A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
It is a dark time for the
Rebellion. Although the Death
Star has been destroyed,
Imperial troops have driven the
Rebel forces from their hidden
base and pursued them across
Evading the dreaded Imperial
Starfleet, a group of freedom
fighters led by Luke Skywalker
has established a new secret
base on the remote ice world
The evil lord Darth Vader,
obsessed with finding young
Skywalker, has dispatched
thousands of remote probes into
the far reaches of space....
Once A New Hope became a phenomenon, everyone was clamoring for a sequel. The good news was that the movie everyone saw was already only part one of a three part story. George Lucas was already refining the second part, and expanding his story and themes to cover potentially an additional six more! The bad news was that directing Hope had work Lucas down to the nub. He wanted to finish his story and thanks to his smart business deals had the money to make it with little interference, but he had no real interest in returning behind the camera for months at a time. So while he still oversaw production, making sure it was still his story, he entrusted his mentor Irvin Kershner to do the day-to-day stuff.
Ironically, though he was promised a high level of creative control in exchange for sheparding one of the most anticipated films of all time, Kershner was adamant that it remain in Lucas’ “Saturday Matinee” milieu. Lucas and Kershner worked with a team of writers and the actors themselves in order to try and make this sequel the best it could be. Thus, in 1980, the world was introduced to The Empire Strikes Back.
The reaction was…extremely mixed. Oh it still made a lot of money, but there was quite a bit of negativity sneaking into the debates. Lucas’ 30’s Serial dialogue was losing its charm with these critics. Flaws in the storytelling were put on the spot and magnified (whether they were there or not). Even the effects seemed hit and miss if you took a poll. The biggest complaint seemed to be that despite Kershner’s wishes, it just didn’t have the spirit of the original.
Of course, time seems to have healed all wounds. Fast forward to today, and Empire is widely regarded not only as a tremendous film but far and away the best film of the Saga, leaving all past and future installments in the dust. The pinnacle of sci-fi/fantasy filmmaking.
My verdict? I definitely wouldn’t go that far at all, but it sits at a fairly comfortable second place both in my personal list and in an honest look at the filmmaking.
It succeeded in being better than New Hope in most ways, and yet there is a fatal flaw: it feels like it’s trying too hard to be better than it has any right to be.
Let me explain.
Kershner uses the same style of filmmaking Lucas used in Hope, but he pushes it a bit farther. Uses the artistic angles just a teensy bit more. Makes the melodrama just a little bit more dramatic. In short, it takes itself a little too seriously than it should. The other films in the Saga know exactly what they are, but Empire tries to rise above it to its ultimate detriment. Oh, it has the Star Wars spirit, but to be honest it has it about the least of all the movies, to the point where when it does show up it feels a tad out of place. Just a tad.
To be fair, it was easy to want to go this route with the point in the story they had to tell here, and honestly it took a lot of gumption to follow up a film like Hope with one like this that went so dark, and while it wasn’t completely successful it deserves a lot of credit for throwing us that curve and not giving us a rehash. And the filmmaking style is, at the end of the day, really good. The effects are better, and hold up very well even today. Once again, not the best-made film in the Saga as many would claim, but its ambition at least lands it a solid second.
And it’s still my personal second favorite, though I think there’s a big gap between what I like about it and what others like about it. I’m on the same page with people who enjoy the sequences on Hoth and the climactic confrontation (more on that later), but it’s when the group splits up that there seems to be a disconnect.
Most people like the Han/Leia romance. I don’t. Actually, the more I watch it the more I hate it. Not only do I just want to punch Han Solo and give him a lecture on how “No means No,” but I want to dope-slap Leia for ultimately falling for it. I know this type of romance has precedent in fiction and does keep in a certain classic feel, but I’ve always hated that kind of story. I respond better to a more equalized and classical style of romantic interaction that the Saga would delve into in later installments. The only thing I think is worthwhile is that one ad lib which is admittedly perfect and completely in character. I just wish we had more than Han being uncomfortably pushy leading up to it.
Most people like Boba Fett. I don’t. To be honest, as a kid it took me about my fifth viewing to even realize he was there, that’s how much of an impression he left on me. He’s not a bad character, but he just doesn’t do anything for me and I can never understand why so many people go so gaga over him.
