Truth be told, there are easier films to revisit than Empire. Not because it isn’t enjoyable to do so (the number of genuinely superior sci-fi films can probably just about be counted on the fingers of one hand), but because pretty much everything that can be said about it has been already. Thus, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel by finding something ground-breaking to say about Empire, I will simply sing its praises, as we all remind ourselves just how good it really is.


We all know how elite a club Empire belongs to – that consisting of sequels that either measure up to or surpass their progenitors. Alien/Aliens, The Godfather Parts I & 2, Toy Story 1 & 2, X-Men, Blade, Spider-man, The Dark Knight. That’s a pretty impressive and select group to belong to. It goes without saying that Empire benefits massively from George Lucas’s commendable decision to hand over the writing and directing reins to others, leaving himself with no more than a “story by” credit.

Just as Harry Potter benefited from the shifts in tone permitted by the departure of the capable but workmanlike Chris Columbus after the first two instalments, so Irvin Kershner’s arrival (with due credit to writers Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett) ushered in an altogether darker, more grown-up approach to the material, resulting in a film not matched for quality by any other in the franchise and well deserving of its place alongside Alien, Blade Runner, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and so forth at the very apex of the genre.

The unprecedented and entirely unanticipated success of Star Wars (Spielberg had said it would make $100m, Alec Guinness had wisely opted for gross points, neither quite realised what was coming) afforded Lucas a lot more freedom and certainly a much bigger budget second time around. Although, as with all sequels, there was a loss of the novelty and originality enjoyed by the first instalment, Empire was very much its own creature tonally and narratively, yet with enough through-put of characters and mythology to enable it to feel familiar yet fresh.

What is it that really marks out Empire? Why is it so good? Let me count the ways…

1. Boba Fett, the coolest character in the entire Star Wars universe, features heavily

2. The AT-AT assault on Hoth is hugely impressive, a sensational opening for the film, throwing us straight into the action

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3. In Luke’s dream-sequence fight with Vader, we encounter the idea of him destroying himself in destroying Vader, a moment of unexpected psychological depth and subtlety in a franchise that would eventually give us Jar Jar Binks

4. “I love you!”

5. “I know.”

6. Vader’s revelation about Luke’s father, a gut punch whose impact at he time is nigh on impossible to imagine, so inured to it as we now are.

7. The bleak note on which it ends – Han frozen, Luke handless and devastated, Lando a traitor. Even with the knowledge that the finale was yet to come, U certificated films had no business being this harsh.

It was downhill all the way from here on in. Jedi would have to end more upbeat, it would have been unconscionable for it to be otherwise and much as Revenge of the Sith ended on and contained some pretty dark beats, we watched it with the knowledge of all that was to come and with Lucas tying himself in knots to get the end of one section of track to match up with the beginning of what had already been laid it felt too clinical, too calculated, too lacking in freedom. Depending on your mood, you might rate Star Wars more highly than Empire, but the rest of the franchise can’t come close.

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Dave Roper
Dave has been writing for HeyUGuys since mid-2010 and has found them to be the most intelligent, friendly, erudite and insightful bunch of film fans you could hope to work with. He's gone from ham-fisted attempts at writing the news to interviewing Lawrence Bender, Renny Harlin and Julian Glover, to writing articles about things he loves that people have actually read. He has fairly broad tastes as far as films are concerned, though given the choice he's likely to go for Con Air over Battleship Potemkin most days. He's pretty sure that 2001: A Space Odyssey is the most overrated mess in cinematic history.