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Help Me Understand Empire Strikes Back?

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Before you say anything, the answer is yes, I’ve seen all of the original trilogy. My current favorite is the original Star Wars from '77. The thing is, every single site and friend that I’ve seen and talked to about their preference has always been Empire Strikes Back. I agree there are so many memorable moments, even the major reveal near the end, but I feel like I’m missing a feeling or something that everyone else got after watching it. It’s a great movie for sure, but i guess for me it just seemed either too fast paced… or too slow paced… the plot was hard for me to follow. Though I’m honestly not sure if that’s the case. I’ve tried re-watching it multiple times, but it never caught my interest after the first scenes before they evacuate the Hoth system.
I also understand at how hyped up it was in 1980 when they began showing it, so the history even is there in my head, saying with them that " This movie should be FANTASTIC!" and then everyone else says it is and I guess I don’t know what happened?

So given this, thanks for reading that long essay (sorry about that), and maybe there’s something I’m missing?

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You haven’t said how have you seen this movie—on a laptop, smartphone, a small TV screen, tablet?

If that is how you watched it, I don’t blame you for not getting into. Most of the special effects in it deserves to be seen on a larger canvas.

I’m a Gen X’er and the first time I’ve seen this movie was on the big screen at the time that it came out. Being that it was my first Star Wars film, I totally enjoyed the Han and Leia bickering, 3PO’s prissiness, the running gag on the Falcon’s mishaps, and the music score. The more I watched it, the more discoveries I’ve made.

However, I totally understand why you would feel indifferent about a movie where many people you know praised it. I have that same feeling with “Do The Right Thing.” I saw it once, I hated it, and I never saw it again, despite the honors the film got over the years.

On the other hand, I saw “Alien 3” on the big-screen and I didn’t like it because I expected to be at the level of “Aliens.” But, because I liked the Elliot Goldenthal music score, I saw the film again a few years later and, somehow, I enjoyed the film’s “killing its victims, one-by-one” approach, like in the first “Alien” film.

So, I wouldn’t worry about you’re not liking ESB. My advice is to take a long break from this movie and let it disappear from your memory.

If this “your-not-liking-ESB-but-others-do” thing still bothers you, then schedule a time to watch the film, once more. This time, take some friends along, and go to a theatre to see it on a big-screen, preferably from a film print. If that is not option, then find a concert venue where the film is shown while a large orchestra performs the music score on stage. Maybe with all the scenery being enlarged, and with high fidelity sound, the film can finally speak to you.

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alexp120 said:

You haven’t said how have you seen this movie—on a laptop, smartphone, a small TV screen, tablet?

If that is how you watched it, I don’t blame you for not getting into. Most of the special effects in it deserves to be seen on a larger canvas.

I’m a Gen X’er and the first time I’ve seen this movie was on the big screen at the time that it came out. Being that it was my first Star Wars film, I totally enjoyed the Han and Leia bickering, 3PO’s prissiness, the running gag on the Falcon’s mishaps, and the music score. The more I watched it, the more discoveries I’ve made.

However, I totally understand why you would feel indifferent about a movie where many people you know praised it. I have that same feeling with “Do The Right Thing.” I saw it once, I hated it, and I never saw it again, despite the honors the film got over the years.

On the other hand, I saw “Alien 3” on the big-screen and I didn’t like it because I expected to be at the level of “Aliens.” But, because I liked the Elliot Goldenthal music score, I saw the film again a few years later and, somehow, I enjoyed the film’s “killing its victims, one-by-one” approach, like in the first “Alien” film.

So, I wouldn’t worry about you’re not liking ESB. My advice is to take a long break from this movie and let it disappear from your memory.

If this “your-not-liking-ESB-but-others-do” thing still bothers you, then schedule a time to watch the film, once more. This time, take some friends along, and go to a theatre to see it on a big-screen, preferably from a film print. If that is not option, then find a concert venue where the film is shown while a large orchestra performs the music score on stage. Maybe with all the scenery being enlarged, and with high fidelity sound, the film can finally speak to you.

To answer your first question, the only place I’ve ever watched it was actually on my laptop. So that’s something I guess. and I have a week to myself coming up soon, so I may rewatch it then. I would love to see it with friends, but the only problem with that is that most of them are quite busy or on vacation. I do have a DVD of it, as well as Harmy’s Despecialized. I don’t have the biggest TV, but i mean… I don’t know if its big enough to be the large scale viewing you’re referring to. I’ll definitely give the film another watch. Thanks for the advice, I’ll post again here afterwards.

