This is what I’ve been waiting for since I started watching all of the Star Wars flicks again on my journey to The Force Awakens. My favorite entry in the entire saga, The Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars film, and one of the greatest movies ever made. I love watching this movie, and after suffering through the prequels it feels that much better to watch the good stuff. But it wasn’t always this way.
When I was a little kid, Empire ranked last in the original trilogy for me. It started with the VHS case. A New Hope had Vader, Return of the Jedi had Yoda, and The Empire Strikes Back had a Stormtrooper. Uhh lame. As for the movie itself, I loved Yoda, but other than that it was a drag. It didn’t have crazy space battles like the others, and it has a total bummer of an ending. And I wasn’t crazy about the battle on Hoth since I hate winter and being cold. It wasn’t until becoming older and considerably more cynical that I saw what a great movie this was.
The beauty of Empire is summed up in Clerks when Dante is asked which is the better movie between this and Return of the Jedi. He says, “Empire 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.”
Things do not go well for our heroes in this one. When talking about A New Hope, I likened Luke Skywalker to an intergalactic Springsteen song. While Luke is like a character off Born to Run — or more appropriately, Born to Kessel Run — in the previous film, this entire movie feels like Darkness on the Edge of Town.
Born to Run is all about escape and having hope and this wondrous teenage adventure. Springsteen followed that up with Darkness, an album all about being punished by the world and living in shitty New Jersey. In this case, our heroes are punished badly by the Empire and stuck on shitty Cloud City.
Everything that can go wrong does go wrong. The Millennium Falcon is broken, Luke struggles with his Jedi training, C3PO gets blown to shit and is reassembled with his head on backwards, the Empire is on Han and Leia’s heels at every turn, Han is tortured and frozen in carbonite, Luke gets the living shit kicked out of him by Darth Vader and has his hand cut off, then he finds out Vader is his father.
You can see why this wouldn’t be great fun for a little kid, especially one that loved Luke Skywalker. Of course I really liked it still, but I would have prefered to watch the other two instead. Things changed in 2006 when the original theatrical cuts were released on DVD again. After getting the movies for Christmas, I would watch Empire on a regular basis. It shot from the bottom of my original trilogy list to the top by a mile. I finally grew to appreciate how great the movie is.
Empire is nearly every bit as iconic as A New Hope. “The Imperial March” is almost on that level of the main series theme song. In terms of action set pieces, the battle on Hoth is probably the quintessential Star Wars battle. It has been immortalized in a million video games, and every time there is a lot of snow I’m pretty sure nerds everywhere make some kind of Hoth joke.
And don’t forget that Empire has some classic lines. Vader telling Luke, “I am your father.” Yoda telling Luke, “There is no try.” Leia and Han with the best exchange of all time:
Dude just goes “I know.” Even when facing death, Han Solo is the fucking man. Can we take a moment to to appreciate how awesome he is in this movie?
Han’s interactions with C3PO are among the best parts of the movie, with Han completely bowling over the milquetoast droid at every turn, even when he knows 3PO is right. Han also saves Luke’s life by cutting open the tauntaun and putting Luke inside to stay warm. We are able to buy quite possibly the greatest sleeping bag ever thanks to this moment. And thanks to Han we meet Lando Calrissian.
Lando is a fucking pimp. Well, not actually. Lando is a smuggler, a scoundrel and the administrator of Cloud City. Words cannot do him justice. You can tell this movie was released in 1980 based solely off Lando. His outfit, complete with bell-bottoms, looks like some shit you’d see at Studio 54. He looks like he’s about to get down to some interstellar disco. But it is awesome and he is awesome.
Speaking of awesome, let’s take a moment to appreciate Lobot, Lando’s sidekick who basically just stands around looking cool with that machine in his head. Mainly I just like his name since I always assumed it meant “Lando’s Robot,” though I’m pretty sure that is not it at all. Maybe it is actually supposed to be like “lobotomy” since he has that shit on his head? Lando’s Robot is cooler.
We also see that Darth Vader is even more badass than before. As he goes on his hunt for Luke’s friends, it is revealed that his Force choking game has leveled up as he chokes Admiral Ozzel to death through his TV screen. Fucking guy doesn’t even lift a finger to do it. He just stares at the screen.
It gets even better. After losing the Millennium Falcon in a chase through an asteroid field, Captain Needa says he will go apologize to Darth Vader. The next time we see Needa, he’s being Force choked to death, and Vader caps it off with, “Apology accepted, Captain Needa.”
Vader was a pretty sinister villain in A New Hope, but he blows that away in The Empire Strikes Back. He is so menacing and ruthless in his pursuit of Luke. However, it is pretty wild to see him be such a badass but then he bows before the Emperor and acts like the good little soldier. How badass is the Emperor if Vader calls him “master” and drops to his kneels before him?
This is the original Emperor we’re talking about, by the way. The Emperor who was played by a woman with chimp eyes superimposed on her face, and some dude doing the voiceover. I don’t know what changes George Lucas made to this one in the ‘90s and 2000s aside from adding Ian McDiarmid into this scene and changing the dialogue a little. McDiarmid played Palpatine in Return of the Jedi and the prequels, and then in 2004 Lucas decided to bastardize Empire by replacing the original Emperor with McDiarmid.
I wonder how Yoda is treated in the ‘90s and 2000s abominations. Is the original puppet still in there or has he been replaced with computer animation? I think they did that for a re-release of Episode I and that just seems lame. Don’t mess with Yoda. Yoda is sacred.
Aside from Darth Vader, Yoda is probably the most instantly recognizable Star Wars character. As I said when talking about Episode I, the big reason I needed to see that movie was to support Yoda. I didn’t realize he’d barely be in it. But he plays an integral role in Empire, teaching Luke the ways of the Force and being generally awesome. He is funny and drops multiple heavy lines full of valuable life wisdom.
Yoda also has an incredible introduction in which he busts Luke’s balls to see if he can keep his composure like a true Jedi. Voiced by Frank Oz, who was also Fozzie Bear, his silly voice and strange, backwards way of speaking made him seem so awesome as a kid. And I loved that Yoda was so tiny that Luke could just carry him around in a backpack. He was like a living stuffed animal. As an adult, I still feel basically the same. My friend Travis recently told me about the Yoda backpack, which I may have to buy.
You know who else is introduced in Empire? Boba fuckin’ Fett. Not little kid, lame ass clone Boba I just had to see in Episode II. We got the real deal here. The cool looking motherfucker who says only 27 words in the entire movie. That’s right. Boba Fett has four lines and that’s it. Somehow he became one of the most legendary characters in all of Star Wars. Also, technically his first appearance was in the epically awful Star Wars Holiday Special two years earlier, but people basically pretend that didn’t happen. And it much cooler to say a character debuted in one of the greatest, most iconic, most influential movies ever than a shitty holiday special.
The influence of Empire is still felt to this day. Every dark sequel rips off Empire. Ok, maybe not every dark sequel. But that second Hunger Games flick? Essentially just The Empire Strikes Back with prettier main characters.
When The Force Awakens comes out in a couple weeks, it is going to be measured against The Empire Strikes Back. People will immediately want to know how it stacks up against the best Star Wars movie. It seems a little unfair to judge a movie against one of the greatest and most iconic movies of all time right away, but that is the nature of the beast. But even if The Force Awakens sucks, the preparations for it did lead me to Empire once again, and it is always a blast to watch.