The Lead Protagonists
Luke Skywalker and Frodo Baggins. They are both among the best known and most beloved characters of all time, but which of them is the better protagonist? Well both characters have their strengths and weaknesses. Luke started off as you typical young hero who craved adventure as did Frodo. What really separated the two, however, was the way they each developed. Both started out a bit naive, whiney, and prone to lean on others for support. Luke, however, outgrew his whininess and as the series progressed was able to stand on his own two feet and became a fully fledged Jedi Knight. As the films progressed, he battled both the Empire and the Dark Side of the Force every which way. He battled the Empire literally, as well as battling the Dark Side within himself as well as Vader and the Emperor.
Frodo had own personal conflicts about endangering his companions and went through gradual corruption by the Ring and by the end of the films seemed to be suffering from some form of PTSD. Despite all of this, I never really found him to be that compelling of a protagonist. Unlike Luke, he remained whiney and completely reliant on his companions for support. Luke, on the other hand, was more compelling, could stand on his own feet, and gradually lost his annoying edge. And if you need any more proof that Luke is the greater protagonist, think of it this way: How many people say their favorite Lord of the Rings character is Frodo? A hell of a lot less then say Luke is their favorite Star Wars character. Point goes to Star Wars.
The Lead Antagonist
Darth Vader against Sauron. Well, I think you guys already know my decision on this one so I'll keep this brief. Nearly seven feet tall, deep voice, willing to kill anyone, faceless and clad in black, Darth Vader was the ultimate incarnation of evil in the Star Wars Universe and remains one of the greatest film villains of all time. Sauron, on the other hand, seemed to be more of an all encompassing evil entity then a villain; an idea more than a character. While some might argue that that alone makes Sauron the superior, he just wasn't as compelling or as intimidating as Vader. Even Sauron in the prequel sequence wasn't as intimidating as Vader, despite being able to kill ranks of solders with a few swings of a mace. As if it were to compensate the fact that Sauron wasn't that compelling of an antagonist, The Lord of the Rings films added eight supporting villains to the series, (sixteen if you count all of the Ringwraths), but I'll get into those later. Ultimately, Vader was more badass, more intimidating, and the superior character and villain. Point goes to Star Wars.
The Supporting Protagonist Characters
Now this is an interesting section. Both film franchises contain some of the most beloved characters of all time and both had strengths and weaknesses. But ultimately, The Lord of the Rings supporting protagonists were superior. While some of the supporting characters in Star Wars started out interesting they eventually all came to the same state of mind Luke had; commitment against the Empire and the Dark Side, all ending up as campy likeable heroes and always struck me as being two dimensional. The Lord of the Rings characters, on the other hand, had greater depth to them and I always felt emotionally attached to them in a way I never did to characters of Star Wars. For example, when Obi-Wan and Yoda died it made me sad and dampened my mood a bit, but when Gandalf fell from the bridge of Khaza-dum I cried. To this day, that scene makes my eyes water and depresses me even though I know he comes back in The Two Towers. Even minor characters with brief screen time like Théoden and Eomer I grew attached to. The battles they went through, physical or otherwise, were far more compelling than those of Star Wars and you really wanted to see the supporting characters survive and win. It also helped that the acting and dialog in Lord of the Rings was better, but that probably has to do with the time periods they were made in. Point goes to Lord of the Rings.
The Supporting Antagonist Characters
Now as I mentioned above, Star Wars has one of the greatest villains ever introduced. Unfortunately, the rest of the supporting villains were out shined by Vader and, with the exception of the Emperor, weren't particularly compelling or interesting. Lord of the Rings, however, was just the opposite and had a great cast of supporting villains. Christopher Lee was perfect as Saruman, Brad Dourif was despicable as Wormtongue, John Noble was insane as Denethor, and whenever the Nazgul were on the screen I grew tense and couldn’t keep my eyes off it. Like the supporting protagonist they were more compelling, more interesting, more diabolical, and were better acted with better dialog. Point goes to Lord of the Rings.
