Forty years ago ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ leapt onto our screens, following up on one of the biggest films of all time was not going to be an easy task. Empire managed it by taking a darker tone and by doing so managed to be different, yet keep the essence of what made Star Wars (later to be renamed A New Hope) such a great film. In an early draft of Star Wars George Lucas referred to his story being in the tradition of Edgar Rice Burroughs “John Carter of Mars” or Alex Raymond’s “Flash Gordon”. What Empire managed to do was keep within this space opera tradition but add some darkness and more character to the story.
Even though George Lucas always had the idea of sequels when he made Star Wars, it was not a sure thing. In that way Star Wars finished with what can be taken as the end of a story. Empire on the other hand finished in the fine tradition of the serials with a cliff hanger of an ending (or no ending at all) and everybody wondering where the story would go to next. The whole point of the second film was not to top the first one action wise but to develop the story. In the hiring of Irvin Kershner as director, a man who normally specialised in small intimate character studies it cemented those values.
Film making now constantly has sequels and continuing stories, just look at what Marvel have managed to do. Pre Star Wars I am pushed to find another sequence of films that continued the same story in such a way. Yes there were sequels such as James Bond and The Planet of the Apes films almost did it but I personally felt that they could be taken more individually, Where as Empire is most obviously the middle part of a story. This is one reason why Empire has had such an influence on storytelling, without Empire we may not have got the Epic storytelling of The Lord of the Rings on screen.
I also feel blessed that I saw this film in an age where social media did not exist, the lack of speculation and over proliferation of trailers enabled more mystery to be held on first viewing. I personally remember leaving the cinema with my best friend, both of us convinced Darth Vader was lying (this was actually a viewpoint held by James Earl Jones) …. it wasn’t long though before we realised the truth.
There is a bit of an internet myth stating the Empire’s reviews panned it. If you look at them though they are varied, some loved it and others thought it was a step down after Star Wars. Now it is frequently quoted as many people’s favourite of the saga. No matter what Empire is an important film both for Star Wars fans and Cinema in general. It showed that blockbuster sequels need not be worse or financially take less money. It also showed that fans would take on well thought out story and character, along with their fix of action and it’s overall influence as with Star Wars cannot be underestimated.
Empire at 40 is going to be a series of posts looking at The Empire that Strikes back and it’s influence on Star Wars and Cinema in general. I am celebrating The Empire Strikes Back 40th anniversary by this series of posts this May but as I am starting these posts a little later than planned this series will run throughout May and June 2020. I hope you will enjoy these posts and what’s to come, keep an eye out for the banner/image made especially for this series as that will tell you when a new post on this has been released.