#12: Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

When and how did I watch this?

June 4th, 2017, on DVD.

Had I seen this film already?

Yes — it’s possible this is the first Star Wars film I saw, but I don’t quite remember.  I’ve seen it a handful of times since in different circumstances.

What did I know about the movie before watching it?

Having recently watched Episode VI and IV (in that order), I was primed for this one. Also, with the exception Episode III, The Empire Strikes Back is the darkest film in the series featuring the legendary revelation of Luke’s father and Darth’s villainous rampage. Besides Luke meeting up with Yoda, most of the film’s finer details were lost on me.

What do I know about it now?

Once again, my standard for treatment is as if it were a standalone film, being that I’ve chosen to watch the films in ranking order rather than release order. Doing so prevented me from really enjoying The Empire Strikes Back for what it really is: a fantastic sequel with one of the most significant plot developments in cinema history.  What I got instead was a series of choppily introduced characters flying somewhat at random around a galaxy.  Chewbacca is only “Chewy”, and R2-D2 is referred to as “R2”; we’re not introduced to C3PO by name until 2/3 of the way into the film — he’s basically an obnoxious android following the princess around.  One compelling aspect that remains intact is the character and rage of Darth Vader.  We know he’s definitely the bad guy early on, but more importantly that he has a subtle connection to Luke. Yoda and Obi-Wan both seem to know something, but are strangely cryptic about it.  Unbeknownst to Luke, Darth draws him into his clutches for a fantastic swordfight whereas Luke is clearly outmatched.  This fight, with blazing lightsabers contrasting the dark recesses of the floating city building along with the buzzing and clashing of the weapons, occasionally interrupted by punctuated dialogue, is among the most dazzling sequences I’ve ever seen in film. At the battle’s conclusion, Darth states what we all know now — “No, am your father.” The feels. Further redeeming the film is its visual effects — space fights and escapes, giant creatures, even larger mechanical war beasts, frigid landscapes, hovering towers, and a realistic, emotional Yoda, puppeted masterfully by the now legendary Frank Oz (who was simultaneously building up his resume with the Muppets). Unfortunately, it’s standalone screenplay and character development teeter it dangerously close to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 territory — if I hadn’t seen any other Star Wars films ever, I might be enamored by what I saw (especially in 1980!), but I may not be drawn in by any of its plot.

What are some themes in the film?

Self-control, revenge, trust, good vs. evil (and the fine line between)

Did this affect me personally?

“Do or do not. There is no try.” Words to live by, Master Yoda.  Darth Vader’s “grip” on the commanders has an effect on my psyche (see what I did there?)

Why is this ranked #12?

The Star Wars franchise is a far-reaching enterprise now, and this installment is certainly the most important. After understanding his destiny, Luke finally meets his father face to face in an epic battle, and Leia and Han’s push-and-pull love interest finally culminates in a kiss. The most memorable Star Wars lines are delivered here.  The film consistently ranks among the best ever made in several movie lists.

Did my wife watch/like it?

She did, but ended up being somewhat annoyed because I kept talking through it. Some irony: I had the same problem with her and my movie watching buddy for the last two films.

Would I watch it again?

Yes, but next time, in order.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

Again, who hasn’t seen this by now?

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

Barry Bonds, quite possibly the greatest hitter of all time, was going to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame without any help. However, as many fans know, Bonds became embroiled in perhaps the most prolific steroid allegations, almost being accused of perjury and obstruction of justice in court, due to more-than-obvious use of performance-enhancing supplements during his playing career that resulted in some unbelievable statistical achievements. In short, Bonds had some help.  The Empire Strikes Back also has a lot of help: we know Luke, we love Han, and we already hate Darth Vader. With A New Hope in your back pocket, The Empire Strikes Back is the anticipated main course after the only slightly lesser appetizer. Without A New Hope, we still enjoy the dish, but we really didn’t even get a chance to look at the menu.

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