Ok, so before you attack, put down your pitchforks and torches and hear me out. A lot of people say today that Empire Strikes Back is the best of all the Star Wars movies. But people forget that is a retrospective view of the movie. In 1980, when Empire came out it wasn’t as loved by fans as it is today.
You can only say Empire is the best when compared to the whole saga, and after Return of the Jedi came out the whole franchise was a 3 part saga. It took Lucas 16 years to go back and give us the prequels. That’s an important fact, that means fans had 16 years to live with the saga before we were given more of the story. 16 years of fan theories, 16 years of fan fiction, 16 years of non-conical stories being written. 16 years of fans making Star Wars their own.
But when we go back to 1980 and the “greatest” of the Star Wars films came out, how was it received? While some critics praised it, a lot of critics hated it. From the New York Times: “you’re likely to find more beauty, suspense, discipline, craft and art when watching a New York harbor pilot bring the Queen Elizabeth 2 into her Hudson River berth”. And from People Magazine: “The more one sees of the main characters, the less appealing they become. Luke Skywalker is a whiner, Han Solo a sarcastic clod, Princess Leis a nag and C-3PO just a drone. Nor will the acting of the performers who play them, stand much scrutiny”
But the fans loved it right? Well, not exactly. I was 6 when it came out, but some of my older relatives recall fans were torn by the big reveal. People didn’t love the idea that Darth Vader was Luke’s father. How could the hero of the film be the son of the main villain? I have been assured that if the internet was around back then, there’d be a petition to strike that from the cannon as well.
But it has a great plot, right? So I saw a good number of people on line say the plot of Last Jedi is horrible, but I find that amusing since it is the same basic plot as Empire. Let’s be honest here, the Star Wars movies are not Shakespeare. What makes them great are not intricate story lines, but the themes of good and evil, beautiful visuals and an amazing score. So let’s look at the basic plot of Empire, the rebels, princess Leia and her crew, are being chased by the empire. A hotshot pilot keeps making terrible decisions which is what drives the story forward. While a young hero is off on a remote planet learning the ways of the force from and old hermit Jedi master. The young hero decides to leave the remote planet early and confront the main villain. The movie ends on a down note with the rebels barely escaping. Wait a second, that’s the same plot as Last Jedi! They are the same movie with a few differences, but both movies hit the same beats. Also both movies leave you at the end feeling like you have no idea where the franchise is going. In 1980 the end of Empire Strikes back felt open ended, because of the dark tone. It really made you question where the story was headed.
Well it was all part of Lucas’ plan from the beginning, as opposed to them just making it up as they go along now, right? Why do people keep acting like Lucas had a grand plan with the original trilogy? He did not. Look at the opening crawl of the original 1977 release of Star Wars. There was no episode number and no sub title of A New Hope. Both were added later, starting with the episode number. When the movie became a huge hit they added the episode number to indicate more films were gong to be made.
But that all changed after it was a hit, right? Lucas planned out the next 2, right? If you think that, you never heard of Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. That was the title of the original sequel to Star Wars. If it had been made it would have taken the series in a completely different direction. Basically Luke and Leia are not brother and sister, and end up together. Vadar is not their father, and Leia ends up confronting Vadar in a light saber duel and becomes the hero. It has been since turned into a novel and graphic novel, you really should look it up.
But even with Splinter of the Mind’s Eye aside, there still wasn’t a solid plan in place when Empire was made. How do I know that? Han Solo, or to be clearer Harrison Ford. It’s no secret Ford hated playing Han Solo and wanted Lucas to kill the character off. This is why Han get’s frozen in carbonite in Empire. They were still trying to convince Ford to do a third one, which left the fate of the character in question. Of course we all know he eventually agreed to return, but imagine Return of the Jedi with out Han. The first third of the movie doesn’t even exist. So how could he have had a plan? No don’t kid yourself about that, Lucas made it up as he went along.
So why do fans call it the best of the series? Simple, because it’s different. Both A New Hope and Return of the Jedi have happy endings. Both have plots that revolve around destroying the Death Star and they both have a lighthearted theme of hope through out them. But Empire is the opposite of that, everything the good guys do seems to fails, there is a feeling of dread throughout the movie that is set from the moment the heroes loose the battle of Hoth, and ultimately our heroes loose in the end. These differences make the movie stand out in peoples minds, and I believe, in my opinion, that’s why people claim it as their favorite.
Now, depending on where Disney and Abrams take the next one, but there is a good chance they’ll play it safe and go back to the tone of Force Awakens, and if they do that I’m willing to bet that in 15 to 20 years people will look back on The Last Jedi as the best on of this set of the saga. Maybe even one of the best Star Wars of all time, right up there with Empire, because it is different than the others. I could be wrong, but you aren’t going to be the one deciding this.
Remember the movies aren’t for you. At the end of the day these are kids movies. How old were you when Empire came out? I was 6, 9 when Jedi came out. My son was about 8 when he was introduced to Star Wars, and he likes the prequels and the new films. Because these movies all have simple but powerful themes and amazing visuals that stick in the minds of kids. These are the people in 15 years that get to decide if Last Jedi sticks out in their minds as one of the best, and I have a feeling they will. May the Force be with you.
For more about the film and my in depth review check out the latest episode of Super Hero Speak here: http://superherospeak.com/wp/239-the-last-star-wars-fans/