For 40 years, The Empire Strikes Back has topped lists of not only the greatest sequels, but also greatest overall films of all time. So, it’s hard to say anything about this epic that hasn’t been said.
Therefore, we are left with personal feelings and reactions about this landmark film that may be the most important work in the history of cinema. If it hadn’t expanded on its predecessor, it could’ve pushed Star Wars into a quaint nostalgic corner of culture with only its technical merits left to push the art form into the next generation.
But THIS is where The Empire Strikes Back truly carves its legacy: Its imagination and willingness to take this saga to unthinkable places — and not just give us another adventure of Han, Luke, Leia, and the evil Darth Vader.
Every time this film starts, I am always completely transplanted into that Galaxy Far, Far Away. Yes, the ice planet of Hoth is cool and shocking after much of the prior film was spent on a desert world.
But there’s more … there’s psychology there — and that’s what makes it so enduring.
Hoth wasn’t designed because it was simply an exciting place to take this war. Although, it certainly is, and goes to great lengths in giving this universe a sense of exploration, but it reflects Luke’s point in his Hero’s Journey.
Following the events of A New Hope, Luke entered his “larger world” and discovered his powers. When we meet up with him again, in Empire, he does not know how to use his power, nor does he know his destiny … he’s frozen. The environment reflects his state of being, and that is story-telling.
That depth makes this film immortal, but it never forgets that it is Star Wars … and that means adventure. That kept this six-year-old pinned to his seat, and then allowed it to grow with me.
To do that for millions of people is an astounding achievement, and amazingly, it STILL has the same effect. Even before I was a teenager, I imagined how this screenplay was written. I imagined one of the the first things George Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan did when they talked about the story was ask each other “Now that we have Luke’s journey, what would be cool? What would be fun? What would be thrilling? What would be delightful? What would be strange”
These are the things I imagine that was said:
— Why don’t we explode C-3PO, and then put him in a backpack for Chewbacca to carry?
— How about we have Luke go into a cave, where a vision of Darth Vader attacks him, and then Luke cuts off his head, then the mask explodes, revealing LUKE’S face!? It will be foreshadowing!
— Giant walkings beasts of warfare attack the Rebels!
— We’ll freeze Han Solo!
— Luke can use the Force to summon items to his grasp!
— Luke and Leia can communicate through great distances through the Force!
— We’ll have a giant space slug … living in an asteroid!
— We need BOUNTY HUNTERS!!!
— A City in the Clouds
— The biggest revelation in the history of cinema
— And somehow end this dark, speculative film with a feeling of HOPE!
This film has shaped my literary sensibilities, and formed my palate for film. It’s a completely fresh experience every time I see it — and I watch it regularly. It makes A New Hope even better if that’s possible, and sets the stage for Return of the Jedi to be an absolute BLAST.
Gawd, I love this film!