The Musical Score
Now this is probably the hardest section. Both film trilogies contained incredible music scores that won and were nominated for Oscars. But which was the superior? Well, the score for Star Wars by John Williams is probably the most recognizable and most covered score of all time. It was one of the most classic scores ever made and can be applied to almost anything beyond Star Wars. In fact I still hear The Empire Theme played at College Football games all the time. Within the films, however, they serve as little more then background music and you never really focus on it.
The Lord of the Rings score by Howard Shore was likewise an instant classic and very well applied to the films. Each beat of the drums, every stroke of the violin and every lyric sung seemed to be on par with the steps the characters took and had a huge variety of songs. Unfortunately, unlike the Star Wars score, it really can't be applied to anything beyond sword and sorcery fantasy and isn't quite as recognizable.
For being a more classical score, Star Wars would win, but as being more on par with the films, Lord of the Rings would win, so I'm calling this one a draw. Each gets half a point.
Space or Middle Earth? Tatooine or the Shire? Hoth or Helms Deep? Endor or Minas Tirith? Yet another set of good questions. Star Wars had some of the most recognizable environments ever put on the big screen but unfortunately was severely limited by both the time it was made and the budget limit the films were put under, (for more information on the latter, watch the documentary Empire of Dreams). At the time the films were made everything was still miniatures and stop-motion and it's impressive what George Lucas and his special effects team was able to do with them.
Lord of the Rings, however, was able use miniature sets, some CGI, the beautiful countryside of New Zealand, and life size models of towns and fortresses such as Edoras and Helms Deep. Whereas the sets of Star Wars kind of looked like space age stuff, the Lord of the Rings sets really looked like medieval stuff and I believed everything on camera looked authentic, although I'm not entirely sure why the Edoras' Golden Hall looks like a Viking hall, but that's just nitpicking. While the Star Wars sets were revolutionary for their time, they now seem a bit bland and The Lord of the Rings sets completely out shine them. Point goes to Lord of the Rings.
Special Effects/Makeup Designs
Now in this section, you could say that Star Wars wins by default. Why you may ask? Aren’t the special effects in Lord of the Rings better because they're newer? Well, a lot of people may or may not know this, but when the first Star Wars film was made, the special effects sections of most Hollywood studios had been all but scrapped, as sci-fi films weren't popular in those days, so George Lucas and his special effects crews had to invent, re-invent, or rediscover all the special effects that were used in the films. As a result, George Lucas and Lucasfilm either own or spawned most of the special effect companies that are used in Hollywood to this day. Even Pixar, the animation company that created animated classics like Toy Story was a break off company from Lucasfilm. The THX sound system is owned by Lucasfilm and if you watch credits in most films long enough you will see some kind of Lucasfilm logo in them.
But as far as the special effects for the films goes, Star Wars’ effects were revolutionary for the time and changed special effects forever, (my God I'm saying that word a lot). Now, if this were up against any other modern film series I would give it Star Wars simply because most other sci-fi films are now CGI-fests and it gets old. Lord of the Rings, however, didn't use CGI constantly. In fact, they only used it when it was absolutely necessary; mainly to make creatures such as the trolls, the Nazgul winged beasts, the ghost solders, and when showing huge numbers of solders.
The makeup jobs with the aliens and the orcs were both great as well. Once again, Star Wars seemed to be limited by both its time and its budget in this department and you can tell the actors are just wearing costumes. In Lord of the Rings, however, when I saw an orc, I could believe that was an orc. They were grotesque but still had their human features and I find it amazing that they were able to do all of it with makeup.
What ultimately decided this for me, however, were four things. The first was the bike chase in Return of the Jedi which used a green screen and I hate those even at the best of time, let alone when it was unperfected. Second was Gollum as I, when I first saw these movies, wasn't sure if it was an actual person or CGI. Third, was that the Rancor's size seemed out of proportions and just looked bad when the actors and creature were in the same shot together. And last, I can't find a Lucasfilm logo in the credits of The Lord of the Rings films. Well played Mr. Jackson for only using New Zealand special effects companies. Point goes to Lord of the Rings.
