I think Star Wars is the best by a hair, Empire is better in a lot of ways just not as fun. Return is the weakest and uneven but still has its moments.
To me all three films, i mean the real versions are one piece. They tell a complete story i find it hard to consider them separately. Although i know Leia was never intended to be the sister, or Vader Luke’s father. The story of the original film when viewed as a standalone thing is very different from what came later. Star Wars itself not the SAGA is a different beast. A simple happy go lucky comic book movie, not some grand Epic.
A movie serial like Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon. Tells a simple story and is self contained.
Yeah, I’d say I’m in the same camp. When a trilogy is coming out, you’re regarding each film individually. But once the trilogy is complete and has been out for a while, and the trilogy’s story is really tightly knit like Star Wars is, you start to almost view the trilogy as a single, three-part movie. I do agree, though, that out of all the Star Wars movies, the original is still the one that can most stand on its own. If Star Wars had flopped and we never got another movie, it would still be regarded as a great singular classic film.
But Empire and Jedi together re-contextualize the first film and make it part of something grander and deeper. Empire and Jedi feel much more like a two-parter, and are more dependent on each other while the first film can stand alone. But together, all the films follow a very clear three-act structure, and I grew up knowing them as “the Star Wars trilogy,” so I can’t really divorce them from each other.
The prequels always felt separate from the OT, even when I was a kid, but still closely linked with each other (though TPM doesn’t quite carry its weight as a first act like ANH did). As soon as the PT was complete, it was something you could compartmentalize as a different story from the OT. It was a new three-part movie, not the first half of a six-part mega-movie like George wanted it to be. The same applies to the ST now that it’s finished. Discussion of the individual films slowly gives way to discussion of the films as a unit. Each trilogy has its own three acts, but the trilogies don’t really form a three-act structure together.