40 Movies For 40 Years: 1980

The year that I turned 3 years old because I have a picture of myself with tears in my eyes sitting next to a birthday cake that said “Happy Birthday You Big Dummy”.

That might seem like a very cruel thing to say to a small child, but there actually was a little context to it. One of my favorite things to do when I was little was to sit in my grandfather’s lap and watch television. “Paw-Paw” would watch all kinds of things, and I’d watch with him no matter what it was. Sometimes it would be Sesame Street just to please me. At other times it would be The Andy Griffith Show or All In The Family. His favorite was Sanford And Son. The slogan on the cake was from that show, but my three year old mind didn’t get the joke so my feelings got hurt.

1980 was a good year for film releases. Dolly Parton was working 9 to 5, Clint Eastwood was back in Any Which Way You Can, and Dan Akroyd and John Belushi were on a mission from God in The Blues Brothers.

I didn’t have to think about this one very much at all. My very favorite movie from 1980 was most definitely The Empire Strikes Back.

After the success of Star Wars in 1977 it was pretty evident that there would be a sequel. George Lucas had laid the groundwork for a series in that first film and this time he was able to build on it. He handed the directing reigns over to Irvin Kershner and he focused more on the special effects that were going to be required for this installment.

Empire picks up about a three years after the destruction of the Death Star that we witnessed in A New Hope. The Rebel Alliance has gained strength but the Empire is beginning to regain some footing. Luke goes to Dagobah to train with Yoda, the last remaining of the old Jedi, in the ways of The Force. He leaves to go and rescue Han and Leia after they are taken captive by Darth Vader. In the ensuing fight Luke learns a huge secret about who he is.

This is the very definition of the second part of a trilogy. It dives right into the action. We don’t have to spend any time getting to know the characters because they were already established the first time around. As a result we get a huge battle scene in the first 20 minutes. We see AT-ATs for the first time. And once the battle is over and the story slows down for a while we’re still introduced to a lot of the things that make this world so fantastic.

Yoda explains The Force to us in much more detail than Obi-Wan was ever given the opportunity to do. We also get to see so many different environments in one film. The ice planet of Hoth, the jungle planet of Dagobah, and the heavenly views of Cloud City were the main ones.

It’s hard to name one thing that I love about Empire. It is my favorite Star Wars movie. I love that it’s almost like an episode. It picks up where the last one left off and at the end of it we’re left completely hanging.

As I said in my review of Star Wars, George Lucas is not a very good writer or director. That’s what makes Empire so great. He wrote the story for the film, but the script was written by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan. Kershner directed it and took it to a whole other level. Lucas focused on the stuff that he is good at…world building.

Out of the original trilogy of films, this is the most quotable, has the best battle scene, and lays the foundation for everything else that came after it. The original Star Wars had a lot of the ships and aliens and creatures and all of that good stuff…but Empire introduced all the giant mechanical weapons, more ships, more droids, and just made that universe so much bigger.


I really looked through the list of films that came out in 1980 and tried to be sure that I wasn’t looking at that year with a bias. But having gone through the list three times I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that no other film from the year that I turned 3 has had more of impact on who I am than The Empire Strikes Back.

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