Both film trilogies are among the highest grossing of all time and what unusually makes a blockbuster? Action scenes. So which was superior? Well, in Star Wars you had ships destroying ships, people basting each other with blasters and lightsaber duels between the heroes and villains. Lord of the Rings had traditional medieval fantasy type battles that were intense and gritty. So my decision comes down to the execution of these action scenes and in this matter it’s Lord of the Rings all the way.
I don't mean to pan Star Wars' action scenes but there were a lot of problems with them. For one thing, the Storm Troopers never seemed to hit anything even though they were supposed to be elite shots. The lightsaber duels always struck me as being a little tame, especially when compared to the lightsaber duels of the prequel trilogy. Then there were a few explosions that just flat out didn't make any sense, most notably the walker in the battle of Hoth.
The action in Lord of the Rings on the other hand was gritty, intense, and kept you on the edge of you seat. The musical score helped with this but what ultimately makes it superior is the fact that not only are they better executed, but that people on both sides actually die in large numbers and the battles were just more epic. In fact, the only real issue I had with the action was that most of the tactics employed by the solders seemed stupid and ineffective. But that aside, the battle of Helms Deep was undoubtedly the best siege of a fortress I've ever seen on film and the Ride of the Rohirim gives me the chills every time I see those horsemen charge the lines of Mordor and I continue to enjoy them to this day.
Now granted, a lot of this can be blamed on the effects available when the Star Wars films were made, but that doesn’t change the fact that the action in Lord of the Rings is superior. Point goes to Lord of the Rings.
Now in this area, it usually comes down to personal preference. Do you like space operas or sword and sorcery? Do you like wizards or Jedi? Swords or lightsabers? Starships or horses? Space Stations or fortresses? Aliens or elves? Well, in all of these categories, I've got to give it to Star Wars. Space operas always struck me as being grander. The stakes are always higher and there is no telling what can be found whereas the plots of sword and sorcery tend repeat themselves with the same things at stake.
I always found whole Force concept and Jedi back story to be extremely compelling and far more fascinating than anything Lord of the Rings had to offer. The whole conflict between the Jedi and the Dark Side always struck me as good and evil at its rawest and most basic form and even though it's very clichéd it always kept me fascinated. While the back story around Sauron and the Rings and how they had to destroy the One Ring was fascinating it never struck me as being as interesting or compelling. Don't get me wrong. It was a great concept, but I feel it was second to Star Wars, though a close second.
Then you had the basic story lines. At its roots, Star Wars was about a story about a rebel force trying to overthrow an evil emperor. Lord of the Rings was about nations trying to defend themselves against other evil nations who seek to conquer them. So here is the question: do you prefer the ragtag rebel force facing down an evil empire or already established nations fighting a more powerful nation? In this regard, I have to give it to Star Wars again. Fighting within an already established empire gave it a great underdog feel and made the defeat of the Emperor that much more satisfying.
Once again, Lord of the Rings is a close second but on the whole, the plot and concept of Star Wars was more compelling, more original, and more fascinating. Point goes to Star Wars.
Inevitably, every finale disappoints. It's simply a fact. One person will find an ending satisfying while another will hate it. For example, some people liked the way Lost ended; not entirely explaining everything while ending on a huge twist and a feel good note. But it's for that exact same reason that a lot of people hated it. The ending of the Harry Potter series is universally hated and then you have ending like The Sopranos where...well I'm not getting into that as so many people have already addressed it.
So then you have the final battle in the two greatest film franchises of all time. The big moment that everyone has been waiting for; the climax! And to be fair, they were both kind of a letdown. So, which of these let downs was better?
In Star Wars you had a rehashing of the Death Star battle, but this one was the way it should have been in the first one. The Rebel and Imperial fleets clash in a battle to the finish while Vader and Luke dual in the Emperor's Throne Room and Han Solo along with the Ewoks try to destroy the shield generator that protects the second Death Star.
