So, a couple of months ago, Jon watched Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes back, and as we tend to do on 9ES, we ranked the movie. Jon laid it all on the line and vaulted the arguably best Star Wars movie straight to the top of “The List“.

Scott is currently texting me right now about how Fury Road is all style no-substance. What I don’t think he’s remembering correctly is that Empire Strikes back is very little style, very little substance. It’s not the best movie ever made. It’s not better than Brick and it’s not better than Fury Road. It might be as good as John Wick, but even then I’d be skeptical. The only reason Empire even deserves to be as high as that is pure nostalgia, which I’ll admit is definitely a weighted factor on The List (looking at you “Hackers”).still-swV-theempirestrikesback-0022

Full disclosure: Even though I’m about to tear into Empire Strikes Back, it remains one of my favorite movies and is still my favorite of the Star Wars franchise.

It hurts to have to do this.

Randal Graves: Which did you like better? “Jedi” or “The Empire Strikes Back”?
Dante Hicks: “Empire”.
Randal Graves: Blasphemy.
Dante Hicks: “Empire” had the better ending. I mean, Luke gets his hand cut off, finds out Vader’s his father, Han gets frozen and taken away by Boba Fett. It ends on such a down note. I mean, that’s what life is, a series of down endings. All “Jedi” had was a bunch of Muppets.
-Dante and Randal, Clerks, 1994.

What makes a good movie? What makes a great movie? Without getting overly bogged down into film theory I think we can safely assume that the things we look for in a good movie are: cinematography, writing and performance. Special effects are a fun bonus, but obviously great movies (Brick) don’t need them, but being shot well is a must.

Cinematography:

FURY ROADThink about how many truly great shots there are in Empire. Truth is, there are barely any with any originality. The big space ships in space had already been done in New Hope. The Hoth battle is less intense than the Death Star run. Most of the movie is shot pretty close up on set pieces with the visual flair of a made for TV sci-fi series (inside the monster in the asteroid field, Cloud City, Degobah, etc).

The only shot that really springs to mind is the classic of Vader reaching out his hand to declare his fatherhood to Luke. And even then, I have a hard time separating that scene with the emotional resonance that it hit me with when I was like 7. Is the shot itself really that compelling?

The other “cool” looking thing is Cloud City itself, and really, that’s just a nice matte painting.

Compare with the shots of the drain tunnel in Brick, or the bleak looking football field. Or you know, almost any other shot in Brick. Rian Johnson creates a visually compelling world of high school kids trapped in a film noir and he did it for $450,000. Empire cost between 18 and 33 million depending on the estimates in 1980. If Johnson shot Brick in 1980 it would cost under $200k. Just saying.

Fury Road on the other hand is basically 2 hours of visually stunning insanity. And this is outside of just the mind blowing special effects shots. The choice of colour, use of dynamic tracking shots, amazing eye for close ups, the list goes on and on.

From a purely “how well was the film shot” standpoint, Empire has no reason to stand above those two films.

brick1Writing:

I don’t think I even need to argue that Brick is a better written film than Empire. Every line of dialogue is fantastic and the twists and turns of the mystery are compelling and suck you in immediately.

There is obviously an argument to be made that Fury Road doesn’t have a lot of writing, it’s very bare on dialogue and the plot is incredibly direct and simplistic. What Fury Road does have going for it is: a) incredible world building and b) consistent characters who make decisions based on the information they have.

Everyone in Empire is a dumb-dumb.

All of the drama in The Empire Strikes Back stems from our heroes being pretty inept, not planning anything and ignoring people who know better than them (or, the people we’re supposed to think know better than them are actually also dumb-dumbs).

The Rebellion need to plan better. Like, a lot better. The opening Act of the movie takes place on Hoth. The ice planet. A planet of ice. Most of the drama takes place around Luke getting hit in the head and captured by a Wampa (way to go) and then Han heading out into the cold to rescue him. The Rebellion decided to hide out there since it’s a desolate frozen wasteland and didn’t think about the fact that they’d need to do maintenance on their speeders to work in said frozen wasteland? How long have they been on Hoth? How long did it take them to fix this problem? Shouldn’t they have thought of this before even choosing to build a massive subterranean ice-base?

still-swV-theempirestrikesback-0018Han and Chewbacca need to learn how to fix the Millennium Falcon. The entire story line with Han and Leia being separated from the Rebellion, going to Cloud City and getting captured is tied directly to the fact that the Millennium Falcon has no hyper-drive. Again, how long have they been working on this problem? You can make the argument that resources are limited on Hoth, but a huge portion of the Rebel fleet was there on Hoth. Someone needs to know how to fix a hyperdrive. Lando’s people take care of it in what, a day or two? Here’s a link to the script. CTRL-F “hyperdrive” and read the 10 references the movie actually makes to the hyperdrive.

Han and Chewie are seen in the opening scene trying to fix the ship, escape Hoth, but can’t make the jump. They plug in C-3PO to the hyperdrive and then forget about it. They fix the transfer circuits and fly out of the space slug and then it still doesn’t work. So they fly to Cloud City (with Boba Fett sneakily on their trail) and get captured.

