The Last Jedi is continuing to divide hardcore Star Wars fans, but many forget that Empire Strikes Back was also incredibly divisive back in 1980, when fans tore it apart for being so different from A New Hope. Obviously, there was no internet back then, so fans and armchair critics had to physically write something and put it in the mail, hoping that their letter would get published in a magazine, newspaper, or on a TV show. Rotten Tomatoes was not a thing and movies weren't torn apart and destroyed as easy as they are now, but word of mouth could make or break a movie back then, which remains true to this day. However, Empire is now a beloved Star Wars movie and many claim that it's the best in the original trilogy. Will The Last Jedi have the same fate?
Popular website, A Critical Hit, recently compiled some fan reviews of The Empire Strikes Back from the old sci-fi magazine Starlog and some of them are pretty spot on and what one might expect to see written online currently had the movie coming out now. Robert L. Beedy sent a letter to Starlog about his skepticism of Luke's parents. He had this to say.
"Is Luke related to Vader? Most think so now that Vader came right out and said it. Well, I say, do you believe everything you hear? Vader may have lied just to enlist Luke to his side. Vader would then dispose of Luke once he got what he wanted."
Star Wars fan Sean Bernard had some major gripes with the Han Solo storyline. In addition, he has many questions about some plot holes that are left unanswered. He explains.
"I know they wanted to leave something to settle in the other sequels, but they left a little too much. For instance, Han Solo's predicament. The movie should not have ended until Han was either killed by Boba Fett or Jabba or rescued by Lando Calrissian or Chewbacca, the former, preferably. Also, the fate of Bespin is not told. Was it taken by Lando's troops, taken by Imperial troops or destroyed by Vader? I like Lando Calrissian and Billy Dee Williams was very good playing the part."
Carol Kane decided that Han Solo was not the right love interest for Leia, insinuating that Luke Skywalker is a much better fit. She goes on to list the reasons why Leia should be with Luke, an idea that she more than likely regretted after the events of Return of the Jedi. She had this to say about the romance.
"C'mon Leia, why don't you take a look around? Can't you see what Luke is up against? You could have a "nice guy" like him. Instead, you are turning your back on him. Forget that it was Luke that saved you from having your atoms scattered throughout the galaxy. Forget that it was Luke, and not Han Solo, that wanted you rescued from the Death Star detention area. But you don't need to remember all that, Leia. As long as hot-lips Han is around, who needs Luke anyway?"
Finally, Richard Hess found The Empire Strikes Back to be utterly offensive, which is another fate that The Last Jedi has suffered. A lot of these reviews share a common thread between the two movies. Hess explains.
"George Lucas has made a movie even more racist and sexist than the first. I would think that Billy Dee Williams would resent being the token black in the film. Also, there was only one other woman, apart from Carrie Fisher, in the movie."
Star Wars fans weren't the only ones to criticize The Empire Strikes Back, professional critics gave the movie mixed reviews as well. New York Magazine said that the movie was, "a Wagnerian pop movie-grandiose, thrilling, imperiously generous in scale, and also a bit ponderous." Vincent Canby of the New York Times compared it to A New Hope and ultimately called the movie boring. He had this to say.
"It's not, by any means, as nice as Star Wars. It's not as fresh and funny and surprising and witty, but it is nice and inoffensive and, in a way that no one associated with it need be ashamed of, it's also silly... It's a big, expensive, time-consuming, essentially mechanical operation. The Empire Strikes Back is about as personal as a Christmas card from a bank."
It's interesting that Canby brought up the use of humor in the first installment. Rian Johnson is currently under fire for using too much comedy by some fans while others say it's comparable to the original trilogy. Pauline Kael of the New Yorker brought up some of the more absurd moments that are shown in The Empire Strikes Back. A closer inspection of her critique could have been written today about any of the Star Wars movies.
"Han Solo saving Luke's life on the ice planet Hoth by slashing open a snow camel and warming him inside; Luke's hand being lopped off, and his seemingly endless fall through space; Chewbacca, the Wookiee, yowling in grief or in comic fear, his sounds so hyper-human you couldn't help laughing at them; the big-eared green elf Yoda, with shining ancient eyes, who pontifically instructs Luke in how to grow up wise - Yoda looks like a wonton and talks like a fortune cookie."
The Empire Strikes Back is now seen as one of the best movies in the Star Wars franchise, but at the time, it was just as confusing as The Last Jedi is amongst hardcore fans who have a larger voice now with the internet. Time may be as kind to Rian Johnson's vision as it has been to the second movie in the original trilogy, but only time will tell. Regardless, and much like The Empire Strikes Back, The Last Jedi is scorching the box office, earning over $630 million worldwide in a week. You can read more about the original reactions to The Empire Strikes Back via A Critical Hit.