Joss Whedon Has One Big Problem with 'The Empire Strikes Back'

August 23, 2013
Source: EW

The Empire Strikes Back

Amongst Star Wars fans, a large majority would call The Empire Strikes Back the best film in the entire saga. It's certainly one of the best sequels of all time and contains one of the most mind-blowing twists in history. However, The Avengers director Joss Whedon actually thinks Star Wars (or A New Hope as it's come to be called) is the better film. Whedon says, "Empire committed the cardinal sin of not actually ending. Which at the time I was appalled by and I still think it was a terrible idea." As the middle part of a trilogy, the film is faced with the challenge of not really having a beginning or end, but is it bad?

In a conversation with EW, the director elaborated:

"It’s not an ending. It’s a Come Back Next Week, or in three years. And that upsets me. I go to movies expecting to have a whole experience. If I want a movie that doesn’t end I’ll go to a French movie. That’s a betrayal of trust to me. A movie has to be complete within itself, it can’t just build off the first one or play variations."

As Whedon explained a bit more briefly once before, “I still believe that even though The Empire Strikes Back is better in innumerable ways than Star Wars, Star Wars wins because you can’t end a movie with Han frozen in Carbonite. That’s not a movie, it’s an episode.” The director isn't necessarily wrong with his assessment of the middle film in the trilogy, but the fact that the film is held in such high esteeem and given such critical praise without an ending that's wrapped up neatly. For my money, The Empire Strikes Back may not work as a standalone film, but the fact that it has been praised in spite of that fact is what makes it worthy of being called the best in the series. We'll agree to disagree, Mr. Whedon. Thoughts?

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Well its not called Episode 5 for nothing Mr Whedon, take a step back and look at the bigger picture (also helps to swallow the mess of the prequels).

Steven on Aug 23, 2013


Yeah, well, Episode 4 is still Episode 4, and it's entirely self-contained, it resolves it's own conflict.

Chris Groves on Aug 23, 2013


"That’s not a movie, it’s an episode.” Mr Whedon himself. My point is that Episode 4 was the first and gave Lucas the foundation to make the rest of the trilogy and the prequels later down the line. He picked the best film to do first and only later was ANH classed as Episode 4.

Steven on Aug 23, 2013


Yeah, but the point still stands. I mean, look at any of the 3 prequels...they are very much part of a bigger story, but they still resolve their own conflicts. The Clone War is the biggest thing left off in AOTC that is finished in ROTJ, but that's more of a background element. You don't have Obi-Wan being taken captive at the end of Episode 2 and we have to wait to Episode 3 to see him rescued. I believe Whedon's point hinges entirely on the Han Solo plot thread. It seems like he is captured and hauled of specifically to create an urgent demand to see the next movie. Very much like Jack in Pirates of the Caribbean 2.

Chris Groves on Aug 23, 2013


I think you like seeing yourself type. Do you not realize you're saying one thing and avoiding another? The fact that Vader escaped lets everyone know "Hey he survived, there's going to be another one!" I get what your saying but I don't think you fully understand what you're saying. ANH and Empire follow the SAME formula. No matter how gently it's conveyed. Whedon was just being an ass because he didn't fully think about what he was saying before he said it. The conflict is still unresolved at the end of ANH, plain and simple.

TheManWithNoName on Aug 23, 2013


Good lord, how ANH ends and how Empire ends are so far from the same thing it's not even funny. ANH has what you call a 'dangling thread', one that CAN be picked up in a future film, but not one that keeps the film itself from feeling resolved. They blow up the Death Star, Vader runs away, the ending is all about the heroes celebrating the victory. Empire has very much a 'cliffhanger ending', a story thread that is actively unresolved and MUST be picked up in a future film. Han is captured and taken by Boba Fett, that is a major cliffhanger, the entire ending of the film is about 'We'll get Han back' Ending of A New Hope - Vader got away, if they do another one, I bet they'll bring him back Ending of Empire - They HAVE to do another one, they need to rescue Han! Ending of The Matrix - Wow, Neo is the one now, he'll probably kick ass in the human-machine war. Ending of The Matrix 2 - Holy shit! Smith is in the real world and on the same ship as Neo! Ending of Pirates 1 - Cool, Jack got his ship back, he could have some fun adventures on that thing Ending of Pirates 2 - BARBOSSA IS ALIVE? They can bring Jack back? If you don't see the obvious differences, then there is nothing I can do to help you.

