The Empire Strikes Back: The 30th Anniversary

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Today is a very important and significant day. In some way, words fail to really explain why it’s so special. There was a similar day three years ago, but this one is even bigger. On May 21st 1980, The Empire Strikes Back was released into theaters. It was the sequel to Star Wars, which shook the world just three years before. Yet it became something bigger. It was a sequel that surpassed the original in every way imaginable and it changed a generation forever.

It’s kind of hard to explain the magnitude of Star Wars to someone who didn’t grow up as part of the “Star Wars Generation.”

To those of us who grew up with Star Wars, it is much more than simply a movie that broke new ground. Star Wars was, and is, a cultural phenomenon that has firmly cemented itself in our pop culture. You’ve heard of “Generation X” and “Generation Y,” but the “Star Wars Generation” is made up of those who grew up in the late ’70s/early ’80s when Lucas and Spielberg were young and fresh minds.

Jaws, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back, E.T., The Return of the Jedi, and The Temple of Doom. These days, most of people view those as just entries on the top-grossing movies of all time. For the “Star Wars Generation,” those are the movies that every other movie has to live up to. And the classic Star Wars Trilogy, and especially Empire, was at the top of the heap.

For people who grew up after the whole Star Wars craze died down in the mid-’80s (only to flare up again in the early ’90s), there really hasn’t been any sort of movie phenomenon that comes close to what Star Wars did for kids of the ’70s and early ’80s.

I’ve seen comments from people on forums questioning the greatness of Empire, and upon investigation the oldest of these posters tends to be 24 or 25. They weren’t around for the Original Trilogy. They never had their head exploded by Vader’s reveal in Cloud City. Or left to question what is going to happen to Han after he was frozen in Carbonite and taken by Boba Fett to Jabba the Hutt. They experienced the movies on home video, when they were already part of pop culture. It was old news to them.

There’s a lot of stuff being written about today. Harry Knowles at AICN has this, which does kind of nail what today means. CNN has a piece up, which covers some good ground. And if you use Twitter, follow and #starwars hash tag today for a lot more memories, a lot of which from people who remember going into a theater thirty years ago to experience what is still the gold standard for science fiction and movies in general.