When I submitted my first May the 4th Saga reviews a year and a half ago, I maintained that The Empire Strikes Back was my personal second favorite film of the Saga.
About a month later, it was my fifth favorite.
A few months after that, it was third.
If I’m being completely honest, while the other Star Wars films are pretty set in my favorability order in relation to one another, Empire hops all around the board for me sometimes on a weekly basis. It will never again be my most favorite (that’ll be The Phantom Menace, but every Star Wars film up to this point except Attack of the Clones has taken that title at some point in my life), nor will it ever again be my least favorite (and remember: least favorite is still a favorite!). But of all the Star Wars films, my feelings about Empire are definitely the most complicated.
First, a little history. When I first saw IV-VI in theatres with the Special Edition releases at age 11, it was definitely my least favorite. I found it, on the whole, rather boring, and aside from the Yoda stuff and the classic ending, there wasn’t as many memorable parts compared to the other two. At around age 16-ish, I had gone completely the other way. It was my favorite for how dark and “adult” it was compared to the other two, and I was seeing things I hadn’t seen before that made me love it.
By my mid-20’s, however, I had begun to settle into the order I have now. I have a clearer understanding of what George Lucas was trying to do with the Saga’s story, a better sense of what kind of movies these are, and where their strengths and weaknesses truly lie.
I stand by the assessment I made in my May the 4th review: The Empire Strikes Back is one of the most well-done of the Saga on a technical and compositional level, and should be given every accolade for throwing the narrative curveballs and being a different kind of “part 2” than moviegoers were used to at the time. At the same time, it’s a little too different. It feels, in some respects, like it’s trying to be better than it should be, and thus is really one of the poorer examples of the Star Wars Spirit that makes the Saga as a whole so fun and memorable.
And on a personal level, it’s weird that – consistent with my initial opinions at 11 – it has both some of the most interesting and some of the most boring parts of the entire Saga. Again, I stress that this part is MY OPINION, and not indicative of anyone’s experience but my own. However, there are plenty of days where it’s difficult for me to force myself to care about what Han and Leia are doing and not just fast-forward to Dagobah. I don’t, because it’s Star Wars and fast-forwarding is blasphemy unless you only have time to watch a single scene, but good god do I want to sometimes. But those Yoda scenes are SO GOOD! And the most famous revelation in modern cinema? Perfection! Silly out of context, but still!
My dichotomous feelings about the film are further exacerbated, like everything else these days, by those who also count themselves amongst the Star Wars fanbase. I mentioned recently that I have a hard time watching any of the films nowadays without thinking of how unfair mainstream geekdom has been in their assessment of the Saga, but oddly enough it’s The Empire Strikes Back where it hits the absolute most.
For not only does mainstream geekdom love Empire, it’s almost sacrosanct that self-respecting fans MUST love it BEST, for it is clearly THE BEST of anything and if you disagree YOU DO NOT BELONG! Not bad for a film that had mixed reviews at best during its initial release. I almost wish the same thing would happen to The Phantom Menace in a few decades, though I know it won’t because the internet has a longer memory than the people who populate it.
This attitude makes me want to absolutely hate the movie, especially since this same crowd levies hypocritical criticisms at films for the same so-called “flaws” that they can’t seem to see The Empire Strikes Back has. But I can’t, because it’s Star Wars. I love the movie, and it is really good, just not quite as good as people make it out to be. It’s so confusing to me; how can I love a film to death and still feel it’s overrated? I’m sick of hearing about it, sick of hearing critics citing it as the standard of Science Fiction (especially when it’s a space opera fantasy film like the other five), sick of its general fetishization. If someone picks Empire as their favorite, I’m always questioning whether that’s the truth or if they’re just giving what they’ve been told is the “right” answer. But man, the crawl, and the Battle of Hoth, and Yoda, and Vader laying some cold truth on Luke, I light up when I watch it. Even the boring parts, at the times where I don’t want to skip them.
It’s so hard for me to reconcile it. The film elicits such strong emotions in me both positive and negative, and I never know where to place it. If I place it high, I feel like I’m appeasing the hater crowd. Place it low, and I feel I’m not giving the film its due. Put it midstream, and it feels like a cop-out.
Of course, the truth of the matter is that at the end of the day The Empire Strikes Back is just a freaking movie, just like the other five. As much as we love the Saga, there are more important things in this world to worry about instead of who likes what movie a little bit better. Otherwise, how can any of us truly enjoy them the way they’re meant to be enjoyed?
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