The Empire Strikes Back will always be the perfect sequel. Star Wars: A New Hope started a phenomena, a new kind of sci-fi that changed movies. Empire added onto it, and improved it in every conceivable way. The stakes are higher, the villains more dangerous, the characters better, and the dialogue at its absolute best. This is indeed, a perfect movie.
Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, but this is, without a doubt, the highlight of the entire Star Wars Saga in not only my mind, but many others as well. Let me explain why.
A New Hope is a fantastic movie, nearly flawless in fact. And as such, The Empire Strikes Back had a lot of hype surrounding it, and if it was to ever be deemed as a suitable follow-up, it had to prove a lot of things to a lot of people. Most of all being that lightning can indeed, strike twice.
While A New Hope is a perfect representation of science fiction/fantasy, Empire is an example of how a sequel should be made while also being a testament to storytelling in general. By taking everything that made its predecessor great and adding a darker tone, more suspense, and an ending that single-handedly took the world by surprise, Empire solidified itself as a piece of movie history.
Picking up three-years after the end of A New Hope, Empire follows our three heroes, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia Organa as they try and rally up the Rebellion in order to overthrow the dictators known as the Empire. While they had a great victory in the Death Star’s destruction, they have a lot of ground to gain on their enemies, and the Empire will not go down quietly.
From the very first sequence in this movie you can tell the stakes are higher, and that this is not just a recycling of ideas. The tone is darker, more intense, and the characters are even more realistic and dimensioned than they were previously.
Luke’s grown up a lot, and any trace of the frustrated farm boy has been almost entirely wiped out. Han, while still his roguish self, has also changed, growing more attached to his friends and, in particular, Leia.
While it was inevitable that a romantic triangle of sorts would develop between our three protagonists, it’s done in such a way that it’s never off-putting or out of place. Quite the opposite happens, in fact. Han’s inner conflict arises from his natural selfish tendencies falling victim to his infatuation with Leia. While Leia, who’s also stuck in her own ways, refuses to admit her feelings to a man she originally deemed despicable, but now can’t stay away from.
It’s true that Luke takes the short-end of the stick in this regard, but that’s okay, because he has more than enough of his own conflict to thrive from. For instance, while he’s accepted his place as a Jedi, he’s still misguided and unsure of himself, which not only endears him to the audience further, but sets up his eventual transformation into a Jedi Master with incredible efficiency.
The Empire Strikes Back will always be known as the definition of a sequel, and I still compare every sequel to the standard this movie has set. Why, you may ask? Well, it’s pretty simple. Empire not only makes its original cast better in every regard, but it also introduces a plethora of new characters that, rather than distract, enhance the experience as a whole.
Between Lando Calrissian (he’s a man, not a system) and Boba Fett alone, the new characters in play here are not only brilliantly characterized and given the perfect amount of screen time, but they’re also used in such a way that either inspires humor or mystery in the viewer. There are characters in this movie that have just a single scene, and yet become iconic in their own way, demonstrating just how great this movie handles its myriad of characters.
Most notable of the new characters, however, is obviously Yoda, the small, green, alien that Luke comes across on the swamp planet of Dagobah. If you don’t know who Yoda is, then you obviously don’t get out much, as he is one of the most famous characters in the entire Star Wars saga, acting as both a mysterious mentor and humorous figure to Luke.
If A New Hope was groundbreaking in terms of its visuals, then Empire was revolutionary, taking everything that worked before and making it better. The space battles are bigger and more dramatic, and the lightsaber effects are drastically better here than in the previous film, all leading up to a climax that is still just as thrilling today as it was over thirty-years ago.
Oddly enough, the best Star Wars movie is the one that George Lucas doesn’t direct. Taking his place is Irvin Kershner, who seems to have an even better grasp of scene direction and visuals than Lucas does himself.
While Lucas still wrote the script and story, which is obviously fantastic, Kerschner’s amazing directing is one of the reasons this movie is so great, and gives hope, especially in recent times, that people other than Lucas can handle Star Wars with exceptional skill.
The Empire Strikes Back is an extraordinary film, but when you think about its ending, it becomes a perfect film. Acting as the apex for the rising suspense throughout the movie, the film’s final thirty minutes are not only an example of amazing storytelling, but once again stand as a standard that every movie ending must be compared to.
It’s intense, dramatic, touching, a little frightening, and sets up the next movie better than you can imagine. It shocked millions of viewers in its original release, and is still seen as one of the biggest plot twists in the history of cinema.
Thanks to a cast that knows exactly what its doing, a tight script that never loses its footing, and the perfect amount of suspense, The Empire Strikes Back is a masterpiece in every meaning of the word. It’s my favorite film of all time, and the more I think about it, the more I want to go and rewatch it.
It defines the Star Wars franchise in an awesome way, and is reference material for how to properly do a sequel to a blockbuster movie. I really can’t imagine this movie being any better than it already is. The Empire Strikes Back is the epitome of what the science fiction (or fantasy) genre can achieve, and will forever be regarded as the perfect sequel.