What a question. I grew up on Star Wars. The only Lego sets I would play with were Star Wars; my favorite Game Boy games were pod-racing games, and Lego Star Wars as well as Star Wars Battlefront II and Republic Commando are three of my favorite Xbox games of all time. The first film I ever saw in theaters was Episode I, and I had more of the toys and collectibles than I could possibly remember. Star Wars was an extremely important and influential part of my upbringing and I’m not sure what my life would be like now if I didn’t have that experience as a kid.
On the other hand, I wasn’t even allowed to watch The Lord of the Rings for the longest time. Slowly, the kids around me would be allowed to watch it and I would just remain in the Lord of the Rings “friendzone,” unhappily, since I couldn’t get close to it. I never had any LotR video games or toys, and I never ran around the yard with friends pretending to be various LotR characters… it was never really a part of my childhood. Finally, it was on TV at a Thanksgiving get-together and Dad let me watch a few minutes of it since it was edited for TV; I watched about 15 minutes of what I remember to be The Return of the King, but all I remember seeing was an old man in a white robe riding a white horse- yet even that moment was cherished by little 10-year-old me.
The next time I was at the store with my mom, she let me buy the three films on DVD, and even the different color plastic on the cases screamed “quality entertainment” …I could not wait to watch them. That day, I watched all three of the films, and I had one of the best days that my younger self could dream of. I didn’t know who to call to share my experience with, so I called my dad, but Mom said that maybe it wasn’t the best idea since she let me watch them and he had not. Either way, it was the greatest film experience I’d had up to that point… and I still hold that trilogy as the greatest trilogy of all time. Yeah, I’m sorry Kevin Smith and the cool cast of Clerks II, but I have to rank this as my preferred trilogy.
However, this opinion is not solely weighted on the fact that the hype-train built it up like nothing else, and it’s not because I’ve seen Star Wars many more times so that I automatically have more enjoyment watching LOTR -neither of those two reasons influence my choice. Looking at every aspect that I normally would (style of film-making, score, acting/cast, directing, editing, story, thematic elements, production value, world-building, etc), I think that LOTR simply tops SW in my mind. I’m not going to compare the films based just on scale and production value, because I’m sure the budget of LOTR completely eclipses that of the original SW trilogy (did you know that A New Hope and Pete’s Dragon, which both came out in 1977, had right around the same budget? Where the hell did that money go for Pete’s Dragon?)- I’m just looking at mainly story and style, which are the two aspect most every moviegoer looks at (sub)consciously when watching a film.
Today, let’s just look at how these two stories compare: a young “nobody” who lives in a sheltered and secluded area from the rest of the world is brought in way over his head to take on an evil entity that jeopardizes the safety and freedom of everybody else. This individual must, with a tool given to him by an elderly man, defeat the evil and learn to be a hero. With the help of a few trusty individuals of different species, he does so across three films. Oh, and then there’s a prequel trilogy, too, which tells the story of how everything was set up. Basically, these two trilogy’s follow Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, or “Hero’s Journey” to a T.
Of course, that’s an over-simplification, but the stories do have a lot in common. So where do they differ? Well, Frodo Baggins actually isn’t special at all- he doesn’t have the power of the Force, and he isn’t a “chosen one.” He is just a regular guy (Hobbit) who has to be a hero using pure will, strength, and determination to save everyone else. It’s not in his blood and he is not “destined” to save Middle Earth, he just does because he’s a fantastic character. Luke Skywalker, on the other hand, is pretty much the galaxy’s last and only hope to defeat the evil and safe everybody. So, if he did nothing… well, that’s not really an option because there would be nobody else to do the job. If Frodo didn’t help, then he’d be a non-character and we’d have a different hero (probably a more capable hero) and since that is not the case, the stakes for Frodo are much higher, and because of that, the audience is given a better story to follow and root for.
Yes, there’s the whole “father” thing in Star Wars. I’m not downplaying that at all, it’s a fantastic twist and a great plot point, which does a lot for the story. Luke having his father be the villain raises the stakes immensely for HIM, and therefore the audience since he’s the protagonist, but it doesn’t raise the stakes for the rest of the galaxy. If Luke refused to fight his father, or his father refused to fight Luke, then the character roles would have completely been reversed: Luke becomes a villain, and Vader becomes a hero. That’s not the case, however, as Luke remains a hero, and Vader also becomes a hero… win-win, right? Yes, for these two characters, but this wouldn’t have meant anything to anybody else. The goal for Luke was always to be the hero the galaxy needed, and he had to fight through physical challenges as well as emotional and psychological turmoil as well- which are extremely high stakes for this protagonist, but he always had an advantage seeing as though he was raised a poor farm-boy (there are your good personality traits in the making) yet had Jedi blood in him since birth. Frodo never had that royal blood, and was always simply somebody who had to prove himself through sheer determination. This is hard to explain seeing as though I could fight on both sides of this argument, but let me put it this way. If Luke was naked through the entire Trilogy, he could still fight with the Force; Frodo would be cut down in a second if he didn’t have his ring or his Fellowship to protect him. That alone is why I think Frodo made for a better protagonist.
Of course, the themes of Family that resonate throughout the entire Star Wars films I think are stronger than most of the thematic elements of LOTR and the Hobbit films, but I’m looking at just the original trilogy in both sagas. There are so many aspects of each trilogy to look at, and many of these aspects have me on the fence between the two. Tolkien created a vast amount of languages for the stories, and expanded it himself onto multiple different tales, and encyclopedias and many other areas all himself- Google the amount of ways Tolkien has world-built Middle Earth, it’s astounding. But Lord of the Rings doesn’t trump Star Wars in EVERY area, I think Lucas did a better job in some areas, but it still doesn’t compare to me which trilogy is better as a whole.Which trilogy has a better second act? Easily Star Wars. Which trilogy has a better finale? Easily The Lord of the Rings, in all of it’s 65 endings. Which film has a better first act? I’m on the fence, and there are so many other divisive aspects to analyze. And so far, I’ve really only mentioned the main protagonists in each trilogy. There are SO many more things to consider such as score (LOTR) or directing (LOTR) or production value (LOTR) or amount of themes (LOTR) or cast (hmmmm….) and many other things, but I want to hear what you all have to say about these aspects? Which trilogy to you prefer and why? Feel free to fight me on my choices as well. Comment below, and don’t forget to share! Thanks for reading and I’ll see you soon!