My Two Cents
Thursday, 21 May 2015 17:12

The Force Defeated: Remembering "The Empire Strikes Back" on its 35th Anniversary

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The Empire Strikes Back joins The Godfather, Part II as one of the rarest of films—a sequel that lives up to and expands upon its original.” — Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune

There is no question this year is a huge one for fans of Star Wars. While the whole galaxy awaits Episode VII: The Force Awakens, let us not forget this year also marks the 35th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back, one of the most revered sequels of all time. The Digital Bits celebrates the occasion with this retrospective featuring a compilation of box-office data that places Empire’s performance in context, quotes from well-known movie critics, production and exhibition information, a list of the opening-week, limited-market theaters that were the first anywhere to play the movie, and an interview segment with a group of filmmakers and historians who discuss the attributes of the movie and examine why Empire is frequently labeled the fan favorite.  [Read on here...]



  • 1 = Rank on list of top-grossing films of 1980
  • 1 = Rank on list of top box-office rentals of 1980
  • 2 = Number of Academy Awards
  • 2 = Rank on all-time list of top film rentals at close of run (domestic)
  • 2 = Rank on all-time list of top film rentals at close of run (worldwide)
  • 2 = Rank on all-time list of top-grossing films at close of run (worldwide)
  • 3 = Number of Academy Award nominations
  • 3 = Rank on all-time list of top-grossing films at close of run (domestic)
  • 11 = Number of weeks top-grossing film (weeks 1-3 and 5-12)
  • 12 = Rank on current list of all-time top-grossing films (adjusted for inflation)
  • 54 = Number of months between theatrical release and home-video release
  • 59 = Number of days to surpass $100 million*
  • 61 = Number of weeks of longest-running engagement
  • 62 = Rank on current list of all-time top-grossing films
  • 127 = Number of opening-week bookings
  • 823 = Number of bookings during first week of wide release
  • *Established new industry record
  • $38,972 = Opening-weekend per screen average
  • $1.3 million = Opening-day box-office gross
  • $4.9 million = Opening-weekend box-office gross (3-day)
  • $5.0 million = Amount of profit Lucas shared with cast & crew and Lucasfilm employees
  • $6.4 million = Opening-weekend box-office gross (4-day)
  • $7.4 million = Box-office rental (1982 re-release)
  • $9.6 million = Opening-week box-office gross (7-day)
  • $10.8 million = Box-office gross for first weekend of wide release (823 theaters, June 20-22, 1980)
  • $13.3 million = Box-office gross (1982 re-release)
  • $14.2 million = Box-office rental (1981 re-release)
  • $28.0 million = Box-office gross (1981 re-release)
  • $34.0 million = Amount 20th Century-Fox received in advance guarantees from exhibitors
  • $32.0 million = Production cost
  • $40.0 million = Amount 20th Century-Fox earned in distribution fees
  • $67.6 million = Box-office gross (1997 re-release)
  • $91.7 million = Production cost (adjusted for inflation)
  • $120.0 million = Box-office rental (original release)
  • $134.2 million = Box-office rental (original release + 1981 re-release)
  • $141.6 million = Box-office rental (original release + 1981 & 1982 re-releases)
  • $165.0 million = Box-office rental (worldwide, original release)
  • $181.4 million = Box-office gross (original release)
  • $209.4 million = Box-office gross (original release + 1981 re-release)
  • $222.7 million = Box-office gross (original release + 1981 & 1982 re-releases)
  • $290.5 million = Box-office gross (original + 81, 82 & 97 re-releases)
  • $365.0 million = Box-office gross (worldwide, original release)
  • $538.4 million = Box-office gross (worldwide)
  • $797.2 million = Box-office gross (cumulative domestic, adjusted for inflation)
  • $1.5 billion = Box-office gross (cumulative worldwide, adjusted for inflation)



The Empire Strikes Back is a worthy sequel to Star Wars, equal in both technical mastery and characterization, suffering only from the familiarity with the effects generated in the original and imitated too much by others. Only box-office question is how many earthly trucks it will take to carry the cash to the bank.” — Jim Harwood, Variety

Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, like all superior fantasies, have the quality of parable, not only on good and evil but on attitudes toward life and personal deportment and there is something very like a moral imperative in the films’ view of hard work, determination, self-improvement, concentration, and idealism. It does not take a savant to see that this uplifting tone only a little less than the plot and effects is a central ingredient of the wide outreach of the films.” — Charles Champlin, Los Angeles Times

The Empire Strikes Back is a lifeless copy of Star Wars propelled chiefly on the momentum of that earlier film. Without the likes of a Peter Cushing or Alec Guiness to add some dignity and solid support, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford flounder in roles that are certain to doom their careers regardless of the series’ success. Critics who labeled this film ‘better than Star Wars’ must have been watching the audience instead of the performance.” — Frederick S. Clarke, Cinefantastique

“This is no ordinary sequel. Lucas and his company have used their Star Wars profits to make a film far more sophisticated in its technical effects. Lucas’ imagination is as bountiful as ever, and he seems to have taken up where Disney left off. There are disappointments in The Empire, but it retains that special sense that fairy tales have—a moral dimension that touches us much more deeply than one-dimensional action adventures can.” — Gerald Clarke, Time