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Wow, your post is so interesting because TESB is my favourite movie of all time (alongside Conan '82) so it’s really hard for me to step outside of my own inner echo-chamber here.

The only perspective I can offer is the one of having been there at the time. If you can picture a moment where there was only Star Wars itself - there was the awesome spectacle of this incredible movie with its robots and lightsabers and tie fighters and all that stuff - but there was no ‘Vader as father’, no Yoda, no Han and Leia romance, no Hoth or Asteroid field or Cloud City or Lando or Boba Fett or the Millennium Falcon doing 360 spins between Star Destroyers…

I mean Star Wars II could have just been Star Wars II - a new adventure in the same style as the first - but TESB changed everything. It had an edge and depth to it that we simply weren’t expecting. The rebels were decimated, Han got the girl (not Luke!), the bad guy was possibly the hero’s father, the Force was now this heavy space-Buddhism and Luke was really struggling with it and possibly risking his soul, Obi Wan had potentially lied to him, Han’s fate was uncertain, Luke had a potential replacement in the wings if he blew it…I mean it took these characters that we’d fallen in love with in '77 and put them through hell! It wasn’t joyless - there was humour and great lines and fussy robots - but it was heavy and gave the whole thing weight where it could’ve just been ‘the further adventures of…’.

There were the visuals and set pieces too - Hoth with its armoured Walkers, Dagobah with its weird vision-cave, Vader’s huge ship, Cloud City etc etc. It was just such an exciting and crazy next step for what had started out as basically a fun adventure.

I was 8 when I saw Star Wars and 11 when I saw TESB. I didn’t think about why I loved TESB, I just loved it. Looking at my respective ages there, it’s easy to see why I responded the way I did, just as it’s easy (now) to see why ROTJ didn’t quite work for me at age 14. That’s a big part of it of course, but as time has gone by I’ve really come to appreciate the artistry of TESB. Some movies from childhood don’t date so well, even if you still like them subjectively. Star Wars and TESB never diminished in my eyes. The older I get the more I appreciate the greatness of these films and really see just why they struck the chords in me that they did.

Of course we like what we like, and it’s absolutely fine to not like/love TESB! I’m curious to get your feelings on ROTJ and the prequels…

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I was born in 77 and watching TESB on TV in the 80s, I thought it was just meh to be honest. Just couldnt get into it.

Star Wars for me was the bombastic space battles, lasers flying everywhere, but TESB was just dirty. I watched it around xmas time too so next to the tinsel and xmas lights, it just seemed dirty and gritty.

However I’m now in a place where I totally understand it’s greatness and I guess for me, the point is that if ANH was the wonderment of putting on a new pair of shoes and ROTJ was a jazzy pair of trainers. TESB was sinking into something you already owned and discovering new things about it at your own pace.
It adds to the star wars mythos without being a rehash of the original film and it’s totally comfortable in it’s own skin.

It also has one of the best soundtracks too, exemplified by the bit at the end credits which is just epic.

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SteveE said:

I was born in 77 and watching TESB on TV in the 80s, I thought it was just meh to be honest. Just couldnt get into it.

Star Wars for me was the bombastic space battles, lasers flying everywhere, but TESB was just dirty. I watched it around xmas time too so next to the tinsel and xmas lights, it just seemed dirty and gritty.

However I’m now in a place where I totally understand it’s greatness and I guess for me, the point is that if ANH was the wonderment of putting on a new pair of shoes and ROTJ was a jazzy pair of trainers. TESB was sinking into something you already owned and discovering new things about it at your own pace.
It adds to the star wars mythos without being a rehash of the original film and it’s totally comfortable in it’s own skin.

It also has one of the best soundtracks too, exemplified by the bit at the end credits which is just epic.

That’s definitely a good way to see it, and even though I have yet to rewatch it (as I mentioned above), it will help set the tone for sure! Part of me believes Star Wars from 77 was good enough to be it’s own stand-alone story. If it failed, and no sequels were considered, then Star Wars still had a beginning and ending to a story. Maybe thats whats making it seem odd that im not a big fan as ESB as others are. Could be, or could not be the case.

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Shopping Maul said:

Wow, your post is so interesting because TESB is my favourite movie of all time (alongside Conan '82) so it’s really hard for me to step outside of my own inner echo-chamber here.

