It is remarkable that a film older than me is still revered and celebrated 30 years later. You cannot escape The Empire Strikes Back…it’s everywhere. Open up a Maxim magazine, and you will see a feature including rare photos from the set. On television, Spike TV will be airing the original trilogy. Fanboys will convene in Orlando this summer for the Star Wars V Celebration, a fan-produced event (similar to Comic-Con) to commemorate the saga. Why so much attention for a science/fiction film released 30 years ago? Because there has been nothing like it since.
Star Wars is, without a doubt, one of the greatest films ever made. Lucas and his team created a world so believable with likeable characters: the farm boy destined for more; the mentor who motivates him to fulfill that destiny; the dark, intriguing masked villain; the strong-willed princess who’s not afraid to shoot a blaster; and, of course, the cocky cowboy smuggler along with his tall, ‘fuzz ball’ sidekick. Star Wars introduced us to Lucas’ world and characters, but it was The Empire Strikes Back that made us love that world and those characters.
There are several reasons why most fans consider The Empire Strikes Back to be the best film in the series. Set three years after the original, we see our beloved characters “all growns up.” The Rebel Alliance may have saved the day by destroying the Death Star, but there is still a war to fight. Luke Skywalker looks to grow as a Jedi, but finds that it takes much work and discipline; Han Solo and Princess Leia are captured by Darth Vader; and C-3PO has fallen apart (actually, no one cares about 3P0 falling apart). Empire carries a dark tone throughout the film, leading viewers to believe the dark side will prevail, which may be a reason why it was received with mixed reviews when released 30 years ago tomorrow. The struggle between good and evil is intriguing to watch, but finally seeing our heroes fail is what’s most captivating. Not that viewers enjoy watching the hero fall, but the protagonists’ struggles and failures make them human; and fans were finally able to relate to a conflicted and rebellious Luke.
The thought-provoking and complex film introduced to some of the most popular characters in the Star Wars universe. Enter Yoda: a 900-year-old Jedi Master who teaches Luke the force. The small, powerful green Jedi instantly became a fan favorite with his wisdom, mysticism and inability to speak English correctly. Another popular character we meet is the bounty hunter known as Boba Fett. His story, at the time, was a mystery and fans did not know anything about him other than he wanted to capture Han Solo and turn him over to Jabba the Hutt to collect his credits. I cannot explain his cult following…maybe it’s his cool armor and helmet? Regardless of his “bad-ass” factor, there is no doubt the famous bounty hunter provides a mythic presence when on screen…giving viewers an uneasy feeling because danger is just around the corner. And let’s not forget about the suave, smooth-talking Lando Calrissian, which was a welcome addition to the saga.
Character development and the addition of even more memorable characters is a good formula to make a better film, but it would have never happened had it not been for the vision of director Irvin Kershner. The film was a technical achievement, but Kershner’s directing skills were perfect for the character-driven film. His close-ups on characters’ faces said much more than any of the film’s dialogue. He also allowed Harrison Ford to ad-lib, possibly, the greatest response in the history of “I love you” scenes. That kind of freedom allowed the actors to study their character more and give him/her that emotion that was rarely seen in the first film.
Thirty years later, critics and fans continue to talk about The Empire Strikes Back. It did what most sequels fail to do: rival, if not surpass, the original film. The dark, complex, character-driven film set the bar for sequels…and it has left a big mark in pop culture history. The movie’s following is stronger than ever…leaving no doubt The Empire will live on forever in fans of the series, and non-fans alike.