Fun with Franchises: Final Thoughts on Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
All right… we’ve watched the film, talked about it, had fun with it, and then we went and listed our favorite images from the film yesterday. Now all that’s left is to finish up with what we actually thought about the film as a whole.
This is our space to go over what we liked and didn’t like about each film we watch for Fun with Franchises. We talk about specific things as we get to them during the articles, and we’ll mention our general thoughts during them, but we don’t really ever get to sit and do broad strokes during the articles. So this is why we do these Final Thoughts. We get to take a step back and talk about the films as a whole, rather than discussing specific scenes or images. We’ll talk about how we felt about the film, how we liked it as a film, how we liked it as a member of its franchise, and where we think it falls within that franchise.
Again, it’s not very complicated, but it is a place to find out what we actually thought about certain movies, since, while we’re having fun with them in the articles, it may get difficult to tell sometimes. Because we’ll just rip things to shreds for fun, even if we love them.
So here are our final thoughts on Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back:
Oh boy. Empire. I like this movie for reasons.
When I was a little kid, before the prequels came out, this was my least favorite Star Wars movie. Return of the Jedi was so much more exciting, with space battles, the execution sequence, and funky little aliens. A New Hope was less exciting, but it set up the story, so there was the universe factor. This film was short on action, long on story and generally depressing when viewed from the eyes of a seven year old. This movie was lost on me until I went back and really watched the original trilogy again in high school. And when I did, Empire and Jedi switched positions. This is easily my favorite Star Wars movie now.
I guess what happened in the interim is that I grew up a bit and watched a few hundred more movies. I’m no longer dazzled by the cinematic equivalent of jingling keys, which — Lucas is one cinematic key-jingling motherfucker. How lucky we were that he had considerably less to do with this movie than any of the rest.
There are all kinds of positives in this film. First of all — this is by the best looking movie in the franchise, as evidenced by our Favorite Images article. Between Hoth and Cloud City, we’ve got two of the most iconic Star Wars locations, and they’re exclusive to this film, which is important. You can shoot Tatooine really well, but we’re there in literally every film except this one — it gets old. The reality of the images is the most important thing to me. Lucas’ attempts at expanding the scale of his universe through extensive CGI with the prequels really fall flat in comparison to the relatively limited technology he had at his disposal when he made the originals. This is why one of the most awkward moments in this whole film is when they cut to the exterior of the room where Han and Leia are staying in Cloud City. You see them through the window, having their discussion, and the CGI sticks out like a sore thumb. The prequels feel like the caricature of an exciting universe; the original trilogy looks like real film of one.
I don’t know how Mike really feels about it generally, but I’d say this is also the strongest story film in the franchise. I know that’s not saying much, but there was a lot of good plot in this one. I love the Yoda stuff. Luke has ideas about how to act and about what the Force is, and Yoda has to slap him around a bit. The sunken X-Wing scene is up there with my favorite scenes in the franchise because it’s a real character moment. Although I admit it’s still insufficient development to connect the hopelessly mookish New Hope Luke with the collected, competent Luke of Jedi, you get a pretty good idea of how he was forced to grow during this film.
How about the reveal? That has to be one of the biggest and best reveals in cinematic history. I mean, it’s whatever to most people now because it’s such common knowledge, but I can only imagine the collective gasp in the theater when audiences found out Vader was Luke’s pappy for the first time. There are other things that I think deserve mention. However you feel about Leia and Han, it’s way better development than Anakin and Padme (or Harry and Ginny) ever get. You can see that they’re attracted to one another by more than just looks, which is why you feel more for Leia when Han gets the deep freeze. I wish Lando had been written a bit better, but he’s a very cool character.
This movie also gets a bit of a bump for being an Act II, which is probably why I thought it was depressing as a kid. We’ve got our story all set up, but still have some time before someone lights up the powder keg for the grand finale. Things start out well and get massively fucked up before long. I don’t know about you guys, but I like seeing shit in turmoil. Movies that are too happy or too easy upset me. Lucas seems to understand that tragedy is a key ingredient in many good movies; the man is also largely responsible for the fucking masterpiece that was The Land Before Time. (Fuck bitches, get tree stars.)
But yeah, this is the high point in the franchise for me in just about every respect. No question, number one.
My Final Thoughts:
I don’t even have all that much to say about this movie. I just really like Empire.
I love Hoth, I love everything that happens on Hoth.
I love the progression of the movie. They’re hiding, the Empire finds them — battle. They win it, they break out. Vader is obsessed with Luke and we drive toward the father/son conflict. Han tries to break out again but is stuck with Leia. They fall in love and when he tries to put her somewhere safe so he can get the price off his head, he ends up getting fucked. Sadness.
Which — do they ever explain why Vader was there making the deal with Lando? I feel like they gloss over that. I would have liked some sort of moment explaining that Boba Fett told Vader Lando was Han’s buddy and led him there or something. (Or did I miss that part?) I mean, granted, the reveal is fucking awesome of Vader waiting for them, but they don’t ever explain how he got the intel to show up there.
But I love the Yoda part, even if Yoda comes off too much like a muppet at the beginning. (Though I guess that makes sense. He’s old and acts like an old buffoon until you realize he’s a Jedi master and gets all zen and shit. But he didn’t have to be that much like a muppet. That’s the equivalent of a karate sensei acting like an overt Asian stereotype for the first ten minutes. Tone it down, George.)
The entire movie just works for me. All my quibbles with it are minor. (Like Force calling Leia. Come on, now. I mean, it’s fine, but… that’s just hilariously awful to me.)
I like that it has an unhappy ending. I like that Luke gets his hand cut off. (Though, seriously George… you really overdo that shit in the prequels. Hands getting cut off left and right.)
I like that Lucas didn’t write it. He just came up with the story and Lawrence Kasdan filled in the rest. And you can tell. This is the best overall story in the franchise (single film-wise). New Hope is there too, but I feel like that one wasn’t as properly exploited as well as this one is. I still think George is responsible for a lot of this movie, but I think there’s a pretty obvious connection that this is the only Star Wars movie where Lucas doesn’t have a screenplay credit in any way other than story.
This actually is a nearly perfect movie. I won’t waste time talking about what doesn’t work, because why bother? It’ll just be reaching.
This is easily the best movie of the franchise. I don’t think anyone would argue that. (You’re pretty much gonna say either this or New Hope anyway. And I feel like either one works. Anything else as your #1, and I’ll ask what’s wrong with you.)
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Tomorrow is Jedi.
(See the rest of the Fun with Franchises articles here.)