“empire” or “awakens”–which is the best?

Last week, I said that The Force Awakens was the best Star Wars movie yet, but some readers objected, holding up The Empire Strikes Back as still being superior.  I agree that Empire is an excellent movie, and before TFA was released, I wholeheartedly believed that TESB was the best.


Did I succumb to the TFA hype?  Methinks a side-by-side comparison is in order. Let’s look at several elements and see which movie did them better.

***Some spoilers ahead***

Story.  TESB continues where A New Hope leaves off, with Darth Vader in full beast mode to take out Luke Skywalker and the Rebel Alliance.  TFA is more like a remake of ANH than it is a continuation of the Star Wars saga.  Advantage: EMPIRE

Tone.  TESB is dark and serious, in stark contrast to ANH.  TFA is pure fun after the drudgery of the prequels.  Advantage: TIE.


Settings.  TESB has Hoth, Dagobah, the cloud city of Bespin, and the decks of the moy-impressive Super Star Destroyer Executor.  And, of course, the Millennium Falcon. TFA also has the Falcon, as well as the desert planet Jakku; Takodana (home of Maz Kanata); the Resistance Base of D’Qar; Han Solo’s Eravana, the rathtar-hauling freighter and the Starkiller Base, a planet made into a weapon.  The older movie has few locales, but they’re more memorable.  Advantage: EMPIRE.


Characters.  TESB: Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, R2, Threepio, Lando, Ben, Yoda, Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine, and Boba Fett.  TFA: The first 6 listed, plus Rey, Finn, Poe, BB-8, Maz, General Hux, Supreme Leader Snoke, and Kylo Ren.  I like the new folks in TFA, but Yoda trumps Maz, and the three new villains ≠ Darth Vader.  Advantage: EMPIRE.

Acting.  Standouts from TESB: James Earl Jones as the voice of Vader; Billie Dee Williams as the conflicted Lando Calrissian; Frank Oz making you believe a puppet is actually a Jedi Master; and Leia and Han bidding farewell in the freezing chamber. Standouts from TFA: Daisy Ridley as Rey, John Boyega as Finn, Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, and Harrison Ford as an old Han Solo with much to lose.  Advantage: TIE.

 This one’s not even close: TESB would win just for the line about what happened to Luke’s father.  Never mind every other thing that Yoda says, or “I know.” Advantage: EMPIRE.

Pace.  TESB starts off with the steady but unnecessary sequence where Luke is attacked by a Wampa and is eventually rescued by Han; livens up with the Battle for Hoth (which always gets me ampped to play Warhammer 40K) and the Imperial Fleet’s pursuit of the Falcon; then slooooooooows way until Luke confronts Vader.  TFA hits the ground running and hardly pauses for breath.  Advantage: AWAKENS.

Effects.  The visuals for TESB were great for their time, but it’s like comparing NFL players from the ’70’s and ’80’s to their bigger, faster counterparts of the present day. Advantage: AWAKENS.

Costumes.  Standouts from TESB: Vader’s suit, Yoda’s simple robes, Leia’s outfits, Luke’s tan uniform when he faces Vader.  Standouts from TFA: Rey’s look, mo’ better Stormtrooper armor and helmets, Kylo Ren’s garb.  Advantage: TIE.


Music.  “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)”–you heard it first in TESB.  Drop the mic.  Advantage: EMPIRE.

So to sum up, The Empire Strikes Back excels in 5 of our criteria (Story, Settings, Characters, Dialogue, Music); The Force Awakens wins in 2 categories (Pace and Effects); and the films tie in 3 (Tone, Acting, and Costumes).

I’m not too proud to admit when I’m wrong: the Empire still reigns!  But I’ll take TFA over any of the other films, even A New Hope.


Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy.  His latest work-in-progress is In Lonely Lands, a modern-fantasy/horror novel, to be published in fall 2016.

Kenton is the author of Dragontamer’s Daughters, based on Navajo culture and belief.  He also wrote Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.  

Follow Kenton on Facebook for daily posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction. 


This entry was posted in movies and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.