'Star Wars: Episode VII': 5 Lessons to Learn From 'The Empire Strikes Back'

If next year's movie wants to beat the best, here's what it needs to do

That disturbance in the Force that you felt this weekend was likely Anthony Daniels suggesting on Twitter that maybe — just maybe —  The Empire Strikes Back is about to be eclipsed as many fans’ favorite Star Wars movie ˘

At first glance, it seems as if C-3PO might need his circuits checked. Empire has long been held in almost-impossibly high esteem by Star Wars fans, and the prospect of Star Wars: Episode VII managing to take that crown seems unlikely, especially given the cautious attitude many are taking following George Lucas’ prequel trilogy.

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And yet, just imagine for a second that Daniels is right. What would that mean for Episode VII? Here are five elements the new film must have if it can even hope to replace Empire in the hearts and minds of the extended Rebel Alliance.

Yes, and …

The Empire Strikes Back is an entirely additive experience following on from Star Wars. Outside of the lead characters and a lightsaber fight, nothing from the original is repeated at all — there’s no cantina, no Death Star and no space battle as such (there is a chase sequence, but that’s not the same thing at all). For those who’d been eagerly awaiting more Star Wars, that’s exactly what this movie delivered: “more,” while still maintaining the original's fresh sense of discovery. Whether that’s even possible for Episode VII to do, considering that the franchise has seen six movies and two television series already, remains to be seen.

(It should go without saying that Empire also introduced two of the best-loved characters in Yoda and Boba Fett — to say nothing of the criminally overlooked Lando Calrissian. We already know that Episode VII will introduce a new cast, but will they be able to live up to this height? If no one has a line of dialogue like “Why, you slimy, double-crossin’ no-good swindlah!” then we can pretty much give up right there.)

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No … No, That’s Not True! That’s Impossible

Oh, that’s right; The Empire Strikes Back is also the movie that reveals that Darth Vader is actually Luke’s father (Leia’s too, but we don’t find that out until the next movie). It’s a great reveal, one that makes the conflict between the two characters much more intense, adds an extra layer to both characters' stories (Will Darth be redeemed? Will Luke go bad as well?) and answers one of the questions left over from the original movie. It’s a revelation that the entire series of movies to date hangs around. I’m not sure how Episode VII can come up with anything to compete, but I’m certainly curious to watch them try.

There’s Only One Short Alien

Sure, that sounds like a joke, but The Empire Strikes Back is the only Star Wars movie to date that doesn’t get a little bit too excited about featuring aliens. The original movie has the Jawas, the Sand People and the cantina scene, which is entirely based around “Look at how many guys in suits we’ve got!” Return of the Jedi, in turn, has those damn Ewoks — and while all the creatures have their place, there are extended periods in those films where the story takes a backseat to the costuming department's skills (don’t get me started on Jar Jar Binks in the prequels). By contrast, Empire is all business, to the point that the two aliens who get the most screen time (Yoda and the Hoth Wampa) are there primarily to serve the story. Here’s hoping that that’s a lesson that Episode VII has taken to heart.

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The Importance of the Cliffhanger

Forever cementing one particular take on three-act structure in the minds of an entire generation, Empire is the movie where the good guys just keep losing. They get chased out of their base on Hoth, they get outsmarted and outgunned in Cloud City, Luke loses a hand when dueling Darth Vader, and Han Solo gets frozen and kidnapped by Boba Fett. As far as the win/lose ratio goes, The Empire Strikes Back sucks for the good guys — and that was so exciting for the fans, because it raised the stakes for what was to come. After the first Star Wars, the audience was behind the Rebels because, simply, they were the good guys. Thanks to Empire, it became personal — and that, combined with the lack of resolution, made everyone want to see what came next.

Don’t Suck

You might think this one is obvious, but have you seen the number of bad sequels out there? Seriously, after the prequels and the amount of teases that we’ve been given about Episode VII already, I’m not even sure I want to think about getting a movie that’s better than The Empire Strikes Back. Just give me something that’s better than The Phantom Menace and I’ll be relieved. Sound good, J.J.?

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