Throwback Thursday: Remembering ‘Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back’ 35 years later

April 16, 2015 | 5:26 p.m.

Welcome to the inaugural edition of Hero Complex’s new Throwback Thursday series. In this series, Hero Complex will guide you through the rich history of science fiction, fantasy, horror and comic book entertainment.

With the Star Wars Celebration fan expo underway at the Anaheim Convention Center, it’s only fitting that this week’s Throwback Thursday honors one of the films in George Lucas’ groundbreaking “Star Wars” trilogy — “The Empire Strikes Back,” which celebrates its 35th anniversary this year.

The film, which was later renamed “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back,” was met with fan anticipation and critical acclaim when it opened in theaters May 21, 1980.

In his review, Times film critic Charles Champlin had nothing but praise for the film, calling it “richly imaginative, engrossing and spectacular.”

As the followup to 1977’s “Star Wars,” which was the highest-grossing film of its time, “Empire’s” success was widely expected.

“There can have been very few sequels in history for which commercial and creative success could be so confidently predicted,” Champlin wrote.

Darth Vader in a scene from "The Empire Strikes Back." (Lucasfilm)

Darth Vader in a scene from “The Empire Strikes Back.” (Lucasfilm)

But not everyone was pleased with the film.

Michael Wood wrote for The Times a few months later, “The moral climate of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ is pretty soggy, full of mumbo jumbo about the dark side of the self.”

Wood saw no real struggle in terms of Luke Skywalker choosing evil or virtue because, he wrote, audiences were not presented with anything substantial at stake.

“It is as if Little Red Riding Hood took an empty basket to visit the ghost of her grandmother, and the wolf was not a wolf at all,” Wood wrote in August 1980.

Lawrence Kasdan was recruited by George Lucas to pen 1980's "The Empire Strikes Back" -- the second film in the original "Star Wars" trilogy. The film is widely considered the best in the "Star Wars" franchise. (Lucasfilm)

A scene from “The Empire Strikes Back” — the second film in the original “Star Wars” trilogy. (Lucasfilm)

Fan response to the criticism came quickly. In a letter to The Times, Paul Dunkason wrote that Yoda taught Luke “with compassion, whereas Darth Vader was unable to captivate Luke precisely because he didn’t have any.”

He ended his response with a rhetorical question linking science fiction to society’s future, writing: “Which way are we heading, technologically and as a people, if we don’t begin now to tame our minds with more compassion toward ourselves and our fellow workers?”

— Denise Florez | @LATHeroComplex

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