Like any good father, my dad instilled two loves in me from a small age: the love of Star Wars and the love of Lord of the Rings. Two of the world’s greatest franchises, and the basis for many nerdy discussions in my household. While much of my writing focuses on LoTR, I’ve often asked myself, “Which of these series is actually better?” So today, I am going to settle this debate, once and for all. I will pick apart every aspect of these cinematic masterpieces, and at the end, will grant one franchise the ultimate honor of “Best Overall Movie Series”.
Both Lord of the Rings and Star Wars have some of the most recognizable music of any movie series. The musical genius of John Williams was one of the first times I was exposed to thematic scores in movies, where certain places or people have their own theme or sound. The “Imperial March” is known to people who have never even watched Star Wars. You KNOW that when that march starts playing, Darth Vader is about to make an entrance, and the main title score sparks nostalgia almost instantaneously. The french horns as Darth Maul and Qui-Gon duel are enough to bring chills. The music of Star Wars makes the movies 110% better.
Howard Shore takes this theory of thematic movies and perfects it. “Concerning Hobbits” is a theme that plays underneath almost any scene where Hobbits are featured. The Elves have an ethereal synth and string combination that feels superior to the rest, just like I picture the Elves of Middle Earth. Gondor and Rohan have their distinct sounds. And Shore beautifully weaves each theme together based on who is on the screen, who is fighting, or the overall mood of the scene. I can listen to the soundtrack and know exactly what was happening in the movie because the music is that good.
Both Williams and Shore provide a score that is perfect for their respective franchises, but I have to get the overall music point to Lord of the Rings. There is not one song that doesn’t exponentially improve the scene and make a lasting memory.
Giving credit where credit is due, both George Lucas and J.R.R. Tolkien crafted extraordinary characters. The protagonists were likable and memorable, the antagonists were evil and diabolical, and the supporting characters rounded out the franchises well.
Star Wars mainly centers around the Skywalkers. The prequels introduce us to Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Padmé. We watch Anakin’s descent into madness and ultimately get the backstory to Darth Vader. Many argue the prequels are horrible, and I can’t fully agree. Do I occasionally fall asleep while watching Phantom Menace? Yes. Do I also laugh at how bad the acting is in most of the prequels (save Ewan McGregor, the man, the myth, the legend)? Also yes. But I do enjoy getting to see the origin of the Clones, and there are some memorable moments, like the aforementioned duel between Darth Maul and Qui-Gon and any scene with Mace Windu.
The originals follow Luke Skywalker on his journey to avenge his father and become a Jedi. We get sassy Yoda, we get sassy Han, we get sassy Leia. I have almost nothing bad to say about the originals, besides the main character. I think Luke is the whinest little pre-Jedi I’ve ever met (sorry Mark Hamill), and anyone that didn’t IMMEDIATELY pick up that he was Anakin’s son is blinder than a bat. The rest of the characters, though, make up for this and are the reason I continue to watch the franchise.
The sequels bring back our favorite characters (and Luke…), which automatically makes them phenomenal. It also introduces some new, fantastic characters in Rey, Kylo, and Finn. However, in my opinion, these characters were overshadowed by our love for Leia, Han, and Chewie. I only loved Kylo because he was Han and Leia’s son. I rooted for Rey because we were teased with her lineage for three movies. All in all, the characters of the originals carried the franchise and we are forever in their debt for the masterpiece that is Star Wars.
In contrast, Tolkien writes absolutely zero poor characters. Each one is developed throughout the trilogy and we root for the good characters to prevail and the evil ones to be destroyed. Characters that need a redemption arc are given them in the most beautiful way (I’m looking at you, Boromir). Characters we HATE are killed off in the most justified ways (*cough, cough* Denethor).
