By Andrew Russell / LifeAtStart.com Reporter
So Gene Wilder recently died, and I thought I’d talk about what is commonly thought of as his best film. Yes, I am of course talking about Blazing Saddles, the western comedy with biting satire and immature humor alike.
However, I’ve never seen Blazing Saddles, so I am instead going to talk about Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.
The Empire Strikes Back is almost universally known as the greatest in its franchise, and in that accomplishment it does something that most sequels never do: It’s as good as or better than the original, in this case Star Wars: A New Hope. It does this by progressing its timeless characters in thoughtful and understandable ways, as well as dealing with darker themes and boasting the best directing of the original trilogy.
The Empire Strikes Back cuts between Luke Skywalker, an amateur Jedi, and Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca the Wookie, and their droid companions after they’ve been split apart by the empire in an attack on the rebel headquarters.
This movie’s rather bold in it’s handling of what A New Hope created. While A New Hope ended on a happy note and the audience went home without any unanswered questions, this movie ends with the crushing defeat of the Rebel Alliance, meaning our protagonists get beaten the worst. Luke gets his hand cut off by a guy who immediately thereafter breaks the news to him that they’re related, C-3PO is literally in shambles, and Han Solo has been frozen in carbonite and hauled away to a man-slug’s palace.
The point is, they’re not getting a medal for blowing up the Death Star at the end of this one.
Another bold choice is that rather than having all the protagonists on an adventure together as in the first one, they’ve completely split them apart until the very end of the film. This completely pays off though, and they’re allowed their own arcs to go through, be it Luke with his Jedi training or Han and Leia’s developing relationship whilst on the run from the empire and the bounty hunter Boba Fett.
Speaking of Boba Fett, even more iconic names and faces are introduced in The Empire Strikes Back. There’s Yoda, the ever quotable Jedi master who teaches Luke the ways of the force, Lando Calrissian, one of Han Solo’s oldest friends who’s perhaps even more dastardly than he is, and we even get our first glimpse at The Emperor, the true leader of the empire and Darth Vader’s master.
Speaking of Darth Vader, he’s made an even bigger threat here, since instead of him just being the face of evil as he is in A New Hope, he pursues the protagonists personally and becomes their sole threat and enemy. Vader was awesome to watch on screen in A New Hope, but I think this is the one that truly showed him at his best, or rather worst, and really solidified him as perhaps the greatest and definitely the most iconic movie villain of all time. There’s also the huge twist that Vader is Luke’s father, which would begin to blur the lines of his character, making him almost relatable and seen as someone of inner turmoil, regret, and even someone to sympathize with in the last installment of the original trilogy.
I think the thing that makes this not only the greatest Star Wars movie, but even one of the greatest movies period, is that it manages to be a complete spectacle and just a joy to witness and be a part of, while also satisfying the movie critic in me, the part of me that wants to look for something wrong and something to point out as flawed and declare “Sure it’s fun, but it’s not actually a good movie (see Jurassic World).”
The Empire Strikes Back is a good movie. Its story is fast paced but full of character moments, foreshadowing, deep symbolism, fantastic lighting and cinematography, superb directing, and action that progresses the characters arcs that are involved in it as well as progressing the narrative. The action-adventure side keeps the audience constantly moving and on its toes, while the dramatic and heavily themed side keeps the constant movement necessary and suspenseful by showing the changes in the characters as well as the the penalties they’ll face if they don’t succeed.
Purely as a Star Wars fan, I also think The Empire Strikes Back has the best lightsaber battle in all of the movies. If you need proof of everything I’ve just said about this film, just watch the scene where Luke finally confronts Vader. The lighting in this scene, while obvious in its symbolism, truly grants the battle weight and gives it the feeling that two sides of the force are clashing. This is probably the biggest character developing moment of the original trilogy as well, by characterizing Darth Vader in his confident movements and strikes, showing through body language and direction that he is completely in control the entire time.
Luke’s constant vigilance and hasty attacks also show that he is completely out of his element, and that Yoda was correct in saying that he is not nearly ready to face Vader. The motivation to fight Vader is constantly present though, so when Luke does take this obvious misstep you can completely understand why through what we know about his character, and that right there is exactly what I mean by giving action purpose.
The final confrontation is completely called for, and the entire movie has lead us right up to it and its inevitable climax of Vader defeating Luke, making the title Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back the most brutally honest of them all.
I don’t know if you can tell, but I’ve watched this movie a lot. It’s one of those movies I could watch everyday and never get sick of. Because of that, I’ll give The Empire Strikes Back a 3/10 on my top-ten-favorite-movies-of-all-time list.
Congratulations, Star Wars. You’ve earned it.
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