The Empire Strikes Back

Year: 1980
Production Co: Lucasfilm
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Irvin Kirshner
Producer: Gary Kurtz/George Lucas
Writer: George Lucas/Leigh Brackett
Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Frank Oz, David Prowse, James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams, Alec Guiness, Dennis Lawson

Until the release of Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith in 2005, this was the best film of the entire Star Wars saga. Audiences fell in love with Star Wars from the very first, and to dirty it up a bit, make it a bit scarier, make it a bit nastier and leave everything on a bad note (Han Solo in the clutches of Jabba the Hutt, the Rebel Alliance trying to regroup after major losses, Luke with the unpalatable knowledge of his true identity) was genius.

Lucas left the directing duties to his friend and former film school teacher Kirshner. Following the exhaustion of making, promoting and releasing Star Wars (an ordeal that cost him his marriage), the last thing he wanted was to get behind the megaphone again.

But as good as Lucas has always been as a creator of worlds and an editor of action, the prequels of 1999, 2002 and 2005 showed us how bad a writer of dialogue he was and how ham-fisted he was directing drama. It was almost as if he knew his limits and passed the directing baton to Kirshner, knowing he'd do a better job in quality control than trying to write for and film real people. Even Alec Guinness publicly bagged the series, saying he 'couldn't speak such banal lines any longer'.

And dirty things up Kirshner did. Lucas' stamp was still on the screenplay with its clichés and dramatic silliness, but the creation and expansion of the Star Wars universe comprises much of the appeal of the film. A major new character that wasn't even real but a puppet had to carry the emotional core of the entire second act (Yoda), and by Lucas' own admission it was a huge risk to take. Without the talents of Frank Oz on voice and puppetry it might have fallen in an embarrassing heap, but we buy the 800-year-old Jedi master every step (maybe it's because we were all 10 years old).

Like in every other Star Wars film it's the races and chases that really resonate. The Hoth siege, asteroid chase and climactic battle among the engine rooms and main ballast shaft of Bespin stay with you forever, while characters like IG-88, the Wampa ice creature and Admiral Piett achieve cult status (although not as much as Boba Fett, who reached such dizzying heights of fame Lucas himself wanted to explore his origins on Kamino and Geonosis).

To this day it never feels quite right that Luke was with the rest of the gang when they went to attack the shield generator on Endor in Return of the Jedi – he seemed to belong on Dagobah with Artoo while the rest of the guys played up the comedy outrunning Imperial battle cruisers and bickering aboard the Millennium Falcon.

Lucas wouldn't revisit such darkness, loss and betrayal in a Star Wars film for another 23 years – so much so Episode III would be slapped with an 'M' rating in Australia, but The Empire Strikes Back would galvanise the most successful media brand in human history.

But here's something you don't often hear. The big twist of Darth Vader being Luke's father routinely shows up on lists of the biggest shocks, best moments, etc. I remember – at all of nine years old – laughing and thinking to myself 'what is this, The Galactic Bold and the Beautiful?'

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