This week marks the passing of The Empire Strikes Back director, Irvin Kershner, so I, like so many others, will talk a bit about the movie. I can't speak directly of Kershner, having never met him and only know him like most fans do - as the director of the excellent and successful squeal to Star Wars. But I can relay some thoughts about the movie, as I remember them from long past, and now.
I've long described Empire as the best crafted Star Wars movie, but not the one I watch the most often. That was, and remains, Star Wars itself. This is largely due to the distribution of action - the slower training sequences and asteroid scenes in the middle of Empire means it's not a movie I'll just casually watch for long.
I was 9 when Empire was released. My dad brought the novel home from a trip. In fact, I still have it, and he dated it the day he started reading it - 5/23/80. I think I even started to read it, for awhile. The novel cover was probably one of the first images I had in hand. I remember wondering if the big space station was a new Death Star or Vader's ship (it was Cloud City). For the longest time, I couldn't figure out what character was next to Boba Fett. I eventually realized it wasn't some droid or armored being - it was a Hoth Atgar cannon viewed on edge.
I saw Empire at least twice in theatres during the original run, including one called the Empire theater, if I remember correctly. The Hoth battle was cool, and the snowspeeder was one of the best toys I ever got for Christmas. The asteroids were fun. Darth Vader's reveal was, well, I can't remember how surprising I thought it was. I know it lead to numerous discussions over if he was lying or not, but by the time Jedi released, I figured he was Luke's father. No, the bigger shock to the 9 year old was loss of Luke's hand. It's one of the reasons I absolutely don't recommend Episode III for those with very young kids, and advise parental guidance - some kids can handle it better than others at young ages.
In a weird way, Empire both grew the universe and shrank it. On the one hand, it showed some fantastic new planets and locales, but they were all isolated parts of the galaxy. The story largely focused on the individual characters. Great for character development, but didn't reveal anything about the mainstream universe. In fact, none of the original trilogy ever shows an influential, wholly civilized planet until the Special Edition version of Jedi, and that's just in the celebration scenes. Alderran doesn't count.
The Empire's military might became even more impressive, if questionable in design of military hardware. The Rebels looked a lot more organized, though outgunned. The Force developed significantly, with Yoda leading the way.
So...the Special Edition. For me, I didn't like the holographic Emperor's new lines. I thought the movie still worked with the original dialogue, if a bit more vague and indirect in light of the prequels. I also thought Vader ordering up his shuttle was completely unnecessary. The changes to Cloud City itself don't bother me, it does make the city feel more expansive. I think I'll have to find some time to go back and watch both versions again.
Empire was well crafted, and Kershner had a lot to do with it. I would have been fine with him directing any of later movies. I read, and still own, Once Upon a Galaxy: A Journal of The Making of th Empire Strikes Back and I look forward to the new Making of The Empire Strikes Back.