I’m a diehard Star Wars fan, as you already know. I have watched every movie at least five times and the first six films at least three hundred times combined (at least.) The Empire Strikes Back is considered the best of the Skywalker Saga and Star Wars stories and after seeing it in theaters for the first time yesterday I understand why.
The movie, once it gets rolling, is nonstop! I was blown away as I sat in my local theater taking in a film that, in 1980, was truly a masterpiece. Even now, after seeing so many movies, this film stands out as a marvel, a true achievement of movie making that has passed the test of time.
The Millennium Falcon’s rumbling motor shook my soul, the Hoth battle left me speechless on the big screen, Yoda’s wisdom was chill-inducing, and yeah, that’s why Boba Fett was an instant fan-favorite. I already thought he was cool but he’s even cooler in the movie theaters where we get to hear his ship, Slave I, commanding our eardrums as it flies twice in the film.
All in all, it’s an experience I will never forget and I probably will be watching it again in my local theater sometime later next week before it leaves the theater. What a ride!
I thank you for reading and I hope you have a beautiful day. May the Force be with you.
8 thoughts on “Seeing ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ in the Movie Theaters for the First Time”
We’ve already discussed this one elsewhere, but… there’s a bunch of reasons Empire is considered the best. I read something on the Ringer yesterday that reminded me of this, and it made me think of your comments here.
The first reason is simple: we will probably NEVER see another shock twist top “I am your father.” Just in sheer impact and cultural familiarity, if you had to name the one bit surprise twist of any major movie or TV show ever that everyone knows, you’re probably going to name this one.
This was the subject of the Ringer column I was reading, where they had it at the top of their rankings of the 50 greatest twists scenes ever. It’s a fun article, you should read it. I’m a little shocked at how many I haven’t seen. This was #1 on their list, and it’s hard to argue. Filling out the rest of their top ten were such worthies as (trying not to spoil) the Red Wedding, “I see dead people”, Keyser Soze, Tyler Durden, the Good Place’s “holy mother-forking shirtballs” moment, Norman Bates’ mother, but… yeah. In terms of cultural impact, there really isn’t a close second. Maaaaaaybe the Red Wedding is close for sheer surprise and shock value (and the Ringer had it #2). If you talk to almost anyone who watched Game of Thrones, and they say they could only go about halfway through, the immediate callback is, “let me guess, the Red Wedding?” And maybe 10 or 20 years from now our younger generation might remember that as bigger.
But JJ Abrams’ ham handed attempts to mimic it suffuse the sequel trilogy, and it clearly doesn’t measure up. That’s kind of what happens with moments like that. People always want to do their own version, and they can’t. Sometimes even people trying to run back the story itself try to do it again… and they can’t. Star Wars isn’t even the only one that tried and failed. Shyamalan was never able to come back to “I see dead people” level again, either, and he foolishly spent the rest of his directing career trying. The Good Place really couldn’t ever match “holy motherforking shirtballs” for sheer drama and, to their credit, didn’t really try, and chose instead to humorously explore the dilemmas of moral and afterlife philosophy in a way that was actually very smart and thoughtful. (The ending is a bit tear inducing, but in a good way. I *really* recommend this show.)
But although that’s the biggest reason, it’s not the only one. The Battle of Hoth is the best thought out battle in space opera, with little bread crumbs of the opposing commanders planning and screwing up and executing on their strategy leading from the start of the movie right up to when the AT-ATs are tromping up to the base. The AT-ATs themselves are iconic in their own right, and visually hold up surprisingly well today despite being stop motion animated. But you can see their effect on cinema ever since. (e.g. the Return of the King’s elephant march at Minas Tirith was *obviously* inspired by it.)
Vader’s “you have failed me for the last time” was a minor classic scene in its own right.