The major occurrences of their storyline have to do with being garbage at the main thing they’re supposed to be good at (sure Han’s job is “smuggler” but I would say “keeping the Falcon going” is the main reason he’s good at being a smuggler).

Also, and I don’t really remember this correctly so this may be anecdotal, doesn’t the hyperdrive work in Force Awakens? That thing can just sit around rusting for like a decade and still fly straight, but under regular maintenance it falls apart? Also, how did Han straight up lose the Falcon? Did he misplace it?

Either Luke or Yoda (or both) are dumb. You know how we often shit on Harry Potter for ignoring the advice of the older wizards and doing whatever he wants to and then not really having to deal with the consequences? And that kind of writing undermines the character who is supposed to be sage-like and wraps the main character in a protective bubble where they can do no wrong? Star Wars does this.

FURY ROADYoda is a centuries years old Jedi Master who maybe knows a thing or two about how the Force interacts with all of reality and Luke is a moisture farmer from Tatooine. I don’t know Luke, maybe listen to the Jedi Master like once in the movie and you’ll do better. Luke is constantly complaining it’s too hard to be a Jedi, ignoring Yoda. Yoda tells him he doesn’t need his lightsaber in the cave, Luke ignores him. Yoda tells him not to abandon his training and he’s not ready to face Vader, Luke ignores him.

This would be all well and good if anything actually bad came from Luke straight up ignoring the most powerful Jedi alive. But long-term, nothing does. Han is frozen before Luke gets there, and Lando basically uses his status as Mayor of Cloud Town to escape with Leia, Chewbacca and the droids. Luke did nothing by leaving to go help his friends. The only (slight) argument you can make is that Vader being tied up fighting Luke provides the window for Lando and Leia to escape. Yoda was right and Luke is an idiot.

Long term (and we can’t really discuss that since we’re just talking about Empire) it has even less impact, since Han being frozen is basically immediately undone at the beginning of Jedi and Luke’s lack of training just maybe makes his showdown with the Emperor last a few more minutes. There was never a downside to ignoring Yoda.

In addition, the world building of Empire is super weak. Every single location (Hoth, Degobah, asteroid field, Empire fleet, Cloud City) is cut off from the entire galaxy and offers no real explanation about how the Star Wars universe really functions as a living, breathing place that people live in. Empire is even devoid of the classic “Star Wars space diversity scene” like the cantina, Jabba’s palace or Maz’s bar. They’re just these isolated places that provide no depth to the larger world of the setting.

Finally, the huge “twist” of Empire is finding out Vader is Luke’s dad. While it blew my mind as a kid, the “secretly related” twist has to be the most cliché trope in the world.

Then there’s the dialogue. It’s not great. Literally the best line of the film (“I know”) was ad libbed. Empire’s best moments are stand alone lines of dialogue. ie: “Who’s scruffy looking?” – “I am your father” – “It’s not my fault!”. Fury Road can easily go one-to-one with that kind of punchy dialogue with stuff like “What a lovely day!” – “Mediocre” – “Witness me!” I will admit this isn’t Fury Road’s strength, but by golly is it a strong point for Brick. The dialogue in Brick is head and shoulders above not only Empire, but most movies ever.

Acting:

That brings us to the actual performances. This one is hard because I do love the characters. However, if I’m bringing a critical eye to the acting I have to admit that with the exception of Harrison Ford, nobody is really delivering that compelling of a performance. Even then, I kind of feel like Han Solo is just Harrison Ford being Harrison Ford as a space smuggler. Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher aren’t putting in their best work and Darth Vader is just a cool voice.

Compare that to the knock it out of the park performance of Nicholas Hoult as Nux, or the raw intensity of Theron and Hardy and you have no contest. The performances are better in Fury Road. I would even say that Hugh Keays-Byrne is a better acted villain than Darth Vader. (Better acted, not better villain, credit where credit is due).

Of course, Joseph Gordon-Levitt single handedly delivers a better performance than anything in Empire in Brick. Seriously, go watch Brick.

The only real thing Empire has going for it is the nostalgia factor. But how much of a bonus is that?

If we look at The List, 6 of the Top 10 movies at the time of writing (Empire Strikes Back, Back to the Future, Ghostbusters ’84, A New Hope, Hackers and Hook) are riding pretty big nostalgia bumps

Ibrick2n the three major categories of “how a movie looks”, “the story the movie is telling” and “the performances in the movie” I honestly can’t see why Empire Strikes Back would do better than Brick or Fury Road. I didn’t really provide the comparisons, but I feel like even as a straight movie I would take John Wick or Cabin in the Woods over Empire too, but I’m comfortable with nostalgia riding Empire up to the third place spot.

I know that Jon and Scott will disagree with me and the rating might still stand come this Thursday. However, I demand, if not a re-ranking, then at least a link to this article.

It is good. It is not the best movie ever. Do I succeed in knocking off The Empire Strikes Back from the top spot? Find out Thursday on 9ES!

Keith does all sorts of things here on 9to5.cc, he works with the other founders on 9to5 (illustrated), co-hosts our two podcasts: The 9to5 Entertainment System and Go Plug Yourself and blogs here as The Perspicacious Geek.

Brick and Mad Max: Fury Road images from Cinemablend.
The Empire Strikes Back images from Screencapped.org

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