This week, our favorite storm-trooper TD-0013 celebrates the 30th anniversary of and offers us his thoughts on what many consider to be the best of the Star Wars saga, The Empire Strikes Back.
When asked which of the Star Wars films their favorite is, most people choose the Empire Strikes Back, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Back in May of 1980, the second film in what would come to be known as the Star Wars saga hit theaters across the globe. I was around 10 years old at the time, and while the first film, Star Wars, had captured my imagination, it was The Empire Strikes Back that really cinched the deal for me. I was a Sci-Fi geek and there wasn’t anything anyone could do about it. What was it about this film that surpassed the first in so many regards? Some might argue that the script had been written by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kadsan other than the series creator, George Lucas. Others might argue that it was the fact that the helm was under the command of veteran director Irvin Kershner and not Lucas. Not to spit in Uncle George’s eye, but I think there’s some validity to both arguments. George Lucas is a masterful storyteller, but his dialogue can be a bit atrocious and we’ve all seen what his direction can do in regards to performances by some very talented actors like Ian McDiarmid, (Emperor Palpatine) for example.
Of course, at the age of 10, such things didn’t matter to me. This movie struck so many cords because it truly was what a sequel should be; a continuation of a story, not just a re-hash of the same plot devices and characters. It kept the story moving along in the serialized style that Lucas was paying homage to in the first place. Personally, that’s what I think a sequel should be, but then, I don’t work in Hollywood, so what do I know, right?
It’s a relatively known fact that I am and have always been a big fan of the Galactic Empire. This started when I was 7 years old and my mother had taken me to see Star Wars for the first time in the Cine Capri theatre in Phoenix, Arizona. From the moment I saw the armored Stormtroopers, I was hooked. Overall the Empire just looked cooler then the Rebel forces. Yes, I understood that the Empire were the ‘bad guys’, but there’s something to be said for the appeal that full body armor can have on a young boy’s mind and imagination. Regardless of how good a shot you think troopers were in those films, I still wanted to be one when I grew up. I bring this up because in the film Empire Strikes Back, the Empire actually wins pretty much every fight they get into and at the end, win the whole film. They struck back and they struck back hard. For a young fan of said Empire, this was a thrill for me because even at that tender age, it just made more sense in my head. The full might of the Empire war machine was loosed on the Rebels, motivated by the destruction of the Death Star. The Imperial boys were pissed, and they aimed to make certain the Rebels knew it, and they did so in spades.
Plus, let’s face it; this film had a slew of “Holy Crap!” moments in it. These weren’t just “Wow, that was really cool” nuggets. No, these bad boys made you re-think a few things and had you talking about them for… well, thirty years now.
First on my list is the introduction of the Imperial AT-AT walkers. Again, I was a boy when I first saw these and they really had a lasting impression. Nothing had ever been seen like this by American audiences before and the very concept a giant walking tanks captured many, many imaginations. I think it can be argued that the AT-AT is what ushered in Japanese Animation to the U.S. I know they were a definite influence on what drew me towards anime in the first place. The only thing missing from the Empire’s version were busty school girls piloting the things, but this is quite forgivable. To this day there are engineers working on making machines of this nature a reality. Let’s just hope that they remember to put cable cutters on the legs.
Second is the Millennium Falcon vs. Imperial forces Asteroid chase. It was seat of your pants, roller-coaster ride action that had us all amazed. Rumor is that there’s actually a potato in the asteroid field, put there by one of Industrial Light & Magic’s (ILM) more playful employees. This entire sequence kept us all on the edge of our seats and ended up becoming one of the most unlikely, yet appropriate settings for Han & Leia’s love story to really bloom. Oh, and a giant space worm. Come on and admit it, you crapped yourself a little when you saw that 30 years ago.
Next up is the littlest Jedi Master, Yoda. When we all saw this unassumingly demure character on screen, we bought it. Sure, the back of our minds told us he was a muppet, but we ignored it and let the little guy teach us all a few things about the Force, and life in general. This wasn’t just a fuzzy, googly-eyed critter the likes of which we came to expect from Jim Henson and his crew. Yoda broke a lot of ground as to what one could do with a puppet. Through the masterful manipulation and voice acting of Frank Oz, he became a living, breathing, soulful creature in that galaxy far, far away, able to act toe to toe with Mark Hammil and be absolutely believable while doing so. We bought it completely and he paved the way for films such as the Dark Crystal, Never-ending Story, Labyrinth, and Legend to be made. Not sure if all of those are good things, but still.
