For many Star Wars fans, The Empire Strikes Back is the definitive movie of the franchise. Although the franchise debuted in 1977, Star Wars really feels more like a byproduct of the 80’s than the 70’s. That’s how ahead of its time the original movie was. It not only secured the franchise as a permanent part of our culture, but also secured George Lucas’s place as a filmmaker. For better or worse, Star Wars defined him. Even when he tried to do a different movie later in the 80’s, Willow, it paled in comparison to Star Wars. Yes, he also helped make the Indiana Jones franchise. but that was a collaboration with Steven Spielberg. Star Wars was the more definitive movie.
Although I enjoy the series as a whole, Empire is not my favorite of the series. Which one is? You’ll find that out next time. That doesn’t mean I don’t like the movie, far from it. I just don’t enjoy it as much as everyone else does.
Of the original trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back is the one that feels the most incomplete. A New Hope and Return of the Jedi feel as though they could stand alone, but Empire is the middle of a much larger story. Without Return of the Jedi and A New Hope, you are not getting the whole story. It is one big set-up for the finale.
Empire introduces many characters and concepts that are definitive of the entire franchise. The big reveal that Darth Vader is Luke’s father happens here. Boba Fett makes his cinematic debut in this movie (he had initially been introduced in the abysmal Star Wars Holiday Special). Yoda makes his first appearance. And we also have Lando Carlrissian, who much like his friend Han Solo, would much rather stay out of the battle between the Empire and the Rebellion. And yet he is forced to take the side he least wants to take. To protect his City, he must sacrifice his friend. We are also introduced to the Stormtroopers leifmotif, which was not only used in both this and Return of the Jedi, but also as part of Anakin’s theme in the prequels, as a means of foreshadowing the figure he would become.
Star Wars dominated the 80’s. Kenner had banked on the success of the movie and made a killing, and their toys were all over the “Wish List” Christmas catalogs of department and toy stores nationwide. They even made their debut on Atari’s 2600, starting the video game revolution as well as making innovations in film. (And it should be noted that often when it came to games based on Star Wars, the games actually lived up to their movies. This didn’t normally happen. Yes, even Star Wars games had flops, but for the most part, the games stood up.)
Next time, I will be reviewing my favorite part of the original trilogy, the grand finale: Return of the Jedi.