Over the years, I have had numerous discussions on a certain topic: Which is the better film, the original Star Wars or its sequel, The Empire Strikes Back? Surprisingly, more than a handful of people favor Empire as the superior film. They are wrong.
The reasons why Star Wars is superior to Empire are varied, but ultimately, in my opinion, its superiority can be boiled down to one writing element: character development. Star Wars is pure, clean, and even classic storytelling, and its origin element naturally means that we will be introduced to characters that we have never met before. Star Wars gave us Luke Skywalker, young and wide-eyed, with a relatable dream of leaving home to embark on adventure. And how much more of a character arc can you possibly have in one story than seeing a simple farm boy transform into a confident and skilled warrior who ends up saving an entire galaxy? Other characters, such as Han, Leia, and Darth Vader, are also well developed with goals very fitting and tailored to suit them.
The Empire Strikes Back, on the other hand, is an enhancement of that “original” story and characters. In Empire, we merely need to concentrate on story, with only slight character development, except for Darth Vader, whose transformation spans the entire original trilogy. And while it is true that Empire has an amazing storyline, we are so busy watching the constant action in the film that we really don’t get to know much more about any of the principal characters than we did from the original Star Wars.
Had Star Wars not done well enough at the box office to justify a sequel, it would still have been one of the greatest stand-alone stories of all time. You can’t really say that about Empire because ultimately it is not a complete story. However, Empire is easily one of the best sequels ever to any American film, even Aliens—a personal favorite—and it will always be recognized as such. Not a bad consolation prize.