Even Vader’s conversation with the Emperor has its own timeless quality to it. I actually had a new “fridge logic” thought about it after re-seeing it in theatres lately: Vader is playing a manipulation game with the Emperor throughout this scene. He already knows about Luke before the Emperor contacts him. He’s already been looking for him without the Emperor even mentioning it, and the Emperor is actually *behind* Vader in his information. Vader knew about Luke, including his first name, throughout the movie, and is using his fleet to find him from the start. (“That is the system… and I’m sure Skywalker is with them.”) The Emperor knows it’s Anakin’s son, but doesn’t know a first name. (In the original release from 1980, he did. The special edition took this out to further reinforce that the Emperor is coming a bit late to this party.) When the Emperor first tells him about this new enemy, Vader’s first response is to downplay the threat (“he’s just a boy… Obi-Wan can no longer help him”) because he doesn’t want his master to order him to kill his son. When the Emperor insists that “the son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi”, Vader’s second tack is to try to find a middle ground so the Emperor will accept something close to what Vader is already trying to do, and moreover, once the Emperor accepts his proposal, Vader immediately acquiesces to this idea and pretends submission immediately. But somehow I managed not to realize it before lately: Vader PLAYED the Emperor in this scene. It makes me think differently of the whole relationship between those two, really: Vader acts whipped when he’s with his master, but there’s always a bit of a sinister rivalry between them, and at face value it’s kinda easy to miss it.
And then there’s everything else. The asteroid field draws out a bit, but is still a bit of a classic (and Attack of the Clones perhaps foolishly runs it back). Han and Leia’s romance is there, and neither of the other two trilogies is quite able to match it. Han’s freezing is iconic in its own right, and every time I see that scene it almost hits me a little harder. The sound design of everything is perfect from start to finish, every scene has subtleties to it that never stop feeling alive.
In short, you’re right… this movie gets rolling and never stops. Even when you see it again and again, there’s new stuff that jumps out at you. That’s… just not really there in the others, not to the same extent. I mean, there’s some. The celebratory parade music at the end of Phantom Menace is fridge-brilliant like that – i.e. it’s actually Palpatine’s leitmotif dressed up more cheerful, subtly calling out that the good guys didn’t really win in brilliantly subversive ways. The “light and dark” subtleties of Anakin’s fall in Revenge of the Sith are sneaky brilliant like that too. I’m forced to admit that Rey’s “Chong Li with a lightsaber” look (I still can’t come up with a better one line description for this that really captures how cruelly enraged she looks) in Force Awakens kinda jumps out after you know who she is. “Rogue One” kind of has a “wait, that was REALLY dumb” version when Jyn tells Krennic that her father sabotaged the Death Star, but it’s still kind of sneaky classic when you consider the emotional power of her need to tell her enemy that he’s been defeated by her father when he has the chance, even if she doesn’t realize just how badly she might have compromised that victory if that information got out. It’s still a powerful moment.
But there’s just not as many of those as there are in Empire. It’s just better than they are.
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Wow, I never really thought about Vader actually knowing Luke was his son before Palpatine. WOW! Vader is such a bad***, if I say so myself.
Yeah…honestly, there may never be a greater moment in cinema history than the “I am your father” moment. It was brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, and honestly, every element of this movie can be analyzed for its brilliance and its potential impact on cinematic history.
The Sequel Trilogy tried so hard to recapture those classic moments that it forgot to be something new, fresh, and original. I hope these High Republic stories (and The Mandalorian) can find ways to move the territory of these plots in a fresher direction.
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The shell game Vader is playing with the Emperor actually goes further than that, now that I think about it some more since I wrote this. When the Emperor first tells him there’s a disturbance in the Force, he simply says “I have felt it.” Read: he’s volunteering no information whatsoever. When the Emperor tells him that “the young rebel who destroyed the Death Star… is the offspring of Anakin Skywalker,” which is a line added in the special edition, Vader’s answer is straight up polyunsaturated bo-sheep: “How is that possible?” Dude is LYING THROUGH HIS FACEMASK. He KNOWS Luke exists. We KNOW he knows. Earlier in the movie, he’s already name-dropped “Skywalker,” and in Cloud City he calls his son by his first name. Yet he actually QUESTIONS HIS EXISTENCE to the Emperor, practically gaslighting him on it. And apparently the Emperor doesn’t realize he’s lying, because he doesn’t call him on it, there’s only the patient master speak of “search your feelings, Lord Vader” as though this is something he needs to bring his student up to speed on. Vader is totally okay playing along and seeming dumb.
