What is the statute of limitation on a plot spoiler? Yeah, you probably weren’t expecting a question like that to open this opinion piece on the second Star Wars movie and why it’s one of the greatest movies of all time and simply must be seen, but the question stands. Should I, in good faith, mention THE plot twist at the end of the movie that ruined childhoods, shocked people and handed The Simpsons one of its all time funniest moments?
The movie, of course, has been around since 1980, but we live in a time of Netflix, Amazon Prime and DVD binge watching where viewers watch television shows at their own pace to the extent that even a show being discussed like Breaking Bad, which has been off the air for a few years now, is enough to have someone throw out the immortal words, “don’t spoil it for me, I haven’t finished it yet.”
Suffice to say, the climactic moments of The Empire Strikes Back are amongst some of the greatest to ever appear in a Hollywood blockbuster, the icing on an already tasty cake, and that it comes in the third act in what is already one of the greatest movies ever made just makes it all the more better. Like Citizen Kane and Psycho, its massive revelation has passed into the realms of movie legend, the actual words from the scene quoted and mis-quoted frequently, and yet I still find myself apprehensive to get into it all that much. Then again, the Blu Ray box set of the series places the prequels and original movies in numerical order, so for a new generation of fans who are set to watch it for the first time, the twist will be anything but a twist by they come to Episode V, a mistake I didn’t want my younger brother to make when I introduced him to the movies two years ago, with me insisting they be watched in release order.
Taking more of a backseat creatively to focus on the business side of things as producer, George Lucas handed the directorial reins to Irvin Kershner, whilst the screenplay is handed to Leigh Brackett, who died shortly after completing her draft, and Lawrence Kasdan, who polished it up and is probably the one who really pulled the thing together and was, arguably, one of the best screenplay writers of the 1980s (on a non-geek front, The Big Chill, and that’s all I’m going to say).
Although the film was plagued once again by production problems, and the film was entirely financed by Lucas through his company Lucasfilm, which was seen as an incredible risk at the time, and even though I LOVE A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back is an entirely different movie in many ways. I mean, it’s kinda the same too, but you can tell we have a different director who valued talking to his actors about character development, and a script written by someone who wasn’t afraid to take the dialogue above that of a pulpy serial. Much of the dialogue throughout Episode V has passed into the lore of popular culture and is quoted in other movies, television shows, comics and novels, not to mention that weird thing called life, where one quotes the movie to other people, and if you tell me you’ve never done that then I’ll see you in hell. The two most famous lines, of course, being Darth Vader’s revelation to Luke in the film’s dying moments, as well as Luke and Leia’s proclamation of love to each other.
The Empire Strikes Back is the dictionary definition of a perfect movie. It takes risks creatively, and yet it works with a confidence that feels as if everyone knew what they were doing; the performances are perfect, everyone is on point, we have the introduction of Yoda, as well as Lando with Billy Dee Williams bringing so much swagger that you cannot help but love the guy even when he’s being treacherous, we have Hamill showing incredibly deeper layers to Luke which the first film never really hinted at, while Leia and Han have the greatest chemistry of any two movie characters in the 1980s, the film dares to open with its biggest set pieces whilst the elongated final act on Cloud City settles down to a lightsaber duel that builds to the Original Trilogy’s most shocking moment.
I wasn’t born until 1984 and didn’t see these movies until the early 90’s, but can you imagine what it must have been like in 1980 to see this movie and then have to wait three years to see what would happen next. I’m still finding it hard to wait until December 2017 to see what happens next on THAT mountaintop, but to wait three years to see how all of THIS would be resolved must have been hard.
Like the pulp serials of old, The Empire Strikes Back throws in one of the great all time cliffhangers. Secrets are revealed, characters are left in dire predicaments and there is no telling what may happen next. All we can do is look out to the stars and ponder what happens next.
I don’t really want to spoil the movie for anyone, so if you haven’t seen it, stop reading right now and come back after you have viewed it, because I have to talk about the film’s final moments. The story on the making of it and the reactions from everyone are famous; James Earl Jones shouted that Darth Vader was lying when he first delivered the line, Dave Prowse, the actor/bodybuilder who wore the suit on set, delivered a different line of dialogue (“Obi Wan killed your father” is allegedly how it went) in order to keep the surprise, and when the film was released, the innocence of every child watching it was shattered just a little bit in regards to their consumption of movies. I remember shockingly telling my mum about the film’s final moments when I first watched it, only for her to tell me she already knew. ALREADY KNEW? How could this secret have been kept from me. From my mum no less. The question ran through my mind and wouldn’t leave; how was Darth Vader the father of Luke Skywalker.
Of course, I didn’t have to wait three years as Return of the Jedi was on the following week and yet that week still felt like three years. Maybe longer.
The introduction of Yoda, the considerably darker and more complex story telling, the greatest ever score from John Williams and the probably the greatest chase sequence ever in a movie because it takes place in an asteroid field, this isn’t just the greatest sequel ever made, it is in fact one of the greatest movies ever made and has remained so for the last thirty six years. I would tell the movie I love it, but it would simply reply that it knows.
COMING SOON: “Nice night for a walk, hey.“