When the Daily Dead team was presented with a list of films to select for our “Class of 1980” special feature series, I was conflicted. I feel like I've already said plenty about The Shining on our Corpse Club podcast, so I took The Empire Strikes Back because what’s left to say about Empire that hasn’t already been said...
But then I watched it for the first time since the pandemic started and, as a standalone film, Empire had the effect on me today that it probably had on many people when it premiered in 1980… seeing what the heroes are put through bummed me out!
The Empire easily overruns the Rebels at the Battle of Hoth, our heroes are betrayed by the person they think is their friend, the guy who came in to save the day in Star Wars is tortured and frozen in carbonite, and the guy that blew up the Death Star gets his hand cut off and is left for dead!
But even though Empire takes a much darker turn than Star Wars by the end, it’s comforting to see the gang back together, and even after seeing this for the millionth (slight exaggeration) time, I still fall in love with the beautiful cinematography, am still mesmerized by John Williams’ score, and find myself smiling from ear to ear while watching Frank Oz at work.
Admittedly, I have had a tough time watching anything too serious over the last few months. I’ve been turning to sitcoms, virtual escape rooms, and video games more than anything, and there’s a good reason why. I want to see something as far away from real life as possible. I don’t want to see people suffering and I want to see the good side win.
Empire helped define modern trilogy structure, so people didn’t know what to expect in 1980 and it would be another three years before the Empire was defeated in The Return of the Jedi. Thankfully, it’s not 1980, I know where this adventure is headed, and I wanted to see the heroes back together to defeat the Empire, so I immediately followed this up with The Return of the Jedi. And after all was said and done, what kept sticking in my head is how much it feels like we’re all in the middle of our own trilogy right now.
Today, we're seeing people tricked in a way that isn't too dissimilar to what Darth Sidious did to the Republic in the Star Wars prequels. I never thought I’d reference the Star Wars prequels at all in my writing, let alone in relation to the current state of the world, but here we are. I also never thought I’d be in the middle of a pandemic where a surprising portion of the population thinks it’s a hoax. I never thought wearing a mask would be a political statement, and I’m appalled that it’s 2020 and people are still being killed and persecuted because of their race, ethnicity, and gender.
When I watched Star Wars as a kid, the message was pretty straightforward. It was easy to tell which side was good and which side was bad. Eight-year-old Jonathan would never have joined the Empire… and I’m sure as hell not going to today.
There are themes that are echoed time and time again through the original Star Wars trilogy that are so important now: doing what is right instead of what is easy, sacrificing personal gain for the collective good, going out of your way to help family and friends in need, and rebelling against what is wrong even though the odds may be against you. What makes Empire so important is that we don’t just see the heroes when they’re at their best, and we don’t see them achieve success at every turn. In a world where we want instant gratification and immediate success, it’s so important to know that failure is a part of life and we’re not always going to be at our best. That’s okay and it’s not a reason to give up the fight!
We’re going through some dark times this year, but when this pandemic is over, you want to say that you did the most you could to protect your family, inspire others, and make this world a better place. And it may seem like it doesn’t matter or that you won’t have an impact on anything, but for so many, this is your hero moment and you can choose to make a difference! A lot of people just don’t realize it. You don’t want to look back at all of this, thinking about what you could have done differently.
But why do we even have to fight, some of you may say? Because it's the right thing to do. Because people are suffering. There are active attempts to silence voices and minimize news on the danger of this virus, but we’re stronger together than we are as individuals, and we need everyone’s help.
For those of you that are fighting for what’s right, keep on fighting! I’ll quote a sequel that was heavily inspired by Empire and that I’ve been keeping in the back of my head during all of this: “The night is darkest just before the dawn.” Things may seem bleak now, but there is a light at the end of this tunnel if we fight together to make a difference.
And for those that don’t know what to do, understand that you can support the fight in different ways. For some, being a hero is staying inside with your family to keep them safe, wearing a mask so you don’t spread coronavirus to others, or it could be donating, protesting, spreading awareness, and helping register people to vote.
There is so much going on in our world right now that may have you depressed and sometimes I feel like nothing is going to get better, but movies are magic, and just when I needed it the most, The Empire Strikes Back and the original Star Wars trilogy gave me the much-needed boost to keep on fighting. Watching Empire with a pandemic-weary set of eyes this month reminded me that not every chapter in our story will end happily, and we’re gonna take our licks, but we’re stronger when we’re together and the fight is far from over!
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