What’s the best Star Wars movie in the franchise? It’s a question that has been asked by fans and movie buffs alike ever since the conclusion of the original trilogy. Some would say that A New Hope has never been surpassed, but for many, the peak of the Skywalker Saga undoubtedly came with 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back. Now, Dune director Denis Villeneuve has added his name to the list of those saying that Star Wars peaked with that classic film.
Speaking with The Playlist, Villeneuve discussed how Dune influenced Star Wars and vice versa, notably the similarities between the desert world of Tatooine and Dune’s Arrakis. However, it isn’t A New Hope that the director singles out for praise, instead highlighting the darker and more weighty Empire Strikes Back.
There’s something about The Empire Strikes Back, the darkness of it, the tragic elements of it, the way I was feeling in that precise moment about Star Wars — there was something really serious about it that I deeply loved.
Villeneuve has an impressive legacy as far as science fiction goes; he directing the well-received movies Arrival and Blade Runner 2049. “Science fiction is serious stuff for me; it’s something that I love when it considers life and existence serious.” he said. “That’s [why] I have so much reverence for Blade Runner, the original, of course, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. When people are taking sci-fi seriously, it’s so powerful.”
“I never left Star Wars; Star Wars left me.”
Anyone choosing The Empire Strikes Back as the best Star Wars movie isn’t making a controversial statement; Episode V regularly tops best-of-charts, whether it’s Star Wars movies or sci-fi films in general. Alongside A New Hope, the movie is in the National Film Registry. Empire also won a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and a People’s Choice Award for Favorite Motion Picture.
However, Villeneuve goes further and says that Star Wars never again reached the heights it achieved with The Empire Strikes Back. “There was something in The Empire Strikes Back, in its darkness, in the way it was approaching the psychological path of Luke Skywalker. And I just feel like they lost that after. They lost that elegance. And that was maybe something that I was referring to when I said, oh, I wish Dune was—in a way, my idea was … back to that [early Star Wars] spirit.”
Villeneuve knew how much controversy and criticism his comments could stir up, laughing that The Playlist “must not publish that.” Whoops. “I’m going to be crucified,” he joked. “But I totally believe that. I never left Star Wars; Star Wars left me.”
While Villeneuve’s comments will undoubtedly generate comment, many Star Wars fans have been openly critical of the franchise since The Empire Strikes Back. Many were put off by the child-friendly elements such as the Ewoks and Jar Jar Binks, preferring the more adult tone of the likes of The Mandalorian. Equally, the recent sequel series came in for heavy criticism amongst fans, especially Episode VIII, The Last Jedi.
Are Denis Villeneuve’s comments fair, and has Star Wars truly never reattained the high bar it set in 1980? We’re sure fans will have a lot to say.