30 Years Ago, in a Galaxy Far, Far Away…

30 years ago this month, were you looking at the calendar, gnawing at your fingernails, and counting down the last 30 days until the end of your painful, three-year-long wait?

I was.

What am I talking about?

That’s right.

It was 30 years ago, back when Star Wars was the big screen’s most thrilling saga, that fans were pulling out their hair, counting down one last month until the release of The Empire Strikes Back. The three-year wait for the sequel to the biggest movie of all time had been almost unbearable.

But no one anticipated that The Empire Strikes Back would become not only the best Star Wars film ever, but the best *sequel* ever.

Well, that’s my opinion, anyway. There have been great sequels. But Empire has been the most influential of them all, because it was darker, stranger, and it delivered surprises so jarring that fans would spend the next three years arguing about what they meant.

Take The Dark Knight, for example. Or The Godfather, Part II.

Nothing in either of those films comes close to the culture-shocking revelation that Darth Vader makes to Luke Skywalker near the end of Empire. We take that kind of thing for granted now, but at the time it tore the audience to pieces.

I’ll never forget how, right up until the day Return of the Jedi arrived three years later, I had more friends who disbelieved Darth Vader’s surprising announcement than believed it.

Further, nothing had prepared us for how the film concludes, with the film’s most beloved (well, arguably) character frozen in carbonite and taken by the enemy.

And then there was agonizing realization that we’d have to wait three whole years to find out what happened next.

It was like we were frozen in carbonite for that amount of time.

Today, that kind of cliffhanger is par for the course with franchises. But back then, The Empire Strikes Back was as exhilarating as adventure storytelling could be. And the thrills were all the more thrilling for having had to wait so long to experience them.

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  • William Murray

    I was only six years old when my dad took me and my brother to see ESB. I remember vividly the shock and horror I felt at Vader’s revelation to Luke. By far my most memorable movie going experience.

    But wait, it gets better! When my wife and I were dating I found out that she had never seen any of the Star Wars films. Of course, this had to be corrected immediately. As we watched it become quite clear to me that she had no familiarity with the story. She had no idea that what Vader was about to reveal. Watching the shock in her expression was like reliving the magic again. How could I not marry her after that?!

  • Sam Moore


  • tyler

    I was born a few years after Empire came out, and I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t know Darth was Luke’s father. Hearing it mentioned as a huge surprise is pretty disconcerting; it reminds me of a story about a missionary team who began teaching the Old Testament and didn’t tell any of the natives about the crucifixion and resurrection beforehand, so it was truly a revelation to them when they reached that point of the story.

  • Thomas Wiley

    30 years ago at this time, I was still a few months away from being born… but I remember seeing The Empire Strikes Back for the first time in 1992, a good year and a half after seeing Star Wars. I didn’t like it at the time, but now it’s one of my all-time favorites. And I agree with the designation of “Best Sequel Ever.”

    And is that the vinyl edition of the soundtrack that you’re holding? Pretty cool. I’d probably give The Empire Strikes Back the award for Best Sequel Score Ever, as well, although it would have some pretty stiff competition.