From a Certain Point of View: Is The Empire Strikes Back Really the Best Star Wars Film?

The first in a new StarWars.com series, two writers go head-to-head on one of the most heated Star Wars debates.

One of the great things about Star Wars is that it inspires endless debates and opinions on a wide array of topics. Best bounty hunter? Most powerful Jedi? Does Salacious Crumb have the best haircut in the saga? In that spirit, StarWars.com presents From a Certain Point of View: a series of point-counterpoints on some of the biggest — and most fun — Star Wars issues. In our opening installment, two StarWars.com writers discuss whether Episode V, often cited by fans as a favorite of the saga, is indeed the best film in the series.

Is The Empire Strikes Back the best Star Wars film? NO, says Bryan Young.

The conventional wisdom that goes around with Star Wars is that The Empire Strikes Back is the best movie of the saga. On a filmmaking level, on a storytelling level, acting, effects, everything. The entire package.

But I don’t think it’s the best.

The Empire Strikes Back is a great film, no doubt about it. All of the reasons people hail it as the best are completely valid. And we’re not talking about favorite films, either, though my favorite is Return of the Jedi, when I’m pressed to choose one.

No, the best Star Wars film is, without a doubt, the original. A New Hope.

A New Hope - Devastator chasing the Tantive IV

It’s easy to imagine the world of film and storytelling after Star Wars. It informed everything that came after it, but no one quite gives it enough credit for being the miracle it really is. It’s nothing short of the unique vision of George Lucas, a man who took equal parts from Samurai and World War II films, threw in a healthy dose of John Carter and Flash Gordon, and brought us something the world had ever seen. A New Hope is a perfect balance of humor, acting, lightning fast editing, thrilling chases, daring escapes, and a feat of story building so boldly absurd that it’s perfect.

How often do you hear of filmmakers and storytellers and artists mentioning the impact Star Wars had on their lives? Invariably, that inspiration began with the shot of the Star Destroyer Devastator coming over the camera in hot pursuit of the Tantive IV. Yes, the surprise ending of Empire had an emotional resonance that was important, but it simply could not have existed without every shred of context and character and world building that was established in A New Hope.

No one could have made Star Wars but George Lucas, and no one could have come and made a follow up without understanding this new language of space cinema that Lucas created from scratch. That’s what makes Star Wars better than Empire: the sheer work of imagination it took to build the world in the first place. Before Star Wars, we didn’t have Darth Vader. Or the Jedi. Or spaceships or droids or Han Solo. George Lucas hand-cut each and every puzzle piece that made up Star Wars. Irvin Kershner, under the guiding hands of George Lucas and a script by Lawrence Kasdan, was able to play with a new puzzle with the pieces pre-made. It’s a gorgeous puzzle, but the hard work and the spirit of it just isn’t the same.

Now, you can say that Kershner improved on the formula, and maybe he did, but Lucas had the harder job and made it look easy.

That’s why A New Hope, not The Empire Strikes Back, is the best film in the Star Wars saga.

Is The Empire Strikes Back the best Star Wars film? YES, says Geek Girl Diva.

If you ask Star Wars fans what their favorite film is in the Saga, a majority will tell you it’s The Empire Strikes Back. While I can’t speak for multitudes, I can definitely see their point. Star Wars introduced us to the galaxy far, far away and to Luke, Han, Leia, and Darth Vader. Still, for all of the wonder and majesty of Star Wars, we only learned so much about the characters and world we’d been introduced to. The Empire Strikes Back is our first real foray into the true depths of those characters.

Empire was also the first time we began to understand the Force or how the light and dark sides differentiate beyond a good vs. evil explanation. We see it in action as they literally battle one another and we see how the dark side can seem so much more powerful. We learn the power of the dark side and it’s terrifying.

Not to mention, it’s the first time we learn that the Skywalker family branches out further than we realized. The revelation that Vader is Luke’s father threw the fandom for a major loop and that moment has earned a place in history as one of the best reveals in cinema: right up there with Rosebud and who Norman Bates’ mother was.

This was also the first taste of what a Star Wars movie would be with written and directorial input coming from someone beside George Lucas. The perspective is a darker, edgier, emotion-filled one where good people get hurt and the hero doesn’t save the day.

Under Irvin Kershner and Lawrence Kasdan’s direction and writing, Luke leaves his farmboy enthusiasm behind and finds a deeper connection to his friends and his destiny. The roguish Han Solo finds himself not only captured but tortured and betrayed by his friend. Leia, no longer able to deny her place within the Rebellion, embraces her own destiny and starts to embody that regal steel we see in a future General Organa. Everyone is pushed to be more than they were in Star Wars and Kersher’s skilled hands make sure everything feels organic and real.

Episode V - Leia and Han on the Millennium Falcon

For me, The Empire Strikes Back is the film that found the beating heart of the growing Star Wars universe and made us care on a deeper level than we ever expected to care.

Plus, Yoda. C’mon. I mean, Yoda’s a selling point all by himself. A New Hope doesn’t have a mini Jedi Master with a cane and the best laugh in the Star Wars universe.

I know you said ANH is the best “without a doubt,” Bryan, but like Kanye would say, The Empire Strikes Back is the best film in the Star Wars saga.

For me, The Empire Strikes Back is the film that found the beating heart of the growing Star Wars universe and made us care on a deeper level than we ever expected to care. That’s why I believe The Empire Strikes Back is the best film in the Star Wars saga.

What do you think? Is Empire the best? Or is it another film in the saga? Sound off in the comments below!

Bryan Young is an author, a filmmaker, journalist, and the editor in chief of BigShinyRobot.com! He’s also the co-host of the Star Wars podcast, Full of Sith.

Geek Girl Diva is a longtime Star Wars fan and a diehard Rebels lover. She also thinks Poe Dameron’s hair has magical properties.

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