Welcome to Star Wars week. On Friday, Episode VII: The Force Awakens opens in theatres around the world. In anticipation of this historic event, I’ve decided to rewatch the original six and review them here, with a new review coming out every day this week.
I wish I could have watched The Empire Strikes Back in the theatre in 1980 and witnessed first hand the epic “I am your father” scene the way it was intended. By the time I did watch this film for the first time, that line had been so engrained in pop culture (Toy Story 2 is just one example) that seeing it was kind of underwhelming. The build up was almost too big.
That being said, The Empire Strikes Back is an incredible sequel for many other reasons besides the major plot twist. The opening scenes on Hoth show just how massive the Star Wars universe really is, quickly making it clear that any and all planets imaginable could exist. The special effects in that scene also are greatly improved over A New Hope, especially the giant tanks with long legs the rebels fight off early on.
Introducing Yoda and expanding on Luke’s Jedi training is also a key part of this film and the franchise. Through Yoda, the audience learns a lot more about the force and the past, adding to the mystery and intrigue of the franchise. These were only briefly mentioned in A New Hope so it’s nice to see George Lucas expanding on what Old Ben told Luke about the life of a Jedi.
One section of the film that seemed off was the budding romance between Han Solo and Leia. In the first film, Leia proves to be more than just a damsel in distress, but instead a strong female lead who can hold her own. And she remains that in large parts of The Empire Strikes Back. But somehow she still falls for Solo, who is so confident in himself he just assumes she’s in love with him. This puts her back into the old archetype of a helpless princess and hurt the development of Leia’s character.
Despite that hiccup, The Empire Strikes Back holds up as a sequel because it does something most movies are afraid to do. It let’s the heroes lose. This is important to the development of a franchise. If the heroes always win, the characters and stories become boring. But if you introduce the possibility of failure, the audience will remain more interested in a series and probably enjoy it more. The sequels becomes less predictable. The final shots, where Luke, Leia and the droids are looking out of a window as battleships pass by, sums this up very well. This chapter may be over, but the heroes have a lot more work to do.
That’s smart storytelling and certainly one of the reasons — besides the whole “I am your father thing”— that The Empire Strikes Back still resonates with audiences 35 years later.