Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

I was born in 1983, so most of my knowledge about “Star Wars” being something of a magical property at its time was because of my uncle who is a big fan of the series and recalls all the stories about watching the original film and “Empire Strikes Back” in theaters with audiences who managed to garner an amazing experience. These days there is no such thing as a genuinely thrilling experience at movie theaters anymore. “The Empire Strikes Back” is the height of the “Star Wars” trilogy, the movie that told audiences a genuine story and amped up its dramatic tension and suspense considerably by adding more depth to its heroes and even adding much more complexity to its villain Darth Vader by giving him a master to answer to who had large plans for the galaxy under his tyranny. “The Empire Strikes Back” is proof positive that without Lucas’ control, this series was destined to hit major high points that arguably faltered with “Return of the Jedi.”

It’s not surprising because this is the epitome of the great sequel, the one movie that was impossible to top because in spite of Lucas’s insistence that this series was intended for children all along, it is the most adult entry in the trilogy.Thirty years after its initial release it continues to be the framework for the proper sequel and is looked upon as a true masterpiece in spite of the genre trappings many movie buffs try to drag it down in to. After successfully blowing up the Death Star, the rebel alliance are at their all time low points after Luke Skywalker is nearly killed on the ice Planet Hoth. Han Solo, now a hero for the alliance is brought back in to the war to help Luke and the gang after being chased off by the Empire who are on the hunt for them now more powerful than ever before and on the verge of re-building the Death Star.

As Luke Skywalker heads to a distant planet to learn about the Force under the teachings of the mysterious enigmatic Yoda, the rest of the Alliance are ambushed by Vader and his forces including the slimy bounty hunter Boba Fett on another planet. “The Empire Strikes Back” hits on interesting chords of storytelling because it is not just about battling evil and saving the galaxy, but it is also about a personal battle and torturous journey for everyone involved including Luke Skywalker whose own powers are becoming greater under the tutelage of Yoda who is hesitant to reveal an aspect about his life that could complete the circle of Luke’s entire persona in the end.

Because he knows as well as Obi Wan did that where free will and emotion ends, the darkside begins, and Luke may be the key to ending the Empire or making it more destructive than ever. The film becomes much darker and melodic as the group sinks in to Cloud City that ensures a surprise at every corner and they’re forced to submit to the force of Darth Vader who turns their own friends on them. It obviously takes an equally brilliant con man by the name of Lando Calrissian, an old friend of Han’s, to foil their plans all for the sake of helping his own city’s residents who will also fall under the rule of Vader if he doesn’t capture Han.

Han also manages to grow in to someone of real depth and personality going from a greedy smuggler who manages to find an actual purpose in his life through his pursuit in saving Luke Skywalker and bringing down the empire who threaten to destroy his way of life if he doesn’t stop and help out the cause. This is the movie that was basically the beginning of the end where Han Solo (who was originally supposed to die here) manages to show his heroism by sacrificing himself while Luke Skywalker is given an amazing revelation about Darth Vader and his connection to Obi Wan Kenobi, not to mention the fate of his uncle Owen and aunt Baru.

This gives Luke a chance to grow in to more of a warrior witnessing the brunt power of the Force and the Darkside and learning much about his own life and what he’s capable of by the time the film ends. Kirschner directs with tones of blue and black signaling a deep and more dire atmosphere that ensures our heroes will not be winning this time out and he makes good on his foreshadowing in the opening scenes as Darth Vader is back and more powerful than ever while the Rebel Alliance and our inadvertent hero Luke Skywalker must gather their bearings and retreat in to space as one hero has fallen and Luke finds himself slowly becoming the individual Darth has become.

Without the lead of Lucas, “The Empire Strikes Back” is able to grow and flourish bringing about some of the most memorable moments in film history including one in particular that continues to be one of the most shocking plot twist in the history of American cinema, paying “Star Wars” in to the American pop culture lexicon. With a spectacular opener and an arguably weak finisher, the “Star Wars” trilogy is a wonderful space opera with a second act of “The Empire Strikes Back” that is its more brilliantly crafted and well told narrative to date. It’s a truly excellent science fiction masterpiece that continues to set the standards for sequels to this day.