Empire Strikes Back Isn’t The Best Star Wars Movie, It’s Rogue One

Empire Strikes back is a dark, character-driven movie and was the best Star Wars movie, but Rogue One now has that title because it does everything better.

By Jonathan Klotz | Updated

rogue one

For over 30 years, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was held as the best Star Wars movie of all. With its darker plot and focus on characterization, the film is still one of the greatest sequels in movie history, but it’s no longer the best of the franchise; that title now belongs to Rogue One (despite the Rotten Tomatoes scores). By shifting the focus away from Jedi and onto regular soldiers in the battle against the Empire, Rogue One was our first look at the real scope, and cost, of the Rebellion.

Following Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson, in a rare English-language role as a good guy), rescued from an Imperial camp by the Rebel Alliance because of a coded message her father sent, leads a small group to save Galen. Part of that group is Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), the first member of the Rebel Alliance we ever see receive a kill order on the screen. In fact, his introduction scene involves shooting a man, which is notable because of how Han Solo’s shooting was edited in subsequent re-releases of A New Hope.

Rogue One is the first time we see this side of the Rebel Alliance as anything less than the perfect paragon of all that is good and just in the universe. The story of Rogue One takes place just before A New Hope, explaining how the Death Star plans were received, which means going into the film, everyone knew how it would be for the characters, none of whom appeared in the original trilogy. To some people, knowing everyone is going to die would dim the excitement of the film, but to me, that made it even better.

Every Star Wars film includes characters with so thick plot armor that even when they should be killed off to enhance the narrative, they survive anyway; this lack of plot armor helps make Rogue One the best Star Wars movie. The incredible cast of Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen, and Forrest Whitaker (playing Saw Gerrera for the first time in live-action) not only play characters that are purposely imperfect and flawed, but they all bring some of the best performances ever to the long-running franchise.

Felicity Jones and Diego Luna in Rogue One

Gone is the belief that the Rebel Alliance is all good people, and instead, there’s the reality that it’s partly filled with scoundrels and scavengers, former Imperial officers and murderers, trying to make a buck. Riz Ahmed‘s Rook, a former Imperial pilot defects not because of any hope for a better future but to save his own skin. Mon Mothma, in this film, doesn’t talk about hope and the future; she discreetly orders Andor to execute Jin’s father for being too dangerous to let live.

Instead of being depressing, this breakdown of the “good guys” from the original trilogy is refreshing. The climatic final battle on Scarif is fantastically shot, resembling Black Hawk Down more than Return of the Jedi, adding to the raw intensity and high stakes of the doomed conflict. When the first of our heroes is killed off brutally, it’s jarring to the audience, but then it’s followed by heroic sacrifice after heroic sacrifice.

Never before had Star Wars shown us individuals dying on this level in support of the war effort. But in addition, Rogue One was such a hit with fans that Andor was created for Disney+. In his series, Diego Luna’s character is shown working his way into the Rebel Alliance and all of the dirty deeds and even dirtier characters he encounters. One of the best streaming series is a spin-off of the best Star Wars movie, and it’s no surprise that each one treats viewers to a much darker side of the universe than even The Mandalorian.

With a diverse cast of characters that each has their motivation and reason for being included, the complete lack of plot armor ensuring anyone can die at any time and the most nuanced take yet on the Rebel vs. Empire dynamic, Rogue One is far and away the best Star Wars movie of all time.