A long time (30 years) ago…

The best sequel ever made. One of the best films ever made, period. The Empire Strikes Back premiered 30 years ago today, and 30 years later Hollywood still hasn’t figured out how to craft a summer blockbuster that delivers half the adventure, thrills, gravitas, humor and character that Empire pulled off so adroitly.

This was one of the biggest gambles in movie history. Self-financed by George Lucas with his earnings from the original (no one, but no one puts up their own cash for an expensive blockbuster, then or now), Empire took the good guys and sent them through, to put it mildly, hell. It’s one setback after another for our heroes, one brutal defeat only begetting the next and worse one. By the end of the two hours we’ve spent with them, Luke Skywalker is an amputee and Han Solo is an ice cube, both having been tortured and maimed by Darth Vader, who just threw everyone in the world for one hell of a loop.

But that’s Empire – it’s the blockbuster that didn’t play by the rules. No rousing, triumphant finale – just a barely hopeful cliffhanger. No closure. No real sense of optimism. Just brilliant, classical, affecting storytelling, overflowing with wit and imagination.

Yoda. Hoth. Snowspeeders vs. Imperial walkers. The chase through the asteroid field. Boba Fett. Carbonite. John fucking Williams. The craziest game-changing twist ever put to film. How perfect is this movie? Harrison Ford ad-libbed the greatest response to “I love you” that anyone has ever delivered. Even the shit they made up on the fly is classic.

Incomparable amongst films of its type, unique in the uncompromising vision of its creators, The Empire Strikes Back represents everything modern adventure should be but hardly ever is. You watch it and wonder why all movies can’t be like this, why it’s nigh impossible to find this level of care and craftsmanship in its modern day descendants, and why candor over coin is the exception and not the rule.

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