Then in Lord of the Rings, you had the forces of Gondor and Rohan luring all of the forces of evil out of Mordor so Frodo and Sam can destroy the One Ring. The armies collide and fight in a battle to the finish while Sam holds off Gollum while Frodo races to Mount Doom to destroy the Ring.
So which is the superior? Well, in this, once again it goes to Star Wars. Why you may ask? Well everything about it seemed more intense and the stakes seemed a lot higher. There was fighting going on everywhere. The Storm Troopers battled the Ewoks, (even though that sounds stupider every time I say it), the fleets were fighting each other at point blank range determined to take each other out, and Luke battled not only Vader and the lure of the Dark Side, but the Dark Side within Vader as well.
The climax of Lord of the Rings, on the other hand, didn't really consists of more than a few shaky shots at the Black Gate, Sam fighting Gollum, Frodo finally falling to the Rings power, Gollum biting off Frodo's finger and falling into the lava, destroying the Ring.
Now granted neither side was without its faults. Were the Ewoks silly? Yes. Was the second Death Star a cheap rehashing? Yes. But Star Wars' climax didn't introduce the biggest plot gaps of the series. For example why did all of Mordor crumble after the Ring was destroyed? It just didn't make much since. But the biggest one was the Eagles. Where the hell did they come from? Why didn't they just fly to Mordor rather than spend a year walking? I just don't get it. It's a plot gap that I have yet to find a satisfying answer to and is what seals the fate on this section. Point goes to Star Wars.
As I said, finales inevitably disappoint but both films trilogies have satisfying endings. The Star Wars ending consisted of little more of fireworks, celebrating on Endor and Luke saying a silent thank you and good bye to the Force Ghosts of Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Anakin. In spite of it being so short, it conveys a lot. The empire has been defeated, the rebels won, and the balance has been restored to the Force. While it doesn’t actually spell it out, it implies that everything will fall into place after the credits roll and is one of the best feel good ending I have ever seen. The 2004 DVD editions would go even further with this by adding footage of the people Coruscant, Tatooine and Naboo celebrating the fall of the empire and even tearing down statues of the Emperor, (yea I know I said I wasn't going into the special editions but I felt I had to address this). It was short, sweet, and to the point and I love it.
Then you have the Lord of the Rings ending which, like the rest of the trilogy, was way too long and drawn out with over a half an hour of run time after the climax but at the same time felt cramped. You had Aragon's crowning, his reunion with Arwen, the hobbits' return to the Shire, Sam's wedding, and Frodo's, Gandalf's, Bilbo's and the Elves' final departure from Middle Earth. On the whole, the ending was depressing and bitter sweet in a way that was the exact opposite of the ending of Star Wars.
So once again, this is a category that comes down to personal preference. Do you prefer a short and sweet feel good ending or a long a drawn out bitter sweet ending. Hmm. Well now that I put it that way, I have to give it to Star Wars. It conveyed just as much in a shorter period of time and left you feeling good whereas Lord of the Rings' ending was drawn out and leaves you feeling depressed. What people tend to forget is that while films are still an art form, they are meant to entertain and make you forget about reality and in this Star Wars is just better then Lord of the Rings. Point goes to Star Wars.
Plot Arc/Story Telling
Ha Ha! Am I gonna have fun on this one. Both series had a ton of things to nitpick at and had several plot gaps, many of which were never addressed. With Star Wars the plot gaps were mostly exclusive to A New Hope. For example, why did Leia lead the empire to the rebel base and why was the Death Star so easy to destroy? With Lord of the Rings the list is a lot longer. How did they not know the Mines of Moria had fallen, even though those bodies had clearly been decomposing for years? How did Aragon know what the Uruk-Hai were called, even though no one but the villains ever mentioned their names to anyone but other villains? What happened to the Elves at Helms Deep? Why did Aragon release the army of the dead before the war ended? Why didn't they just fly to Mordor? Why did all of Mordor collapse after the Ring was destroyed? AND WHY THE FUCK AM I LOOKING SO DEEPLY INTO THIS!? I HATE PEOPLE WHO DO THIS! GAHHHHHHHHHA!