And then the rest of it unfolds, and then he moves right from volunteering no information, questioning the Emperor’s information when it’s given to him, then downplaying the threat, then leading the Emperor on to allow himself to keep doing what he already wanted to to. Now, he does apparently intend to bring Luke to the Emperor to help turn him to the dark later in the movie – frozen in carbonate appears to be his Plan A – but he’s likely doing this as a straddle only after knowing the Emperor knows of Luke’s existence. And when the freezing plan fails, he’s totally okay with suggesting to Luke that they join forces against the Emperor – which, in the retroactively written past, he also did with Luke’s mother.
Which means Vader is much more slippery than an initial viewing of the trilogy might leave one thinking. I mean, after the Cloud City duel it’s clear that he’s trying to depose the Emperor with Luke’s help, but I never quite realized that it went right up to playing his little deceptions with the Emperor directly, right in Palp’s own holographic face. Since I was a kid, I’ve always liked Return of the Jedi least of the original three because I’m a total Vader stan (could you tell? 🙃), and I really disliked that he acts so demure around the Emperor. But it never really occurred to me… he’s every bit as sneaky as the Emperor himself. Vader’s not all just hardwired mouth breathing and charred muscle… he just plays that way for the plebes and even his own master. The dude is a SNAKE.
…Which in some ways makes Kylo Stimpy seem that much more shallow and brute force by comparison. You know why? Because now that I realize how slippery Vader was being, it just makes Stimpy come off that much more like a fanfic espy character who’s meant to recapture all of Vader’s cool but do all the character work with all the subtlety of a screaming emo twelve year old glazed to his eyeballs on meth. Oh, he’s dreamy emo handsome Anakin! And he’s raging Vader in a mask! AND he gets to win HIS rivalry with his master, because he’s just cooler than Vader… right? Right? And he’s even so cool that he shows no fear walking right up to Palpatine-on-a-crane with his saber pointed at him, because he’s just to cool to cringe at this fellow who made Vader kneel!
Ugh! Realizations of the brilliance of these just makes the sequels worse! Oooooooo, Kylo is cooler Vader! Like, this just crystallizes everything about it: if a hormonal tween girl wrote a Gary Stu version of Vader… seriously, what about that visual is NOT Kylo Stimpy??? 😤
(Sauron-narrator: “you cannot hiiiiiiiiide, IIIIIIII SEEEEEEEEE YOOOOOOUUUUUUU!!!”)
Yes, I just went meta and mixed genres in my low end rage-riff. 😱🤬
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Lol. Yeah…I was one of those fans who had Kylo Ren as my favorite Star Wars character for a while (that is until Ezra Bridger and The Mandalorian and Ahsoka’s extra radness entered my life) because I thought he was fascinating.
I understood that Abrams was trying to make a Vader 2.0. In fact, that was his story! To become the new Vader. But it was The Last Jedi that seemed to give him depth. The pull between the light and the dark, the tragic turning of his fall to the darkness after nearly being killed by his uncle, the love for his mother, the strange connection with Rey, the dark hair, there was just something about him that fascinated me! He was like the Anakin I always dreamed of; a whiny brat that’s actually kind of likable.
Then The Rise of Skywalker had to throw away his complexity entirely so they could fast forward to the point when he would become Ben Solo (which was super lame btw.) In that movie he became the equivalent of a creepy ex-boyfriend/stalker who kept telling Rey they were going to be together or else (why did she end up with this guy? Oh yeah…the Reylos had been whining about them needing to be together for a year straight), and his last unceremonious words in the entire trilogy was, “Ow.” Not “I love you, Rey.” Not “Rey”. Not anything with any substance. Just simply “Ow” in a moment that feels like a grasp at Marvel Studios’ classic brand of humor but it just didn’t work. 🤬🤬🤬🤬
Oh, and they didn’t give him the luxury to at least appear as a ghost at the end of the movie alongside Luke and Leia. So…are we meant to assume that he did too many terrible deeds to become a ghost and essentially went to Star Wars hell? But Anakin, a murderer of men, women, AND younglings, gets to show up during the Ewok party? No, I’m going to assume otherwise. I’m going to assume that Abrams was rushing to get the movie done and that he didn’t find a priority having Ben Solo at the end…even though he tried to pluck every nostalgic Star Wars moment out of existence and recreate it for this movie.
