If you look at the words episode five and don’t immediately relate it to Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back then you have lost all of your nerd cred with me. It may just be the greatest sequel of all time and the considered the best of all the Star Wars films. All the protagonists came back and had further character development without revealing them to be too emotional or damaged. Luke got levels in badass and Han was the lovable scoundrel that got the girl and even got the best line ever in response to Leia’s “I love you” before being frozen in carbonite. We got new characters in the shape of awesome bounty hunter Bobba Fett, reverse syntax puppet and Jedi Master Yoda, not to mention cooler than the other side of the pillow Lando Calrissian, possibly the only nonwhite human in the entirety of a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.
Now the movie is exceptional as a sequel for what I believe are two good reasons. The first one was the narrative division. After the evacuation of Hoth, the story now consists of two intersecting parts. On the one side we have Luke and R2D2 going to the swamp planet of Dagobah to find Yoda, all of this was on the info given by a vision from Obi Won Kenobi’s ghost, which we as viewers still don’t know if it’s actually him or Luke going crazy/desperate. And on the other we have Han, Leia, Chewie and C3PO on the Millenium Falcon avoiding the hunting party of a full fledged Imperial fleet constantly at their backs. The danger and action found balance with the developing love story that grew between a Princess with hair buns and a scruffy looking nerf herder. Little did we all know that this was clearly the best romance told over all the films. The shifting between a type of bildungsroman in the search for the power to fulfill his quest for personal vengeance and being the galactic savior and two people from opposite sides of a backstory spectrum and trust issues learn to depend on each other as their lives are most at risk. Personal growth and people coming together in space with laser swords, what else could you possibly ask for more in a movie. It’s not until the very end that the oblivious siblings of Luke and Leia would get back together but Han would be whisked away by Boba Fett to Jabba’s palace and it would apparently be years before the band was brought back together.
While the progression of the story is amazing the ending of the film is what makes it all the more memorable. The reveal of galaxy’s craziest paternity issue in a way that would the producers of The Maury Show blush is perhaps the most memorable and misquoted part of the entire franchise but it is not the most important part in defining the tone. The best part of the movie is that the good guys clearly lost that day. Ice Base on Hoth, completely destroyed. Cloud City, one of the many sacrifices Lando offered to Vader to ensure the survival of his people but betraying his friend was not good enough. In the end before escaping, Lando gives the order to rebel and attack the Empire’s troops, thus triggering a potentially very bloody civil war. Han Solo the best pilot and most charismatic freelancer for the Rebel Force was captured and kept as a trophy for the enjoyment of the quintessential slug adipose rex of a planet neither side cares for. Even without Luke’s psyche being crushed by finally knowing the truth about his father, he trained harder than anyone only to have his ass summarily handed to him and was now left with a very defining injury, cyborg prosthetic or not. Things are just plain horrible for the heroes but they were able to escape together, stare into horizon of empty space with hope, and wait for then ending credits.
There’s no way that a movie could do that and be so critically acclaimed by critics and fans alike if there were no subsequent sequel planned. That same combination of dread but aspirations for a better future is exactly what the viewer felt. If that was the end of the series or just that one movie as a standalone then the movie would never be as good. Why? Because you go to the movies to obtain a sense of closure from a movie. You know it’s part of a trilogy so having unresolved issues at the end is not something that makes you scream WTF?!?!?!?! A movie with that kind of a depressing end with no proper conclusion is the kind of thing that you would see in a foreign film course in college and assume that the director is more pretentious than the genius that the professor claims s/he is. In short, Empire Strikes Back owes it’s legendary status to the fact that A New Hope already did the heavy labor of introducing characters and plot while Return of the Jedi gave a satisfying conclusion to the series, even if it included Ewoks.