Today! Because I thought they smelled bad on the outside –
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Directed by Irvin Kershner
Starring Mark Hamill (x3), Harrison Ford (x7), Carrie Fisher (x7), Anthony Daniels (x3), James Earl Jones (x6), Kenny Baker (x4), Peter Mayhew (x2), Frank Oz (x8), Alec Guinness (x3), David Prowse (x2), Billy Dee Williams (x2), Julian Glover (x2), Jeremy Bulloch, Kenneth Colley (x3), Denis Lawson, John Ratzenberger (x7), Jason Wingreen
Look, there was bound to come a time on this list where the movies just get crazy great. While there are maybe a few unconventional choices going forward, maybe some preferences inside franchises that are atypical, we’re still largely going to be dealing with super popular or super acclaimed films, by and large. So, like, what is there to say about The Empire Strikes Back that hasn’t already been said? Is there anything in entertainment or pop culture that has been written about more over the last forty years than Star Wars?
So what angle can be taken on Empire? Well, you may have noticed it’s not my favorite film in the series – even though it ends up a relatively close second. And while it is normally heralded as the best film in the series, and therefore most people’s favorite, I’m gonna make a few quick arguments against this idea. One – I like Luke and Han palling around a lot more than their being separate. Sure this gives us the chance to watch Han and Leia get romantic, but I still enjoy the buddy-buddyness of the first and (to a lesser degree) third films better. This is also another reason the new movies – VII and VIII – rankled me so much. After decades away, they had to kill Han off before him and Luke could even high five? Cripes.
(Also, why the hell would Han and Leia name their kid Ben? Han has zero affection for Obi-Wan in IV, so this is pretty pointless pandering. Shit, name the kid Lando, or Bail Organa Solo, or Fuzzball, those make slightly more sense.)
As big a Muppet fan as I am, I always felt the Yoda stuff to be a bit distracting. Sure, he serves a purpose, doing some later life training on young Skywalker, but I never got how the parallel action was supposed to work in this movie. The Han/Leia/Cloud City story seems to take like two days, while it seems that Luke should be on Dagobah for weeks. If you have some theory or read some logic to explain this away, I don’t care – I’m talking about the way the movie actually plays out right in front of your eyes. I don’t have anything against Yoda – I just don’t think it fits into the film terribly well.
As cool as the final showdown with Luke and Vader is, with all their pithy dialogue and big emotional reveals, I think it’s the least of the finales in the original trilogy. Sure, the Death Star movies were naturally going to be bigger and more bombastic, but they are also way more exciting. Also, as much as I love Hoth – my favorite sequence of the movie – I think both of the other film openings on Tatooine are slightly better – Jedi’s Jabba scene certainly, and the set-up of the entire franchise in New Hope, too.
It’s a weird way to talk about my 53rd favorite movie – to just straight run it down the whole post – but this is a movie so revered as to make discussing its greatness almost meaningless. The IMDB has it as the 13th highest rated movie of all time, and if the Academy weren’t a bunch of spineless stick-in-the-muds in ’80 this film would’ve at least been nominated for Best Picture – in a fairly weak year that saw Ordinary People take home the prize (okay, Raging Bull and Elephant Man were also nominated, so it wasn’t that weak). Instead it nabbed three below-the-line nominations, winning for Sound and a special award for Visual Effects, as that category took the year off. By acclaim, it is regarded as one of the best sequels ever made, even if it trails Godfather II, The Dark Knight, Return of the King, and pseudo-sequel The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly on that same IMDB list.
Empire also plunges a bunch of folks squarely into the running for winning the appearances contest, as Harrison Ford (#230 Blade Runner, #71 Last Crusade, #66 Temple of Doom, #201 The Fugitive, #86 Jedi, #175 Patriot Games) and Carrie Fisher (#259 Soapdish, #151 When Harry Met Sally, #146 The Blues Brothers, #180 Hannah and Her Sisters, Jedi, #208 Jay and Silent Bob) become the 15th and 16th Seven-Timers, while Frank Oz (#111 Muppets Take Manhattan, #188 Christmas Carol, #312 Treasure Island, #279 From Space, Jedi, #332 Phantom Menace, Blues Brothers) is now the 8th Eight-Timer! However, the spotlight today is going to our under-the-radar 17th Seven-Timer, the great Cliff Clavin himself, John Ratzenberger! His long association with Pixar (Toy Storys #137 I, #240 II, #152 III, and #97 The Incredibles) and DC (Superman #305 I & #199 II) have enabled him to surprisingly crack the upper echelon! Can he sneak in and steal the whole thing?