The Asteroid chase is fairly exciting, but most of that is due to the fact that it inexplicably gets one of the best music compositions of the saga, and the Exogorth (Space Slug) scene, while a fine scene and would fit perfectly in any of the other episodes, is one of those scenes whose silliness defeats the more serious tone the filmmakers were trying too hard to push in most of the film. Bespin, while a fine concept, is just dull and claustrophobic to me, even with the SE opening it up a bit. Lando’s likeable enough and gets some good material, but loses my interest almost as quickly. Vader gets some interesting character stuff in these middle sections, but only retroactively in light of what we learn about him in later episodes.
So with all that I dislike, why is Empire my second favorite in the Saga? Well, for me, the scenes with Yoda training Luke on Dagobah are so amazing that they carry this film for me. Yoda is my favorite Star Wars character, and not only is this the first time the world has met him, but this also remains some of his best material. A lot of Frank Oz’s virtuoso puppeteering still makes Yoda look real to me.
Of course, I think the main reason this one sticks out to so many people can be summed up in five little words:
“No, I am your father.”
If you weren’t spoiled by everyone and their mothers misquoting this line for years, it packs a major wallop to first-time viewers. It changes literally everything. I also think it’s quintessential of Lucas’ style.
First off, this twist didn’t exist until part-way through the drafting stage of the screenplay. And yet it makes so much sense and feels like it was built up to this all along. This is Lucas’ greatest gift: he can make stuff up on the fly and fit it into the story so seamlessly that it feels like it was the master plan.
But moreso than that, look at the scene. Really examine the dialogue and the performances in that scene. Take that scene out of context and it’s the most ridiculous thing you have ever seen in your life. The cheesiest of lines, overacting to the worst degree. And yet, seen in context, once you’ve gotten into the story and have been following it, it becomes one of the most memorable and heartwrenching scenes in cinema. That’s the Star Wars spirit. It’s corny as hell, but if you let yourself get invested it takes you for a glorious ride. Empire forgets that too often to truly be the best, but when it does remember like with that scene, it is truly fantastic.
It was at this point that many of Lucas’ collaborators were excited to explore further down the dark path. But Lucas was realizing very quickly that the storyline needed to be brought back into the light. How did he fare in this quest? Well, meet me next week…
· “Thought I would leave without giving you a goodbye kiss?” “I’d just as soon kiss a Wookiee!” “I can arrange that! He could use a good kiss!”
· “Oh, switch off!”
· “Your Tauntaun’ll freeze before you reach the first marker!” “Then I’ll see you in hell!”
· “R2 says that the chances of survival are 725 to 1. Actually Artoo has been known to make mistakes... from time to time... Oh dear oh dear... “
· “You will go to the Dagobah system. There you will learn from Yoda, the Jedi master who instructed me.”
· “And I thought they smelled bad on the outside!”
· “Laugh it up, fuzzball!”
· “Why you…stuck up…half-witted…scruffy-looking…NERF HERDER!” “Who's scruffy-looking?!”
· “Sir, I am fluent in 6 million forms of communication. This signal is not used by the Alliance. It could be an Imperial code.”
· “His is as clumsy as he is stupid.”
· “You are in command now, Admiral Piett”
· “Sir, Rebel ships are coming into our sector.” “Good. Our first catch of the day.”
· “Right now I feel like I could take on the whole Empire myself!”
· “Shut him up, or shut him down!”
· “Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1!” “Never tell me the odds.”
· “You’re saying coming here was a bad idea…I’m beginning to agree with you. Oh, R2, what are we doing here? It’s like…something out of a dream…or…I dunno, maybe I’m just going crazy.”
· “Chewie, take the professor into the back and plug him into the hyperdrive!”
· “Away put your weapon, I mean you no harm! I am wondering…why are you here?” “…I’m looking for someone…” “Looking? Found someone you have, I would say, hmmm?”
· “Ohhhh, hehe, great warrior. Wooahh, hehe, wars not make one great.”
· “How you get so big, eating food of this kind?”
