Throughout the ages mankind has searched for the answers to the mysteries of the universe. Who are we? Why are we here? What’s the meaning of life? Now, ORWAV are facing the most important question of them all: what’s the best Star Wars film?
Three of our writers – Sophie Wing, Andrew Daley and David Brake – will be putting forward their views, with the debate moderated by your friendly neighbourhood features editor Tom Bond. Without further ado: cue the opening crawl…
David: It’s necessary to be perfectly up front in this. To me, The Empire Strikes Back is my favourite film. The emotional side is obviously a key factor, but even looking at this film apathetically its standing as the best Star Wars film cannot be toppled.
It is by far the most emotional, well-rounded, gorgeously scored and shot film in the series. The projection of several characters’ narratives are done with such wonderful ease and balance – it’s effervescent blockbuster filmmaking. Think about this film and all its defining moments: Yoda training Luke, Luke and Darth’s moment, Han Solo/Leia’s “I love you/I know”, and the smell of fresh tauntaun guts.
Some films just have one clear iconic moment – this has at least five. It lives up to the true potential of film: turning an audience – no matter what creed, race, age or religion – into a captive, fascinated group of individuals watching in wonder at the most incredible of films.
Sophie: As much as I do appreciate ESB, I think it has to be all about A New Hope. As an opening to a space opera epic I think it presents an amazing sense of universe and scale, yet it moves through this huge story that could potentially overwhelm its characters without losing them once.
For me it sets the tone which I think defines Star Wars, which is the same thing that I think makes Harry Potter so successful. For all the backdrop and epic moments (“Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi”, “These are not the droids you are looking for” etc.) it sets up the heart of its story very clearly, and that heart is this one person being presented with their destiny and challenged to follow it.
Andrew: Being amongst the few who were stunned at the glorified fight scenes and wonderful CGI of Revenge of the Sith, and the big battles that drew you into this intergalactic war, I think it’s fair to say that I see far more worth than most in Episodes 1-3 than 4-6.
I wouldn’t say that I have a ‘favourite’ per-se, but I do agree that there are aspects of all six films that complement each other perfectly. ANH leaves you with more questions than it answers, and that’s why I prefer the new films as you actually see and experience the Jedi, the Galactic Senate and the Clone Wars.
Tom: Any responses on how much the prequels/originals show and tell? It’s a common critique for the prequel trilogy that it shows too much and loses all the mystery.
Sophie: Interesting point about ‘complete’ films – I feel like ANH is successful because it presents questions about what might or could come next. I like films that don’t drip-feed you everything straight away and ANH treads a great, fine line between feeling like a self-contained film and giving you something to look forward to in the sequels.
David: I think you’ve both got a point. ANH is wondrous in its heart, and the prequels have merit in creating a fully realised universe. What I admire most about ESB is how it develops the strengths of the first one. It highlights how ANH was no fluke, and this opera – like life – has some dark bits in it.
It’s like Dante from Clerks says about ESB: “It ends on such a down note. I mean, that’s what life is, a series of down endings.” So I feel that’s why it strikes the cleanest and strongest for me – that in amongst the heart, and striking visuals, and world creation – there’s an extraordinarily human foundation.
Andrew: I completely agree about the extensive ‘down’ endings. Look at Return of the Jedi and how it took three films to finally have some form of happy ending, albeit one where you have to cremate your own father…
Sophie: I agree about the power of the ‘downs’ – one thing I will say is that ANH (by virtue of being the first and the gamble, I imagine) ends on this happy, upbeat note and it doesn’t have the depth that the others do in their endings. However, I’d argue that ANH has what is really quite a shocking mid-point, and that’s the literal cutting down of the ‘father/mentor’ figure.
David: ESB could not exist without ANH. There’s no way this argument could even exist without ANH. ANH‘s strength is unquestionable. A five star movie any day of the week, month, decade. Yet where I see ESB having the edge is that ANH’s foundation of emotions and depth and complexity is only improved upon. This is a film of dark feelings. This is a film about growing up.
Tom: So ANH is the chicken, ESB is the egg: are the prequels the one-night stand that everyone involved would rather forget?
Andrew: I feel that Star Wars is a lot like Doctor Who. It’s divided by a generation, a lot of years, and a stylistic change in the Industry. Both sagas are incredible on their own merit, but I feel there is some form of elitism floating around the original trilogy. The gap of years waiting for the new films led to overtly heightened expectations which could never be met.
David: You’re not wrong. Phantom Menace still holds the unenviable title of “Most Disappointing Film of All Time” from Empire.
Andrew: I think Empire need to stay up on a Sunday night and watch more late night movies on Channel 5…
Tom: So there was clearly a massive expectation for the prequels, which was dashed by the arrival of TPM. Does anyone here feel it was underrated or does it deserve its hatred?
Sophie: As a kid, watching TPM when I was 10, it was epic. I loved it. I had and still have an Amidala pencil case and I thought Darth Maul was the bomb. He’s still a great and iconic Star Wars villain. Anakin butchering a bunch of children in Revenge of the Sith is a gutsy and horrific moment. I think that hindsight picks out the bad (because it is bad) and that has overwhelmed all of the positives in the prequels.
David: Sophie nails it. When I was 8 – I was THE target market and it hit everything for me then. But again, I’ll go further than Sophie and say that I think the prequels have positives, but eps 4 to 6 are ahead for a reason. They’re pure cinematic gold.
Sophie: Overall I think the prequels are a subpar trilogy of films and that there is definitely a downward progression in quality, especially with character development. ROTS feels like a ‘bad’ space opera in that Anakin becomes one giant ball of rage and Amidala goes from this gutsy and complicated woman to Bella from Twilight – but TPM and to a large extent Attack of the Clones are better than the reputation they have.
Tom: We haven’t spoken much about Return of the Jedi yet. What does everyone else think? Ruined by Ewoks?
Andrew: “Rebels go camping”.
Sophie: I think Endor suffers from an unfair mauling. That chase through the wood on the speeders is one of my favourite scenes from the whole trilogy.
Tom: OK, I think we’ve given all the films a fair hearing, so shall we have final statements on your favourite, including if your mind has been changed by the debate?
Andrew: I’d like to state that my mind has been changed, and I’m more inclined to agree that the new trilogy is a cinematic bag of trash.
David: Go us.
Andrew: Let’s be honest, if Secret Cinema thought that ESB wasn’t the best one, they wouldn’t have spent nine months making mega money from a live-action recreation of it.
Sophie: I think Andrew’s arguments for the prequels were pretty compelling and it did make me re-think whether they were 100% bad or just maligned – the truth is somewhere in-between.
David’s arguments for ESB were stupendous and they’ve put me very close to changing my mind. I was going to stick with ANH because you can’t have ESB without all of the work which went into creating that universe beforehand…but on balance I’ve been replaying the scenes in my head and coming up with so. Many. Good ones. I think with all of the incredible scenes, revelations, plot twists and gut-wrenching moments…yeah, I’ll change my mind: The Empire Strikes Back.
David: The prequels are what they are. If they were called something else, they’d be better regarded. Sadly they’re not. However, the point of this is not to just disown a film, or put those months of efforts in the trash. It’s pretty hard to go up against something that redefined cinema.
ESB remains my number one. Unsurprisingly. In fact, my resolve has strengthened on it. Not due to the arguments here – they were all excellent – but because I’ve been replaying the film in my head and it just can’t be beaten. The constant excitement. The pure draw of Han Solo and Leia. The introduction of Yoda. The fact that this is one of the most daring, visionary and inventive films (possibly) of all time. Difficult second film? As if.