By far The Empire Strikes Back (1980) is my favorite film in the Star Wars collection. In the good old days, when you could drop off your 8-year-old kid and her friend at the movies without worrying whether they’d be there or tied up in the basement of some pervert when you came to pick them up, I went to see a Saturday matinee of this Sci-Fi thriller in May of 1980. Being children with good eyesight and strong , flexible necks, we sat in the very first row of the theatre. It is almost indescribable how I felt when I saw those gigantic white AT-AT Walkers on the planet Hoth. For more than two hours I was mesmerized by this galaxy so far, far away.
Since I do not prescribe to the idiocy of the renumbering of these films after the prequels emerged, this is the second of the Star Wars films. Coming off the destruction of its beloved Death Star, the Galactic Empire is looking to set the galaxy right again and snuff out the Rebel Alliance. The Rebels are hiding on Hoth, which looks a lot like Norway in winter. As the Empire strikes back the Rebels flee to an unnamed rendezvous point. Not everyone makes it there—namely our principal characters: Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), and the droids (Anthony Daniels). While his friends are dodging asteroids and the Star Destroyer, Luke takes a trip to Dagobah to learn the Jedi way from Yoda (Frank Oz). Before he can complete his Jedi training Luke has a vision of Han and Leia in trouble and goes to rescue them. It is in Cloud City that Luke and Darth Vader (David Prowse/James Earl Jones) have their famous light saber duel—you know the one where Vader cuts off Luke’s hand and tells him he’s his father? Oh, that Vader, he really did give into the Dark Side, didn’t he? Anyway, the last few moments of the film are a preparation for the sequel to come: Return of the Jedi (1983). Granted, as an 8-year-old I was a bit miffed that I was going to have to wait to see if Han Solo would be forever left in suspended animation, but as an adult I appreciate the idea of a well-devised cliffhanger.
What I most like about The Empire Strikes Back is Yoda—the all-time greatest Star Wars character ever. Small in stature, with a skin shade of lima bean green, Yoda is not as ruggedly handsome as Han Solo, but he is so charismatic—and wise. I’ve always been a fan of Confucius, and that’s who Yoda resembles. Think about it, when Yoda says to Luke, “Try not. Do... or do not. There is no try,” you have to think of Confucius. I loved Yoda so much as a kid my parents bought me a rubber-molded Yoda puppet for Christmas, which I kept until an unfortunate hot light incident melted my prized possession. I’ve read that Hamill was not fond of spending months shooting the swamp scenes with animals and props. Personally, I think he was upset that he was being upstaged by the most interesting Jedi in the world.
And, then there’s Vader—the second most interesting. Yes, I know I’m not supposed to root for the Dark Side, but Vader is a complete badass. He walks with purpose (what powerful strides indeed) and suffers no fools. Who wouldn’t want to be able to crush the windpipes of people who fail us just by slightly raising our hand? Plus, he knows how to wear black and works a cape like a supermodel—and don’t forget his awesome theme song composed by John Williams.
Overall, The Empire Strikes Back is a thrilling Sci-Fi movie. I’m not a full-on geek, so I can’t describe in detail all of the ships, vehicles, and weapons that make the film a visual treat. Suffice to say, George Lucas and company did a superior job of using the technology that they had (pre-CGI) to create entirely new worlds and creatures. The true test of how good this movie is the fact that I get the same feeling today that I did 30+ years ago when I sat in the front row and watched it.