Why Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is one of the greatest films of all time.
Updated: Nov 17, 2021
Star Wars has been, and will continue to be, one of the most important film franchises in cinema. The majority of children, teenagers and adults have watched, connected and experienced the thrills and excitement of the saga. With nine major films (along with two connecting movies), as well as numerous successful television shows, such as Star Wars: The Clone Wars and The Mandalorian, the franchise has been firmly established in pop culture. However, there is one film that stands alone in the upper echelon of filmmaking. That is, of course The Empire Strikes Back. Credited as the best film in the franchise, this movie revolutionised Star Wars and is enshrined in cinema history. The twisting story, the score and the cinematography are all as close to perfection as a film can get. This is why The Empire Strikes Back rightly deserves its place among other greats like The Godfather, Citizen Kane, Psycho and many more. But what makes the Empire stand out to me amongst the rest?
Well first, The Empire Strikes Back is THE dark sequel. Stars: A New Hope introduces the rebellion, as a growing guerrilla-style force against a mighty Empire, a concept that George Lucas based on the Vietcong and the United States. At the end of the movie the rebels achieve something unthinkable, destroying the Death Star. A true fairy-tale ending. Empire Strikes Back does not have this fairy-tale aspect to it in any way. Our beloved main characters of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Han Solo are on the back foot for the entire movie. The film introduces characters such as Yoda who provide hope midway through, it also presents the puppeteer of the villainy in Emperor Palpatine. Darth Vader is a bigger threat in this film, seemingly outwitting our heroes in every scene that he is in, as well as having the biggest and most iconic plot twist in the history of film. The iconic paternal revelation has been parodied and quoted in what feels like nearly every sitcom, comedy movie or skit. There is a reason that Empire Strikes Back has been referred to when any movie franchise becomes somewhat dark and that’s because this film did it first and has done it best. Original sequels are always difficult, as people tend to form a bond with the previous film. They love the plot, the characters and, most importantly, the general atmosphere of the film. Empire Strikes Back achieves all of the great characteristics from the first film and builds upon it, ensuring that Star Wars would be one of the most successful movie franchises of all time.
An example of “building upon the original” is the character development in Empire. This, of course, is one of the core elements of a successful screenplay. This film nails every arc of the major characters. Han Solo, the ultimate maverick in the first film, is now a general in the rebellion. He was once selfish, only caring about the skin on his back, but not anymore. Throughout the movie he risks his life not just for his friends, but for the cause. His arc is a staple of filmmaking. Han Solo remains the ultimate maverick that has developed a heart. His love interest and badass general, Princess Leia, remains one of the key leaders of the rebellion and a calm head during the troubling times for the rebellion. Yes, she did kiss her brother, but she didn’t know, alright! If you think about it, it probably made for an interesting dinner story in the future.
The main hero from the first movie, Luke Skywalker, is no longer the whiny teenage farmer. He is now a senior member of the rebellion, as he should be after destroying the Death Star. Despite this level of seniority, he is still reckless. A theme that is continued throughout the plot where he leaves the only known remaining Jedi, Yoda, ignoring his advice to complete his training and as a result loses to Vader, the major cost being Luke’s hand. But our hero does not give into temptation when he learns the truth about his parentage. He does not cower when learning that his mentor was not fully truthful. He still demonstrates hope for the rebellion and continues his arc, as one of the most iconic protagonists in all of cinema. This is the definition of a hero’s arc in a darker movie, as he begins the movie the hero of the rebellion and is reduced back to a boy, a failure. Something that movie goers in 1980 did not expect and ensured its legacy as one of the most defining arcs and has been seen in other films since, such as The Dark Knight.
John Williams is a legend. No question about it. He has scored for iconic films such as Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, E.T., Jaws, Home Alone, Superman, Schindler’s List and many more. These are all rightly legendary soundtracks but the most recognisable is the music from the original Star Wars trilogy. It has the most iconic movie music ever created with themes such as the Imperial March, the opening Star Wars theme and Luke’s theme, which will forever be remembered. However, somehow John Williams managed to add to these masterpieces without taking anything away from the atmosphere. Yoda’s theme and the Duel, as well other memorable scenery tracks, are about as exquisite as music scoring can get, ensuring that Empire Strikes Back has the best movie soundtracks of all time. Music is often used as almost background noise, although the lack of music can also be used to instill a type of eeriness. However, the power of John Williams’ score can be demonstrated by simply removing the sound from one of the scenes. It does not carry the same emotional weight without it and since Star Wars is supposed to be a ‘space opera’ experience, the music is vital to its success. So, for Star Wars to be John Williams’ most memorable work rather than the other iconic scores that he has done should prove that Empire Strikes Back has one of the key elements of filmmaking more than ticked off.
1980 saw one of the most definitive moments in filmmaking history. The legacy that Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is something that not only science-fiction writers but movie studios can only aim and aspire to. Though some may see the film as a dated film that does not hold up to the films of today, such as the Marvel movies, they are surely wrong. Empire paved the way for the epic blockbusters that we see currently and whether you like them or not, movies of this proportion will not go away. Empire Strikes Back is not geeky, nerdy or lame. It is a masterpiece of cinema and a story that will be long told to future generations. To the people that disagree with my level of praise of this film, all I can say is “May the force be with you. Always.”