It is a dark time for the
Rebellion. Although the Death
Star has been destroyed,
Imperial troops have driven the
Rebel forces from their hidden
base and pursued them across
Evading the dreaded Imperial
Starfleet, a group of freedom
fighters led by Luke Skywalker
has established a new secret
base on the remote ice world
The evil lord Darth Vader,
obsessed with finding young
Skywalker, has dispatched
thousands of remote probes into
the far reaches of space….
It was a hot day in Tampa (aren’t they all?) on May 21st, 1980, when a couple of friends and I, after standing for four hours in the hot Florida sun finally were able to make our way into a theater that no longer exists, soaking up as much air conditioning, Coke, and popcorn as our bodies could absorb when after three long years of anticipation, these familiar words finally appeared on the screen….
And the audience went nuts.
Released 35 years ago today, The Empire Strikes Back (or, “Episode V” as some people insist on calling it) was that rare sequel that proceeded to top its predecessor. Working from a script by Leigh Brackett and the incomparable Lawrence Kasdan, director Irvin Kershner pulls and stretches on the mythology created by George Lucas. Empire amps up by several notches everything we loved about the original Star Wars while adding new characters and revelations as the journey of Luke Skywalker from backwater farm boy to potential savior of the rebellion against the Galactic Empire begins to take a darker turn.
We’ve got the evil emperor, who we see is the real power pulling Darth Vader’s strings. Then there’s that whole business with Han Solo and Princess Leia, and Boba Fett the super cool bounty hunter coming after Solo. And what about that conniving prick Lando Calrissian, or Yoda the annoying Jedi master? Oh, and did we mention that whole knowledge bomb Vader drops on Luke right after he chops off the dude’s hand?
Those who have only experienced “the original trilogy” via home video or (:: gasp! ::) after discovering Star Wars via one of the more recent films do have one thing going for them: they were spared the “agony” of having to wait three more years to see what would come next. On the other hand, I feel that those who’ve only watched the (at present) six Star Wars films in their “episode order” have been denied the true impact of the surprise twists presented in Empire (and later, Return of the Jedi).
Now that I’m a parent and once my kids started getting into Star Wars, I made sure to show them the films in their original release order. My oldest had been watching the Clone Wars cartoons, but the truth of Anakin Skywalker wasn’t revealed to her until we watched Empire and Return together, and I still laugh at the sounds she made when it all became clear to her.
(Proper indoctrination of offspring into Star Wars? Achievement Unlocked.)
For my money, The Empire Strikes Back remains the best of the Star Wars films, at least to date. Can The Force Awakens unseat it from the top of my heap? I was about to say, “It’s welcome to try,” but as Yoda would say: “Do, or do not. There is no try.” Anyway, my kids and I will be there in December, ready to see for ourselves.
In the meantime? Happy 35th, Empire. You’re not scruffy-looking, at all.