Why The Empire Strikes Back Is The Best Movie Of The 1980s

Was the best Star Wars film also the best film of the 80s?

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As part of a series I’m doing, I’ll be looking at what I believe to be the best movie of each decade, starting from the 2000’s and dating back to the 1910’s. In this entry I’ll be looking at the 80’s and Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, and why I believe it to be the best movie of the decade.

As I’ll be stating in each of these articles for those who haven’t read the others, the criteria I’ll be basing this on is a number of different things, ranging from how well-directed the film is, to how important it was to the future of cinema, to its place in popular culture to its rewatchability, how memorable or iconic the film is, how much it made at the box office and how good things such as the performances, cinematography, screenplay and more are. However I’m aware that film is subjective and if you disagree with that opinion then that’s fine and in fact I believe that to be the beauty of cinema. I can’t give a tonne of honourable mentions as there’d be way too many to list, so instead I’m just going to be mentioning one other movie that I believe was more influential and technically impressive than the rest.

When looking at the box office figures for the Empire Strikes Back, they aren’t necessarily all that high by modern standards, with it bringing in an estimated $536 million, but with an estimated budget of $18 million it was certainly considered a success. In addition to this, when you consider that the film was released in 1980 and adjust the figures for inflation, the film becomes the 13th highest-grossing films of all time.

Other films released in the 1980s might have had more influence on the science-fiction genre such as Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, but no movie in the decade, sci-fi or other, proved to be as iconic and memorable to not only film fans but general audience goers too. If you’re reading this article you’re likely a fan of films in more senses of the word than the average person, and as great as Blade Runner is and as moving as the ‘tears in the rain’ monologue is, the fact is most casual audience members today probably aren’t aware of it, whereas you can bet that just about everybody in the world knows who Yoda is, and knows the classic ‘Luke, I am your father’ plot twist (technically it’s ‘No, I am your father’, but a Chinese-whispers-like effect has rendered the quote as ‘Luke, I am your father’) and will recognise the Imperial March theme when they hear it.

Not only are these things so memorable even to this day, but it’s also the film that introduced us to AT-AT Walkers, Boba Fett (one of the coolest ever movie characters) and Lando Calrissian (one of the most complex characters in the Star Wars universe). It also gave us the asteroid field scene, the Battle of Hoth, a fantastic lightsaber battle between Luke and Darth Vader, deepened the relationship between Han and Leia and teased us with the mysterious cliff-hanger of Yoda’s “No, there is another” comment.

Looking back, it’s easy to take Empire for granted, but if you think about how many sequels suffer from “sequelitis” and make for a disappointing movie-going experience, even in the last year, as opposed to how many actually manage to better their predecessor, and especially when that predecessor was as original and iconic as Star Wars. Only a handful of times in movie history has a sequel been significantly better than the first, and this is certainly one of those times. It took all the things we loved about the first one, the characters, the universe, the adventure, and gave us more of it. It took us to new places, introduced us to new characters, gave us more adventures, and while the scope was bigger, the stories were more personal.

This was one of the first films ever to be grittier and darker than the first in a big way, and do so successfully. Thanks to the Imperial March and some more scenes with Vader, we really feel the weight of the Empire and how our band of heroes are losing, with the whole film ending on a down-note with Luke losing his hand and with Han frozen in carbonite. This is all down to a great, daring script, terrific direction from Irvin Kershner and effective performances from the whole cast.

In terms of rewatchability, there are so many different elements to this film what with all of the characters being in different places, and so many layers and tones that it’s a great film if you want a fun sci-fi romp, and it’s a great film if you want a dark space saga or even a family drama (albeit rooted in a futuristic-yet-somehow-in-the-past setting). As a movie that came out almost 40 years ago and that still holds its status as the greatest Star Wars movie of the lot, it’s safe to say it’s been watched a LOT over the years, and many a time it’s been rewatched by the same people. Whether you watch movies for escapism, the hang out with characters, for action and pure entertainment, The Empire Strikes Back really ticks all the boxes.

Despite mixed reviews at the time of its release, Empire Strikes Back has now become the quintessential Star Wars film and one of the most iconic movies of all time, from its score to its characters, from its plot twist to its poster, everybody knows of many different characters, quotes and moments from The Empires Strikes Back even if they haven’t seen it, such is its prevalence in popular culture. Star Wars is maybe the most universally-recognized franchise of all time, and Empire is the best and most memorable of the bunch. In a 2014 Empire poll for the ‘Greatest Movie of All Time’, The Empire Strikes Back beat The Godfather to top the list. While I personally don’t believe it to be quite that good, I certainly do believe it to be the best movie of the 80’s, and one of the most iconic movies ever made.

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