Nearly three years to the date that George Lucas’ Star Wars hit theaters to kick off a global phenomenon in 1977, audiences were back in theaters to witness the second chapter of the epic saga. Veteran filmmaker Irvin Kershner took the helm to direct The Empire Strikes Back from a screenplay penned by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan based on a story by Lucas.
On May 21, 1980, the growing Star Wars fandom would be introduced to new planets such as Hoth and Dagobah, and viewers would gasp at the revelation that Obi-Wan Kenobi (Sir Alec Guinness) wasn’t entirely forthcoming when he told Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) what happened to his dad. By the time that Darth Vader (performed by David Prowse and voiced by James Earl Jones) told the budding Jedi that he was, in fact, his father, the Star Wars universe had been massively expanded with the introduction of characters such as Yoda (Frank Oz), Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch), and Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), not to mention a full crew of sinister bounty hunters, new aliens, new Droids, and Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) maturing from a damsel in distress into a leader of the Rebellion during the Battle of Hoth.
In the years following its release, The Empire Strikes Back became legendary as a saga favorite for many Star Wars fans and a shining example of how a sequel can surpass an original story. Plus, it reminds us that movies don’t always need to come with a happy ending.
While the film was nearly universally hailed as a cinematic achievement for its visuals — created under Lucas’ supervision through his growing visual effects company Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) — it wasn’t necessarily received as a masterpiece by everyone right out of the gate.
The New York Times said “The Empire Strikes Back Strikes a Bland Note,” and The Hollywood Reporter famously confused Yoda and Boba Fett in a review that went to print calling the bounty hunter “a fascinating green-hued character” that provides “most of Luke Skywalker’s good advice.” Oops.
On its 40th anniversary, The Empire Strikes Back feels a lot like a metaphor for 2020. The Rebellion is beaten and battered as The Empire makes its presence known with battalions of Imperial Stormtroopers setting up shop in locations such as the idyllic Cloud City that had at one point seemed far, far away from the revolution.
Celebrate 40 Years of Empire
This year, fans can find a host of awesome merch that celebrates the anniversary, including new waves of Hasbro’s Star Wars: The Black Series action figures that come packaged on cardbacks that recall the toys that kids who grew up playing with the original Kenner Empire Strikes Back collection will remember and love.
Additionally, shopDisney offers an exclusive collection of products including apparel, accessories, and a die-cast Probe Droid replica that is perfect for scouting icy planets that have become a haven for Rebel scum.
This article was originally published in Issue No. 7 of the Pop Insider. Click here to read the full issue!