One of the most talked about scenes in Star Wars lore is the Tree test that Luke had to go through. It’s talked about because honestly, it brings the film to a complete halt and nobody’s really sure what the point of it was. Some say that it represents the dark side in all of us; that we all have the potential to fall prey to the quick and easy path to ultimate power, but ultimate self-destruction. Others argue that it is the true reveal of Luke’s relationship to Darth Vader, but for such an important reveal, shouldn’t it have been made a bit clearer like the final moment in our list? Like it or leave it, the scene had us all speculating as to its true meaning and making us think about it long after we witness it on the screen. Isn’t that one of the points of cinema?
Then come the Bounty Hunters. The very fact that the Empire even felt the need to bring in subcontractors showed that they meant business and were willing to play it a little dirty in order to get the job done. This brings in one of the most popular characters in all movie history, the Mandalorian, Boba Fett. Technically, the Fett man was introduced to us all in the middle of what can only be described as the most painful hour of television known as “The Star Wars Holiday Special”. It was absolute garbage on every single level with the only exception being the little animated short that introduced everyone’s favorite bounty hunter. This also illuminated to us all just how brilliant the Lucas Marketing Machine was with the mail-in offer of six UPC symbols to get a free Boba Fett action figure years before Empire even came out. Yes, I got one, and yes, I was disappointed as Hell that his backpack didn’t actually fire the way it did in the commercials. Just the first in a long history of examples at just how powerful good imagery can be. The guy said maybe three lines and he immediately rose to the level of iconic status in pop culture he still enjoys to this day. He is literally a character too popular to die, with new stories still being written about him taking place after he fell into the Sarlac’s gaping maw in Return of the Jedi. Everyone loves a man of mystery, and Empire gave us the granddaddy of them all.
The singular most mind-bending scene in cinema history has to be when Darth Vader reveals to Luke that he is his father. This scene is still referenced in a myriad of other pop-culture works from cartoons, sitcoms, and even in other films that aren’t even sci-fi. This was a powerful scene that knocked everyone on the collective backside. When my buddies and I watched the film, we speculated and talked in great lengths about whether or not we believed that Vader was telling the truth. Could he have actually been Luke’s dad? The very though sent our brains abuzz for three years until Return of the Jedi came out in 1983, and if you know anything about adolescent boys, you know that keeping their brains focused on one thoughts for three minutes is next to impossible, yet alone three years. Sadly, it is also the most misquoted scene in the saga, with most people saying the line “Luke, I am your father” which is dead wrong. The actual line had so much weight to it because of how it was phrased. It wasn’t a simple, matter-of-fact statement. It was a correction of young Luke’s own perception on what Obi-Wan had led him to believe all these years. It was, “No. I am your father.” Insert a young boy’s exploding cranium here, because that’s what movie theatres across the world had to clean up after each showing of the film, trust me.
When you take into account all of these smaller parts, you realize just how huge this film’s footprint still is on our modern world. It introduced us not only to new characters and locations, but to more advances in the movie industry on how a story can be told on film. It also served to teach a very valuable lesson that the good guys don’t always win, no matter how just or righteous their cause is. As Kevin Smith penned for his Dante in the movie Clerks, when asked which Star Wars film he prefers out of Empire or Jedi, he picks Empire for the following reasoning, “It ends on such a down note. I mean, that’s what life is; a series of down endings.” True, that kind of sounds like a pessimistic view of life, but in the end, it’s pretty accurate and I think that’s another reason The Empire Strikes Back has such an appeal. In a genre filled with magical glimpses of ‘the future’ filled with happy endings, it’s nice to be told the straight and narrow truth about the world, and Empire does that. Happy or Solemn messages notwithstanding, the Empire Strikes Back stands the test of time and is likely to continue doing so because it gives much more then we’ve come to expect from sequels.
30 years ago Empire Strikes Back wowed audiences across the globe, particularly a certain kid in Arizona who would one day grow up to become a servant of that Empire. If that doesn’t mark how powerful and influential a film is, I don’t know what does.
TD-0013 is the writer and host of “A Different Point of View” (www.adpov.net) and has been an active member of the 501st Stormtrooper Legion (www.501st.com) for the past ten years. His voice has appeared in many podcasts such as Wingin’ It, Slice of Sci-Fi, 7th Son, Variant Frequencies, the 501stCast, and many more. He has also appeared on television on E! Entertainment, Good Morning America, Spike TV, and VH1 as well as the films “Heart of an Empire”, “Star Warriors”, and the upcoming Simon Pegg feature,“Paul”. A new podcast is in the works as well as a podcast audio drama.