The Star Wars franchise is one of the most successful in film history, raking in billions of dollars at the box office and while recent entries have seen budgets balloon to enormous figures, the sci-fi saga actually had a modest beginning.
With Gareth Edwards’ The Creator reminding fans that sci-fi films can be made on smaller budgets, we thought it was the perfect time to explore the history of the Star Wars franchise and how George Lucas grew the saga from almost indie-level funding into a blockbuster empire.
11. A New Hope ($11 million)
First up in our list is the very first entry in the Star Wars franchise. Made on a shoestring budget of just $11 million, A New Hope ended up grossing $775 million.
Even when adjusted for inflation via DollarTimes, the budget still only comes to $56 million, which would be regarded as meager for a blockbuster in 2023. However, in comparison, the film’s box office takings would equate to an astronomical $3.9 billion in today’s money.
10. The Empire Strikes Back ($30.5 million)
Sequels always promise to go bigger than the original film but that wasn’t initially the plan with The Empire Strikes Back which only had a starting budget of $8 million.
However, as filming got underway, production costs kept on rising with the movie eventually going three times over budget with final costs estimated at $30.5 million.
9. Return of the Jedi ($32.5 million)
The final entry in the original trilogy follows The Empire Strikes Back with a slightly increased budget of $32.5 million.
George Lucas was determined to avoid going over budget with Return of the Jedi, leading to a higher level of funding compared with the previous films.
8. Revenge of the Sith ($113 million)
In eighth place comes Revenge of the Sith, the final installment in the prequel trilogy.
Thanks to six years of advancement in filmmaking technology compared with The Phantom Menace, Episode III managed to have the smallest budget of the prequels with $113 million.
7. The Phantom Menace ($115 million)
Episode I was the first new Star Wars film in 16 years when it arrived in 1999 and was the first entry in the saga since the use of CGI started to become commonplace.
This meant the budget grew to north of $100 million for the first time but the investment paid off as the movie grossed over $1 billion at the box office.
6. Attack of the Clones ($115 million)
The second entry in the prequel trilogy matched The Phantom Menace’s budget of $115 million but Attack of the Clones’ lower box office earnings of $653.8 million means it takes sixth place on our list.
5. Rogue One ($232 million)
Rogue One was a huge gamble when it arrived in 2016 as it was the first Star Wars film outside of the main Skywalker Saga.
4. Solo ($270 million)
Costly reshoots led to a net budget of $270 million for Solo which resulted in the movie becoming a costly box office bomb after only recouping $393 million at the box office.
3. The Last Jedi ($300 million)
The second installment in Disney’s sequel trilogy was actually the least expensive of the three movies with a $300 million budget.
Despite the lower costs, the film was still a huge success at the box office, earning over $1.3. billion.
2. The Rise of Skywalker ($416 million)
Released in 2019, The Rise of Skywalker is the final entry in the sequel trilogy and remains the latest Star Wars film to be released.
With the aim of giving the Skywalker Saga a fitting sendoff, the film’s budget ballooned to $416 million, making it the second most expensive film in the Star Wars franchise.
1. The Force Awakens ($447 million)
And finally, the most expensive Star Wars film – and by extension the most expensive movie ever made – is 2015’s The Force Awakens.
The first movie of the Disney era was originally believed to have had a budget in the region of $260-300 million but financial reports released in 2023 revealed the true cost of the film to be must higher.
According to Forbes, the total cost of production was a staggering $533 million although this was offset by tax incentives offered for filming in the UK which resulted in a net budget of $447 million.
The Force Awakens ended up grossing over $2 billion at the box office, so it’s safe to say that Disney recouped their investment and then some.
All 11 films in the Star Wars franchise are available to stream now on Disney+.