Happy 30th Empire Strikes Back
I can’t believe that The Empire Strikes Back is 30 years old and I still can’t believe that the start of the 80’s was 30 years ago. I still remember when I first saw the movie and the anticipation I had to see the sequel to my all time favorite film, Star Wars. Being that it’s the 30th anniversary of the release of the film this month, I wanted to write about my experience seeing the film for the first time, the impact it had on me just like the first film did, and some history of this great motion picture that is next to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, is arguable one of the best sequel ever made.
When I first saw Star Wars as a little kid in 1977, the film became my whole world. I had ever thing Star Wars from toys, clothes, cups, plates, books, posters, you name it I had it. Since this was way before the boom of VHS, popular films stayed in the theater for a long time and would often get re-released. This was the case with Star Wars and it was the first and only film I saw in a theater more than five times. I first heard rumbles of a new Star Wars film probably in late ’78. It’s either I heard it mention on television or my mom told me about it, but once I knew a sequel was going to be made I couldn’t wait until the day it was coming to theaters.
Before the film was released I was introduced to a new character that was to appear in Empire, Boba Fett. This was only in animated form and he was a part of the Star Wars Holiday Special from 1978 during the cartoon segment of the show. Then in 1979, Kenner toys had a special deal going where if you send a certain amount of proof of purchase cardboard coins, that you had to cut out of the piece of cardboard that every Star Wars figure was incased on, you would get an exclusive Boba Fett action figure that was not sold in stores yet. I quickly got enough to send away for, but by the time I got it they had all ready modified the figure because originally the rocket that was in back of him would launch out, but because of fear of a kid shooting his eye out they fixed it for the rocket couldn’t be removed.
One of the things I remember the most is a year before the release of Empire, my mom took me to one of the re-releases of the first movie and for some reason I thought I was going to see the new Star Wars film. I was all excited that finally a new movie was out, but when the film was about to start I remember some type of teaser trailer was played for Empire, probably saying something like coming next summer, then the movie starts and it’s the same Star Wars film. I remember turning to my mom and saying, “Where’s the new movie?”, and I think my mother just said “I guess it’s not out yet” or something like that. Even though I love watching the first film, but I was very disappointed that the new Star Wars film wasn’t ready yet.
Finally that day came in May of 1980 and the brand new Star Wars film, The Empire Strikes Back hit theaters. I remember going to see it with my family shortly after its release. From what I could remember of that day was excitement, wonder, and joy. While watching it the film still had the same charm and vibe to the original, but it was much darker, which was great for the film. I was introduced to many different worlds and characters such as the ice planet Hoth, Cloud City on the plant Bespin featuring a new character named Lando Carlrissian (played by Billy Dee Williams) who is an old friend to Han Solo, Dagobah the home to Jedi Master Yoda, who teachers Luke Skywalker the ways of the force and trains him to be a Jedi, and finally I get to see Boba Fett in the flesh who is a bounty hunter tracking down Solo.
Although they were a number of moments in the film that stood out to me, but the three that really stand out are Han and Leia’s love affair, Han gets frozen in carbonate, and of course Darth Vader revealing to Luke that he’s his father. Once Han and Leia kissed on the Millennium Falcon I was thinking boy is Luke going to be pissed, that’s his woman. Now this is before anyone knew that Leia and Luke were brother and sister, which made it weirder when it was revealed in Return of the Jedi. It was very clear from Star Wars and the beginning of Empire that Luke and Leia had a romantic relationship. This was also shown more in depth in Marvel Comics’ Star Wars saga between the first film and Empire, with scenes of Luke and Leia kissing and telling each other “I love you.” I was wondering what’s going to happen when Luke finds out and will Han and Luke fight over Leia. Then another curve ball is thrown when Han is frozen in carbonate. At first I thought they killed him, but than once they said he was alive and taken away by Boba Fett, I can only wonder how they were going to rescue Han in the next film.
Then probably one of the biggest cliffhangers of all time is when Vader tells Luke he’s his father. At first it was a double shock to me, because I just witnessed Luke’s hand get cut off and that was very shocking to me at the time, but then I hear Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father? I couldn’t believe what I heard and everyone across America couldn’t believe it ether. After seeing the film, my family and myself were talking about the ending and most of us were thinking that Vader was lying to get Luke to join to the dark side and in the next movie they would explain it.
After finally seeing the most anticipative sequel, I was a bigger Star Wars fan than ever. I was not disappointed with the film at all and loved it as much as the first one. The movie stood on its own and wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill sequel. Unlike Star Wars, where good triumphs over evil, Empire has evil getting the upper hand and leaving you wondering what is going to happen next in the Star Wars saga. The trilogy is like a three act play, the first act introduces the characters and sets everything in motion, the second leaves things in turmoil, and the third solves everything and is the conclusion. Once Empire was out, Star Wars was hotter than ever and it was everywhere and it was a great time to be a kid in the Star Wars universe.
