When a film is a runaway success in the way that Star Wars was, there’s never a doubt that there will be sequels, but few sequels are as daring, and entertaining, as The Empire Strikes Back. The second installment of the series brought a darker look and theme, a movie as emotional as it was thrilling -- all capped off with what might still be the greatest plot twist of all time.
Ahead of our group discussion, Taras D. Butrej shares his first impressions of the beloved second (or fifth, depending on how you’re numbering these things) chapter in the Star Wars saga.
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back is my earliest film memory. The only movie-related item that I can recall from before that was walking out of a movie theater and seeing a poster for 101 Dalmations. Heck, I'm not even sure if that's what I saw, I just remember the poster.
But Empire? I can even remember the process I went through to see it. I was a small child, at or around kindergarten age. My family was stationed at Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Michigan. My mother took me to the library and we rented it on VHS because she thought I would like it. She was right. To this day, I can recall being fascinated by Yoda, loving the cool robots and being overwhelmed during the iconic scene between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker.
The best thing about the movie is that, at least to a child, you didn't even need to know there was a first film. Everything in it fit together to form a highly entertaining stand-alone movie (granted, one with one hell of a cliffhanger.)
The thing is, despite my positive memories I never even saw the other two films until years later. But then, oh man. I know I've viewed the original trilogy at least a dozen times. I once owned most of the Star Wars micro machines and played the card game. I was in the theatre for the premier of the special editions (which didn't harm the movies at all and seriously guys just calm down).
After finally seeing Episodes IV and VI, I was sure of one thing: Empire is my favorite of the bunch. It has everything that a middle film should. It ramps up the story, fleshes out the characters and leaves people clamoring for more. To me, it is the best middle film in movie history (I don't count Godfather Part II, because nobody was clamoring for a third).
Strangely, while rewatching it for the first time in too long I was surprised by how much I had somehow remembered as being in one of the other two movies. The entire trilogy ran together in my brain and became one huge film where I could no longer tell what happened when. And you know what? I don't mind that. Empire is one of my favorite films of all time, but it manages to blur into the movies around it. That's not a sin, that's the sign of an entertaining trilogy.
Yet as a stand-alone I count it as the best of the bunch. It packs a much bigger punch than its predecessor and is far less goofy and cartoony than Episode VI. Luke Skywalker becomes a man, Han and Leia actually start to figure out their feelings for each other, and I'm not yet sick of R2-D2 and C-3PO. The deepest emotions are on display but it never falls into melodrama. Plus, no “emo Skywalker”.
The Empire Strikes Back is the movie I think about first when anyone mentions Star Wars. It's what introduced me to science fiction as fantastical entertainment. I'm glad I saw it when I was so young.