Aside from cleaner ships, a shuttle sequence, a meaner Wampa, and a makeover of Cloud City, The Empire Strikes Back: The Special Edition remains relatively unchanged from its 1980 cut, when the film unwittingly helped to launch the Reagan era. When Americans who saw the team who ended 1977's A New Hope beaming in triumph now scattered, desperate, and pursued by a much more menacing Empire, the national mood sagged. With Luke Skywalker crashing twice and Han Solo as conspicuously absent from the final scenes as the hostages in Iran were from U.S. soil, the Dark Side must have seemed so much quicker, easier, and more seductive at the polls that November. It may have been easy to write it off as Morning in America, but people knew deep down that it was a dark time for the Rebellion, indeed.
Negative political and mass cultural consequences aside, Empire deserves your appraisal. Not only is it the best of the (five already released) Star Wars films, but also, regardless of what Robert Fulghum has to say, everything I ever needed to know I learned from watching The Empire Strikes Back: If you ever find yourself in a furious snowstorm, consider camping out inside the nearest available Tauntaun. Every opponent, even a well-shielded AT-AT, has an Achilles Heel. When caught between rocks and a hard place, choose the rocks. The truly wise take time to be foolish. Don't trust anyone you once conned a ship from, even if he's as smooth as Lando Calrissian and owns the coolest Tibana gas mine this side of the Anoat system. And never, ever try to make a deal with The Man.
More illuminating still are the lessons of Yoda, the Jedi Master, who despite being a piece of green foam rubber surrounding Frank Oz's hand I nevertheless grew up proud to consider my sensei. On the subject of the Force, "Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter! On struggling against tough odds: "Do or do not, there is no try." On the biases of history: "Great warrior? Wars don't make one great." On the meaning of it all: "No, no, there is no why. No more will I teach you today. Clear your mind of questions."
It may sound like run-of-the-mill New Age tripe, but let's see Deepak Chopra levitate an X-wing. When the Empire strikes back and heroes falter, the teachings of Yoda remind us that there is always another hope.
Now if only I could get that scoundrel thing down...