Let’s Talk About ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ (1980)

Which did you like better? Jedi or The Empire Strikes Back?

It’s an age old question and if you ask me, Randall Kevin Smith summed it up best. Empire. It HAD the better ending. “I mean, Luke gets his hand cut off, finds out Vader’s his father, Han gets frozen and taken away by Boba Fett. It ends on such a down note. I mean, that’s what life is, a series of down endings. All Jedi had was a bunch of Muppets.”

In my house the real question is “Which did you like better? Star Wars or Empire?” And in all honesty it’s still the same answer. I LOVE me some Star Wars, but Empire is MY film of choice. It really is the best film of all the trilogies. Everything about it is 100% on point. The acting, the directing, the locations, the score. All of it.

It’s not so much that I like that the ending isn’t a positive one, it’s just that the film seems more “realistic” that way. Not everything always quite goes the way you want it to in life. It’s a valuable lesson to learn at an early age. Even if it isn’t all that obvious to a 5 year old. It’s something that sticks with you and when you realize it, it’s a tremendous “a ha” moment.

No. I am your father.

Sure, George Lucas created the original film. No one can dispute that he is Star Wars’ baby daddy. But the smartest thing he ever did in the franchise was to pick Irvin Kershner to direct and have Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan come in and write the script based on his original story outline. It really shows some tremendous trust and ability to allow fresh blood and creativity to help create something original yet still feel like its predecessor. Something he wasn’t able to do on the prequel trilogy and it shows in the films. That lack of trust to have outside input and having Rick McCallum as a glorified yes man, really hurt those films. There is some greatness in there, you just have to sift through a ton of shit to get to it. And that bums me out.

Of course like most sequels you have to go bigger in scope than the previous entry. This film does that but not in a way that it loses its focus on the story. This is where I really think Kasdan and Brackett shine. They delivered a bigger story but not a bloated one. It introduces new worlds, characters and creatures without just making them feel thrown in just for shits and giggles. This trio forever gets a pass in my book just for this film. I even watched the despecialized version in his honor on the day Kershner passed.

I love you. I know.

I honestly do love this movie the most out of ALL of them. It hit me at the absolute perfect age. I was 5. I may remember standing in line for Jedi at 8, but Empire is the film that I had all the toys for and recreated the most when playing with them. People I know consider me the Star Wars guy (Dhalbaby is the real deal though), one time my brother in law quizzed me on this film and I got them all right even a few really tough ones. It’s just that it is the one I have probably seen the most. And don’t get me wrong I DO love Star Wars, just not as much as other people may think. I never read any of the books, I only played a small handful of the games (one day I’ll play Knights of the Old Republic) and I don’t go out and buy all the toys/merch still. I do own the original soundtrack on vinyl, and I mean original, not a repress. Plus, many years ago starwars.com had a sale for some old posters of the film and I got three of them. One being this shot below, the artwork for the original soundtrack and one other. I think that was worth it.

What The Empire Strikes Back Means to Us

It’s hard to put into words exactly what The Empire Strikes Back means to me. The original Star Wars trilogy has been a part of my life since before I can remember and it was always a good day when I got to sit and experience one of my favorite stories while I was growing up. While I love the entire original trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back has increasingly stuck out to me as the best installment of the three. A number of things help to set this film apart from the others, including the amazing film score (which debuts the iconic Imperial March), the climactic duel between Luke and Vader, and of course, the biggest cinematic twist of all time. It’s this last point that really cements The Empire Strikes Back as a legendary film to me. Because, as I remember it, up to that moment I thought I *knew* the story of Luke’s father. He was a great Jedi who was betrayed and murdered, and now Luke gets the chance to face down his father’s murderer. It’s a classic story, but then that little twist about Vader’s true identity gets out and turns the entire story on its head. I don’t think it matters what Star Wars does in the future, nothing will ever top the moment Vader looks at Luke and says “No, I am your father.” This movie and that moment forever changed how I perceive storytelling in movies and that’s just one reason why The Empire Strikes Back remains my favorite Star Wars film.

—Becky O’Brien

I’ve never been so disappointed in a movie as I was in The Empire Strikes Back. Luke and Leia were supposed to end up together! The bounty hunter wasn’t supposed to actually catch Han! And Darth Vader was definitely, DEFINITELY not Luke’s father. It was all wrong, it was all messed up, and they needed to go back and fix it. I was just a kid, and with a kid’s stubborn desire I wanted it to be just like the first movie, only more, you know? Even after watching Return of the Jedi I maintained my opinion that Empire was the worst Star Wars movie. It was stupid. Luke’s father? How DARE they.

And then I grew up a little. I saw some life. Some shit happened to me. And I some odd alchemy happened in my brain and suddenly Empire was good. Suddenly Empire was GREAT. Suddenly The Empire freakin’ Strikes Back was the best Star Wars movie. It had all the awesome stuff I had wanted as a kid – that lightsaber battle between Luke and Darth Vader still gives me chills – and it also gave those characters that I loved so much a chance to change and grow. Yeah, they went through some shit, but they learned and became more than they were before. Luke makes dumb choices, but out of love. Han learns to care for something other than Chewy and money. Leia is way better than either of those lunkheads deserve. They got battered and bruised, but they weren’t broken. They were somehow stronger, even after all of that horrible stuff.

And personal connection/childhood expectation stuff aside – it’s just a good movie. It’s incredibly well made, with some of the best music, cinematography, effects and writing in all of the franchise. Even if my inner child STILL cries out along with Luke at that ultimate revelation. “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooo!” But YES too.

—Bob Cram Jr.

What does The Empire Strikes back mean to you? Love it? Hate it? Share your opinions in the comments below.

Author: K. Alvarez

A king without a throne.