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Looking Back on 40 Years of ‘Empire’: How It Changed How We See ‘Star Wars’

We are so excited to celebrate the 40th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back with all of you! This film is special to each of you in your own unique way. What does The Empire Strikes Back mean to us?

Joseph Forbush

Today is the 40th anniversary of one of the greatest films in history – The Empire Strikes Back. It’s grown to become the most popular film in the Star Wars franchise and among my favorite. One of the interesting aspects of the film is its symbolic nature to our journeying’s in life. We all experience a variety of challenges that are unique to us personally that help us grow and become the person we are today. I believe the journey of Luke Skywalker throughout ESB to be the most accurate representation of life. And I feel that this is why The Empire Strikes Back resonates with so many people today. Yeah, we probably aren’t going to go face down a Sith Lord or discuss our life’s problems with a green-skinned alien, but what these stories represent are about how we can grow beyond the circumstances we are given. That’s why I try to follow the wise words of Yoda: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

Jamie Binegar

When I was a kid, Empire Strikes Back was guaranteed to put me to sleep. Something about the whitewashed landscape of Hoth lulled me into Dreamland in the first fifteen minutes. Consequently, as an adult, I didn’t appreciate it nearly as much as other fans. At first.

Hoth still puts me to sleep, but Empire is arguably the best Star Warsfilm in terms of character work. We see a vulnerable side to fierce Leia, and a caring part of the gruff Han Solo. And, of course, Luke goes through the biggest journey of all. 

I can’t say for sure how Empire changed my view on Star Wars as a whole. But I can tell you how it altered my views on life. It reminds us that failure, while scary, while disappointing, is the greatest teacher we have. More importantly, Luke and Yoda show us that failure isn’t the end. It’s just another step along the way. Luke had to fail in the cave and had to chase after his friends in order to learn some hard truths – but he didn’t give up. Yoda, who failed Anakin and the Order in the prequels, got an opportunity to absolve himself by teaching Luke and preparing him to face Vader. 

My favorite scene in the film is Yoda lifting that X-Wing out of the swamp, while Luke watches on, mystified. “I can’t believe it!” he says. Yoda replies with the line that sticks with me every time I doubt myself. “That is why you fail.” 

Dairent D. Beavers Jr.

So, I am one that kind of always roots for the bad guys, the main reason because they never win. This film actually showed the Empire winning and becoming closer to their goal, all while the heroes are scattered and devastated: which will and did set up the amazing finale in Return of the Jedi. Avatar the Last Airbender did the same thing when book 2 ended on an amazing cliffhanger to have all the fans wondering “just how will the trio of heroes truly save the world?” It’s just nice to see a movie go against the status quo of the hero always winning and really seeing a villain best them in the end. 

This was my favorite screenshot because you really saw how powerful Vader was; I mean, he stopped a blaster bolt with his hand like it was nothing. 

Adam Goswick

The Empire Strikes back really changed the game in so many ways for Star Wars. It’s hard to pick just a single reason why I love it or what it changed. We found out everything was more connected than we could have guessed after A New Hope, we were introduced to amazing new characters in Yoda and Lando, and we saw these massive ground vehicles in AT-ATs (pronounced aye-tee aye-tee, of course!). But I think for me the one moment that I keep coming back to is when we learn “There is another.” Not only do we find out the true connection between Vader and Luke, but we also find out there are more connections to be made. And I just love how this scene looks as Yoda watches Luke depart, and the colors tell us how Luke’s X-Wing is departing Dagobah. It’s just shot in such an incredible way, and I stop what I’m doing every time this scene is on TV just to see this play out.

Carla Jo Guthrie

For me, the heart and soul of Star Wars is the struggle between good and evil that all creatures in every galaxy must wage. It is the fight between the Light and the Dark, and our ability to choose between the two.  Empire Strikes Back is my favorite rendition of this story. And in the 40 years I have been watching it, many of the lessons that these movies have taught have become ingrained in my character by the very dialogue of the film itself. To use a quote from the movie: “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.”

Many of the phrases have become the bywords that I use with my friends and family to express myself more fully. A good quote from Star Wars can invest conversations between fans with deeper meaning and finer nuances every time.