“Amazingly, the sequel to Star Wars is almost as good as the original movie, and it should be just as successful. Less frenetic and less rounded, it has the compensating virtues of more complex relationships and even more dazzling special effects.” — Richard Freedman, The (Springfield, MA) Morning Union

“The film’s problem is that the ending isn’t really an ending. So many loose ends are left dangling that one finds almost maddening the prospect of waiting three years for the third movie to resolve the situation.” — Paul Johnson, (Little Rock) Arkansas Gazette

“Along with its breathtakingly spectacular special effects, the film is to be applauded for its ability to incorporate the themes, values and characters of the first film and move ahead without repeating itself.” — Eric Gerber, The Houston Post

“Visually, the new installment conveys a sense of generosity that surpasses even the original: in any corner of the frame one can discover a delightfully gratuitous detail—a space lizard climbing up a tree, a puff of rocket exhaust, a barely glimpsed robot—that creates a sense of a totally inhabited fantasy world. The Empire Strikes Back is a technological triumph, a cornucopia of intergalactic tchotchkes.” — David Ansen, Newsweek

“The long-awaited sequel to Star Wars is equal to its stellar predecessor. It’s a first rate achievement that shouldn’t be missed.” — Fort Wayne Journal Gazette

“When I went to see The Empire Strikes Back I found myself glancing at my watch almost as often as I did when I was sitting through a truly terrible movie called The Island…. The Empire Strikes Back is, perhaps, proof of something I’ve been suspecting for some time now. That is, that there is more nonsense being written, spoken and rumored about movies today than about any of the other so-called popular arts except rock music. The Force is with us, indeed, and a lot of it is hot air…. The Empire Strikes Back is about as personal as a Christmas card from a bank…. I assume that Lucas supervised the entire production and made the major decisions or, at least, approved of them. It looks like a movie that was directed at a distance. At this point the adventures of Luke, Leia and Han Solo appear to be a self-sustaining organism, beyond criticism except on a corporate level.” — Vincent Canby, The New York Times

Empire is the only motion-picture sequel I can think of—ever—that is not less effective than the original. Usually, the popular elements of a hit film become the ingredients of the sequel formula, repeated in the hope that large audiences will again flock to see the same things they loved the first time around. If Lucas was that kind of filmmaker, Empire would have included another cantina, another garbage compactor, another planetary destruction and another regal ending. But it didn’t. And we didn’t get the Star Trek treatment either—wherein characters we all know and love recite their standard familiar lines all over again.” — Kerry O’Quinn, Starlog

“Even for those without the tunnel vision of a movie fanatic, The Empire Strikes Back rivals the numerous world crises as one of the day’s important topics. We can all relax—and, for that matter, maybe even rejoice. The Empire Strikes Back is funnier, spookier, more technically advanced and frequently just as clever as Star Wars, its record-breaking antecedent. It also makes Superman seem like a soggy Milk Dud and Star Trek: The Motion Picture seem like evaporated milk.” — Philip Wuntch, The Dallas Morning News

“A more impressive and harrowing magic carpet ride than its fundamentally endearing predecessor, Empire pulls the carpet out from under you while simultaneously soaring along.” — Gary Arnold, The Washington Post

“In a notably unexciting year for American movies, the long-awaited sequel to Star Wars stands out as an impressive, bountiful entertainment stuffed with goodies that should satisfy the most rabid fans of the original—while baffling newcomers unfamiliar with the Star Wars characters and jargon…. The picture isn’t as funny as Star Wars, and its different sections aren’t as smoothly coordinated. On the other hand, Kershner gives the material a sense of peril and tension that the original conspicuously lacked. If the first film was adventure-as-a-lark; Empire is adventure with menace and meaning.” — John Hartl, The Seattle Times

“It is a dazzling feast for the eye, the sort of film with so much going on in each frame you want to see it again immediately.” — Desmond Ryan, Philadelphia Inquirer

“As with Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back is the sort of movie that will delight the little kid in everyone. The fun comes not only from the special effects and the large-than-life storyline, but also from some very snappy dialogue, particularly the exchanges between Leia and Solo and between See Threepio and Artoo-Detoo, and from director Irvin Kershner’s success at finding room to develop the characters amid all the laser blasts and other battle mayhem.” — Steve Millburg, Omaha World-Herald

The Empire Strikes Back has arrived. And it’s wonderful…the audience is on its feet cheering.” — Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

Empire’s effects are dazzling but the characters are pure comic strip.” — Bill von Maurer, The Miami News

The Empire Strikes Back joins The Godfather, Part II as one of the rarest of films—a sequel that lives up to and expands upon its original…. It’s not an exaggeration to compare the world of Star Wars to the Land of Oz. The Star Wars saga—a series of nine planned films—promises to be an even more complete world than Oz, and just as enduring. The appeal of visiting Oz is that it is a magical place over the rainbow. The appeal of Star Wars and, now, The Empire Strikes Back, is that it also takes us to a magical place—the childhood of our mind.” — Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune

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