For so cruel and unforgiving a villain as Darth Vader, one doesn’t expect him to fail. And yet, that’s exactly what he does – letting Luke Skywalker (shock twist: his own son) slip through his fingers in the closing moments of The Empire Strikes Back. It’s far from a victory for the good guys, though. It’s proven to be a gruelling two hours, and as the credits roll, I’m still left wondering if A Fool’s Hope would have been a more accurate title for the trilogy’s opening instalment.
No wonder The Empire Strikes Back is typically fans’ favourite film in the original trilogy. It’s the perfect second act, raising the stakes, obscuring the conclusion, developing our ensemble, and delivering one of cinema’s greatest revelations. As they watch Lando and Chewbacca embark on their hunt for Han Solo: What more does the galaxy hold for our heroes?
It’s my least-watched entry in the original trilogy. Probably because, when I was an action-hungry child, not quite the refined, nuanced intellectual I am today, the slow build and underlying menace failed to hold my attention in the same way the assault on the Death Star or the infiltration of Jabba’s Palace did.
I’m glad for its unfamiliarity. Darth Vader’s paternal bombshell still has the power to give me goosebumps. Lando’s betrayal (and subsequent redemption) still catches me unawares. And a film with the heroes constantly on the back foot (paving the way for Rogue One, I guess) still propels me eagerly towards the next film in the series.
Dammit, if only that film wasn’t Return of the Jedi…