The Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars movie. Critics say so, according to Rotten Tomatoes. Viewers say so, according to polls by Ranker, FiveThirtyEight, IGN, and other sites. Movie experts at entertainment sites like CinemaBlend, The Wrap, Taste of Cinema, and Vulture say so. Even Popular Mechanics says so. So do USA Today, Esquire, GQ, Parade, Business Insider, and dozens of other news and opinion sources.
I don’t buy it. I vote for the original, 1977 Star Wars. I’m not entirely alone in this opinion –– Metacritic calls this film the best, as do a few other sources –– but my side is definitely in the minority.
Yes, Empire’s Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan were more accomplished screenwriters than the original’s George Lucas, and Irwin Kershner was a more polished director. And yet . . .
Unlike Empire, Star Wars told a complete story. It established the milieu and all of the major characters. And if you want a head-to-head comparison:
Boba Fett and the Emperor are certainly mysterious and nasty, but no one’s as mysterious and nasty as Darth Vader, one of the great screen bad guys.
The original’s Han Solo is more dynamic, funny, and multi-layered than Empire’s Lando Calrissian.
The original gave us the wise and gutsy Princess Leia. Empire gave us –– well, no one.
The sequel had a great idea: Vader as Luke’s dad. But the original had the Force, the Empire, and much more.
Empire’s Imperial march is a classic. But the original had the famous opening fanfare and other memorable themes.
Billy Dee Williams is a fine and fun performer, but the thespian gravitas of Peter Cushing and Alec Guinness gave the original more strength and style.
I’ll give the edge to Empire on this one. Obi-Wan Kenobi’s a great old man, but Yoda outdoes him for wisdom, warmth, humor, and verve.
Machines and other objects:
Empire had AT-AT Imperial walkers, the cloud city, and Han Solo frozen in carbonite. But the original gave us more, including the Death Star, TIE fighters, X-wings, Luke’s landspeeder, star destroyers, light sabers, and the Millennium Falcon.
Empire gave us these —
“Do or do not. There is no try.”
“I love you.” “I know.”
“Size matters not.”
“Impressive. Most impressive.”
“I am your father.”
“That boy is our last hope.” “No. There is another.”
Good stuff, to be sure. But the original gave us a larger number of great lines, some of which have become a piece of our culture.
“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. . . “
“If you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.”
“You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.”
“The Force is strong with this one.”
“Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”
“Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?”
“Use the Force, Luke.”
“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”
“Let the Wookiee win.”
“May the Force be with you.”
I love Empire, but the winner for me is George Lucas’s original.