If you ask a Star Wars fan what his or her favorite chapter of the saga is and the most likely answer you will receive is The Empire Strikes Back. And if that person is a real geek then the reply will be: Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. Why does this episode get all the love besides being absent of furry little Ewoks and the hopeful assumption that the reviled Jar Jar Binks is long dead? Well, here are ten reasons, in no particular order.
It is the darkest of the original trilogy. Sure, Revenge of the Sith has taken that mantle for obvious (and obviously awesome) reasons, butEmpire was the original journey through hell. The Rebels get creamed at the Battle of Hoth, Luke faces his dark side, loses his hand, and unintentionally reconnects with his estranged father, Han gets frozen in carbonite, the Millenium Falcon is on the fritz, and even poor C-3PO gets blown up. Overall it is a bad time for the good guys, which makes for great drama. As Dante from Clerks observed: “It ends on such a down note. I mean, that’s what life is, a series of down endings.” That Dante sure is whiny.
Darth Vader is in charge. Governor Tarkin held “Vader’s leash” in A New Hopeand Emperor Palpatine takes full command in Return of the Jedi. But Vader is truly the central villain in Empire, and all his officers cower in fear. No whining or going on about how he doesn’t like sand.
Yoda appears and schools Luke in the true nature of the Force. When Jedi Master Yoda is introduced, we see a funny, mischievous side that was absent in the prequels. And when he trains Luke he explains it as the mysterious, mystical energy field that it is supposed to be: “…for my ally is the Force. And a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us, and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you! Here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere! Even between the land and the ship.” Not a single mention of midichlorians and blood cells.
Han and company are constantly on the run. Han Solo shows how big hiscajones are since the hyperdrive on the Millenium Falcon fails. (Three times to be exact). The Empire relentlessly pursues them, but Han manages to improvise enough to outmaneuver and hide effectively…for a while. These scenes had the sharpest dialogue to boot. Speaking of which…
There’s never a dull moment. There are moments in Return of the Jedi, Revenge of the Sith, and especially The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones where the pacing tends to drag. Wooden dialogue tends to creep in. Not so with Empire. The pacing is brisk and the dialogue cheese free. There’s never a time where you ask “Where the hell is the action?” This is primarily due to the direction of Irvin Kershner. Unlike George Lucas, who is more of a visionary and skilled with technical aspects, Kershner is more of an “actor’s director” who focuses more on character. He also allowed more room for improv, like Harrison Ford’s response to Leia’s “I love you” with “I know.”
Sexual innuendo. In Star Wars?
Han: “Don’t get excited!”
Leia: “Captain, being held by you isn’t quite enough to get me excited.”
Han: “Sorry, sweetheart. Haven’t got time for anything else…”
Best lightsaber duel in the original trilogy. Before the cool martial arts choreography of the prequels, this duel clearly illustrates that Luke wasn’t ready. And Vader manipulates him the entire time.
Boba Fett has badass lines. (It’s all in the delivery). “Put Captain Solo in the cargo hold.” and “What if he doesn’t survive? He’s worth a lot to me.” Pretty cool. In Jedi his only line is: “What the? Aaaarrgggh!!” Not quite so cool.
Lando has a moral quandary. Do you screw your friends over for the “greater good?” Apparently so, as Lando makes a deal with the Empire that he later regrets. Good guys and bad guys were clear cut up to this point, but Lando’s tough choice adds greater tension and conflict. He later redeems himself, of course.
The biggest plot twist in sci-fi history (at the time). Only George Lucas, Mark Hamill, and a handful of the crew were aware of Luke’s true lineage. Even James Earl Jones thought Vader was lying. To this day it is still a powerful dramatic moment. And the proper quote is “No, I am your father,” not “Luke, I am your father.”