Synopsis: Luke Skywalker dives deeper into the ways of the Force under the guidance of wise yet now cynical Yoda, while Dark Vader and the Empire relentlessly pursue Luke and the Rebel Alliance.
• Easily one of the best sequels ever made.
• The dialogue is marginally better than New Hope, likely thanks to known ad-libbing and new director.
• The main cast from the first film continued to give it their all, while the addition of the ancient Yoda adds a greater sense of depth to the growing mythology.
• A remarkable gauntlet of a story, while the villains technically win. It might very well still be the darkest story of the franchise.
• Even though the dialogue is improved, it is still rather weak, simplistic, and even whiny. This fact likely contributed to famously misremembered lines from the film.
• The depth of character Luke gained was a bit countered by his high pitched whining.
• Had middle story problems of not having a strong beginning or end.
• Nostalgia elevated the film perhaps too much.
While Last Jedi had it polarization, so too did Empire Strikes Back, not that nostalgia allows for such things to be accurately remembered. In fact, critics were rather mixed in their response to the film when released in 1980, perhaps via a mix of hype, dramatic narrative shifts, and the familiar narrative itself. Though there was no true Rotten Tomatoes analogue at the time for user reviews, it also seems likely that there was a small cohort of fans that did not like the radical revelations of opposites Luke and Darth Vader. Obiwan did directly state in New Hope that Vader turned evil and murdered Luke’s father, leading to the continuing point-of-view subplot in the series. It is easy to see how some fans complained, how can the truly good Luke Skywalker be the son of pure evil Darth Vader!? Why did they contradict everything with such a lame excuse? This makes no sense at all! I feel utter revulsion! There is also the interesting argument that Empire might still be the darkest of the franchise: Obiwan technically lied, Luke unfortunately learns Vader his is father, Luke’s father lops his hand off, Han Solo was frozen in carbonite, and the Rebel Alliance ended on the run with perhaps less hope than before.
The positive nostalgia tends to glaze over the reaction in 1980. It has certainly had a negative impact on the continuing franchise, especially for those that just want to sit back and enjoy without incessant, nostalgia-informed whining. So it was OK for future celibate warrior monk Luke to have had what turned out to be an incestuous kiss, but not ok that he was essentially milking a cow for sustenance in self-imposed exile? Psychological issues clearly run in the Skywalker family, why was that forgotten by some fans when they wrote the sequel trilogy? Or perhaps more profound: So merchandising was OK by the 1980s (characters, creatures, ships), but Porgs were somehow not OK in the 2010s? Those are objectively confusing conundrums.
Regardless, Empire was a great entry to the continuing franchise, because of its dramatic narrative shifts that reverberated both narratively and mythologically into today.
Star Wars Franchise
Rotten Tomatoes — 95%