33 years ago today, the first audiences for "The Empire Strikes Back" stumbled out of theaters with their mouths wide open in shock over what they had just witnessed. Could Darth Vader really be Luke Skywalker’s father? Will Han Solo ever be freed from his Carbonite prison?
"Star Wars" certainly kicked off the greatest space saga ever. However, "The Empire Strikes Back" officially ushered in enough dysfunctional family issues to fill up four more films, a few television shows and movies, and countless comic books and novels.
The story picks up three years after "Star Wars," with the Rebel Alliance hiding out from the Empire on the frozen planet Hoth. After Darth Vader and his armada of Star Destroyers discover the whereabouts of the Rebels, he attacks them and sends them scrambling in different directions. Luke Skywalker and R2-D2 fly off to train under a Jedi Master named Yoda. Han Solo, Chewbacca, Princess Leia Organa, and C-3PO are chased across the galaxy by Vader to a city in the clouds ran by Solo's old friend, Lando Calrissian.
Vader is told by the Emperor he must confront a great disturbance in the Force named Luke Skywalker. The Dark Lord of the Sith captures Han, Leia, Chewie, and C-3PO on Cloud City as a trap to lure Luke away from his training. Vader's goal is to recruit Luke as an ally of the Dark Side or eliminate him.
Creator George Lucas decided to step away from the Director's chair and hand the reins over to his USC School of Cinematic Arts professor Irvin Kirshner. Kirshner refused to do it at first, not wanting to direct a sequel which was destined to be inferior to the original. Thankfully, Kirshner's agent talked him into taking the job.
It's also important to note that this was the first of the "Star Wars" movies to carry an episode title. "Empire" held the sub-title "Episode V" as soon as it was released in theaters. "Episode IV" wasn't added to the beginning crawl of "Star Wars" until its re-release in 1981.
"The Empire Strikes Back" is my personal favorite of the "Star Wars" movies. Its darker atmosphere is one element that puts it at the top of my list. A greater focus on Han Solo is another reason I love the film. I was always attracted to Solo's rebellious attitude and confident swagger. The climactic lightsaber battle between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker was the cherry on top.
Originally, many critics frowned on "Empire" as having no real beginning, middle, or end. They felt it was merely a movie created to bridge the gap between the start of the story and the finale. It has since gone on to be praised as the best film out of all the chapters in the "Star Wars" saga.
"The Empire Strikes Back" is available now on Blu-ray.