Though Star Wars: The Last Jedi writer/director Rian Johnson admits his film has some parallels to The Empire Strikes Back, what we've learned about the story of the saga's eighth chapter seemingly illustrates it will not be a beat-for-beat remake of that aforementioned classic. One of the most common criticisms lobbied against The Force Awakens - even by those who love it - is that the movie "borrowed" a little too liberally from A New Hope and was a soft reboot. While the new characters became instant fan-favorites and an exciting future was set up, some of the similarities between Episode VII and the seminal original Star Wars were hard to ignore. Whether it was a cute droid carrying top secret information on a desert planet or villains with a planet killing weapon, history was definitely repeating itself in some respects.
Since many wrote Force Awakens off as an original trilogy retread, the fear going into Episode VIII is that it would replicate the plot points and structure of The Empire Strikes Back - especially since a large chunk of the film involves the young protagonist training on a remote planet with an old Jedi, while being separated from her friends. Johnson has assured the fan base these concerns are hardly warranted. Up until recently, it was difficult for some to gauge how truthful those comments are, but thanks to all that's come out about The Last Jedi over the summer, it's safe to say a few months away from release that this is no Empire remake.
The Empire Strikes Back Story
To start, it's good to quickly recap the narrative of The Empire Strikes Back. Opening with the Imperial assault on the Rebel base on Hoth, the main characters are split up at the end of the first act. Luke Skywalker flies off with R2-D2 to find Yoda on Dagobah and continue his Jedi training; Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, and C-3PO are in a Millennium Falcon in desperate need of repairs, doing their best to outrun the fleet. Luke's friends are the prey of one Darth Vader, who is hoping to bring his son out so he can make an offer to complete Luke's training in the ways of the Force. Once Han and Leia are captured (betrayed by Han's old buddy Lando Calrissian), Luke makes the rash (but admirable) decision to try to rescue them, confronts Vader, and learns the horrifying truth about his family. Those are the broad strokes of the story.
Even though Star Wars is known for its great scale and large canvas, Empire is truly an intimate character-driven film. The war between the Rebels and Empire, which was the driving force of A New Hope, is pushed to the side so the sequel can be more about Luke vs. Vader. The entire movie is about the Sith Lord's hunt for Luke, building up to their duel at Cloud City. By the time the credits roll, the Battle of Hoth is little more than an afterthought. Its primary purpose is to be a set piece that symbolizes the strength of the Empire before the "real" story kicks into gear. This isn't to say those action sequences are nothing but empty eye candy, but for most of the Empire runtime, the Rebellion's fight against tyranny takes a back seat. When Vader is ironing out strategies with his officers, they're not planning a strike on a Rebel command ship. All that matters to Vader is Skywalker.
Of course, there are notable subplots as well. Chief among them is the budding romance between Han and Leia, the seeds of which were planted (perhaps unknowingly at the time) in A New Hope. There's a palpable tension during their scenes together, giving Empire another emotional through-line to follow. Luke's time with Yoda delivered some of the most memorable moments in the franchise, broadening the audience's understanding of the Force and what it truly meant to be a Jedi Knight. Yoda's words of wisdom are endlessly quotable, and at times appropriate for real-life situations. In many ways, Empire set a new standard for Hollywood sequels, building on what came before to further develop the characters and universe in ways that surprised moviegoers. There's a reason why it remains the popular pick for the title of "best Star Wars film."
As stated above, The Last Jedi is going to bear some semblance to the earlier iconic middle chapter, but most of them are surface level. The details of the plot sound different from Episode V, with Johnson creating all-new planets and alien species that have no original trilogy counterpart. Even the Star Wars 8 cast was impressed with the direction he took. John Boyega praised the director for making the property fresh, while Mark Hamill infamously fundamentally disagreed with the portrayal of an older Luke. Obviously, nobody is going to come out and say Last Jedi is a blatant Empire remake four months out from release, but comments made about the film's story indicate the innovative adventure fans are craving.
- Star Wars 8/Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) release date: Dec 15, 2017
- Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) release date: May 25, 2018
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019