This is a perfect movie. Really, it is. There is not one change that can be made to this film to make it better. I shouldn’t say that, though, because George Lucas might take that as a challenge, but the fact of the matter is: this film is a monumental piece of cinema that is simultaneously ingenious and awesome.
The reason this film works so well is the plot structure. It’s a perfect installment in a trilogy that develops characters, furthers the actions, fleshes out the universe, and is super awesome. Bridging a trilogy is pretty hit or miss, and the middle installment often times ends up being the weakest of the three. But Empire does everything 100% correctly.
I can’t stress enough the brilliance of Empire‘s plot structure. Our memories actually play tricks on us with the original trilogy when it comes to the core characters. Sure, Han, Luke, and Leia pal around the Death Star in A New Hope, but they spend almost no time together in Empire. There’s a scene in Echo base where the three of them talk, but they split up almost immediately and don’t show up together on screen in full until the next film.
But their stories are closely tied together. If the original trilogy is the story of Luke and Darth Vader, then technically Han and Leia are the B-plot. But their story in this film is pivotal to the A-plot, so no screen time is wasted on anything superfluous. Vader needs Leia and Han to get Luke. Everything builds up to the final confrontation and, ultimately, the reveal.
Kasdan and Kirschner, when making the film, also recognized the difference between importance and interest. That is to say: these characters are not doing the most important thing in the galaxy right now. The first film followed Luke who, at the time, was the most important character in the galaxy because he would go on to destroy the Death Star. For a revamped “Here’s Journey,” that’s fine. But had Luke been at the center of the biggest moment of the Rebel attack in this film AND the next, it would have crossed into unbelievability. This guy is at the center of every important event ever?
Empire is a smaller story. Realistically, nothing after the first ten minutes of the film has any bearing on the fate of Rebel Alliance or the Galactic Empire. This is a story about people. Darth Vader’s desire to find his son. Luke’s quest to become a Jedi Knight. Han and Leia’s love story. That’s it. There are no doomsday weapons that can change the tide of the war or end-all plot devices. It’s about the character’s emotional states.
This is one of the reasons the prequels fell flat (among others). Anakin Skywalker was no longer a character so much he was a prophesized God among men. Legend told that he would be the most important figure in the universe, and with so much hinging on his character and his actions, the story started to feel unbalanced. That’s a Force pun, by the way.
Because there is no be-all-end-all moment for the characters in Empire, we are free to let their emotions and motivations dictate the story around them, not the other way around. We could see how Han and Leia could interact when stuck in hiding, how Luke would respond to the challenges before him, how Darth Vader would cope with the knowledge that his son is out there somewhere.
This is the perfect way to bridge a sequel. To isolate the characters and let them dictate the events. Exploring their psyches and discovering who they are leads to an ultimately satisfying film, one that will ultimately write itself once the characters are established. We know Luke, Vader, Han, and Leia, so it’s easy to see their trajectory once they are fleshed out. Working the other way around, setting an end-goal and contorting the characters to fit that goal, doesn’t make for as good of a story.
And one last thing. The movie is awesome. AT-AT’s, the asteroid belt, the final lightsaber fight, the music, the music, the music. This film hits every emotional beat, from thrilling to touching, and it’s no wonder why this film is revered the way it is.
It’s because it is perfect.
Alex Russo loves Star Wars more than he loves his family. You can read more of his insane ramblings on Twitter.