There shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
You all knew this would some day happen. The two biggest Hollywood trilogies of all time, and while we know what Randal Graves had to say, I will go through this and determine if Randal was right, or if he was a complete idiot (SPOILER ALERT: HE WAS AN IDIOT!).
I'm going to mostly keep this confined to the original Star Wars Trilogy (except for special effects).
This one is so easy, I should outright skip it, but I won't. That would be the easy way out.
In all fairness, "Star Wars" had another magnificent performance from Sir Alec Guinness as Obi Wan Kenobi as well as great turns from British thespians like Peter Cushing, Ian McDiarmid (ahem, BEFORE his stupidly over-the-top performance in Revenge of the Sith), as well as a very endearing performance by Harrison Ford who famously hated the dialogue he was given. Mark Hamill's performance was flat and uninteresting, and he would later find real artistic success in voice acting. Likewise Carrie Fisher turned in a performance that was... average, not bad, but not great either. Everyone else was okay, but let's face it, George Lucas isn't known for directing actors well, even if some of his successors in the director's chair fared a little better.
"The Lord of the Rings" clobbers "Star Wars" in this category with now legendary performances by Sir Ian McKellan, Sir Christopher Lee, Sean Bean, Viggo Mortensen, Bernard Hill, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Sean Astin, Andy Serkis, and... should I just name the entire cast here? Because I can and will do it if you want. Elijah Wood's performance as Frodo has a lot more heart and emotion to it than Hamill's wooden Luke Skywalker. And, for as much crap as people liked to give her, Liv Tyler's performance blew Carrie Fisher's out of the water as well. If the LOTR cast had a weak link, it was Orlando Bloom, but that wasn't apparent until later movies. For Legolas, he nailed exactly what he needed to.
"The Lord of the Rings" wins.
This one comes down to personal tastes. Yes, John Williams is the master. His scores are always instantly iconic. "Star Wars" has a great score. But I find myself listening to Howard Shore's "The Lord of the Rings" soundtrack much more often, and the greatest tunes there, in my opinion, outshine Williams'. I find Sauron's theme far more menacing than the Emperor's, as well as the creepy chanting of the Nazgul's theme scarier than the Imperial March. The themes for Rohan and Gondor take my breath away, and, the bombastic opening theme for every "Star Wars" movie pales to the quiet, subtle theme when you pop in "Fellowship" and enter that world, just as you hear Galadriel's opening narration.
"The Lord of the Rings" wins.
Special Effects, Makeup, Props, etc
I am going to break my rule a little and bring in the prequels, because they were made around the same time as the LOTR trilogy, and comparing special effects twenty-years older is outright unfair. But even with all that, "Lord of the Rings" still wins.
Never in all six "Star Wars" movies did I feel like I was looking at a real place, unless they were in the desert or the forest of Endor. It all looked like a soundstage with props, even if well done props. And any backgrounds that were CGI outright sucked in "Star Wars."
Gondor looked and felt real. Likewise so did Rohan, and Rivendell, and the Shire. When Frodo and Sam were trudging through Mordor, it felt like Hell on Earth. The best thing I can compare to Mordor from Star Wars is the lava planet in "Sith" that looked more like a Playstation 2 game.
All the orcs and Uruk-hai looked real, and distinct from one another. Gimli's makeup was great. Nothing in LOTR ever looked fake or like a special effect. They mixed their CGI with practical effects seamlessly. And I loved the miniatures they used. Sauron's tower, Barad dur wasn't CGI, that was a twenty-foot minature... and it is glorious.
Middle Earth felt real. Nothing in any "Star Wars" did.
But in the end, "The Lord of the Rings" wins this debate with one observation. Look at Gollum. Now look at Jar Jar Binks. Okay, look at Gollum again. I would tell you to look back at Jar Jar but I don't believe in torture.
Writing and Storytelling
"Star Wars" has a core cast of characters, who are indeed well done, but "The Lord of the Rings" has a much larger cast, and we get to know every single one of them as the story is weaved before us. We know their hopes, their dreams, their fears, and how the war affects them and their kingdoms. Both stories are about an epic struggle of good versus evil. But only in "Lord of the Rings" does that struggle feel like it comes with a price. To be fair, Tolkien was influenced by his experiences fighting in the first world war, while Lucas hasn't had such an experience as far as I know. Tolkien knew the costs of war, and while both are about an epic struggle of good versus evil, ultimately "Lord of the Rings" is a story about death.
When "Star Wars" opens, the Empire has been around for many years. We are told they are evil, and that the rebellion opposes them. But we don't get much more than that. Yes, the Death Star blows up Alderaan... but we've never seen that world, we know nothing about its culture, its people, nothing. Okay, Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru get killed and that sucks, but it's still not the same thing. We see how it affects Luke, we know what Luke is personally fighting for, but what's everyone else fighting for? Han Solo is fighting because he wants to bone Leia, and stay away from Jabba the Hutt but we don't know how the Empire affects him. I suppose Cloud City shows us the Empire slowly taking over an independent city, but we don't see how that affects anyone except Lando who previously sold out his friend. In "The Lord of the Rings" we spend a lot of time in the Shire, so we know what is at stake for the Hobbits. We spend time with the people of Gondor and Rohan and see how they have suffered under Sauron's growing shadow. In "The Lord of the Rings," we know what is at stake, why everyone is fighting, and the price that must be paid. The elves personify this because they've used their three rings to keep their kingdoms intact when they should have long ago decayed due to mortality. If Sauron wins, they lose everything, but if the ring is destroyed... they will diminish. When Galadriel was offered the ring, she wasn't just tempted by the power of it, but by preserving her ring. She didn't give in and was resigned to fate.
Whether Frodo succeeded or failed in his mission is up to interpretation, but we saw what he lost. What he gave up. Even when the task was finished, he couldn't adapt back to a normal life. Some wounds never heal, and this is about way more than losing his finger. Some wounds never heal. Ever. Talk to any soldier who returns from war, and this is much more universal. The pain, the trauma, the loss. It never goes away. Luke Skywalker lost a hand, only to get a shiny new one. Aside from that, what did he lose? The last time we see him, he's having a party with a big smile on his face... somehow, I think Luke is going to be just fine. But that diminishes the Empire as a force for evil. We never ever see Sauron, and yet he is far more terrifying that Emperor Palpatine because of the affect he has on everyone else in Middle Earth, Frodo especially.
Actions have consequences, and what action is greater than war? We saw the consequences of the War of the Ring. The rebellion against the Empire didn't seem to have any consequences. Evil is defeated, they live happily ever after. In "The Lord of the Rings" evil is defeated, now we must rebuild, try to find a new semblance of normal... if that is even possible. But the consequences were great.
"Star Wars" also suffers from stupid revelations that don't make a lick of sense. Princess Leia was always Luke's twin sister? And she's always known? Yeah, that's why she stuck her tongue in his mouth. This is the ultimate example of bad storytelling. And it wasn't even in the damn prequels.
In its world building, it's character development, it's depiction of absolute evil, the consequences of that evil, and everything else, "The Lord of the Rings" stands above the consequence-free "Star Wars."
Randal Graves thinks "Star Wars" is better than "The Lord of the Rings." Randal Graves also sells cigarettes to four-year-olds, and watches men have sex with donkeys.