by Andrew Cook
I was asked to write about Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back for the countdown. Empire Strikes Back is one of the first films I fell in love with as a kid, and it’s an honor and joy to get to share my thoughts.
Empire Strikes Back is a wonderful film, and an immensely influential one that has defined our approach to sequels and mythological storytelling. It’s beautifully written, filmed, and scored, and Ben Burtt’s sound design is as essential as ever. Empire Strikes Back has a secret weapon, however, that takes it to a new level of depth: context. Empire Strikes Back has the privilege of being intricately connected to six other films, forming a thematic and conceptual nexus that makes each individual film more profound.
I’ll try not to spend too long on plot summary since I’m sure we’re all familiar, but I’d be remiss not to comment on how beautifully the film begins. The Empire Strikes Back opens by rendering the victory at the end of the previous film into a painfully short-lived respite. This is a great beginning in it’s own right, but is perhaps the first example of a great film being made greater by it’s inclusion in a whole. Over the series’ seven films, especially the prequel trilogy, Lucas and his collaborators build a theme of war as inherently Pyrrhic victory, of the need to put an end to violence and exist peacefully. Symbiosis, if you will. This theme begins in the previous film with Obi-Wan’s non-violent sacrifice, and it’s expanded upon here, but it only grows more powerful in subsequent films, and upon viewing the saga as a whole. From the total failure wrought by the heroes’ aggression in The Phantom Menace to the militaristic self-righteousness of the Jedi in Attack of the Clones to the moral decay of Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith, reverberations within the saga echo off each other. (more…)