Four Empire writers tackle the biggest franchise of them all. May the Force be with them
It is a period of civil war. The Empire staff enter a hidden base in an attempt to rank the Star Wars films…
Chris: First up, we’re not putting those dreadful Ewok films in. Let’s keep this focused on the ten theatrical movies.
James: Shall we start with what we think is the best?
Chris: Yes. I would say that, incontrovertibly, the greatest Star Wars film by a country mile is The Empire Strikes Back.
James: Not so much.
Helen: That’s not my number one.
Jonathan: Yeah, no.
James: This is the perceived wisdom, that Empire Strikes Back is dark and edgy and cool and therefore the best and has a really downbeat ending. It’s a brilliant film, but it’s not the best. It’s not A New Hope.
Helen: A New Hope is the absolute pinnacle. Without it, you have nothing. It has a complete story — a beginning, middle and end — which is the one area where, incontrovertibly, it stands head and shoulders above Empire.
James: Star Wars has a purity. It’s a single-track story with very clean milestones. It’s perfectly formed and magnificently crafted. It has the best opening of all of them with the Star Destroyer coming overhead. I think that film is absolutely magical.
Jonathan: The one I remember more than anything is Jedi. That stuck with me because of all the crazy creatures in Jabba’s Palace. But if I were to sit down and watch any of them, the one I would choose is most likely A New Hope because it’s so joyous all the way through. Chris: Empire Strikes Back is the best. Not because I’m a cool dude who likes a bleak ending. Though I do like that. I think it’s a more confident movie. A better movie. The character work is fantastic. I think visually it’s better. The lightsaber battle between Luke and Darth is possibly the visual high point of the series.
Helen: I don’t disagree with any of that.
Chris: So let’s put it at number one. James: The thing with Empire is it’s a film of spares. There’s a spare everyone by design. Nobody was signed up for Jedi, so George Lucas needed a spare Luke, so ‘there is another Skywalker’. And if Harrison Ford didn’t come back, he needed a spare Han, which is where Lando comes in. The Emperor was introduced as a potential spare Vader in case he couldn’t get James Earl Jones. Yoda is a replacement for Obi-wan.
Helen: There’s only one Leia. We can’t have two women in a film because that would be problematic.
Chris: It has the greatest twist in cinema history. We can all agree on that.
Jonathan: It’s amazing because of the emotional weight it carries. It’s not just a parlour trick. It matters to Luke.
Helen: It would have been better if it hadn’t been attempted again and again in every other film for the last 40 years.
Chris: My list falls into three distinct categories. The original trilogy in the top three, the prequels in the bottom three, and the middle films are the four new Star Wars films.
James: Same, but I struggled with this a lot. The prequels have moments of sheer genius but also moments so appalling they make you want to claw your own eyeballs out of your head.
Chris: The prequels were much maligned and haven’t aged well, but there is great stuff. The Podrace. Duel Of The Fates. Revenge Of The Sith has a cracking opening 20 minutes. Order
66, which is great.
Helen: Awful. But amazing. But awful. Yoda with a lightsaber, which I really like. James: The orthodoxy is that The Phantom Menace is the worst Star Wars
film. I am here to tell you that it’s the best of the three prequels.
James: Attack Of The Clones is the worst by a country mile. Revenge Of The Sith is all show and no substance.
Jonathan: It’s my least favourite of the prequels. Attack Of The Clones, for all its faults, has a semblance of mystery and the beginnings of a romance for the ages.
Sith is a relentless parade of events you know have to happen. It’s simply ticking boxes.
Chris: I would revisit those films in a way that I wouldn’t revisit the new batch.
James: I have affection for them, in all their terrible glory.
Helen: I would absolutely go back to the new batch before any of those.
Chris: The new films are in the middle of my top ten, but I don’t have a lot of affection for them.
James: The Force Awakens gives me the warm, fuzzy Star Wars feeling in the way The Last Jedi doesn’t. But I think
The Last Jedi is probably a better film.
Helen: It’s definitely a better film.
I think it’s the first in a little while that’s done something fresh and new, in the way Empire did.
Jonathan: It did surprise us. It’s hard for a blockbuster to do that these days. That final hour of The Last Jedi is a remarkable hour of cinema.
James: It’s amazing how polarising that film is. The hatred for it is extraordinary. When I came out of it, I thought, “People are going to loathe this.” It doesn’t feel like the Star Wars they want it to be. Force Awakens was the opposite. It was incredibly familiar, if a little derivative.
Chris: That’s why I don’t like it.
Helen: I think The Force Awakens is a palate cleanser. It’s a re-statement of values, and of what Star Wars is. Chris: I disagree. You can take The Force Awakens and overlay it perfectly over A New Hope. It’s so safe. There are no surprises whatsoever. That really frustrated me.
Helen: But I think we needed that to some extent.
Chris: Enough squabbling. Let’s vote!
Episodes i-viii, and Rogue one: A star WARS story, are out now on dvd, Blu-ray and download. solo: A star WARS story is in cinemas now
To listen to the full Star Wars debate as a podcast, go to www.empireonline. com/podcast