THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980). The debut of Star Wars superstars Lando, Yoda, the Emperor, and Boba Fett.
This is me, towards the end of April 1980, less than a month before the original release of EMPIRE:
I was well aware that “Star Wars 2” was on the way, and had already sent four cut-out SW figure proof of purchase seals to Kenner for a free action figure of a mystery character, Boba Fett, who would be in the new movie.
When EMPIRE was in theaters, there was an event at the mall where we got to meet “Darth Vader.” My older brother is on the left with half a face (blame it on Vader’s lightsaber), I’m in the middle under the blue hood, and my cousin is on the right with the white shirt. I was in complete awe.
I remember being at a store with my dad after EMPIRE was in theaters but before we had seen it. He bought the new Luke figure for me and the novelization of Empire for the family.
And of course I still have both:
Not long after that, our family went to see it.
I remember loving everything on Hoth (especially the AT-ATs) the first time I saw it.
We saw it at least two times during the original 1980 release. During the second time, my younger brother Andy (age 2) started crying during the Hoth battle so Mom took him out. I remember feeling bad because she was missing one of the best parts of the movie, but later she told me Andy quickly stopped crying and she had been standing at the back of the theater, holding him, and had seen more of the battle than I realized, including Luke getting shot down and destroying the AT-AT, which was one of her favorite parts. Hearing that made me feel better. The stuff I worried about as a kid!
Some of my all time favorite action figures are the vintage AT-AT Driver, Snowtrooper, and AT-AT Commander, so seeing all three share the screen together in EMPIRE does my soul good.
Of course, the Emperor is referenced in dialogue between Tarkin and other Imperial officers in STAR WARS, but I had only seen it once before watching EMPIRE and didn’t remember that at all. I had thought Vader was in charge of the bad-guys. So I remember being shocked when I saw the hologram of the Emperor for the first time, and realizing that this mysterious person was the true leader of the Imperials.
Loved Yoda right away and was OBSESSED with tracking down the Yoda action figure which was near impossible to find at first.
But find one, I did.
I was soooooo confused when Luke had the Force-vision on Dagobah where he cuts off Vader’s head and sees his own face in the helmet. I needed that explained to me following the show.
After the second time seeing it, Dad asked me who I thought made the biggest mistake in the movie. I said Luke. Because he left his training early and fought Vader when he wasn’t ready.
Dad said that actually Yoda had made the biggest mistake. He explained that if Yoda hadn’t lifted Luke’s X-Wing out of the swamp, Luke wouldn’t have been able to leave his training early.
Dad, if you read this, I wish to pick up on this conversation from you know, 38 years ago. Actually, Yoda didn’t make a mistake by lifting the X-Wing out of the swamp because Yoda knew it was necessary for Luke to be tempted/tested by the dark side as part of his Jedi training. And what kind of a test would it have been if Luke had been physically unable to choose the temptation (in this case, leaving his training early)? By lifting the X-Wing from the swamp, Yoda gave Luke the power to choose, which was a necessary element in his progression as a Jedi.
The events that happen on Cloud City are, to me, the most gripping and memorable sequences of the entire SW series.
Luke and Han were my heroes, and watching EMPIRE the first time, my little-kid-mind was not prepared for what happened to them.
I didn’t really understand what had just happened to Han and was feeling very unsettled and then the lightsaber battle hit, and I was terrified.
After Luke had his hand cut off and Vader told him he was his father, I was traumatized and fighting back tears.
As the movie came to an end, I pretended to be asleep. I was too shocked and scared to want to move or talk, so I just sat there pretending to be asleep.
It was a family joke for years that me, such a huge SW fan, fell asleep during the first time seeing EMPIRE. And I never admitted to pretending to be asleep to hide the impact the film had on me until waaay later.
After seeing it, I had to be reassured about a lot of things.
Yes, Luke got his hand cut off, but that’s okay, he has a robot one now.
Yes, Han is frozen in that weird block-thing, but that’s okay, he will be rescued in the next movie.
Yes, Vader said he was Luke’s father, but that’s okay, he was probably lying.
After being reassured, and knowing what to expect, the second time seeing it was a total blast all the way through, without the tears and trauma. I definitely remember enjoying the movie as a whole way more the second time. And that lightsaber fight! The second time around, instead of scaring me to death, it was one of the most thrilling parts of the movie, and remains my favorite Jedi duel from the entire SW series.
In EMPIRE, it’s interesting to note that Vader seems to be the most proactive character in the story. He has one very strong goal throughout the entire movie – to find Luke and convert him to the dark side. The good guys are mostly just reacting to the things Vader is doing to reach this goal. This establishes Vader as the character with all the power, keeping everyone else off balance and falling into place where he wants them. Which makes for quite an ominous middle chapter!
The movie that terrified me. The movie that haunted me for the next three years. The movie I love best.
Ranking the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies turned out to be quite the detour.
COMING NEXT: We return to posts about books, toys, and writing!
#1 The Empire Strikes Back
#2 Star Wars
#3 Raiders of the Lost Ark
#4 Return of the Jedi
#5 The Last Crusade
#6 The Force Awakens
#7 The Temple of Doom
#8 Revenge of the Sith
#9 Rogue One
#11 The Phantom Menace
#12 The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
#13 The Last Jedi
#14 Attack of the Clones