Just came from seeing the last Harry Potter movie. I really liked it but left the theater feeling a bit melancholy. Was it because the era was coming to an end? No, that wasn’t it. I think it was because there was an anti-climatic feeling to the whole thing. Maybe it was because I already know how it was going to end (in case you haven’t heard, the movies were based on books). Maybe it was the dribble of sappiness that leaked into the final scenes. Or maybe, I suspect, my feeling was based on one simple fact: This was no “Star Wars.”
Now I’ll be the first to admit that I missed the Hogwarts Express by about 10 years. While I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching Harry and Co. grow up and fight He-Who-Must-Have-Rhinoplasty, Potter does not define my generation. Potter is not the bridge that transitioned me from innocent childhood into the world of adults. I’m not one of those millions of Muggles. Instead, my generation is defined by spaceships, droids and one bad dude in a black helmet. I’m a Star Wars kid.
So I got to thinking: which movie series is better? I guess it depends on how you define “better.” For sheer moviemaking and story-telling, Potter wins for me easily. First of all, they are told in order. Second of all, the movies came out closer together. And third of all, technology made it possible to more faithfully capture the creator’s vision (in this case, J.K. Rowling). George Lucas keeps threatening to uber-enhance his movies (digitization, 3-D) as a way to improve upon the originals. If the originals need improving, that says something. There will be no Harry Potter remakes.
But beyond the movies themselves, which series will truly stand the test of time? Which series was more satisfying? Which series bettered defined a generation? Here is my attempt at a very unscientific comparison between Harry Potter and Star Wars:
The Protagonist – Harry Potter vs. Luke Skywalker – Harry Potter has it all: looks, brains, mysterious backstory, that freaky scar. Skywalker had some of those things, but came by them through the side door. He had the looks (Mark Hamill rocked the Bieber haircut way before it was cool). He didn’t have the brains, although he tried to make up for it with impetuousness. He had the mysterious backstory, but we had to wait until the fourth movie to get it, and then the boy who played him couldn’t act. And Skywalker didn’t have a scar, but he got his hand cut off. By his father. OK, Skywalker wins that one. But otherwise…advantage POTTER.
The Female Sidekick – Hermoine vs. Princess Leia – I liked Leia a lot, but she had to phaser her way out of some female stereotypes before she could stand on her own. And what’s with the Cinnabuns on the side of her head? Beyonce won’t be sporting those anytime soon. She had some great comedic lines but for the most part didn’t contribute to the story like Hermoine. Hermoine was the glue that held the team together and the real brains that kept them moving forward. No one would ever accuse her of being a helpless princess. Advantage: POTTER.
The Male Sidekick – Ron vs. Han Solo – C’mon. Really? Do I even need to write this paragraph? Han Solo may be one of the best non-leading characters in all of film. He had some of the most memorable lines, heart-soaring (his return to clear Luke’s way for destroying the Death Star) and heart-wrenching (carbonite freezing – I still cry) moments and he was played by Harrison Ford. I don’t see Rupert Grint having the same arc of a movie career. Even though both end up nabbing the female sidekick, Solo wins this one, Hans down. Advantage: STAR WARS.
The Villain – Voldemort vs. Darth Vader – This one is closer than I thought. At first, this was a runaway for Darth Vader. But the more I thought about Voldemort, the more layers of his character I could see. His main flaw: presence. He’s just not around a whole lot early in the series. You could make a similar argument for Darth Vader later (but chronologically earlier) in the Star Wars series (at least not in his Black Helmet form), but while he may not be there, his spirit lives on in folks like the Emperor and Darth Maul. I like Ralph Fiennes as an actor, and he is truly brilliant in this last movie, but he’s no James Earl Jones. Advantage: STAR WARS.
Gurus – Dumbledore vs. Yoda/Obi Wan – You could argue that this is two against two since we had two Dumbledores (Richard Harris and Michael Gambon are equally good). But we also had two Kenobis (Alec Guinness and Ewan McGregor are not carbon copies of each other). And then there’s Yoda. The X-Factor (or would it be Y-Factor?). I love Dumbledore’s role as mentor to Potter, but the role of the Jedi in guiding young Skywalker to his destiny is a driving force (so to speak) for the whole Star Wars series. Both gurus could be shockingly vulnerable and could also kick some major bad-guy behind. And both sacrifice themselves for the good of their protege (Obi Wan dying at Vader’s hands, Dumbledore being cast off by Snape). But in the end, the Star Wars guys have more staying power, even if Yoda sounded too much like Fozie the Bear. Advantage: STAR WARS.
Non-human interlopers – Elves/Goblins/Owls – vs. Droids/Wookies/Ewoks – Both series were creative in coming up with other-worldly characters, but only Star Wars gave us something we had never seen before. Elves and goblins have been around in some form or fashion for along time, but unless you count Bigfoot, the Wookie was a brand-new bag of fur. And love ’em or hate ’em, the Ewoks added spunk to the series. In fact, this category would have been a laugher except for two words: Jar-Jar Binks. Shiver. Advantage: STAR WARS.
Weapons – Wands vs. Light-sabers – Yeah. Sticks of wood against the single coolest movie weapon ever. Advantage: STAR WARS.
Settings – Hogwarts vs. um, Space – Star Wars gave us some ultra-cool memorable locations, but they also gave us a lot of sand and trees. Trees that don’t do anything, that is. Star Wars was more character-driven, but Hogwarts was a player all by itself. The school was richly imagined and meticulously crafted and added its own plot points (secret rooms, underground tunnels). The sets on Star Wars were eye-catching novelties, but Hogwarts proved to be more than just a fancy backdrop. Advantage: HARRY POTTER.
Transportation – Hogwarts Express/Broomsticks vs. Millenium Falcon/Land Speeders – What gives this one to Star Wars was how much Lucas was able to do with relatively little technology. I still get a thrill when the At-At Walkers appear on the distance. The Potter generation has been so conditioned by technology and CGI that a kid flying around on a broomstick is low-tech. But for my generation, the Millenium Falcon and X-Wing Fighters filled our adolescent dreams for many nights and made for much cooler Lego creations. Advantage: STAR WARS
Imitation – In some ways, this is the most important criteria in judging the legacy of the two series. Which one spawned more imitators? Which one crept further into the cultural lexicon? Harry Potter’s legacy includes…er…um…the Wizards of Waverly Place, and some cool puppet videos on YouTube? Really, how has Potter infiltrated our culture? It hasn’t. Instead, it’s created its own devoted sub-culture. Impressive, no doubt, but not much staying power there. On the other hand, “May the Force be with you.” That pretty much says it all. Oh, that and the fact that any movie that has any special effects in it can name Star Wars as its godfather and muse. From Battlestar Galactica to Transformers, the influence of Star Wars lives on. And as if you needed one more piece of evidence to convince you, I give you “Spaceballs,” probably the best homage ever made. Advantage: STAR WARS.
So if you’re counting, that’s 7-3 in favor of Star Wars. While the Potter books and movies define a generation, neither of them changed their respective genres nor infused themselves into every corner of popular culture. Potter books and movies gave birth to a host of second-rate knock-offs (“Percy Jackson and the Olympians,” anyone? I thought not) but Star Wars created a whole new language that is still spoken fluently today. In 20 years, will people still be spouting, “Wingardium Leviosa!” and making jokes about the size of their Patronus? I doubt it. But Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker and the Force will still be going strong. Probably in 3-D.