Technically, I wrote this review 10 years ago for a site called DVDinmyPants.com. That site is long gone, though (you can only find it on the Wayback Machine), and since this is the greatest review in the history of film reviews (and also because of Star Wars mania right now), I’m reposting it here. It’s purposely over the top, but also completely sincere:
The Empire Strikes Back
Let’s cut right to the chase: I fall into the camp that declares The Empire Strikes Back the best of the Star Wars films.
Which means I also fall into the camp of people who actually have an opinion regarding what the best Star Wars film is.
Which means some of you are probably surfing off to another page even as I type this.
I was seven years old when Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back hit the theaters. I can remember it vividly. Just a few years prior, my aunt had taken me to see the original Star Wars at a little single-screen theater on Main Street called the Rialto. It’s an Indian movie theater now, but at the time it had all the fantastic stuff. I saw Nazi faces melt there, and saw the guy from the shark movie get sunburn at night, and saw Elliot find an alien in his yard. It was two blocks from my house. I loved it.
So let’s travel to 1980. Star Wars had left me with some troubling questions of the sort kids are prone to ponder. Where did Darth Vader spin off to at the end of the movie? And it looked like you could see a bit of his face under that helmet during some scenes; what was he really like under there? And Obi Wan Kenobi just disappearing after Vader hit him with the lightsaber. What was up with that? I wondered about these things for many an hour. But a new Star Wars movie was coming, and surely we’d have all our questions answered. Plus – and more importantly – there would be some badass new action figures for my parents to buy me en masse in order to make up for their inability to care about what I did with my time.
I ended up at some obscure mall theater with the next door neighbor and I think some other kid. We were dropped off and left there alone while our parents shopped. Alone. Holy shit! Were all parents this crazy in 1980, or just ours? So we go in, second showing of the day, and strike gold right away. Someone from the last showing had left one of those GIGANTIC, ENORMOUS budget bags of popcorn laying around, unopened! Free popcorn? Already the day was a big victory for us.
And then the movie started.
And this is what we saw.
Okay, first of all, snow? Who knew that Star Wars had snow? But it did. That’s okay, because look! Luke is back! And Chewie! And R2-D2 and C-3PO! And oh, oh, look, look! HAN-FUCKING-SOLO IS BACK! AND HE’S WITH THE REBELS!
It was already the greatest movie ever made.
Yeah, it was awesome. (To this day the Battle for Hoth remains the single best sequence in any Star Wars film, too.)
So I’m seven, and the theater could have been burning down around me and I would not have noticed a damn thing. People could have been stabbing me with hot knives and splashing my face with boiling acid, and goddamnit, my eyes would have been glued to the amazing spectacle on that screen. I hadn’t even reached the grand old age of eight. I was a babe. The term “summer blockbuster” meant the nasty kid down the street who kicked over my alphabet block castles in July. (Get it?) This was pure religion on the big screen.
It just kept coming, too. The second greatest Star Wars sequence is the amazing chase through the asteroid field, with the Millennium Falcon dodging Tie Fighters like the Red-goddamn-Baron. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever before had something so amazing appeared on film. Ever. Sure, the really lame kiss between Han and Leia (ewwwwww!) almost ruined it all, but wow!
Meanwhile, Luke was learning how to be a Jedi from Yoda, a small, green, wrinkled Jedi master who was wise because he was small, green, and wrinkled. I wasn’t a big fan of these scenes then, and I’m not now, but there was one bit of profound, enigmatic, deeply symbolic bit of cinema to be had here – for a seven-year-old, at least. Like, so Luke totally goes into this cave, right? And, like, he sees Darth Vader, right? And so, he like totally cuts off Darth Vader’s head, see, but the helmet, it, like, explodes … AND IT’S LUKE’S FACE UNDERNEATH!!
What did it mean? What could it portend? What was it all about?
I was seven. I had no fucking clue. But I knew one thing for sure: Maaaaaan, was it deep.
So all of a sudden the simple A-to-B plot of Star Wars had turned into, to my seven-year-old self, an amazingly complex science fiction epic that got to the deepest roots of the meaning of life, a profound meditation on fate and faith and loyalty that blew my little mind.
I was in awe.
Han and Leia and crew eventually made it to the coolest city ever, Bespin, and met up with Han’s white black friend, Lando. In Bespin, Darth Vader solidified his place as the baddest mother fucker in the whole goddamn galaxy by stopping blaster bolts with his hand. Did you read that? I’m seven, I’m watching this movie thinking Han Solo is the baddest, smoothest dude out there, he sees Vader and he’s like, boom, already firing … AND VADER STOPS THE BLASTER BOLTS WITH HIS HAND!! I think I may have pissed my pants. This is, in fact, the moment in the theater I remember the most vividly. Sitting there just flabbergasted, thinking, “Oh my god, I can’t believe he just did that. That was the most amazing thing I have ever seen. Ever. In all my long, long years, that is the pinnacle of my life.”
And it still is.
You know the rest. Han Solo gets frozen, Leia shoots it out with a ton of stormtroopers even though she held the blaster rifle like a girl, Boba Fett became a movie legend by not saying anything (those bounty hunters? So, so, so cool. Two seconds of screen time and instant legends), and Luke and Darth Vader had a little fight.
Luke and Darth Vader. Had. A fight.
The fight to end all fights, the battle to end all battles, and the OH MY GOD WHAT THE FUCK moment to trump all OH MY GOD WHAT THE FUCK moments before or since. I mean, this movie already had that awesome snow battle. And the asteroid chase. How’d they manage to cram in this chunk o’ holy-shit-I’m-giddy-just-writing-about-it gold, too? The lightsabers were cool. The sets were cool. The moves were cool. Vader’s cool approach was … cool. For all the intense training and hi-tech wizardry the prequel trilogy brought to the world of lightsaber duels, this remains the granddaddy of them all. King of the hill. Top of the mast.
And it ended with those words. “… your father.”
The theater went dead. Or maybe that was my soul that had died. Darth Vader is … Luke’s … father? But … I … it … Darth … I … but …
When this film ended with that glorious shot of Luke and friends in the Rebel hospital ship, the camera pulling back to reveal the soaring fleet, I knew I had just experienced the greatest two hours of my life. Better than five years later, when I first had sex. Better than five years after that, when I first had sex with another person. And better than five years after that, when I first had sex with another person who wasn’t a relative who had kept me locked in a closet.
Forevermore I would be a slave to whatever George Lucas shat out. (Slight 2015 edit: Yeah, that changed!)
The Bottom Line:
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is the greatest Star Wars film there is and always will be. It has AT-ATs, asteroids, Bespin and Boba Fett. What more do you want?