Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back has been around for so long, it’s easy to forget how much it changed Star Wars. In the 40 years since its release, all of the sequel’s characters, planets, ships, and ideas, have become core pieces of the franchise. But upon release, no one knew what a Force Ghost was. Or who Lando Calrissian was. And that’s just the tip of the ice planet.
Below, we’ve listed all of the best and biggest things Star Wars fans were first introduced to in The Empire Strikes Back.
Obviously, this is the Big One. The idea that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father changed everything both on screen and off in Star Wars. If only...there was some kind of...video explaining all of that. Oh snap, here you go...
Up until The Empire Strikes Back, all we knew of the Jedi was what Obi-Wan Kenobi told us. And he’s a human. George Lucas used that bias against us by introducing arguably the most important and powerful Jedi ever, and he’s a two-foot-tall...something. We still don’t know what exactly. But his visage, as well as his unforgettable dialogue, is as popular 40 years later as it ever was.
At the end of A New Hope, Luke hears Obi-Wan’s disembodied voice. That was a hint that Jedi don’t exactly “die” when they “die.” But seeing a vision of Obi-Wan’s translucent body added a whole new layer of wonder about who the Jedi were, what they could do, and if Luke would be able to achieve that.
Oh, you saw A New Hope and thought Darth Vader was the big bad guy? Nope. The Empire Strikes Back finally showed us his boss, The Emperor, who is only briefly mentioned in the first film. Seeing the character, even as a hologram, put a face to a concept that would carry not over into these movies, but the next six that followed as well.
Part of the reason Han Solo became so popular was his mystery. Who was the guy? Where did he come from? And The Empire Strikes Back filled us in by introducing an old friend/rival named Lando Calrissian. A person who, we find out, used to own the Millennium Falcon and now runs a floating mining city in the clouds. Equally as mysterious, sinister, and charming as Han, a new icon was born.
Obviously, John Williams’ score to Star Wars is beyond iconic. What some might forget, though, is that several of the themes we now consider the bedrock of Star Wars music didn’t come into the franchise until The Empire Strikes Back, including The Imperial March, Yoda’s Theme, and the Han/Leia love theme.
Every Star Wars movie introduces new ships and vehicles. That’s just what they do. But few introductions are as memorable or impactful as the AT-ATs introduced on Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back. Their sheer size and scope captured our imaginations and were a perfect representation of just how impressive and imposing the Empire truly was.
Despite what the Special Editions want you to believe, it wasn’t until the release of The Empire Strikes Back that audiences met the bounty hunter Boba Fett and saw his ship, Slave 1. He proved formidable too, succeeding in his task of tracking and locating Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon. Plus, as a bonus, Empire dropped in Bossk, IG-88, Dengar, Zuckuss, and 4-Lom, tantalizing us to the galaxy of bounty hunting that we’d see explored more in the decades to come.
If The Empire Strikes Back was released today, the line that would inspire the most clickbait would be Yoda’s “There is another.” He’s telling Obi-Wan that Luke isn’t their only hope and, years later, we’d find he was referring to Luke’s sister, Leia. At the time though, George Lucas himself was likely still unsure what that line meant. It was just an excellent tease of what was to come.
The Star Wars films are filled with memorable, iconic quotes. But right up near the top of that list is the exchange between Han Solo and Princess Leia when Han gets put into carbon freeze. “I love you,” “I know,” is as perfect a piece of dialogue as has ever existed in film, and it rightfully endures because of it.
Ask a fan to rank their favorite Star Wars locations and there’s no way one of the three new places introduced in The Empire Strikes Back doesn’t make the list. They’re legendary. Plus, each one brought with it a whole subset of awesome. For Hoth, it was Wampas, Tauntauns, and Snowspeeders. For Dagobah, Force caves, swamps, and floating rocks. And for Bespin it was Lobot, Twin-Pod ships, Carbon Freeze and Willrow Hood.
How did one become a Jedi? We didn’t quite know. But The Empire Strikes Back showed some of the processes as Yoda and Luke ran and jumped all over Dagobah. It was important to let audiences know that Jedi aren’t just born, they’re made, and it was going to take a lot of effort and courage for Luke to reach that goal.
Here’s one not many people think about. But at the end of the film, when Luke is hanging from the bottom of Cloud City, he reaches out through the Force to communicate with Leia. It’s a small thing in the film but so much bigger in retrospect. It sets the table for so much to come, from Anakin and Padme’s connection to Rey and Kylo Ren’s.
And of course, this is not a complete list by any means. There are Probe Droids, Snow Troopers, Bacta Tanks, Vader’s Chamber, Mynock, giant space worms, Imperial Shuttles, and scruffy-looking nerf herders. The list goes on and on, just like the legacy of The Empire Strikes Back.
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