Some have said on this blog that The Force Awakens is 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.
But is it? 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).
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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