Do you remember your first love? That special someone who you thought would stay with you forever? The hard bitter pain when they broke up with you and left you alone once more? The Empire Strikes back did that to me. To say I wanted to see this movie is an understatement. I was obsessed. This was Star Wars returning. A continuation. Until Empire, I had very little understanding of what a “sequel” meant. It was a reunion of old friends. The comic book served to feed the fire but nothing really beats seeing the action live and in stereo. I had spent the last years waiting and wondering if I would ever see my favorite characters again. If A New Hope was a stand alone, I would have eventually matured enough to accept it as a whole. Being the primitive days before the internet, we elder geeks had to get our news from magazines like Starlog and Fangoria. (I know it’s shocking to think Kroger’s book department sold things other than Ladies Home Journal and Good Housekeeping.) The rare few were able to attend the early conventions where somebody who knows somebody’s cousin got his hands on a draft of a script from a movie in pre-production. Regardless, once the trailer hit theaters my course was set.
Empire was a tour-de-force (intentional pun) of science fiction goodness. The battle on the ice planet Hoth and the asteroid chase, Dagobah and Master Yoda, and ending with Han captured before Luke faces Vader for the first time in the bowels of Lando’s cloud city. I will say that our seats were in the first row, which meant I spent the entire film craning my neck back to watch the movie and I got really bad motion-sickness from the tie fighter chase. The highest point to this movie wasn’t even the film itself. Everyone, geek and non-geek alike, were talking about the big spoiler moment between Vader and Luke. (Hint: It’s a family thing.) I had something I could use as a bridge to start conversations with new people. I didn’t feel as alone as I had before. It would be three more years before Return of the Jedi and my heart gets broken.
When asked most people will say Empire Strikes Back is their favorite movie of the franchise. Even with Episodes I,II,III, and now VII, it still holds as the most favored of them all. Some say it is because Lucas didn’t direct it, which is a bit trollish. His style is more geared towards the action taking place than giving actors motivation and a sense of scene. Empire does have a more centered approach towards moving the characters forward in their development, especially Luke and his Jedi training. It’s really down to the overall mood of the film. Its dark. The colors are slightly muted. The music is more sinister. The plot moves from one downbeat to another. There is no happy ending. The Rebellion takes one in the teeth. Han is frozen and shipped off to Jabba the Hutt like a side of beef. Darth Vader cuts off Luke’s hand and then claims to be Luke’s father. (I though my family was dysfunctional!) As a narrative, it just is one gut-punch after another. Worse still is that we, the fans, would have to wait another three years for Return of the Jedi to come out and resolve the series. Well, resolve the middle trilogy at least.
I will confess that I have not watched Phantom Menace all the way through. I’ve tried. The senate scene almost bored me to death. (Yes, my dear trolls, it’s all set-up for the bigger story. Go back to bitching about Firefly being cancelled and leave me alone. FYI, I liked Firefly too.) Attack of the Clones could have used some editing to tighten it up and the Revenge of the Sith is that we’re still talking about that turkey and all its wonderful performances. Empire Strikes Back is like Back to the Future for me; I can’t watch it without immediately watching the next movie in the series.
I have had years to re-watch all these movies. Empire stands as a good “middle” movie but I feel it’s more of a place-holder than a full movie. It’s a bridge between a start and a finish. It’s a tease. The pretty girl with deep issues who promises prom sex only to give a half-assed handjob instead. I won’t fault it for being so moody. i actually like that it is so different in tone. I find fault in how empty it makes me feel. It has almost all the same beats as A New Hope but somehow falls flat. Will I re-watch it again in the future? Certainly. I am a CineMasoCaster after all.