Abrams DESTROYED Kylo and I’ll never forgive him for that.
Kathleen Kennedy should not have chickened out and fired Colin Trevorrow. His story was at least original. And yeah, the thought of Rey sharing a kiss with Poe in that version of Episode IX sounds pretty repulsive but heck, I’ll take one “What the heck” smackeroo over a “What the actual crap” movie for a better storyline that sees Kylo eventually eventually wearing a new mask forged by Mandalorian armor. WHAT?! That sounds awesome.
Oh wait, Kennedy didn’t want Kylo Ren to be evil.
Welp, there’s my rant. Sorry about that. Lol.
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Hey now… I am TOTALLY in a glass house on ranting about Star Wars here. I am in NO position to judge, and I actually find it both pleasant to engage in the conversation and endearing that you care. So… don’t worry about that even a little.
And yeah… the main thing I was ranting about was just how ham handed it came out. Like… in a post-Twilight world, it’s not insane to figure that trying to do Star Wars sequels where the main antagonist/anti-hero is “Vader 2.0, but he can still take off the mask and be Ep3 Emo Anakin so the girls can drool over him and enjoy shipping him with everyone in sight, but less emo than Hayden Christensen did it so that he comes off as cooler.” I mean… if you can pull it off, I can see why you’d go for that.
That said… I am not actually one of the critics of Hayden Christensen’s performance in the prequels. Yes, he was probably a little over the top in places, and let’s be real, Adam Driver is a way, waaaay better actor than Hayden Christensen. Let’s just get THAT part out of the way here. Hayden Christensen doesn’t really have much of an acting career outside of Star Wars, and doesn’t deserve one. At a quick glance at the top paragraph of his Wiki page, Adam Driver has been nominated for two Academy Awards, four Emmys, and a Tony. There’s not really a comparison here in terms of acting quality. Okay? We don’t need to argue over whether he’s a better actor than Hayden Christensen. He is. This is so not a contest that we’re in “this is like you or me trying to beat Steph Curry at ‘horse’ without breaking his legs first” territory here.
That said… Hayden Christensen was asked to play a tragic figure who was too entitled and selfish to be able to stay on the right side, and fell into evil as a result. He did that. I suspect that people wanted the pre-Vader Anakin to be as cool as Vader himself was as a villain, and the fact that Anakin clearly wasn’t cool (and wasn’t intended to be) probably bothered some people. However, my answer to that is, “I’m sorry, fanboys… but a true descent into evil is not going to be cool. You’re not going to go from a heroic figure to a guy who’s willing to blow up planets because you’re cool. There is something fracking wrong with you if you’re willing to be a major player in the destruction of entire planets inhabited by billions of people on them (however many a “core world” in a galactic civilization is going to have). Pre-Anakin’s descent into evil was every bit as ugly and out of control as it should’ve been, and he SHOULDN’T come off as just ‘too cool for school.’ That guy NEEDED to be kinda messed up.”
So in that respect, that kind of informs my take on Kylo Ren. He was supposed to be that straddle Vader and a “cooler” version of Ep3 Anakin. I mean, that part isn’t entirely subtle. And if there was ever going to be an actor who was going to be able to pull that straddle off, it was going to be an Adam Driver type. You just can’t really reasonably ask for much better of an actor than that.
And to some degree… he sort of was able to keep it afloat a while? But at some point, the script was still a little too simple and basic. There isn’t really much of a cat-and-mouse game going on with Snoke. Even in Last Jedi, Snoke is over the top and flagrantly emotionally abusive, and then is too arrogant and blind to realize Kylo’s steering the lightsaber at him when it’s right there next to him. Yes, we’re sort of rooting for Snoke to die when he does… but at some point even that part kind of just bothered me because there wasn’t much depth to it. I mean… sure? Kylo did what he had to do? Adam Driver acted it reasonably well? But there wasn’t a whole lot of subtlety to it at all. And then, of course, we go from there to Rise of Skywalker, and we’ve got no real debate that that was just… not real good.
