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.
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.
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