And many of my very favorite ones are from Empire Strikes Back.

“Ah! I thought they smelled bad on the outside.

“You look strong enough to pull the ears off a gundar.”

“Who’s scruffy looking?”

“Never tell me the odds!”

“Control, control! You must learn control!”

The dialogue has sunk deeply into my character and gives clarity to communicating with other like- minded folks. And it makes us happy!

“I love you.”   “I know.”

And I love Star Wars! Happy 40th ESB!

Jacob Evans

I don’t love Empire Strikes Back as most Star Wars fans. I do love it because it is Star Wars and adds an amazing wrinkle to the already awesome Star Wars saga. Personally, I don’t rank it as high as most people – I put it toward the bottom. It has action and adventure, but I just don’t put it on when I want to add some Star Wars to my day. I do love it because without it we wouldn’t learn that Darth Vader is Luke’s Father and that our beloved heroes are vulnerable and can be defeated if they are not careful. As far as Empire changing my perspective on Star Wars is that as long as I can remember it’s always been there and so my perspective has not been changed.  I just love all Star Wars and everything to do with it.

Nathan Rojas

Empire is a film that has become legendary in not only the Saga, but also the film as a whole. There’s a multitude of reasons I love it. The many worlds of ice, swamps, and clouds are all so uniquely designed and beautifully brought to life by ILM. The work of the Creature Shop did phenomenally with the puppetry. Yoda in Empire remains the most realistic puppet performance I’ve ever seen. But these are things many can see from a very young age. It’s when you get older that you truly understand that at its core, the heart of its themes is what’s especially captivating in my eyes. The trials of Jedi training are really brought to some of its best on Dagobah. Luke isn’t patient and Yoda doesn’t hesitate to tell him. Failure is especially focused on in the Dark Side Cave and later with the X-Wing lifting from the swamp. “That is why you fail,” remains one of the most powerful moments in any teaching throughout film. It lays the groundwork and gives so much weight to all future stories in Star Wars centered around training with the Force.

The theme of love is also especially prominent. It isn’t super obviously on display, but our core heroes continuously show their hearts for one another: whether it’s everyone worried about Luke freezing and having Han search for him or Luke worried for the safety of his friends and rushing off to save them, abandoning his training. Han and Leia’s feelings developing throughout is also some of the best content in the Saga. Leia has slowly come around to Han’s ways and sees the caring man he is. Han becomes more vulnerable around Leia and shows his care for her from ensuring her safety on Hoth to making sure Chewbacca looks after her. Leia’s “I love you,” is extremely earned. Han’s “I know,” is the perfect response from a smuggler who hides his softness from everyone. With so many things working for it, it’s no wonder so many consider The Empire Strikes Back to be the best entry in the Saga and best sequel of all time.

Will Custer

The Empire Strikes Back is the crowning achievement of both Star Wars and director Irvin Kershner. I don’t remember at what age I saw The Empire Strikes Back for the first time, but I certainly know the impact it had on me. Around the age of seven or so, my dad showed me the original trilogy and The Phantom Menace at home. At the time, that’s all we had in terms of Star Wars movies and my dad was introducing them to me in the lead up to Attack of the Clones. After watching A New Hope, I remember thinking how much fun this universe was.

Then came along The Empire Strikes Back. That movie changed everything for me. It showed me what the possibilities were both in terms of what Star Wars could be, but also how I see stories and other movies. Now, I didn’t have all these thoughts upon first watching it back in 2002, but the more I watch, the more I realize how great and important it is. At the time in 1980, it was the most well-done plot twist that a movie had seen, and quite possibly still is the greatest plot twist in movie history. It changed the course of the story of Star Wars and added a layer to the most compelling villain in the franchise in Darth Vader and added multiple layers to the story’s main protagonist, Luke Skywalker. Not only did Luke find out that Vader was his father, but he also realized that two of his mentors, Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi, misled him and kept the entire truth from him. He felt betrayed by those that he thought he could trust.

