Same Length

If you want to talk about the runtime that appears the most often in Star Wars movies it’s about 2 hours and 15 minutes, which would also include the rumored runtime of The Rise of Skywalker. If we don’t count Rise of Skywalker, then five Star Wars movies have a runtime that sits very close to 2 hours and 15 minutes: Phantom Menace is 2:16, Solo is 2:15, Rogue One is 2:13, Return of the Jedi is 2:16, and Force Awakens is 2:15.

Right now, that means exactly half of all regular Star Wars movies are nearly exactly the same length. If you just add up the ten existing Star Wars movies, the average length is also 136 minutes, making this runtime of roughly 2:15 or 2:16 both the mean and the mode. If we add in the rumored runtime of Rise of Skywalker (2:15) you’re still at an average of 135 minutes for any given Star Wars film.

So, if you’re J.J. Abrams, you probably know this. At least half the time, Star Wars movies are about 2 hours and 15 minutes and that’s just how it’s done.

Star Wars Attack of the Clones

Two of the Longer Star Wars Movies Are Nobody’s Favorites

So, after we get the shortest real Star Wars movies out of the way, and all the other movies that are about 2:15, what are we left with? The long ones. Attack of the Clones is 2:22 and Revenge of the Sith is 2:20. Neither of these movies can really be held up as examples of great Star Wars films, and, their Rotten Tomatoes scores reflect that: Attack of the Clones has 66 percent and Revenge of the Sith, 80. (The only lower Star Wars films on Rotten Tomatoes are Solo, The Phantom Menace, and The Clone Wars movie, which has, OUCH, 18 percent.)

So, prior to 2017, if you said the longest Star Wars movies are the worst Star Wars movies, and you excluded the animated films and the non-canon Ewok movies, you would be right; because by any standard, the two longest Star Wars films before 2017 — Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith — were worse than most other Star Wars movies released at that time.

But that was before The Last Jedi.

Broom Kid thinks 2 hours and 33 minutes is fine.
Broom Kid thinks 2 hours and 33 minutes is fine.

The Last Jedi Problem

Of the three longest Star Wars movies, The Last Jedi is the longest by far at a whopping 2:33. That’s 11 minutes longer than the next longest movie, Revenge of the Sith, and, as we know by now, in a Star Wars movie, you could blow up the Death Star like three times in 11 minutes. So, how does The Last Jedi figure into the whole runtime versus quality debate? Short answer: It doesn’t.

Without getting into the controversies about The Last Jedi too much, let’s just say, it’s hard to really know how much people either like or don’t like the movie right now because discussions, even in 2019, are still too fraught. The gross racist and sexist trolls who hate everything about the movie don’t represent any kind of thoughtful view of the film, of course. But at the same time, it’s hard to believe that the 92 percent Rotten Tomatoes score The Last Jedi currently holds is reflective of what level-headed people think about the movie, at least relative to other Star Wars films.

I mean, do most people think The Last Jedi is better than Return of the Jedi, a movie which only sits at 81 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, suggesting that 1983 film in which Luke Skywalker burns the body of Darth Vader while dancing teddy bears play the drums is only a slightly better film than Revenge of the Sith, a movie where Vader walks like Frankenstein and Natalie Portman dies because she “loses the will to live”?

I don’t know. But I think it’s probably dishonest to say that Return of the Jedi is 12 percent worse than the The Last Jedi. But again, no one has any objectivity on The Last Jedi at the moment.

In terms of a simpler, debate about the best Star Wars movies ever, The Last Jedi nearly disqualifies itself from the conversation because just mentioning the movie is like the cocaine in the form of rhetoric discourse. Everything becomes hyperbolic and crazy when people talk about The Last Jedi even if they are not trolls. Sadly, this means, thinking about the hefty runtime of The Last Jedi relative to its quality is almost impossible. Because it’s eleven minutes longer than the next longest Star Wars film, The Last Jedi is literally in a class by itself.

Conclusions

So, what have we learned? Three things.

  1. If The Rise of Skywalker is about 135 minutes, then it will be, an average Star Wars movie, literally. As demonstrated, most Star Wars movies are about 2 hours and 15 minutes, and the movies with those runtimes range from being fine to great, depending on who you ask.
  2. Very short Star Wars movies, provided they are live-action and canonical, are always great. However, there are only two of them to date. Meaning, if J.J. Abrams was doing anything, he should be trying to shorten the film in post-production.
  3. Having a super-long Star Wars movie right now just means there’s enough stuff in the movie to cause insane internet debates that last forever.

If we’re still arguing about The Last Jedi after two years, and it’s about 15 minutes longer than an average Star Wars movie, just imagine what would happen to the culture if one of these suckers was three hours.


The Rise of Skywalker, a movie that will likely be 2 horus and 15 minutes, will be out on December 20, 2019.

Media via Lucasfilm, Luasfilm, Disney