The only perspective I can offer is the one of having been there at the time. If you can picture a moment where there was only Star Wars itself - there was the awesome spectacle of this incredible movie with its robots and lightsabers and tie fighters and all that stuff - but there was no ‘Vader as father’, no Yoda, no Han and Leia romance, no Hoth or Asteroid field or Cloud City or Lando or Boba Fett or the Millennium Falcon doing 360 spins between Star Destroyers…

I mean Star Wars II could have just been Star Wars II - a new adventure in the same style as the first - but TESB changed everything. It had an edge and depth to it that we simply weren’t expecting. The rebels were decimated, Han got the girl (not Luke!), the bad guy was possibly the hero’s father, the Force was now this heavy space-Buddhism and Luke was really struggling with it and possibly risking his soul, Obi Wan had potentially lied to him, Han’s fate was uncertain, Luke had a potential replacement in the wings if he blew it…I mean it took these characters that we’d fallen in love with in '77 and put them through hell! It wasn’t joyless - there was humour and great lines and fussy robots - but it was heavy and gave the whole thing weight where it could’ve just been ‘the further adventures of…’.

There were the visuals and set pieces too - Hoth with its armoured Walkers, Dagobah with its weird vision-cave, Vader’s huge ship, Cloud City etc etc. It was just such an exciting and crazy next step for what had started out as basically a fun adventure.

I was 8 when I saw Star Wars and 11 when I saw TESB. I didn’t think about why I loved TESB, I just loved it. Looking at my respective ages there, it’s easy to see why I responded the way I did, just as it’s easy (now) to see why ROTJ didn’t quite work for me at age 14. That’s a big part of it of course, but as time has gone by I’ve really come to appreciate the artistry of TESB. Some movies from childhood don’t date so well, even if you still like them subjectively. Star Wars and TESB never diminished in my eyes. The older I get the more I appreciate the greatness of these films and really see just why they struck the chords in me that they did.

Of course we like what we like, and it’s absolutely fine to not like/love TESB! I’m curious to get your feelings on ROTJ and the prequels…

Believe it or not, when I was around 10 or so, Phantom Menace was my favorite of the films. This was all before I even knew that the first film was actually ANH, and even before I knew how much hate it got. When i was at my dad’s or one of mt mom’s friend’s houses, I would always ask for TPM to be turned on. And mind you, I’m currently in my late teenage years, so im part of the newer generation i guess.

After I heard about the original trilogy a few years into my teen years, I got interested and watched it with my best friend since he had a box set of the trilogy. We only had time for one of them, so he was happy with showing me ANH. I kept the Phantom Menace on a little bit of a high mindset though, and just a bit lower were Episodes 2 and 3.

I’m going to be honest, I got into a lot of other things after that, so Star Wars wasn’t the first thing to come to my mind, but I still watched ANH when there was an urge to. And if you’re still following along, that means ESB and ROTJ were the last to really be seen by me.

Ive seen ROTJ only a few times, as it’s my least viewed. So that’s probably another topic for another time when i try that one out again. So yeah, if anything, that probably makes this topic that much more interesting to you!

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I’ll echo what Shopping Maul said about ESB taking the series and mythology therein in a deeper and more powerful direction.

Also, both ESB and Raiders of the Lost Ark were written by Lawrence Kasdan at a time when he was absolutely at the peak of his ability. His snappy dialogue and banter in each film is cut from the same cloth as dialogue from some of the absolute greatest films from the 1940’s (Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man, etc.). It’s an absolute marvel and the actors completely nail their performances.

Also, the technical marvel of things like the Asteroid Chase scene and the Hoth Snow Battle are mind blowing special effects that still hold up when compared to big budget effects movies made 30+ years later!

Basically, ESB is a wonderful fairy tale that adds depth and weight to an already incredible first film while also delivering what is arguably the best story, dialogue, effects, musical score, and character development in the entire series. It is a film made by some of the most talented people to ever work in the medium at a time when they were at the absolute peak of their careers.

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Hal 9000 said:

Watch Pulp Empire.

…Pulp Empire? I’ve never heard of it. Maybe sometime I’ll watch it.

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AMine said:
… the only place I’ve ever watched it was actually on my laptop.

