BP’s Top 100 Movie Challenge #22: The Empire Strikes Back, by Sarah Brinks
I decided to undertake a movie challenge in 2017. This seemed like a good way to see some classic movies that I have unfortunately never seen. The Battleship Pretension Top 100 list provided such a challenge.
I wrote about how I grew up watching the Star Wars films when I wrote about A New Hope. In fact, it was often an argument between my brother and I about which Star Wars film we would watch. He always wanted to watch Empire because he liked Darth Vader and I always wanted to Return of the Jedi because I like the Ewoks. We ended up watching all of the original trilogy countless times, and as I have gotten older I have grown to appreciate The Empire Strikes Back more and more.
Watching The Empire Strikes Back again this time, I wanted to pay attention to why this film is so successful and a fan favorite. While a lot of it has to do with the darker storyline and an already-established world and cast of characters, I think credit must also go to director Irvin Kershner and director of photography Peter Suschitzky. The look of The Empire Strikes Back is so strong. The way certain scenes are framed are not only good for story telling but are incredibly beautiful. The scene when they are testing the carbonite freezing technology on Han is some of the most beautiful photography in the film.
The darker story line is also key to the film’s love amongst fans. We got a taste of Darth Vader, the Dark Side, and the Empire in A New Hope but we get a lot more in The Empire Strikes Back. Beyond that, we see the full scope of the Empire’s reach and how much of a galactic menace it is. No corner of space is safe, including a small mining company in an out-of-the-way system. The Rebellion learns that the hard way in this film. We also get a hint of Darth Vader and the Emperor’s growing obsession with Luke Skywalker. Given how far Luke has come since A New Hope, it isn’t surprising they feel threatened. And of course, there is the big reveal about Luke’s parentage. I don’t remember the first time I really understood that Vader was Luke’s father, since I grew up with these movies it feels like that was always something I knew. But I can see how that would have been a huge reveal for audiences in 1980.
I also appreciate that the romance is turned up in The Empire Strikes Back. I love Han and Leia together, but there is the very problematic kiss with Luke early in the film. Before the reveal in Return of the Jedi that Leia and Luke are sister, it just seems like she is using him to make Han jealous… but much like Vader being Luke’s father that feels like something I have always known and it always felt gross. Leaving the gross incest behind, the scenes we get of Han and Leia flirt-fighting are great to watch. They had a lot of chemistry on screen so moments like when Leia admits she loves Han and he says he knows are palpable and moving. One moment I noticed watching the film this time that I hadn’t really noticed before is when they are about to freeze Han and Leia locks eyes with Darth Varder and steps back. I don’t know if it was meant to really anything, but knowing that he is also her father, that moment had a lot of weight as I watched it this time.
The Empire Strikes Back introduced us to some new characters in the Star Wars universe. Luke visits Yoda’s home world and we get to enjoy Frank Oz’s fantastic voice and puppetry work. We also get to meet everyone’s favorite rake, Lando Calrissian. Both Lando and Yoda add a lot to the Star Wars universe and become very important to the resolution to come in Return of the Jedi. I am always happy to spend time in this world and was happy to have an excuse to watch The Empire Strikes Back again.
I’ve decided to rate each film using an arbitrary scale based on the board game Battleship (lowest: Destroyer, Submarine, Cruiser, Battleship, highest: Carrier)
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back ranking: Carrier