E is for Empire Strikes Back

Of course it’s also just an excuse for me to ramble on (probably at some length) about Star Wars in general.

If you need a recap, here’s the original Star Wars trilogy in two minutes. And in Lego. Awesome.

We pause briefly to bring you the stats. Mmm, crunchy stats.

1980. To give it its full title, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back arrives. I’d seen Episode IV at the cinema three years ealier – school was closed due to heavy snow and my dad took me to the cinema to see a film which would shape my future film-watching forever. I’d never seen anything quite like it (to be fair, I was six). My life was taken over by the action figures, reading and re-reading the novelisation (this was before the days of VHS, remember), and pretending to be Luke Skywalker whenever possible. Three years later, Empire arrived and I was there.

Clocking it at 8.8 stars on IMDb, it won the Oscar for best sound, and a special achievement award for best visual effects. Number 12 in the IMDb Top 250,  six places ahead of Episode IV, and a full 66 places ahead of Return of the Jedi.  The three prequels (quite rightly) don’t even feature on that list.

It’s widely regarded as the best of the Star Wars movies and definitely the darkest.

We pick up events three years after the first Death Star has been destroyed by Luke and his chums. The Empire is on the move and tracks the rebels down to the frozen world of Hoth. Luke wanders off to go become a Jedi in a swamp whilst the rest of the gang escape in the Millennium Falcon. Fun & hijinks ensue on an asteroid.

Sir, it’s quite possible this asteroid is not entirely stable.
~ C3PO

Han, Chewie, Leia and the ‘droids rock up at Cloud City, meet up with Han’s old buddy Lando Calrissian before things take a turn for the worse. Vader! Fett! Carbonite! Han and Leia share a moment

Leia: I love you.
Han: I know.

Smooth-talker, that Solo. Luke turns up just too late, ends up having an epic lightsaber duel with Darth, then…[spoilers]

I’ll talk about [spoilers] in a minute. If you’ve not seen the film by now (seriously, it’s been 34 years, what *have* you been doing with your time?) go watch it.

Actually, now is a perfect time to discuss running order. Before Episode I turned up in 1999, there was one way to watch Star Wars (albeit in various different incarnations – original, special editions etc). A New Hope > Empire > Jedi. Done, done and done.

Then Lucas decided he wasn’t finished and released Episodes I, II and III. We were left with a quandary. What’s the best order of watching the films?

Purists like myself argued that you watched A New Hope, Empire and then Jedi and tried very hard to ignore the prequels. If pressed, we’d grudgingly admit that if you *had* to, you’d go for release order, that is:

  • A New Hope
  • Empire
  • Jedi
  • Phantom Menace
  • Attack of the Clones
  • Revenge of the Sith

Some would argue (they’d be wrong) that the best order was chronological order. Episodes 1 through 6, in that order.

The trouble with that is that it becomes an entirely different story.

Release order is Luke’s story, with the Anakin backstory. Chronological order is Anakin’s story all the way. It would rob you entirely of that moment in Empire where Darth Vader leans towards Luke and says:

Vader: Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.
Luke: He told me enough! He told me you killed him!
Vader: No. *I* am your father.

WHAT? IS THIS TRUE? COULD IT BE? The audience were totally wrong-footed by this. Is it true? O.M.G. The cinema went bananas at that point.

If you go chronological, you’d be like ‘err, yeah. We totally knew that. Why is everyone looking so surprised?’

So, release order it is.

Or is it?

Let me introduce you to something I heard a while back called the Machete Order – the perfect way to enjoy the movies. Check out the link – it’s long but worth it. Before we get to that, there’s something called the Ernst Rister order.

In a nutshell, you put the prequels in to the middle:

  • A New Hope
  • Empire
  • Phantom Menace
  • Attack of the Clones
  • Revenge of the Sith
  • Jedi

This means the story is still Luke’s. We get the bit at the end of Empire where everything is totally bleak – Han’s frozen & dragged off to Jabba, Luke’s just found out that Vader is dear ol’ dad and we, the audience, are still looking at each other going OMG! WHAT? DID THAT JUST HAPPEN??

Then we cut back to Anakin’s backstory, where we find out how he ended up turning to the dark side, and we end up with the climactic Return of the Jedi. Happy ending, it’s all good.

But it’s not perfect. The Machete Order, however, is. Here we go:

  • A New Hope
  • Empire
  • Phantom Menace
  • Attack of the Clones
  • Revenge of the Sith
  • Jedi

See what he did there? No Phantom Menace. There are several good reasons. Over to Rod Hilton, originator of the Machete Order:

Every character established in Episode I is either killed or removed before it ends (Darth Maul, Qui-Gon, Chancellor Valorum), unimportant (Nute Gunray, Watto), or established better in a later episode (Mace Windu, Darth Sidious). Does it ever matter that Palpatine had an apprentice before Count Dooku? Nope, Darth Maul is killed by the end of Episode I and never referenced again. You may as well just start with the assumption that Dooku was the only apprentice. Does it ever matter that Obi-Wan was being trained by Qui-Gon? Nope, Obi-Wan is well into training Anakin at the start of Episode II, Qui-Gon is completely irrelevant.

Bonuses for this – virtually no Jar-Jar (huzzah!), no Jake Lloyd (sorry kid, you were terrible), you don’t get the slightly uncomfortable bit where Padme gets off with someone she met when he was ten – you just assume they knew each other as kids, none of that taxation of trade routes malarkey. Everything you need to know is set up better in Episode II. No more midichlorian nonsense. Obi Wan is always the master. Hayden Christiansen is always annoying, just like Luke was in the first movie.

You end up with two films setting up Luke, two setting up Anakin, then a nice rounded ending with Return of the Jedi.

Genius. Give it a try.

previously, on The A-Z Challenge
A is for Alien
B is for The Breakfast Club
C is for Catching Fire
D is for Die Hard

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