It’s Weird to See Empire Strikes Back Top the Box Office

The pandemic has made local theaters seem like post-apocalyptic road shows

Image courtesy of Walter Rhein

It’s a strange thing to look at the marquee of your local movie theater and see the titles of movies from 40 years ago. The pandemic has kept new releases from seeing the light of day, and business owners are turning to old favorites to keep their heads above water.

My local theater’s playlist reads like a tribute to nostalgia. They are showing films like “E.T.,” “Back to the Future,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Ghostbusters,” “Jurasic Park” and, of course, “The Empire Strikes Back.” It all seems like some kind of post-apocalyptic road show.

Empire Reigns Supreme

In this strange and desolate film landscape, “The Empire Strikes Back” emerged as the box office winner for the first time since the 1997 reissue.

It’s notable that ‘Empire’ is seeing it’s 40 year anniversary, but I’m not sure that fact made much of a difference in its consistent draw.

Although the pandemic box office is down compared to a typical weekend take, these weeks do represent something of a tournament of champions. The list of available movies represent the best summer movies of all time, and “Empire” beat them all hands down.

Why the Enduring Appeal?

I think “Empire” endures because of all the Star Wars films, Episode V is the only one to recognize that Darth Vader deserves the most amount of screen time. This wasn’t a villain that was easily defeated and only existed to make the hero look good. Darth Vader is serious.

In “Empire Strikes Back,” Darth Vader soundly kicks Luke Skywalker’s ass. There’s no nice way to say it.

I was only five years old when this film came out, and I still remember the sinking sensation I had as I watched the progress of the lightsaber battle. Even I, hopeful and adoring child that I was, could tell Luke was embarrassingly outmatched. I remember cheering at the one brief moment when Luke managed to tap Vader on the shoulder and let loose a shower of sparks, but that moment of hope was short lived as Vader went and lopped Luke’s hand off.

I think they did it on purpose. The editing team gave you a split second to cheer just so that the fall was farther when they turned around and ripped your heart out. It sure worked.

The Second Act

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a hero so soundly destroyed in television, literature or film.

I walked out of that theater shell shocked. What the hell had just happened? Luke got beat? How was that possible?

Parents across the nation had to explain to their kids how “the second act is always the most desperate” but none of us were buying it. That film HURT! You don’t know what it’s like to have to wait three years to find out what happened next. Ungh…

An Odd Climax for a Science Fiction Film

When you stop for a second and think about it, “Empire Strikes Back” has one of the strangest conclusions of any space film. There’s no enormous battle, there isn’t a finale with ships and laser blasts and explosions. “Empire” ends with the hero throwing himself off a cliff to keep from having his soul corrupted.

There are people that say that “Star Wars” is a kid’s movie, but I don’t know…the climax of Empire seems kind of heavy to me.

Remember how he plummets into nothingness and then lands on that crucifix-like antenna just as the dawn breaks? Call me crazy, but it seems like there might be some symbolism there. Maybe? Just a little?

The Hero With a Thousand Faces

Our nation is in the midst of an enormous challenge because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Sometimes it takes a bizarre occurrence like “The Empire Strikes Back” topping the box office to really comprehend what is going on in our world. There’s a local drive-in theater showing the film, and I plan on taking my girls in the next few days.

It’s almost as if there’s been a ripple in the space/time continuum. “Empire” is a living film again, and I’m afforded this rare opportunity to go and watch it with my kids, much as I watched it back when it first came out.

The older I get, the more I recognize that there is very little in life that we can control. Even in times of tragedy, it’s important to find small moments to be thankful for. Right now, I’m thankful for the chance to watch “Empire Strikes Back” at the drive-in with my kids.

I wonder if by some strange circumstance “Empire” might top the box office again years from now when my children have children of their own. I wonder if they’ll go and watch it and think of these days. I hope so, and I hope it’s as fond a memory for them as it is for me.

Small press writer with Perseid Press, Burning Bulb Publishing, and Harren Press. I have a web page about Peru at www.StreetsOfLima.com. walterrhein@gmail.com

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