I first saw Star Wars (A New Hope) when I was maybe 4, just turned 5. It was on network TV, I’m pretty sure like a Thursday Night Movie. It was great, and I loved it, but that’s about it. Not life changing. I already knew I loved science fiction. A couple months later, my mother took me to the local video rental. This was pre-Blockbuster, by the way. Local shop. And there, right at the end of one of the middle aisles, facing the front of the store where you’d be most likely to see it coming in from the front door, was the VHS box for The Empire Strikes Back. I insisted. I didn’t know it was a sequel to Star Wars. I was – at most – 6 years old. I watched it three times before we returned the video. I was, now, hooked on the galaxy far, far away. I’m re-watching Empire this very moment. I’ve seen it – and the other two original trilogy films – an uncountable number of times. I owned all three on VHS, then DVD, then digital. I’m perhaps in a minority of OG fans who actually appreciated the Special Editions. Watching the greatest movie of the 80s, I have a few thoughts: Darth Vader is the greatest film villain of all time. Despite the prequels’ failure to handle him, his first three appearances are untouchable. The space-based scenes are the best of the trilogy. ROTJ has the only true fleet battle, and it is iconic and glorious. But the Falcon fleeing an entire fleet of Star Destroyers is better. Everything about it. Say what you will about Slave Leia and the effect she had on a generation of boys, Carrie Fisher’s finest Star Wars moment was Empire. (Although I love her bit part in Blues Brothers, and- honestly – everything she ever did.) But the raw emotion on her face in the first act, when they close the shield doors – and later, when Han goes into the freezer; before the metal bikini, this film really gives us the best Leia we’ll ever get. Not just in the quality of Fisher’s acting, but in the writing. She gets to be more than the badass Princess of Episode IV – Empire‘s Leia has an arc of her own that’s more than getting rescued and defying the damsel tropes. Here, she comes into her own. You also get the best Luke. Before the black-clad will-he-won’t-he of ROTJ, the Luke we meet in Empire is neither naive farm boy nor nearing-the-end-of-his-journey hero. He is idealistic but tempered, cynical but open to learn. Sure, this is the middle act of his arc and of all the characters, his is the most intentional middle act. But still. Solid. Yoda. Real Yoda. Death Stars are lame. Empire brings you AT-ATs (full size, no two leg bullshit), fleets of Star Destroyers, and the original trilogy’s only actual, realistic depiction of Imperial abuse of power. Blowing up planets is one thing, but bringing down the muscle on Cloud City is the closest we ever get to seeing the day-to-day sort of evil that makes the Rebellion justified. Final thought: When I first saw Empire as a child, I thought the lightsaber worked as a Force power. That the blade itself was a Force power. That’s why the blades were different colors: it represented the user’s individual ability and affiliation. Vader was red; Obi-wan blue. Luke begins as blue because he’s using his father’s lightsaber and being trained by Obi-wan. But you know he’s a real Jedi in his own right when, in ROTJ, he busts out that green blade for the first time. Not only that, but Luke is a Jedi unlike those who came before him. In Empire, when Han famously becomes the only non-Force user to use a lightsaber, I figured it worked because the Force ghost of Obi-wan was still with them, helping Han. Tell me that’s not better than Khyber Crystals. I fucking dare you.