Like the original Star Wars, the background information on this movie is so well documented that it’s not worth talking about this movie’s creation. There are a number of well-made documentaries on the behind the scenes, written biographies about George Lucas, and so much interview footage that it’s ridiculous. So there’s really nothing more I can add. This movie’s also been discussed so much on a philosophical level that I’m not really smart enough to add anything of value.
The Empire Strikes Back is often considered not only the best Star Wars movie to date, but one of the greatest sequels of all-time, for any genre. It took a movie that, while good, is kind of silly fun, and made it a much more dramatic, much deeper and much more emotionally satisfying story. It introduces the movie world’s second most iconic musical theme (behind only the Star Wars main theme), the Imperial March, and it makes brilliant use of the theme throughout the film. The then young cast clearly gave more refined, nuanced performances. It’s got what may just be the most shocking reveal in the history of fiction, and despite that shocker’s cultural impact, it is possible to hide that shock reveal from kids and sometimes even adults. It’s also worth it to see this kind of reaction.
Don’t watch this video if you somehow haven’t seen Empire Strikes Back and you don’t want this spoiled. Also, try not to get trapped by these reaction videos – it’s a very entertaining, yet time wasting trip down memory lane.
I don’t remember exactly how my reaction went down, but I know it caught me off-guard.
But as well respected as The Empire Strikes Back is today, the initial reaction to the 1980 sequel was much more lukewarm. It’s not hard to find negative reviews for the movie in archives. Just read this article on the Star Wars official website that shows quotes from both positive and negative reviews from the time.
It’s yet another example of how time can change peoples’ perspective on movies. Even one of the critic who initially gave Empire a mediocre score mentioned in that article later threw the movie a lot more praise. Another example of this is the fact that Citizen Kane lost the Best Feature Film Oscar to “How Green Was My Valley”, a drama film that while it’s apparently good, is a movie that hardly anyone talks about anymore.
Yet when you think about it, Star Wars Episode 5 is an oddly paced film. Most action/war movies at the time feature their largest battles at the climax. Even Star Wars did this. Instead, The Empire Strikes Back’s biggest battle happened within the first half hour, with the rest of the movie taking on a smaller, more personal scale. But this works in the movie’s favour on more than one level. It shows early on in the movie that despite losing the Death Star, the Empire is still the clear dominant force in the Galaxy. It makes the rest of the movie more intense when the entire fleet is chasing after Han Solo, Princess Leia and Chewbacca. But it also makes you wonder why Darth Vader is so intent on catching them. Why he’s willing to use an entire fleet on 3 people and a droid.
It all serves to build up to the big twist reveal, even if you may not realize it at the time of viewing. In terms of the general tone and the drama and tension behind it, you could easily argue that the lightsaber fight between Luke and Darth Vader in Cloud City could actually be the best in the franchise. I don’t quite agree, but it’s up there. You certainly feel for Luke in that fight more than you do during any fight in the Prequel trilogy. Well … except maybe the fight between Anakin and Obi Wan in Revenge of the Sith if you enjoy those characters enough.
As a kid, I watched this movie several days after seeing A New Hope for the first time, and right away I liked it more than the first. Return of the Jedi ended up my favourite of the three as a kid, but we’ll get into that later. These days, this movie remains my favourite science fiction/fantasy movie of all-time. No matter how many times I’ve seen it, The Empire Strikes Back never gets old. There are still a couple moments that give me slight chills every time.
I will never go so far as to say that The Empire Strikes Back will always be the greatest Star Wars movie of all-time, but it’s a seriously high bar. It’s as close to perfection that Star Wars has ever been, and every movie since suffers from some sort of problem from either a storytelling or a pacing standpoint. Sometimes both.
Next up is the unofficially released mockumentary, Return of the Ewok, followed by Return of the Jedi. After that, we’ll be looking at the two made for TV Ewok movies. You know I’m going all out with this blogathon when I won’t be getting into the prequels until the post title will read “Star Wars movies 7”. Until then, may the force be with you.