The Empire Strikes Back has become such a personal chapter in Star Wars and movies in general. Over time, it has become my favorite movie of all time, and I think it is as close as you can get to a movie being perfect. It takes previously introduced characters and lets them drive the story in the right direction. Those stories are when Star Wars is at its best (see also: Revenge of the Sith and The Last Jedi). It is also when all fictional stories seem to be at their best when the focus is solely on the characters, their interactions, and the consequences of character actions. I’m so thankful to my dad for showing me this movie way back in 2002, and I will always be grateful to Kershner and George Lucas for crafting their masterpiece. It changed how I view Star Wars and storytelling in a significant way.

Nicole Marhenke

I enjoy the Empire Strikes Back for an assortment of reasons. Each time I watch, I find something new that I love, or a new scene will stick out to me. John Williams orchestrated amazing music for The Empire Strikes Back. Perfectly timed. Well executed. 

Empire Strikes Back features many brilliant scenes. Two in particular stand out to me. Chewbecca putting C-3PO’s body back together shows heart and loyalty. The other as I’m such a softie, Han Solo and Princess Leia finally coming together. Both of those scenes pull my heartstrings, but for different reasons. 

Christian Corah

The Empire Strikes Back was one of the movies that I would have on loop growing up. While The Phantom Menace was the first Star Wars movie that I watched, Empire was not far behind. From the beginning of the movie, it just felt different to me. I loved when the AT-ATs slowly approached the rebel base from way off in the distance. It was high stakes, but the heroes still made it out safely. Although I didn’t know the significance of Yoda, I absolutely loved the training on Dagobah. It made me realize what it could take to be a Jedi, and I always found that really cool. So, as a kid, I loved the movie, but some of the deeper themes flew over my head. Now, I understand some of the significant elements in the storytelling. Specifically, the cave scene is very significant in Star Wars. Luke faced in the cave what he feared most and learned from it. This scene has since been replicated by Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Yoda in The Clone Wars, Ezra in Rebels, Cal Kestis in Jedi, Fallen Order, Kylo Ren in the Snoke comic, and Rey in The Last Jedi. These scenes are all some of my personal favorites in Star Wars. So, The Empire Strikes Back was not just great on its own, it inspired other stories in Star Wars to also be great.

Monica

The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite Star Wars film. It’s endlessly quotable with a stack of memorable scenes. It introduces us to the mighty Master Yoda and the ever so charming caped Lando Calrissian. It looks beautiful, it sounds beautiful, and provides a lot of character growth. There isn’t a moment I’m not entertained, my favourite scenes are any involving Han and Leia. 

Among so many others, the visuals of Luke’s one armed handstand while balancing Yoda on his foot, The Millennium Falcon in all her glory making its way through the asteroid field, Luke and Vader coming face to face on Bespin, and the raising of the X-wing on Dagobah are exactly what makes Star Wars so special to me. 

A masterpiece, it is. 

Patrick Mulligan

Empire is one of the rare sequels that outshines the original. It builds out the world in a way that changes the very core of Star Wars and sets the stage for the future of the Saga. It’s a smaller stakes adventure than its predecessor that allows the finer details of the story to be fleshed out. A New Hope is the fast-paced adventure and Empire is the philosophy that makes it matter.  The characters are given more room to breathe; Han and Leia’s relationship develops; Luke grows up a lot and loses a little bit of himself along the way (it’s his hand. He loses his hand), and the audience gets a better understanding of the galaxy. It’s also a challenging sequel that ends with betrayal and dark revelations that rewrote the viewers understanding of the characters. But it’s the film’s explanation of the Force that really resonates with me. Yoda explaining to a disheartened Luke how the Force exists within us and around us, connecting us to nature and each other, is one of the most life affirming ideas in cinema. The concept is presented simply enough that it can mean as much or as little as you’d like. Without this movie taking some chances, Star Wars would never be what it is today. It’s the second movie, but it’s the foundation of the franchise. Empire is everything I love about Star Wars. 

Why do you love The Empire Strikes Back? What’s your story?

Start the discussion on our forum and chat room. May the Force be with you!

Joseph Forbush
“For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is.” — Yoda

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