WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for director Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, in theaters now.
Divisive as the general audience reception may be, the latest addition to the Star Wars saga, The Last Jedi, has been met with near-universal praise by critics, with some going as far as to call it the best Star Wars film to date. Naturally, some may find this surprising since The Empire Strikes Back has long been considered the cream of the crop when it comes to Star Wars films, but nevertheless, the notion of Episode V being usurped by the Rian Johnson-helmed Episode VIII certainly gives us a lot to think about. Which of the two really is the greatest Star Wars film? Is it actually possible that there’s a new gold standard in the galaxy?
If we’re speaking in terms of theatrical release, The Empire Strikes Back is technically the second Star Wars film, and as such, it’s arguably one of the greatest direct sequels in cinematic history. While A New Hope is full of optimism and ends in a decisive, albeit temporary victory for the Rebels, The Empire Strikes Back is a journey full of twists and turns that introduces true, unparalleled darkness into the saga.
The film also introduces an incredible array of breathtaking new surroundings unlike anything fans could have imagined after spending the bulk of Episode IV traversing through the stars. From the icy tundra of Hoth to the pristine towers of Cloud City to the dark swamps of Dagobah, The Empire Strikes Back shows just how vast and diverse the Star Wars Universe truly is.
The scenery isn’t the only element of the saga that Empire expands upon, though. Some of the most iconic secondary Star Wars characters, including Yoda, Lando Calrissian, and Boba Fett, all make their franchise debuts in Episode V. Plus, we’d be remiss to leave out the villainous Emperor Palpatine, whose enigmatic introduction accompanies the bone-chilling revelation that the evil Darth Vader isn’t actually the one pulling the strings.
And speaking of Darth Vader, no Star Wars film will ever be able to recreate the magic of the reveal that the armor-clad Sith is actually Luke Skywalker’s father. It’s a truly incomparable moment, both in terms of shock and scope, and for many fans, it’s what sets Empire apart from the other saga films.
Meanwhile, you have The Last Jedi, which many assumed would be nothing more than a cheap retread of Empire after witnessing the echoes between A New Hope and J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens. And admittedly, there are some similarities, such as the naïve youth receiving training from an aging Jedi Master and the familial revelations that weigh heavily on the protagonist.