To say that The Empire Strikes Back is your favorite Star Wars film is sort of like saying Abbey Road is your favorite Beatles album. Even if your peers may differ in opinion as to which they think is objectively the best from either pop culture catalogue, there is no denying the impact of the aforementioned works. When it comes to the Empire Strikes Back, the second theatrically released film of the Star Wars Saga, there are myriad reasons as to why it is not only the best, but arguably the most important entry of the entire franchise. Empire is more than a monumental achievement for the series -- its release was a watershed moment for film history.
When Star Wars was released in 1977, it redefined what a blockbuster film could be. By borrowing elements from the works of Joseph Campbell, Akira Kurosawa, and E. E. Smith, the film remixed familiar elements from fiction spanning the previous half century and shaped them into something new which would set the stage from a new breed of “hero’s journey” tales for decades to come. But while the inaugural film in what would eventually become one of the greatest sagas ever told through the medium built a new foundation, The Empire Strikes Back, which was released three years later, would turn all the ground work laid before it upside down, creating a challenging story filled with flawed heroes and a structure that would not be confined to adhere to classic storytelling devices. The Empire Strikes Back was, and always will be, a very special film.
How It All Came To Be…
Despite a rough production, George Lucas wound up with a massive hit on his hands with the release of Star Wars, which meant that a sequel was pretty inevitable. Seeing the writing on the wall, Lucas outsourced a lot of help in creating what would become the next entry in the series. In 1978, he hired screenwriter and science fiction short story virtuoso Leigh Brackett to write the follow-up. Sadly, Brackett passed away before finishing the script with Lucas, who was left to rewrite subsequent drafts until hiring Raiders of the Lost Ark screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (who would go on to co-write The Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens and the upcoming Solo: A Star Wars Story) to develop the final script.
Filmmaker Irvin Kershner, one of Lucas’ former professors at USC School of Cinematic Arts, was brought in to take the reins as director. Kershner’s inclusion on the project is often cited one of biggest reasons why The Empire Strikes Back played so differently compared to its predecessor and subsequent installments. Kershner was known for smaller, character-driven dramas that were fraught with emotional turmoil and complex character motivations. With the director’s touch to an already stellar screenplay, what started out as a fun space romp with laser swords and robots quickly evolved into something much darker with more emotional weight. The characters fans fell in love with three years before were put in dire straits, and their fates, at least at the time, did not seem certain.