The Hobbits, Merry, Pippin, Frodo, and Sam, are loveable and quirky, and Sam literally carries the plot at one point. The Elves, Legolas, Arwen, and Elrond, are stoic and memorable. Gimli provides the comedic relief we all need during the darkest times of the films. Gandalf is the wise, grandfatherly type we all wish to have in our lives. The men, Aragorn, Theoden, Boromir, are flawed, but embrace their flaws and become better versions of themselves as the story progresses.
Even the villains are of high quality. Saruman starts as an ally of the Fellowship but is corrupted by the power of the Ring. Smeagol is constantly battling the good and evil parts of himself, wanting to protect Frodo, but also desperately wanting the One Ring. Even Gothmog, the Orc commander of the battle of Minas Tirith, is complex. All in all, Tolkien (and I suppose Peter Jackson) wrote phenomenal characters. If you can name one poor character, I will personally write you a check for $100.
The obvious winner here is Lord of the Rings.
Both of these franchises have some absolutely stunning sequences. I mean, goosebumps-inducing scenes. Below are the best of the best for each franchise.
- Speeder bike chase in Endor (Return of the Jedi)
- The rise of Lord Vader (Revenge of the Sith)
- Tattooine sunset (A New Hope)
- The Arena (Attack of the Clones)
- The entire Mustafar scene (Revenge of the Sith)
- Qui-Gon versus Darth Maul (Phantom Menace)
- The salt flat battle (The Last Jedi)
- The opening crawl (all movies)
There are obviously many other incredible scenes. These are just a few of the ones that always give me chills.
Lord of the Rings
- The Fellowship formed at Rivendell (The Fellowship of the Ring)
- Boromir’s sacrifice (The Fellowship of the Ring)
- “You shall not pass” (The Fellowship of the Ring)
- Helm’s Deep (The Two Towers)
- Gandalf the White (The Two Towers)
- The beacons (The Return of the King)
- The charge of the Rohirrim (The Return of the King)
- “You bow to no one.” (The Return of the King)
These scenes are not only chill-inducing but also just beautiful. I’ve used pictures of Rivendell as a computer wallpaper. The entire trilogy is shot in some of the most beautiful locations in the world.
While both series have extraordinary cinematography, I have to say that Lord of the Rings is head and shoulders above the Star Wars franchise. The movies are absolutely stunning.
Any time I rate a movie, the first thing I ask myself is, “Did this movie elicit an emotional response, or was it just enjoyable?” Emotional movies stick with me, make me rewatch them over and over again. Movies can be really, really good without having an emotional pull.
For me, Star Wars doesn’t have an emotional pull. Yes, I get chills when I hear the Imperial March or feel sad when Leia has to watch Alderaan get blown up, and occasionally I shed a tear during the whole “You were my brother!” scene. But I don’t think the movies were ever intended to be emotional. Entertaining? Absolutely, but not emotional.
On the other hand, the Lord of the Rings is 1000% meant to be emotional. It was written to make you feel like you are in Middle Earth, that their struggles are your struggles. I think a lot of this emotional pull comes through advanced character development. Perhaps you could argue that it was easier to develop the characters in three novels than in two-hour movies, to which I give Boromir as a rebuttal. He was really only developed in The Fellowship and his character arc was so detailed and redemptive.
Emotionally, I am left wrecked after each watch through of the Lord of the Rings. When the Rohirrim shout “DEATH” as they ride into Pelennor Fields, or the Hobbits last goodbye or Eomer’s ride to the King. Scenes like these leave me blubbering on the couch long after the ending credits are finished. (If you want to read about every scene that makes me bawl, check out this article!)
I will give Lord of the Rings the emotional points every day and twice on Sunday.
And the winner is??
I preface this announcement by saying I love both Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. They both hold very dear places in my heart. That being said, the obvious winner is Lord of the Rings. The music, the picturesque filming, the memorable characters. It is the complete package. In fact, I would pit it against any film franchise and almost guarantee it would come out on top.
There you have it, the totally, completely unbiased competition between two of the greatest franchises in the history of cinema.