"For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship.”
-Yoda, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
On Wednesday May 21, 1980, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back opened wide in North America on 126 screens, earning $8.7 million US dollars by the Memorial Day Monday. According to inflation, that would be $27 million by today’s standards for a per screen average (PSA) of roughly $216,000. That would easily make it the highest PSA by today’s standards, and considering today’s big releases open in upwards of 4,000 screens, well, you can do the math.
Numbers aside, with its predecessor having changed the world in 1977, The Empire Strikes Back would go on to be considered one of, if not, the greatest sequel of all-time. And if there was any doubts George Lucas and company could come back with an equally great sophomore effort, well, those thoughts were dismissed either outright or over time.
We now know that it wasn’t universally hailed as a masterpiece back then, that it would take some time before it would take its place among the all-time greats. But it has reached that pantheon, and for a good many Star Wars fans, the film remains the gold standard by which the franchise is judged, plot holes and all.
As for me, I was 4-years-old in 1980 and it was my first formal introduction into this galaxy far, far away. My parents took a one-year-old me to see Star Wars in 1977 but I have no memory of it, but I DO remember The Empire Strikes Back.
I remember the white plains of Hoth, the cold and dangerous Anoat Asteroid Belt, the green of Dagobah, and the beauty of Bespin. I remember tauntaun’s, wampa’s, exogorth’s, and ugnaught’s. I remember AT-AT’s, Imperial Probe Droids, Storm IV Twin-Pod cloud cars, and a weird ship named Slave-1. I didn’t know what most of these were called at the time, but I think you get the point.
But what I remember the most though, and what would be the reason that I became true-blue, no-holds barred, lifelong Star Wars fan, was Yoda. Those images of a puppeteered Yoda, with Dagobah as a background, will forever be imprinted on my brain, and to this day remains my favorite moment of the Skywalker Saga. From his sometimes implacable yet persistent attitude towards an impetuous Luke Skywalker, to his explanation of the Force, (which is still the standard), to his lifting the X-Wing from the quagmire, this is what I think of when I remember not only Episode V, but Star Wars in general.
And there are other memories as well that would remain steadfast in their lifelong struggle to keep my attention where it belongs, on the story. Luke and Vader’s epic duel which would change EVERYTHING, that emotionally crippling ending, Boba Fett’s incredible debut, Force Ghost Obi-Wan, the list goes on, and on, and on. It's a sometimes tense, sometimes swashbuckling, photographically mesmerizing sci-fi/drama that sustains two hours of elaborate parallel storytelling, with an emotional and romantic kicker.
It traded in camp for somber without sacrificing story relevance, and where Star Wars gave us a frolicking more straight-up version of the hero's journey, Empire subverted those notions, flipping traditional storytelling on its head.
So, on its 40th birthday, The Empire Strikes Back remains to me the most memorable theatrical release in the franchise, and one that would forever change the course of my fandom life.
May the Force be with you!
The Empire Strikes Back Time Capsule