My Favorite Movies – Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

18 Jun

By Tanner Smith

What is the greatest sequel of all time? “The Godfather Part II” or “The Empire Strikes Back?” Well…it’s easy to say either one, but I’ll go with The Empire Strikes Back simply because it had more to prove.

I mean, “The Godfather Part II” had a lot to follow up with too, since its predecessor was a Best Picture winner. But “The Empire Strikes Back” had more to lose (and…yeah, I guess it did lose people upon initial theatrical release, but I’ll get to that in a bit) because it was a sequel to the highest-grossing film of all time and it had to bring in both the kids and the adults. The first movie already entertained the kids highly–simple themes, black-and-white aspects, nothing but adventure, and so on–and it helped bring in older audiences because of its added simplicity. But with the sequel, they needed to show that they weren’t here for the moment–they were here to stay. Audiences needed to be entertained, but they needed to leave this film wanting more and thinking even more about what they already saw.

What resulted was one of the greatest films of all time. (I should apologize for the hyperbole, but…I won’t.)

“The Empire Strikes Back” is entertaining, for sure. The battle against the Imperial Walkers, the chase into the asteroid belt, the lightsaber battle between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, among other sequences, are just as thrilling as anything in “A New Hope.” But there’s something else to this movie too. Under the guidance and teachings of wise Jedi master Yoda (which is still the greatest muppet work I’ve ever seen in any movie–the way it’s able to communicate even nonverbally is outstanding!), Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has to learn more about what it truly means to master the arts of the Jedi. In any other movie, he’d go through some tough scrapes, then go in to fight the villain at the end, and come out victorious…but not in this movie.

“The Empire Strikes Back” does not end happily. The heroes are beaten and defeated (and one of them is captured), the villains are more powerful, and we now know more about the connection between Luke and Vader than what we ever could have expected (with what is still probably the greatest twist in any movie)…and audiences had to wait three years before learning what would happen next in “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.”

And that’s where audiences were split on the film in 1980. Many people weren’t especially happy that they didn’t get the “Star Wars” movie they wanted. (Oh, how times haven’t changed.)

Quick side-note: I like to think the emotional responses left from audiences match the ones I went through as an audience member for 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War.” (At least we only had to wait one year for that film’s conclusion.)

But other people knew back then that what they just saw in “The Empire Strikes Back” took a lot of guts and left them thinking and discussing with others about everything. And in the years since, people have come back to it with a better mindset. It’s the darkest “Star Wars” movie we’ve gotten and it’s also the greatest–and it’s one of my top 30 favorite films of all time.

Now, about Star Wars Episode Vi: Return of the Jedi–I love parts of it, but other parts of it could’ve been cut out or expanded upon or simplified or whatever. It’s still an entertaining film for what it is and I still like it, but that’s about as far as it goes for me.

There are two other “Star Wars” movies that I’ll talk about in this series in the future because I can’t help but place them in my personal top 400-500 favorite movies (and yes, that is as far as the list goes–I’m not sorry, I love movies so much)–but I had to start with the two “Star Wars” movies in my top 100: “Star Wars” and “The Empire Strikes Back,” both of which the Force is still strong with.

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