Well...now that I got that out of my system lets move on. Now you have your general plot arc and storytelling. Star Wars told the story of a galactic rebellion and the resurrection of the Jedi. Lord of the Rings told the story the war against Mordor and the destruction of an evil lord but which better executed? Well, with Star Wars you had the opening text that told you what would have taken hours to explain on film. Each film gave you the meat and potatoes of the plot; the stuff most people care about and told the rest through the text but were still able to convey just as much story as Lord of the Rings and did it with an hour to spare.
Lord of the Rings, particularly in Fellowship and the beginning of Two Towers, just seemed like an unorganized mess. In Fellowship, they always make vague references to Gondor and Minas Tirith and, while it may have been intending to get the audience hyped to see it, it didn't do much more then confuse the hell out of me and crammed more into what was already a crammed film. Then in Two Towers, you had the sudden intro of Rohan and that kind of threw me off the first time I saw it as did the sudden shift in the films from an adventure story to a war story. Another issue was the video editing. There was a constant shifting from one scene to another in another part of the world that I didn't care about at the moment. For example, in The Two Towers you had the shifting from the intense battle of Helms Deep to the dull discussion of the Ents and this always annoyed the hell out of me. Finally you had the run time of each film, which is roughly around three hours and that has put more people off these films then anything. More people I know who haven't seen the Lord of the Rings films said it was the length of the films more than anything that kept them from watching the whole thing.
In the end, Star Wars had fewer plot gaps and was able to convey just as much as Lord of the Rings in a shorter time span and Star Wars contained fewer things that threw me off. Point goes to Star Wars.
Now for the big one. Which is the superior film trilogy of the two? Well, let’s look at the points. Star Wars had the better lead protagonist, the better lead villain, the better plot, the better climax, the better ending and the better story telling structure. Lord of the Rings, on the other hand, had the better supporting protagonist, better supporting antagonists, better environments and sets, better special effects and better action scenes. Both trilogies have their flaws, but in this I'm going to play the blame game. The flaws of Star Wars can be blamed on the time it was made and the relatively limited and strained budgets they had to work with in the first two films, (once again watch the documentary Empire of Dreams for more info). The flaws of Lord of the Rings can be laid solely at Tolkien’s feet as it was his writing and flawed story structure that ultimately brought the films down and to tell you the truth I have no love for the books at all. Love the films, hate the books.With that in mind, I have to say Star Wars is the superior trilogy. It had the superior story, a better story structure, a more compelling protagonist and a superior villain and those are what truly make or break a film. It was the ultimate tale of good vs. evil and its most basic and compelling form. It was incredibly originally for its time and there has yet to be a series that has effectively mimicked it without flat out plagiarizing it, (and if I ever meet Christopher Paolini, I swear I'll beat him to death with a baseball bat). People always say it's every story ever told put together in space opera form and that’s what truly makes it great. It's a space opera, it's a fantasy, it's a western, and is its own. Lord of the Rings, while great, was just inferior in these sections. By the time the films were released the plot had been reused a dozen times over so it already felt stale whereas Star Wars felt and has always felt fresh. Lord of the Rings is a close second but ultimately Star Wars is the superior film trilogy of the two.
Wow! That was easily the longest post I have ever done and if you’re still with me I thank you. Now, I'm sure plenty of you who are probably pissed at me for choosing Star Wars over Lord of the Rings, but once again, keep in mind I love both of these franchises and choosing one over the other was incredible difficult for me. You already have my arguments as to why Star Wars is superior so I'm not going to justify myself further. For those of you who read this and agreed with me, I say may the Force be with you. Always. For those of you who like both franchises as much as I do but think Lord of the Rings is better my a margin, I say live long and prosper. For those of you who thought gave Lord of the Rings to much credit, I say do not give into hate. For those of you who though I gave Star Wars to much credit, I'll just use a Jedi mind trick on you so see my point of view because you're obviously weak minded. And for those of you who hated both Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.......
YOU SHALL NOT PASS!
Until next time, this is the Illusive One demanding that both these franchises live on! Peace!