The Lasting Power of 'Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back' 40 Years Later
The best film in the franchise turns 40!
When Star Wars first screened back in 1977, it took the world by storm becoming quickly a global phenomenon changing the way we watched movies spearheading, along with other great movies at the time, the blockbuster season as we know it today.
Whereas Star Trek excelled in showing us a futuristic vision of how our society would look like in the distant future, Star Wars took us out from the comfort of our own universe and introduced us to the concept of science fantasy. Stories based in the creation of myths, religion and moral choices.
Star Wars showed us a glimpse of a different and massive landscape that promised a universe so large that not even our minds would dare to imagine, and two years later (1980) The Empire Strikes Back delivered on that promise. Introducing different planets, new characters, the expansion on the idea of what is really the Force, solidifying the franchise as a cultural achievement and remaining relevant after all these years.
That's what I want to focus on.
Yes, we can talk about Boba Fett and the bounty hunters scene or the famous quotes such as "No, I am your father!", which established itself as one of the most iconic moments in film history. The movie is in fact, more than that.
From its opening sequence, Empire wastes no time in introducing us to a bigger world. Action set pieces with those incredible AT-ATs marching down the snow, showing us the massive amount of fire power that the Galactic Empire has at its disposal, and making such a desolate and vast landscape that is Hoth feel full of life. Breathtaking action sequences, the sense of powerlessness that can be felt from the Rebellion against the might of its adversary. A modern David versus Goliath, and from that moment, the movie grabs you and never let go.
Speaking of memorable settings, every planet introduced in Empire matters. Dagobah and Bespin are genius in its simplicity.
Yes, Yoda is the most important character (more of him in a moment) that comes out from the swamp planet, but Dagobah itself is very important because after being introduced to a new galaxy, space battles, and non-stop action, Dagobah is a very discreet and intimate moment in the movie.
The desolated planet yet full of living organisms is a statement of the filmmakers that even in an action oriented film, moments like this can still work in favor of the movie. Bringing everything into perspective that no matter how big we feel we are, we are nothing compared to the world around us. It gives the audience a necessary rest from everything that have been witnessed until that point, but manages to keep you invested fully into the narrative.
And how about Bespin? Bespin is one of my favorite places in Star Wars lore because it is a great attempt of explaining that even if what we are witnessing is a product of science fiction, the story show us a functional economy based on materials and industry. For example, I already know about hyperdrives thanks to the first movie, but Empire takes it to the next level by introducing the Tibanna gas which is used as a coolant for the hyperdrives, and Bespin works as a producer and refinery for the gas.
Honestly, I could have watched this movie without that but details like this is what started separating this movie from other sequels.
And if the Force was already an intriguing concept, the introduction of Yoda establishes and validates the mythology that Star Wars introduces in the first film. George Lucas goes all in with Yoda to make you care about this universe.
Yoda, with classic quotes and further teachings of the Force, is a unique point of view of what this universe is all about. Thanks to Yoda, the concept of the Force wasn't a vague and fantastic element anymore, it became something tangible. Something that, as an audience, felt compelled on understanding and, in a way, started to believe that it existed in real life.
Call it Karma, fate or simply probability. Yoda's words made us understand that the Force is not a "magic concept", but something that is within us.
"Try not! Do, or do not. There is no try" - Yoda
What really makes this a perfect sequel is the way it ends. In a movie where action is the center of attention, by the end of the movie we are truly invested emotionally in these characters, and we want to know more.
Reaching this level of interest nowadays is so hard to do, especially on blockbusters. The way we see our heroes losing one of its members (Han Solo), the reveal of Darth Vader of being Luke's father, shaking the resolve of the main character to the core, and losing a hand in the process. The sense of extremely high stakes by the end of it all is what makes this movie so great.
The movie is an exercise on how to keep the interest in a franchise moving forward, and more importantly, the fact that even though we just saw a lot, we still want to see more and the best part is that we know there's more ahead.
The Empire Strikes Back has everything: action, drama, love, more action and suspense. The movie is an exercise of caring about its own narrative. Taking its time to show the audience that everything matters, without indulging an empty sense of need. The characters develop right in front of us without implying so, and avoids making the mistake that so many sequels are guilty of nowadays; force the audience to fill in the blanks without any justification.
The Star Wars saga took the necessary steps with Empire to make good on the promise from A New Hope. The first film invited us in, and the sequel made sure we stayed for the long haul.
That is why, not only is the best in the saga, but it's one of the best sequels of all time.