Let’s face it – you are not exactly a martyr when you declare that The Empire Strikes Back is your favorite film from the entire Star Wars saga. It is a common choice; especially when talking with older fans of these movies. Even though my love for The Empire Strikes Back is not a controversial choice, I thought that Star Wars Day would be a good opportunity to discuss why I favor this film over the others. (Editor’s note: This article was originally scheduled to be published on May 4th but was delayed for technical difficulties.) Without further ado, let’s get to it.
Gorgeous environments and less outer space
When you watch a movie called Star Wars you expect that there will be some battles in outer space. Fair enough, but having space battles against a static background of space and stars is not nearly as challenging or diverse as having environments for your skirmishes. While A New Hope brought us Tattooine and to a lesser extent, Yavin but The Empire Strikes Back expanded on the beautiful and diverse environments. From the icy surface of Hoth to the ethereal glow of the sun on Cloud City to the wild swamps of dagobah, this movie is arguably the best looking of the original trilogy.
Yoda subverted our expectations
Yoda is perhaps one of the most widely recognized characters from pop culture but you have to consider what the average movie goer was expecting way back in the early 1980s. At the beginning of the movie we had no idea what Yoda actually was. Obi Wan’s force ghost merely told Luke to go to Dagobah and learn from the “Jedi Master who trained me”. From what we had seen of the Jedi so far – something along the lines of intergalactic knights – many of us had assumed Yoda was some type of brawny warrior type. Even Luke Skywalker said he was looking for a “great warrior”. Funnily enough, despite Yoda’s statement that wars do not make one great he actually was a force to be reckoned with. We learned a hard lesson – do not judge one by their size.
A team effort
I think George Lucas had a wonderful creative vision but I also happen to think that the man is at his best when he is part of a team environment and other people have valid opportunities to contribute their own ideas. Maybe I just have the benefit of hindsight but looking back at the prequel trilogy I am forced to conclude that the movies suffer when George Lucas has total control of them. For example, The Phantom Menace was written by George Lucas. He also directed the movie and served as executive producer. That is just too many hats for him to wear simultaneously and in my opinion these are the weakest films in the entire franchise as a result. By contrast, The Empire Strikes Back had two separate screenwriters, was directed by Irving Kershner which left Lucas free to focus on his position as executive producer and to assist with editing. All of this additional talent helped to lead to what I find to be a much stronger film.
A better story
I once inadvertently offended a Star Wars by stating my belief that A New Hope has a weak story. Don’t get me wrong; I love the movie and the characters (with the actors’ performances behind them) give the movie a lot of its weight. It is just that the story is mostly built from overused tropes in movies. A captive princess. A team of scrappy heroes. A mystical power source and exotic weapons. Intimidating bad guys. A New Hope could work equally well as a fantasy themed story. Meanwhile, The Empire Strikes Back splits up our heroes and sets up a finale which sees the good guys lose. There are themes of one man’s darkness consuming and ultimately destroying him from within. There are themes of finding love during the darkest hours. There is a lot more going on with this movie and as a result it is a much stronger story.
A better understanding of the Force
As I noted before, we had a vague understanding of the Force from A New Hope. We knew it was a source of power for a select few and according to Vader the Force was significantly more powerful than the Empire’s Death Star. It took Yoda to explain that the Force is a power based on life itself and how it connects us all (much like the life energy discussed much later in Final Fantasy VII. This description resonated with us and could even be compared to contemporary religious concepts.
Do you agree with me when I say that The Empire Strikes Back is the best movie in the Star Wars franchise? Which movie is your favorite?