As others mentioned, some movies need a “cinematic” experience to work. It’s related to pacing, photography, sound design, absence of distractions, etc. On a small screen you don’t notice certain details that keep you engaged.

Check if there’s some theater running classical movies around you. It’s a completely different experience. A good example is 2001. Slow movie if you watch it at home, feels tense and fast paced in the theater.

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Of the three, I still think that the original '77 is the best. In fact, I always considered TESB as a much weaker movie, and largely still do. SW is almost a perfect movie, with a great pacing and cohesion, and every scene being important to the plot development. By contrast, TESB to me always seemed like a series of imaginative scenes, rather than a single movie, and some of the scenes are largely irrelevant - the asteroid cave scene to me always seemed silly and extremely unrealistic (gravity, for starters). However, it has two very strong elements - (1) Yoda and the deeper exploration of the spiritual elements, and (2) the climactic scene when Vader puts Han in the freezer. The timing in the latter is really excellent, and everyone’s acting (particularly Carrie and Harrison’s) is top notch. It’s also surprisingly realistic - pretty much how a cruel tyrant and an arrogant victim would likely interact. Vader wastes no time (unlike the emperor in ROTJ where the interaction drags on and becomes unbelievable). So lately I have come to appreciate TESB much more than I did when I was younger. But SW is still my favorite.

"Close the blast doors!"
Puggo’s website | Rescuing Star Wars

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If you were told it was the best Star Wars movie you may have built up an unreasonable expectation. To be fair, Empire is a bit annoying in its ending- although Han’s disappearance is great for the trilogy, as an individual film it isn’t a strong conclusion. I could see how one could be disappointed.

The same thing happened to me with Pulp Fiction, after being introduced to Tarantino with Reservior Dogs (which I like very much) I was surprised to find I didn’t like Pulp Fiction, the legendary movie everyone was hyping me up for.

Maul- A Star Wars Story

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These posts are definietly really helping me, thank you guys so much!

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Gave Empire Strikes Back another watch, as requested. This time, I watched it on our living room TV and with the occasional taking the dog out for a few moments even then, I now better understand the story and the reason it was so loved and praised by many. I do still believe Star Wars '77 is my favorite, but this does fall close behind! Thank you for your help! If anything else wants to be discussed here, then let me know!

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AMine said:

Gave Empire Strikes Back another watch, as requested. This time, I watched it on our living room TV and with the occasional taking the dog out for a few moments even then, I now better understand the story and the reason it was so loved and praised by many. I do still believe Star Wars '77 is my favorite, but this does fall close behind! Thank you for your help! If anything else wants to be discussed here, then let me know!

Well, I’m keen to get your take on Return of the Jedi!

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Shopping Maul said:

AMine said:

Gave Empire Strikes Back another watch, as requested. This time, I watched it on our living room TV and with the occasional taking the dog out for a few moments even then, I now better understand the story and the reason it was so loved and praised by many. I do still believe Star Wars '77 is my favorite, but this does fall close behind! Thank you for your help! If anything else wants to be discussed here, then let me know!

Well, I’m keen to get your take on Return of the Jedi!

I watched Return of the Jedi immediately afterwards, and I missed a few scenes do to having the walk our puppy and such. I loved the ending and the ewoks! Its right under the other 2 in the original trilogy!

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AMine said:
This time, I watched it on our living room TV and with the occasional taking the dog out for a few moments even then, I now better understand the story and the reason it was so loved and praised by many.

Empire is such a mood movie for me, it’s dark and mysterious and spends time more on real characterisation than anything of the others. It’s also strange and ambiguous in places, are there any particular moments that you have in mind? SW is still my favourite because it’s lighter and fits that adventure movie arc, but they’re almost on equal footing.

Yub Nub for life

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Mocata said:

AMine said:
This time, I watched it on our living room TV and with the occasional taking the dog out for a few moments even then, I now better understand the story and the reason it was so loved and praised by many.

Empire is such a mood movie for me, it’s dark and mysterious and spends time more on real characterisation than anything of the others. It’s also strange and ambiguous in places, are there any particular moments that you have in mind? SW is still my favourite because it’s lighter and fits that adventure movie arc, but they’re almost on equal footing.

Well, I mean… personally I find the stranger parts to be the most entertaining to me. If you mean scenes like the introduction of Yoda, or the Ewoks beginning to worship C-3PO, then I have to say those scenes seem like they add alot of character to the surroundings. Maybe that sounds weird. 😛