There are seven live-action Star Wars films that are considered a part of the canon (fans, like myself, tend to ignore the weird Christmas Special as well as the kiddie Ewok films), so it's no surprise that fans can be divided when it comes to choosing their favorite film of the beloved franchise.
The original film set the tone, created the universe and has become one of the most iconic films of all time, so you can imagine that a sequel has a lot to live up to. However, #EmpireStrikesBack did just that, and more! The film is now 36 years old and, in my opinion, is still the perfect example of what a sequel needs to be. It did everything right, and set the bar extremely high for future franchises.
Enjoy my seven reasons why Empire Strikes Back is the best of the franchise, and a perfect sequel to an iconic original story.
1. Immediate Action
The first 30 minutes of Empire not only remind us of how dangerous Darth Vader and the evil Empire are by attacking and destroying the rebel base, but it reminds us that the Rebels are a much smaller force and are outgunned. We see the AT-AT Walkers for the first time and a huge Star Destroyer fleet in orbit over Hoth that chases the Millennium Falcon to Bespin.
We didn't really see how powerful and strong the Empire was in A New Hope. We saw the smallness of the Rebel Alliance, but the Empire didn't seem all that intimidating after Luke's tiny ship blew up the enormous space station with two small shots, but Empire immediately sets this straight, and the film starts you off worried if our heroes can survive.
2. Character Development
Unlike the first film, Empire split the characters into two separate stories. The team on the Millennium Falcon: Han, Leia, Chewbacca and C-3PO, as they attempt to escape the Empire in their damaged ship. They meet up and introduce us to Lando Calrissian. The characters are quickly captured and even tortured by the villain Darth Vader. The second group of Luke and R2-D2 head to a far away planet because Luke hopes to find a Jedi Master who can train him, and we're introduced to Yoda.
Splitting up the characters like this is an awesome way to show growth and development. You get the Han/Leia romance without Luke getting in the way, the droids are split up so they can become seen with their individual personalities instead of solely as a duo, and as the two stories collide we see how much the characters have grown.
3. Expanded Universe
A franchise as galactic as #StarWars needs the universe to grow in each film so we can feel just how enormous and diverse the universe is. In this sequel we are introduced to new and iconic locations: Hoth, Cloud City and Dagobah. Each is unique in their own way, and each serve a purpose in pushing forward the story. We meet several new aliens, meet the diverse bounty hunter group, and meet a new monsters, including a Wampa, Tauntauns, and a space dwelling life form living in an asteroid that almost eats the Millennium Falcon!
4. New And Important Characters
In a sequel it's hard to balance new character development when adding new characters into the growing story. Empire creates several iconic characters in this sequel with Yoda, Lando Calrissian, Emperor Palpatine and Boba Fett. Each continues on in the franchise with necessary connections to the plot, and three of them even become huge within the prequel trilogy. Honestly, can you imagine Star Wars without any of these characters?
5. Great Twist
In the 36 years since Empire was released it's no secret that Darth Vader announces to Luke (after beating him up, and chopping off his hand) that he is the father Luke had been told was killed. This twist has become incredibly iconic, and no one saw it coming.
The twist was kept under wraps, even during filming. It was easy to do because all of Vader's lines were dubbed over the film in post-production anyway. When the film was shot David Prowse, who portrayed Vader physically, used the line "Obi-Wan killed your father," and Hamill responded with the same scream we saw in the final cut. It was unknown to the cast, including Hamill, until the red carpet opening that Vader was actually Anakin Skywalker.
6. Our Heroes Fail To A More Dangerous Villain
Vader had been portrayed as dangerous in the original film — we'd seen him kill his generals, destroy the planet Alderaan, and kill his old mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi. In a good sequel the villain needs to become even more dangerous, and Empire did just that. Not only did he reveal that he's Luke's father, but the reveal came after he had beaten Luke in a duel, even taking one of his hands. It's also revealed that Darth Vader is working with and worshiping the evil Emperor. This teases an even stronger villain, more powerful than Vader.
We also see our heroes fail at the end. They fail to escape the Empire, they fail to save Han Solo, they fail to destroy Vader, and most importantly Luke fails to listen to Master Yoda when he leaves Dagobah to find the others. In the end, Luke goes up against Vader and fails, just as Yoda predicted.
7. Amazing Cliffhanger(s)
The first film in the series was wonderful, but it was wrapped up pretty nicely with no cliffhanger. We knew the Rebels were outgunned and the Empire was still out there, but the immediate danger was gone and instead of a cliffhanger or tease to a next film we got a medal ceremony that celebrated our heroes success.
Empire Strikes Back creates one of the best cliffhangers in cinema history. Not only are fans left shocked that Luke is Vader's father and he's expected to destroy him in the future, but we're also left with the shocking #HanSolo story where he's been taken by the bounty hunter Boba Fett to the gangster Jabba the Hutt. Fans had to wait three years to see what would unfold — can you imagine how the internet would explode with a cliffhanger like this today?