There is no greater battle amongst inner nerd circles than declaring which is the better of the two great epics in film; Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. To me the choice has always been clear, but there is no denying that these two film series are fantastic, and that even in declaring a winner between the two, there is nothing wrong with second place in the enormous sea of films. So I’ll say it, Lord of the Rings is better than Star Wars. Hear me out.
When people generally compare the two series, or Star Wars in general, they usually are referring to the original trilogy, episodes 4, 5, and 6. Episodes 1, 2, and 3 are usually given a lot of trash. They are more advanced in special effects, stunts, and digital scenery, and focus a lot more on political conflicts leading up to the empire, setting the stage for the original pieces. A lot of what made the first three so good is the years they came out. 1977 was the release of A New Hope, just 8 years after the first man on the moon (RIP Neil Armstrong), something that completely catapulted the world in so many ways. Star Wars was something far beyond its time. The concept of aliens, space travel, and super advanced technology all displayed made this the ultimate sci-fi fantasy movie, and it was turned into a trilogy that had all the elements of an epic: romance, war, comedy, and an engaging story line of enormous consequence. Had Star Wars been filmed even 20 years later, its success would be diminished in the face of a film industry over saturated with futuristic concepts by then. Because Star Wars was so early, it is given passes on what gives it lack-luster like more advanced special effects that it could not have. For it’s time it is certainly a masterpiece.
Where Star Wars lacks however, is quite noticeable. For one, the acting isn’t exactly the greatest. While the actors are fine overall, the most memorable performance is probably by Harrison Ford. The genre of Sci-Fi rarely sees much recognition because of the inaccessibility of some of the plot or situations to extend itself beyond entertainment, but Star Wars avoids much of that. While awards and nominations shouldn’t necessarily dictate whether you think Lord of the Rings is better, it is telling when you compare the figures.
Star Wars was nominated for 25 Academy Awards, and won 10 of them. (20 nominations if you don’t count the last 3 films)
Lord of The Rings was nominated for 30 Academy Awards, and won 17 of them. Plus the films were given far more recognition from other film and arts communities.
It should be noted that nominations are not handed out like candy. If a film is exceptional, it will be recognized for being such by people who live and breathe the film industry.
In contrasting the two series I would generally point out these things:
- Lord of the Rings has unquestionably a better acting with the cast, each role goes far beyond what Star Wars did to convey the story in a deeper way.
- The dialogue and writing of LOTR is more Shakespearean and epic
- The sets for LOTR have far superior models, a vast amount of amazing shots of the beautiful landscapes of New Zealand. On a technical note, obviously the CGI and computer generated enhancements add a lot that Star Wars could never access in the 70’s. The scenery adds a lot to any film.
- Action sequences in LOTR are obviously much grander and better choreographed, again due to the era difference. This enhances the story with its depth and intensity giving a better grasp of the events to the viewer, similar to the effect of Saving Private Ryan compared to older war movies.
On the matter of stories, I personally think the Lord of the Rings is a deeper and more intellectual film with greater emotional tie to the audience because of these things, but story isn’t a make or break with how the film is actually produced. You could design a movie terribly but still have a great story. So this is left to personal preference. Both stories are nonetheless epic. But Tolkien spent his life crafting the most in-depth and intricate stories, creating whole languages, vivid scenery, and histories that George Lucas could not match on a level by himself. Star Wars has a massive world created by hundreds of people who helped craft the story through the permission of George Lucas after the original story. This makes Star Wars a collective effort to create something that would normally take so long to create as Tolkien had done. The extensive background of LOTR gives the story more direction and a well of more material that fans could dig into, giving the series a very lore-like feel. The movies took what was the most popular fantasy stories in the world and translate that successfully, despite the enormous difficulty of such, into a masterpiece on par with the books. LOTR is enhanced by the existence of Tolkien’s amazing works and is the very spine of its success.
While Lord of the Rings is in my view clearly a better series, there is no doubt that Star Wars, because of before mentioned details about its conception, is a pop culture icon that has spun off into a thousand different films, games, and TV series. More people have watched Star Wars and can easily identify with the films. But Lord of the Rings has been given more praise from the film community overall, and by right has its own immense place in pop culture and in the literary world. While you can personally prefer one film set over the other, you cannot say that on a matter of substance Star Wars is at the artistic level of Lord of the Rings.