Of course, with a new movie out means new merchandise like toys, books, clothes and other cool Empire stuff. I can remember all the new action figures and toys that came out for Empire and I would try to collect every new figure that was released. I remember during the cold winter of ’80-’81, I would play in the snow and pretend I was on Hoth and that I was Luke Skywalker trying to escape the Wampa monster and fighting battles with the Empire. With Empire having one of their settings in the snow and living in Upstate New York where we got tons of snow every year, gave me a great Star Wars playground right in my backyard.
I also collected many books on Empire and continued to collect Star Wars comics by Marvel. The company published a comic version of the film in singles issues, a giant-size comic of the whole film, and a paperback comic. The one thing different about the paperback was the look of Yoda. He didn’t look the way he did in the film and he looked more like the Crypt Keeper. He was grey and thin and had long stringy white hair. I got this paperback after I seen the film, but I believe it came out just as or right before the film did. I’m not sure if Lucas wanted Yoda’s appearance to be a secret until the film was released and had Marvel draw him totally different. I don’t know, but the comic still had Vader saying he was Luke’s father, which to me is a bigger thing to keep under wraps than what Yoda looks like. I also had the giant-size comic and in that one Yoda looks the way he looks in the movie, so I never found out why he looked different in that paperback version.
Marvel published some great stories after Empire in the Star Wars saga. When collecting the comic between the first two films it was a three-year journey from movie to movie, but I believe Empire only takes place six months or a year after Star Wars. At the time I thought three years have gone by between the films in the Star Wars universe just like the amount of time they were released in, but that wasn’t the case. That’s why I thought, why it took them three years to rescue Han when they know he’s with Jabba the Hutt. During the time between Empire and Jedi in the Marvel version of the Star Wars universe, there was no Han Solo, of course, and the love interest between Luke and Leia was over and never explained why it ended. Luke did have a love interest for a while in the comic during that time and it seemed Leia was jealous, but that was it. Also around this time I joined the Star Wars fan club and got a newsletter every quarter and some cool stickers and patches.
Throughout the years, I found out many things about the making of Empire and its reaction when it was released. Early on I found out that Lucas didn’t direct the second film and instead he had his former college professor from USC School of Cinema-Television, Irvin Kershner as director. Lucas wanted total control of the movie and put up the money to fund it, because he didn’t want 20th Century Fox owning the film and its image. He got a loan from a bank to secure the funding, but later the bank pulled the loan and Lucas had to have Fox get the loan back and he made a deal with the studio that if they get his loan back they would be paid more money for the picture, but Lucas would not lose the rights to the film, future sequels, and merchandising. Also, Lucas was fined $250,000 from the Director’s and Writer’s Guild for not showing the credits in the beginning of the film. They let it slide the first time he did it, but didn’t want him to do it on the sequel, so they fined him and if he didn’t pay they would pull the film from theaters. Lucas paid all the fines, had the credits only appear at the end of the film, and later left both Guilds and the Motion Picture Association. Also, when the film was released it got mixed reviews, but surpassed industry expectations at the box office and within three months of the film’s release, Lucas made $30 million on Empire. The film is also considered the best in the Star Wars series and it is in my Top 5 favorite movies of all time.
Of course since Star Wars debuted in ’77, they have been plenty of parody of the film throughout the years. One of them is The Family Guy’s version of Star Wars called Blue Harvest where Family Guy characters play Star Wars ones. Their latest is a spoof of Empire, called Something, Something Darkside. At the end of the cartoon, they have Lando and Chewbacca in the Falcon about to take off to rescue Han, just like in the real movie. Brian the dog, who plays the Chewbacca character, looks at Lando and says “Hey you’re wearing Han’s clothes.” And then turns to the audience and says, “Watch the real movie and you see Lando wearing Han’s clothes.” I laughed hysterically when I saw that, because I’ve always noticed that Lando had Han’s shirt and vest on. I guess he didn’t have time to pack clothes when he left Cloud City.
The Empire Strikes Back is an excellent installment in the Star Wars saga and had a great impact on the Star Wars fans. Like the first one, the film brought new characters and new worlds to our pop culture. Now, it is 30 years later and the film is still talked about to this day. Whether it is a quote from the movie or a mention of a character, Empire and other Star Wars film have made a lasting impression on our society. For me, the film is still entertaining and magical today, as it was for me when I first saw it as a kid in 1980.