So… stepping back from that. Here’s the real question: is this even a possible straddle? So, let’s draw back to the biggest atrocity Kylo Ren was a party to: the Hosnian Cataclysm. They never really go that far into just how many people died there (Star Wars tends not to dwell on that much), but if you look around Wiki or Quora or Reddit, the likely death toll is somewhere between tens to hundreds of billions, maybe a couple trillion at the outside. It’s a LOT of people.
And Kylo Ren was standing there just silently watching that beam go by his window when it happened. He knew what was coming. He was a party to the organization that built it. He watched it use. There’s never any point in the entire sequel trilogy where he expresses even a scintilla of guilt for being involved in that.
Now, that’s what “being Vader 2.0” is like. I get it. I don’t dispute the argument that yeah, truly _being Vader_ is going to involve being a party to planetary destruction. It’s part of the territory.
Now, then… is there any possible fictional universe where that person is also a darkly cool, anti-heroic romantic lead, and it NOT being kinda messed up?
I say no.
To take this back to other cinematic examples that are few less degrees of separation from grounded on real-world Earth, this is like if Amon Goeth had come off his balcony from shooting at Jews in the stockyards of his concentration camp and decided to run off with his Jewish girlfriend because she “touched his heart,” or Calvin Candie running away with Broomhilda just because we want to ship Leo and Kerry. If we’re trying to avoid the delicacy of comparing it to movies dramatizing real-world atrocities, let’s take it further out into fantasy and visualize if Thanos came off the Finger Snap of Doom and ran off with Captain Marvel or Black Widow. That’s probably the only atrocity in pop culture history that cleanly tops Hosnian for sheer death toll, really.
Now… is there any fictional universe in which Amon Goeth, Calvin Candie, or (guuhhh) Thanos can be a believable romantic lead, with the amount of blood on their hands? If Thanos looks like Ryan Gosling or the Rock instead of looking like Thanos, does this give Natasha permission to run off with him? And this should be taken as anything other than totally messed up?
Hellllll to the no.
So… in fairness, I’m just thinking this through as I’m typing this up. But… now that I’m sort of thinking out loud about it? I don’t think Kylo Ren was possible to pull off, with everything they wanted him to do. You can’t be both Vader and Edward Cullen with longer hair. The level of evil in one is not compatible with the other being even remotely worthy of romantic attention by a heroic female if you, you know, set aside all the stalkerish creepiness of what Edward himself was really like. You just can’t do it. One of them is (arguably) on the right side of the moral event horizon, and the other hasn’t just jumped over it, he’s gone and cannonball’ed in there. That moral straddle is just not possible to pull off.
So… yeah. I’m kind of back to where I started. Kylo Stimpy was an impossible character to attempt, and it wasn’t Adam Driver’s fault or even the scriptwriters or JJ Abrams or whatever. They just tried to put too many things together that can’t go together without being pretty seriously messed up. Now… maybe “messed up” is okay given where they ultimately went with it? But it’s a thing.
I mean… let’s be fair. The sequels aren’t alone in this. Let’s do another comparison: is it something other than a major narrative contrivance that Leia doesn’t pretty much completely lose it when she’s told, in Return of the Jedi, that the guy who physically held her back and forced her to watch while Alderaan was destroyed was her father. Like… Leia’s a hero, so she’s just not supposed to emotionally break like that? But seriously. Luke tells her this. And she doesn’t even take a moment to walk in a circle to avoid losing her shit on the spot? She’s way too calm for this. Granted… Carrie Fisher was pretty much hopped up on coke (or whatever they use to rehab from coke) for that whole movie and wasn’t really up to serious acting there, which is why about the only memorable thing she really could do to contribute to that movie was to put on a slave girl bikini… but if we’re going to go there, we kinda have to go there, too. So it probably has to be acknowledged that George Lucas trying to pass off Darth Vader as “redeemed” just because he throws the Emperor down a reactor shaft in the end is probably a bit of a reach, too. I mean, not to be glib… but if Goering had pushed Hitler off a cliff in 1945, I’m not sure the guys at the Nuremberg trials would’ve been terribly impressed with this as a crimes-against-humanity defense. It IS something that bothers me a little about the original trilogy.
