Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Directed by George Lucas
Sometimes, a movie considered the best of the franchise is compared to “The Empire Strikes Back.” It’s always a striking comparison. But, in my opinion, “Empire” isn’t the franchise’s best offering.
The Death Star has been destroyed, but Lord Vader (James Earl Jones) is still in control of the galaxy, sending out drones to find the new Rebel hideout…and especially Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Skywalker, as well as Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) are hiding on a remote ice planet, but they can’t hide forever. While Luke searches out the Jedi Master Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz), Vader sets a trap that uses his friends as bait. Will Luke be ready to take on the greatest force in the galaxy, or will Vader have the last laugh?
For the early-‘80s, “The Empire” strikes back with some inventive, revolutionary, SFX. But the daring feats of movie magic haven’t held up so well over the years. The introduction of Yoda is a particularly low point since he looks like a creepy, booger-green Muppet (voiced by the man who brought us Grover, Fozzie Bear, and Miss Piggy…what else would you expect?). In “A New Hope,” a lower budget and fear of scaring off viewers stayed away from the uber-fantastical in favor of more realistic sets and characters. “The Empire Strikes Back” introduces a slew of new species, most of which look abominable compared to the CGI monsters of today. I’ve said it before: If you don’t have anything nice to show, don’t show anything at all. I can respect the appeal it had back then, but there’s no doubt “A New Hope” has aged a bit more gracefully.
But “The Empire Strikes Back” does provide the same thrills, plot twists, and action-packed excitement of “A New Hope,” with the much-anticipated face-to-face meeting of Luke and Lord Vader. One of the nice things about “The Phantom Menace” (yes, the major throwback) was that it had no major romantic plot. Even “A New Hope” only flirted with romance. “The Empire Strikes Back,” however, throws us into the thick of a complicated love triangle that Luke hardly seems interested in anyway. Romance is an unnecessary distraction when it’s not done right, and in this case, it just isn’t.
Still, “The Empire Strikes Back” remains, fairly, one of the greatest sci-fi films of all-time (on IMDb, it’s tied for the greatest). You can’t really argue with that.