Today, it is a largely agreed upon opinion that the best Star Wars movie of the original trilogy, and possibly the best Star Wars movie to date, is The Empire Strikes Back. It seems most people feel this way, but the fact is that wasn’t always the case. At the time, The Empire Strikes Back wasn’t universally adored, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson remembers being disappointed by it when first seeing it as a child.
While the director of The Last Jedi says he may have been taken to see Star Wars: A New Hope in theaters, he tells Uproxx the first Star Wars movie he remembers seeing was The Empire Strikes Back, and he didn’t love it.
Rian Johnson was hardly alone in this. If you look at reactions from fans and critics in 1980, while most have good things to say about it, few if any are heaping praise onto it in a any major way. A lot of people had issues with the places the plot went and that whole “I am your father” thing.
This is especially unsurprising for those of us who first saw the movie as kids. By the end of Empire Strikes Back, two of our major heroes have essentially been beaten. Han Solo has been frozen and sent to Jabba the Hutt. Luke Skywalker has lost a hand and had his world turned upside down by the revelation that his greatest enemy is his father.
As a kid, you’re going to react to these story beats much more directly. Seven-year-old Rian Johnson isn’t thinking about how these decisions are going to be good for the larger trilogy or how a three act structure always leads to an “all is lost” moment. He’s just thinking about how his heroes have been beaten and that sucks.
On the other hand, Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi eventually sees the good guys win out and the Empire is defeated, so as a kid Rian Johnson says he loved that movie a lot more, though, eventually over time, Empire grew on him.
Again, this is likely the case with a lot of people from the generation that first grew up with Star Wars. The feeling that Empire Strikes Back is the best film in the franchise comes largely from the generation that grew up with the series, who realized how good the second film was long after it had come out.
Also, when you’re a kid, Ewoks are cute and funny. As you grow up, you begin to potentially find them less interesting.