So… I don’t know. I suppose I can’t criticize Kylo on this and not also acknowledge that baggage on Vader. That said, George Lucas did not try to present Vader to us without making any and all romantic involvement with him not looking messed up on purpose. And yeah, while Anakin and Amidala’s relationship was obviously a bit messed up, I still would maintain that it was that way on purpose. The woman who’s willing to bear Anakin Skywalker’s children while he’s on his way down the moral deep end into becoming Darth Vader is going to HAVE to look the other way on some seriously troubling things that would give a truly upstanding woman who isn’t a little desperate and messed up pause. There just wasn’t a way around that, and so I don’t mind that that relationship came out as messed up. That was fine.
That said… they tried to make Reylo look… sort of messed up and sort of not? And that was a mistake. So even though while there are stones that can be thrown at the original trilogy, yeah, I’m going to stay with my original judgment: the sequels took every part of that, tried to make it cool, and shouldn’t have. From there, the fact that it came out as such a low end train wreck was inevitable. There was simply no way to try to mix all those elements into the same package and pull it off.
The only question is whether or not I’m going to some day re-watch the sequel trilogy and accept that Kylo comes off as a bit messed up because they did it that way on purpose, the way I do with Anakin now. Maybe I should be nicer about it. Everybody in the sequels has some pretty messed up family history, and probably should be taken in that light.
…I think I’m going to have to rewatch them again now. Help?
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Well that’s a thought…(if Thanos was hot.😂🤢)
I’m staying away from the personal anguish of the Sequel Trilogy so…I don’t know if a rewatch would be good or not.
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Yeah. In some ways I probably could’ve just narrowed that whole rant down to your single line. In some respects this has been a trend in our pop culture in the last 20 years or so, where we humanize and sometimes even romanticize our monsters. “Twilight” was probably the nadir of this, where Meyer was pretty much romanticizing Bella Swan getting stalked and emotionally controlled (abused?) by Edward Cullen. There was never a point where sleeping with the monsters was ever treated as being a truly bad thing in the end, it was always portrayed as a romantic acceptance of a seemingly lesser evil, and the question of how many hundreds or even thousands of people Edward had likely killed over his long lifetime just sort of never came up. This is the worst example I can think of, where the evil boy being hot is treated as… pretty much romanticizing being his victim and ultimately Bella becoming evil herself, just because it’s convenient for her.
The 3D animated version of “Beowulf” had its own take on this sort of thing in the late 00s, where Angelina Jolie was playing the human form of Grendel’s mother as an evil demonic spirit seducing mortals and using them as the fathers of her monsters. However, that was never treated as a forgivable act there – giving in to that temptation was consistently portrayed as a fatal error that had terrible consequences for the entire kingdom. So, while it was a different take, I generally think it was okay, even if it could be described as related. This is the romanticizing of monsters being treated as good/selfish intentions leading you to ruin.
Kylo Ren is somewhere in the middle. The sequels don’t make the mistake of having him and Rey wind up together, thank goodness. There’s never a point where Rey is as weak as Bella, nor does she put up with Kylo’s BS along the way. While she does kiss him in the end, he dies a moment later. Honestly, I think even that was a mistaken effort at throwing slops to the shippers who aren’t thinking through the implications of what Kylo has done and what sort of monster he’s been. So while it’s hard not to think a *little* less of Rey for even going that far, she doesn’t give in all the way and it ultimately amounts to a literal goodbye kiss as he’s dying, even if he doesn’t really deserve it. It’s a moment of weakness in gratitude for him sacrificing his life for her in a small act of atonement in the end… so… I guess it’s not totally unforgivable? I don’t know. Kylo is a much bigger monster than Edward, but Rey never really succumbs the way Bella did, either.
I will probably make myself watch this again now that I’ve gotten myself thinking about it. It’s an interesting thought. I’ve only seen the sequels about 3 or so times each, which is only about 10% as many times as I’ve seen the originals and half or so as many as the prequels. I can rewatch them one more with new ideas in my head to see what I think of them again with this rattling around in my skull. (Wish me luck? 😓)
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