There were actually two very good candidates for this week's selection. I was torn between this one and "Airplane!" since the passing of two legends inspired me to pay further homage to them. However, I couldn't decide so I relied on something I hadn't done in years: the old reliable coin flip. Not since the infamous Flip Club of my Principhell days had I done one. Long story short, "Empire" won.
Let it be known now that this movie will forever be known as "The Empire Strikes Back" to me. Not that elongated "Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back" that they tried to change it to once the new "Star Wars" movies started coming out. It never needed all that. Any "Star Wars" purist worth his mettle knows that those four original words of the title were enough to signify it.
I still remember going to see this with the family at the now extinct River Hills Theater in Des Moines. Back then during the 80s, a movie wasn't a true blockbuster unless it got billing there. Going to see a movie in that grandiose 500+ seat theater made the experience more of an event than just a regular outing. It was perfect for the follow-up to the instant classic "Star Wars".
I do have to admit that I initially wasn't a fan of how it started off in the winter environment of Hoth. It made everything looked rather clunky instead of slick like we were accustomed to seeing sci-fi movies. Both the Imperial side with their lummoxing AT-ATs to the snowspeeders on the Rebel side. However, that's what added to George Lucas' brilliance. Transportation would have realistically been constructed like those in order to survive hash winter elements. It therefore made a sci-fi movie more believable.
It was this movie where Darth Vader really came into his own. He was almost a sidekick in the first "Star Wars" when it was obvious he should have been so much more. Lucas quickly recognized that and Vader was able to be the menacing iconic figure that we know him as today. It didn't matter what else was happening on the screen when he was present because you instantly become focused on his imposing appearance accented by James Earl Jones' pitch perfect baritone voice.
Another crucial part of the film's success was the ability to implement two new characters who would instantly become a part of sci-fi lore. Frank Oz's creation of Yoda gave us his arguably best muppet creation to date. Mainly because although we clearly knew he wasn't real, his portrayal along with the interaction with him made it seem as though he very well could be.
Then, of course, there was Lando Calrissian. I would like to say that Lucas may have revived Billy Dee Williams' career with that character, but it never really took off like it should have. Primarily because we just weren't getting starring roles in those days like we do now or even in the 90s when Black films were en vogue. At any rate, Williams brought a new version of suave and cool to the "Star Wars" films that no one has seen since. He had swag before we even knew what it was.
But what really made "The Empire Strikes Back" great was its unorthodox finale. Hollywood had gotten too stagnant by always giving action movies happy endings. This one broke the mold with its overall darker tone which climaxed to a bit of a cliffhanger. Sure, Lucas did it to leave the door open for the inevitable third installment, but it worked out to the film's advantage. It did leave us wanting more while at the same time being more than satisfied with everything that had led us up to that point.
So all in all, director Irvin Kershner (RIP) took on a daunting task to direct the follow-up to an instant classic and ended up knocking it out of the park. It was one of the few instances in movie history where the sequel was better than the original. We are now six "Star Wars" movies, multiple "Clone Wars" episodes and hundreds of books into the "Star Wars" legend and "The Empire Strikes Back" remains the best thing to ever come from that particular universe.