Just watched The Empire Strikes Back again, for the, I’m not really sure anymoreth time. Its the one Star Wars film that I will watch in it’s entirety, whenever I see it on tv. Others I may pause on it for a bit, see the familiar characters, quote along the lines, but this movie…it takes a hold of me.
I know, it’s the popular answer that this is the best Star Wars movie, but I really feel like it’s a completely merited answer. To do this let’s break down what’s great about the franchise to begin with.
- The Characters- In the first (fourth, story wise) movie, we are introduced to Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia. A lot of other characters as well, including the antagonist, Darth Vader. But these are our central characters. In the first film they were merely archetypes. The farm boy, the rogue, the princess. But in this film we see some true character development, something that doesn’t always happen in a sequel.
Luke has gone from wide eyed farm boy to hero, Rebel Alliance soldier and fledgling Jedi Knight. Han, while still rogueish, has taken on some responsibility and grown more selfless (slightly), and Princess Leia is now more military leader than any princess I’ve ever seen.
Even Darth Vader feels more of a fleshed out antagonist than in the previous film. He has a more commanding presence, and has some inner conflict as well, near the film’s conclusion, as he knows about his son, and what will he do with that. Now, some of this information is helped by viewing the other films in the saga, or reading the supplemental materials, but he’s not the same Vader we saw spinning away at the end of the last movie.
2. The World Building– In the last film we were introduced to Tattoine, a desert planet, the moon of Yavin, a jungle planet where the Rebels have built their base amongst the ruins, and the Death Star, the Empire’s secret weapon and supreme battle station. All of those locations felt fleshed out and were just marvels of filmmaking, but in this movie you could tell they had more of a budget to play around with, and it shows.
Everything felt shinier and more bright, however, in this film. In some cases, quite literally, as Darth Vader’s once dull black outfit now gets that iconic shine which he’s known for, and the buttons on his uniform now have lights on them. The Millenium Falcon, also gets a number of lights in the cockpit which weren’t there in the first film, a look which now carries over to the Star Wars films of today, as the tv spot for The Last Jedi shows us Luke sitting in a brightly lit Millenium Falcon cockpit, a look that was not there in the first movie. We also get bigger Star Destroyers here, including the impressive (most impressive) Super Star Destroyer, Darth Vader’s flagship, The Executor.
3. The Music- When all is said and done, John Williams will no doubt go down in movie history as one of the greatest composers of film scores of all time, if not the greatest. His work has made iconic themes for iconic movies for the past 60 years or so, and shows no signs of stopping. While the work he did for the original film, Star Wars, was great, it’s in this movie that really produces his best work.
One of the things that helps Darth Vader feel more of a threat this time out is that iconic Imperial March, which was not present in the first movie. It’s something so synonymous with the character it’s crazy that it wasn’t in that first film. The ” Mars ” soundalike score used for the Imperial theme in that first movie was good for it’s time, but nowhere near the iconic nature of the Imperial March.
All the music in the movie is just peak John Williams, and it’s easily the best Star Wars soundtrack of the entire franchise. Even listening to the music on it’s own is a delight, but when paired with the images on screen, it takes the film to new heights.
So, What Makes A Good Sequel- All of those things aside, there’s still the matter of what makes a good sequel. Which is, take the characters that were introduced in the earlier film, have them grow and change somewhat from the events of the first film, and to up the stakes. Things that this film does in spades. Some may say that this may be because that while George Lucas crafted the story, the actual screenplay for this movie was written by Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett (a science fiction writer who is often referred to as the Queen of Space Opera)
This movie is one of those rare sequels where all of the above is going on, and this movie feels like a necessary continuation of the story, and not merely Star Wars: The Search For More Money. While I do hold out that Star Wars is one of the greatest films of all time, it’s The Empire Strikes Back that must go down as the greatest film sequel of all time.