The Empire Strikes Back v Return Of The Jedi

Star Wars. The greatest film series of all time. Mikado. The greatest biscuit of all time. Question is, which is the best bit? The delicious, jammy middle bit or the solid, crunchy end bit? Read the arguments and decide. It is your destiny…

Ross McG: The Empire Strikes Back

You are beaten…

I have a confession to make. When I was little, my favourite Star Wars movie was Return Of The Jedi. I got Ewok Village for Christmas one year (up there with a Lego castle, an Ultra Magnus toy and a Super Nintendo in my top pressies ever from Santa) and I used to roast Han Solo over a log fire on a daily basis. That is, until I got older and my mum gave my prized possession to my unruly younger cousins, little Siths in all but name, who dismantled it along with the hopes of the Kenner rebel alliance. Truth be told, The Empire Strikes Back both scared and scarred me. Why is this movie ending, my fragile little mind asked, when Han is still frozen in rainbowbrite? (I couldn’t say ‘carbonite’.)

Years later, of course, I realised that Return Of The Jedi is a piece of puff pastry with which to make Admiral Ackbar-shaped pies, and that the scariest thing about The Empire Strikes Back is that Luke Skywalker whines even more than he did in Star Wars. No! No! That’s not true! That’s impossible! Uh, apparently not.

Impressive. Most impressive

The Mikado biscuit: Impressive. Most impressive

Apart from him moaning about not being able to complete tasks a little green man a third his size can do, Empire is a fantastic movie. It’s fun, exciting and packs an emotional punch. If it drives a bright blue lightsaber through the heart of the brilliant (but clunky) first film, then it totally decapitates the rather soulless third instalment.

Empire’s epic sweep and romance make it a kind of Gone With The Wind In Space, and like that movie its strength lies in its characters. Largely reduced to cardboard cutouts in the first movie, Solo, Leia and Darth Vader all become more interesting second time around, making their respective descents into lame comic relief, bikini-clad bimbo and a nice man in Return Of The Jedi just plain sad. Not only does Empire develop its principal players, it introduces us to an outlandish bunch of new figures – Lando, the Emperor, Yoda, Lobot and Boba Fett.

To remember this film solely for its key reveal is unfair – the dialogue is snappy throughout (‘I’d just as soon kiss a Wookiee’), it has the best lightsaber duel of the entire series and there’s even an incestuous smooch. Not many family-friendly blockbusters can say that.

So, despite liking Jedi when I was a young whippersnapper, thankfully I managed to unlearn what I had learned. Or something. Put very simply, The Empire Strikes Back is way better than Return Of The Jedi. And not one Bothan died to bring you this information. All too easy…

Ross McD: Return Of The Jedi

You’ve failed, your Highness…

Before we get started, let me just apologise and absolve myself of the blasphemy I am about to commit. May the gods forgive me for criticising one sixth of the greatest film series of all time. But I’ve been challenged, so…

The Empire Strikes Back is an excellent watch, but – again, sorry – if you think about it, nothing actually happens in it. There, I said it.

It opens with the Empire chasing the Rebel Alliance – and that’s how it closes. It’s pretty much a two-hour long chase scene. A good chase scene can make a film (see Bullit, The French Connection, Ronin), but a film should not be made of a good chase scene.

Empire opens well – the Battle of Hoth is one of the greatest set pieces in the entire saga. But after that it goes into a right lull. Meeting Yoda for the first time in the cinema would have been fantastic, the shock that this liitle green guy is one of the most powerful Jedis ever, while many of us have based our lives on the wisdom he passes on. But when it comes to rewatchability, you’re simply urging this whole second act to move on and get to the juicy lightsaber scrap.

'I need more men' - I'd say you do, Jerjerrod

‘I need more men’ – I’d say you do, Jerjerrod, I’d say you do

Granted, character-wise Empire introduces some heavy hitters like Fett, Calrissian and, um Lobot, but Jedi matches them pound for pound with worm-headed Bib Fortuna, Admiral Ackbar, the Rancor, and perhaps the most underrated persona in the whole Star Wars saga: Jabba The Hutt. Darth Vader might think he’s the galaxy’s ultimate badass, but no-one made the cool Han Solo s**t his pants like His High Exaltedness. The only thing to worry the slick smuggler throughout all the films is his debt to Jabba – when he first meets Vader in Empire he even cracks off a few shots at him.

Of course, the proper introduction of the most important character in the Star Wars universe is reserved for the final film. And no, McG, you can’t claim him for Empire; what appeared in Episode V was an ‘unknown actress with superimposed chimpanzee eyes’. Ian McDiarmid’s excellently portrayed Emperor Palpatine, responsible for the greatest coup in cinema history, finally reveals himself as the real master to Vader’s apprentice. Luke may be the protagonist, and it may be shot from the droids’ point of view, but the Star Wars saga is definitely the Emperor’s show.

Return of the Jedi also contains the saga’s greatest set piece, greatest moment and funniest line, all in one fantastic sequence: Han Solo’s rescue at the Sarlacc Pit, where Luke single-handedly dispatches Jabba’s private army after coolly giving him the option of surrender. But not before going long for R2, catching his saber, phhsssswwwwww and…….IT’S GREEN! Awesome! They come in green?! I want one.