· “Mine! Or I will help you not!” “I don’t want your help. I want my lamp back. I’m going to need it to get out of this slimy mudhole.” “Mudhole?! Slimy?! My home this is!”
· “Sir, I don’t know where your ship learned to communicate, but it has the most peculiar dialect.”
· “The Force is strong with him. The son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi.” “If he could be turned, he would become a powerful ally.” “Yess…he would be a great asset…can it be done?” “He will join us or die, Master.”
· “Ready are you? What know you ‘ready’? For 800 have I trained Jedi. My own council I will keep on who is to be trained.”
· “This one, a long time have I watched. All his life as he looked away. To the stars…to the horizon…never his mind on Where. He. Was…hmm? What he was doing.”
· “I won’t fail you. I’m not afraid.” “Ah…you will be…you will be…”
· “I have a bad feeling about this…”
· “No time to discuss this in a committee!” “I am NOT a committee!”
· “The cave is collapsing!” “This is no cave…”
· “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.” “Vader…is the dark side stronger?” “No…no no…but the easier, more seductive.” “How am I to know the good side from the bad?” “You will know when you are calm…at peace…passive…a Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense. Never for attack.”
· “That place is strong with the dark side of the Force. A domain of evil it is. In you must go.” “What’s in there?” “Only what you take with you.”
· “There will be a substantial reward for the one who finds the Millennium Falcon. You are free to use any methods necessary, but I want them alive. No disintigrations.” “…as you wish.”
· “No! No different. Only different in your mind. You must unlearn what you have learned.” “All right…I’ll give it a try.” “Try not! Do! …Or do not. There is not ‘Try’.”
· “Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? And well you should not, for my ally is the Force. And a powerful ally it is. Life creates it…makes it grow…its energy surrounds us…and binds us…Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you. Here, between you…me…the tree…the rock…everywhere. Yes! Even between the land and the ship.”
· “I don’t…I don’t believe it.” “That…is why you fail.”
· “Apology accepted, Captain Needa.”
· “Will they die?” “…Difficult to see. Always is motion is the future.” “I’ve got to go to them.” “Decide you must, how to serve them best. If you leave now, help them you could…but you would destroy all for which they have fought and suffered.”
· “Why you slimy, double-crossing, no-good swindler. You’ve got a lot of guts, coming here after what you pulled…hahahahaha! How ya doin’, you old pirate! So good to see you! I never thought I’d get to see you again! Where ya been? Hahaha…what’re ya doin’ here?”
· “Told you I did, reckless is he. And now, matters are worse.” “That boy is our last hope.” “No…there is another.”
· “You look absolutely beautiful. You truly belong here with us among the clouds.”
· “That was never a condition of our agreement, nor was giving Han to this bounty hunter!” “Perhaps you feel you’re being treated unfairly?” “…no…” “Good. It would be unfortunate if I had to leave a garrison here.” “…This deal is getting worse all the time…”
· “Wait…wait! Oh my! What have you done! I’m backwards! You flea-bitten furball! Only an overgrown mop-head like you would be stupid enough to-”
· “I love you…” “…I know.”
· “Calrissian, take the princess and the Wookiee to my ship.” “You said they’d be left in the city under my supervision!” “I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further.”
· “You’ve learned much, young one.” “You’ll find I’m full of surprises.”
· “Impressive….most impressive…”
· “Well don’t blame me, I’m an interpreter. I’m not supposed to know a power socket from a computer terminal.”
· “There is no escape. Don’t make me destroy you. Luke, you do not yet realize your importance. You’ve only begun to realize your power. Join me, and I will complete your training. With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy!” “I’ll never join you!” “If you only knew the power of the dark side. Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.” “He told me enough! He told me you killed him!” “No, I am your father.” “….No…no…That’s not true…that’s IMPOSSIBLE!” “Search your feelings. You know it to be true.” “..NOOOOOOoo..noooo….” “Luke, you can destroy the Emperor. He has foreseen this. It is your destiny. Join me, and together we can rule the galaxy as father and son!”
Biggest “What Do You Mean It’s For Kids?!” Moment
The graphic evisceration of Han’s Tauntaun.
(On a scale of 1-6 where 1 is the best)
As a Film: 2/6