Critics Shmitics: Bitching About 'The Empire Strikes Back'... Really?


It seems that not even the best episode in the Star Wars Saga was safe from critics' negativity.

New movie audiences and people with fuzzy memories tend to think that everybody (or in this case, movie critics) loved the "Original Trilogy" and that everybody (or all critics) hated the "Prequel Trilogy" at the time each of the movies came out. Well, that's simply not true. All of the movies were torn apart by those pesky know-it-alls called "film critics." All of the movies, except Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back, since critics hold it in such high regard. Or so I thought.

I was surprised to find a negative review for The Empire Strikes Back written by Vincent Canby for The New York Times, published on June 15, 1980. Not only did this guy not get the movie, he was bored by it:

"When I went to see The Empire Strikes Back I found myself glancing at my watch almost as often as I did when I was sitting through a truly terrible movie called The Island... It's a big, expensive, time-consuming, essentially mechanical operation."

He constantly complains that watching the movie is a waste of time. When a critic feels this way about such an amazing picture as The Empire Strikes Back, I truly believe that that writer is just bored with movies in general and should start looking for other stuff to write about.

Canby seems baffled by all of those things that I (and a lot of people I know) love about The Empire Strikes Back:

Its mind-blowing start and cliffhanger ending ("It has no beginning or end").

The AT-AT Walkers ("some awfully inefficient tanks that have the shape of armor-plated camels.")
The cool dialogue ("After one has one's fill of the special effects and after one identifies the source of the facetious banter that passes for wit between Han Solo and Leia (it's straight out of B-picture comedies of the 30's), there isn't a great deal for the eye or the mind to focus on.")

The acting ("The other performers are no better or worse, being similarly limited by the not-super material.")

Oh, his review also included a cheap shot towards the droids. Canby wrote, "Even the appeal of those immensely popular robots, C-3PO and R2-D2, starts to run out." Yeah, I guess that's why the last time we saw the droids in a movie was, uh, last year.

Did this guy even try to enjoy the film? Or at least pay attention to it?

He wrote, "It's a measure of my mixed feelings about "The Empire Strikes Back" that I'm not at all sure that I understand the plot... I'm not as bothered by the film's lack of resolution as I am about my suspicion that I really don't care."

Well, I think that the term for that is "short attention span."

He also did not understand why everybody loved the film except him:

"I'm also puzzled by the praise that some of my colleagues have heaped... Perhaps my colleagues have information denied to those of us who have to judge the movie by what is on the screen."

As I have mentioned before, I do not think that film criticism is restricted to mere opinion, a movie can very well be analyzed for "what is on the screen." But Canby did not do that, as he claims. Didn't he say that his "mixed feelings" were involved in his review? In this case, his feelings were boredom and apathy, and he let them get in the way of his review.

I guess George Lucas was right. Critics have not liked any of the Star Wars movies.

-Isma.