Despite Basic not being one of his languages, it is R2 who gets to deliver the saga’s funniest line. After being reunited with a severely panicked C3PO aboard Jabba’s skiff, Threepio fearfully asks his friend: ‘What are you doing here?’, to which Artoo nonchalantly replies: ‘Serving drinks’. Comedy gold. And speaking of gold, Jedi had a wayyyyyy better wardrobe manager…

Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re going to say: Ewoks. Well, I say: beware the Grand Moff Tarkin’s downfall. ‘Evacuate? In our moment of triumph? I think you overestimate their chances.’ But it was Tarkin who underestimated the abilities of his tiny X-wing adversaries, and look what happened to him. So the Ewoks were originally supposed to be Wookiees. So what? The Wookiees fought in Revenge of the Sith, was it any more exciting? I don’t think so.

And let’s not forget, unlike the portaloo queue, Jedi has the advantage of going last. While Empire is stuck with that unsatisfactory open end of middle film syndrome, Jedi can boast a tummy-filling finish – and what a finish. The three-pointed climax of Luke vs Vader/Battle of Endor/Death Star assault is breathtaking stuff.

And it is during this climax that we find another trump card help by Episode VI – the musical score. Hidden amongst the orchestral orgy that is the film’s final 20 minutes is the sextet’s finest piece of music: the moment Luke finally succumbs to the Dark Side and unleashes on Vader, amidst a haunting choral strain that seamlessly settles into the Emperor’s ominous theme as Vader falls. Shortly afterwards we are forced to endure a tear-inducing reprise of the once-imposing Imperial March, now reduced to a solitary acoustic guitar as cinema’s greatest villain takes his final breaths.

(Go to 3m00 for the finest score ever composed, stay for the awesome duel)

Alternatively, I could have saved myself the bother of writing this whole argument and just summed it up in three simple words.


Empire: 63 %, Jedi: 37 %


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13 Responses to “The Empire Strikes Back v Return Of The Jedi”

  1. The Glamazon Says:

    I don’t even remember The Empire Strikes Back. McD is right…nothing happens. You’ve failed to mention the Leia bikini….isn’t that why people watch Star Wars?

  2. You’ve failed to read both arguments, Glamazon. You have failed me for the last time…

  3. General Griervous Says:

    Sorry McD, but ne1 who wills der way tru d yoda scenes 2get 2a jucy lightsabre scene is … a moron! McG is rite, empire is d only movie 2pack ne sort of emotional punch beyond d primary colours!

    If Lobot was here, he would point u (In his truely expert way of pointing) 2wards d failure zone 😀 😀

  4. The Glamazon Says:

    Ah i see it now. I blame the grey writing…..

  5. Antonius Maximus Says:

    Whatever movie the Tuskan Raiders first appeared in is my favourite! I think it was Jedi!?? Purely because they have given me the greatest victory chant ever to use anytime i win something! Although i havent used this in quite some time! But i will! Argggh Arrrggghhhh Arrrrrggggghhhhhh!!!

  6. So I voted Empire, just b/c of Yoda. But McD makes a good point. Jedi is more fun to watch again. The final starship battle is still one of the best sci-fi scenes of all time. Plus, how many of you out there still cant sing-a-long to that final Ewok song?

  7. I’m going out on a limb here, I seem to be the only male in history who thinks Star Wars and all its offshoots are a great big pile of crock, mildly interesting at most.

    So this battle is the equivalent of the Six Nations clash between Scotland and Italy. I know it’s happening, I just can’t bring myself to watch it.

    Serious question: why do people rate these films so highly?

  8. georgenerdvil Says:

    If rumour has it, Lucus is to release a special edition next year of Empire and Return to digitally superimpose Jar Jar Binks into some key scenes to tie in better with his prequels and add desperately needed comic relief.

  9. george, I have seen some pretty sick things on the internet in my time, but repeating that is just bad taste, man. My stomach isn’t able for stuff like that…

  10. I can’t believe the voting sided with Empire! Jedi is soooooooo the better film. In fact I hardly watch Empire but I watch Jedi all the time. The end reveal of empire is brilliant, but I can’t even remember the rest of the film, so it can’t have been that brilliant. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big Star Wars fan, but I’m a purist, so I tend to watch all three in one day.) Jedi has Endor and Ewoks. Which is a good thing. Yes it is.

  11. Though people prefer Empire,I personally enjoyed Jedi.The author summarised all the points in its favor.What about the speedbike sequence?That was absolutely amazing. I really love Vader’s dialogue when he finds that Luke has a sister.

    Vader:Your feelings betray you.You care for someone…Sisssster,so you have a twin sissssster.Your feelings have betrayed her.If you will not turn to the dark side,then she will.


  12. Jeremy Shirland Says:

    “…but a film should not be made of a good chase scene.”


    Tell that to Speilburg (Duel) or James Cameron (Termnator movies)

    A film SHOULD be made of a good chase scene!!!

  13. Can’t believe there was an actual debate and poll and I missed it. I just can’t understand how TESB continues to be thought of superior to ROTJ. Everthing that made TESB great, ROTJ had, yet some of the great moments of ROTJ, TESB can’t match. Return of the Jedi is still the best…sorry.

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