The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Director: Irvin Kershner

And while we’re talking about continuity between the original trilogy and the prequels, how did Obi-Wan apparently forget Luke was one of twins? Also, when was he Yoda’s student (or did Yoda palm him off to Qui-Gon before Phantom Menace)? And aren’t there a remarkable number of droids who look like C-3PO? Maybe Anakin assembled him from a kit or something…

Anyway, Empire is usually hailed as the best of the Star Wars films, and I don’t see any real need to challenge the conventional wisdom. If you haven’t read Joel Bocko’s appraisal of the whole series, please go and do so; he made a good point in a comment on my post about Star Wars about how even this film and Return of the Jedi kind of compromise the singular integrity of the first film. Still, if a sequel had to be made, then this was the way to do it. The thing about the original trilogy is, not only is each film a remarkably clear illustration of the three-act structure principle—setup, complication, resolution—but the whole trilogy works in the same fashion. So Star Wars is the setup, Return the resolution, and Empire very much the complication. Indeed, it only took five words to complicate the mythology of the films in a way that would eventually result in that whole additional trilogy, and yet the whole idea of Vader being Luke’s father apparently only entered the story in its second draft (Leigh Brackett’s first draft apparently contained no such thing).

But yeah, complication is the order of the day (not just on-screen; there seems to have been plenty of off-screen issues too like Kershner originally refusing the job). With hindsight, of course, we can see the destruction of the Death Star wasn’t going to end the Empire, which was, you know, likely to strike back. The Alliance is chased from Hoth, and the Millennium Falcon is chased at length through the asteroids and ultimately to Bespin, and by the end of the film Vader almost has what he wants. It’s a markedly darker affair to the previous film, which is probably at least partly what seems to attract people to it; also, Joel’s essay (above) makes a good point about Kershner being less interested in referring back to the old SF serials that inspired the first film, so it really does move on its own terms. Also—and Lucas knew it—Kershner was just a much better director, especially with actors. It’s a difference that does elevate Empire over its immediate predecessor and, as I said, I’m happy to go along with the general appraisal of this as the best of the series.

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One thought on “The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

  1. Joel Bocko November 28, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    Thanks for the shoutout! I think Kershner was definitely a better director of actors but I think in terms of composition and rhythm, Lucas has him beat. Although nothing in the SW films he directed matches THX-1138 in those departments.

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