Chris Groves on Aug 23, 2013


I give up... bigger cliffhanger ending: MAIN antagonist gets away without the hero ever facing him, or a secondary character (albeit the coolest character EVER) getting frozen? Give me a break, man...

Joe on Aug 23, 2013


Vader was only retroactively made the 'main antagonist' Episode 4, he very much plays the role of the henchman to Grand Moff Tarkin, who is much more-so the big-bad of that particular film. Vader answers to him. Think more in terms of how it was when the original film and Empire first came out...that's the lens that Joss initially saw them through, not this '6 film, story of Anakin Skywalker' angle that they evolved into. Also, Han is much more than a secondary character. Luke, Han and Leia are the 3 main characters of the original trilogy.

Chris Groves on Aug 23, 2013


Number one, I am a Han guy. He is by far the coolest character in the entire galaxy, no question, but 'STAR WARS' (perhaps unfortunately) is NOT his story- it is Luke and Vader's. As a secondary character, he shines bright- even going so far as going on his own personal journey' of sorts when he realizes true bounty can only be found in service to others, but on the whole, this is the HERO'S JOURNEY, note for note, with Luke playing the part of the hero, and Vader playing the part of his inherit Destiny. PS. There are only 3 Star Wars films at this point, and I am a bit perplexed as to why you mentioned 6?

Joe on Aug 23, 2013


My fellow movie geeks, I ask you: upon seeing STAR WARS for the first time, who, dare I ask, did you leave the theater thinking was the MAIN villain of the piece: Grand Funk Tolkien or DARTH F*CKING VADER? GAME OVER, PAL.

Joe on Aug 23, 2013


One last point, because I am on a roll: This bozo compared STAR WARS to both THE MATRIX and PIRATES, and I have a few issues with this... THE MATRIX did what STAR WARS did NOT do; it had resolution between the films protagonist and antagonist, thus completing the story arc. Nero killed Smith, and became that which he became. Smith was only RETROACTIVLY added back into part 2, something EMPIRE didn't have to do, because Lucas had the balls to leave his audience (after STAR WARS) with the cliffhanger to end all cliffhanger endings: his MAIN antagonist escaping- without ever even facing the protagonist- thus calling his shot in setting up the INEVITABLE sequel! PIRATES... f*ck, I hate even mentioning this s*it. Sparrow and Barbosa were like De Niro and Grodin..

Joe on Aug 23, 2013


I agree with Chris. ANH was a self-contained film. It had a resolution. The Death Star was destroyed. The rebellion was saved. While Vader did escape, he wasn't the overarching big bad of the film; it was the Death Star. The whole film was setup at the beginning with Leia trying to get back to the rebellion with the Death Star plans so they could figure out how to defeat/destroy it. ESB was structured specifically to be resolved in ROTJ. Vader wasn't setup to be Luke's destiny until ESB, after he meets and is trained by Yoda.

Tim Marshall on Sep 15, 2013


Have to agree with @chrisgroves:disqus here. The Pirates and Matrix films follow the Star Wars formula EXACTLY. Vader in Episode 4? A cool badass in a suit, that's about it. Cliffhanger ending in A New Hope? Not in any sense of the word.

Matt Stuertz on Aug 23, 2013


To quote Tony Stark: "Finally, someone who speaks English."

Chris Groves on Aug 23, 2013


I'm completely with you on this. As much as I love Empire, its ending is completely on a different level than A New Hope. A New Hope is complete, while leaving story elements alive for a potential sequel, making the audience WANT more. But Empire ended and the Audience NEEDED more. That doesn't make Empire a worst film or a bad film. I still think it was the better of the two, but I do agree that it was constructed as the first of a two part film. It's easy now to look back and say that Vader is incredibly important to the main arc of the whole saga but when A New Hope came out, no one knew about any of that stuff. So yeah, you got it.

Nash on Aug 23, 2013


That could be why Ford wanted Solo killed in Empire. However, the ending was that Han was taken, it was a 'unhappy' ending, perhaps hence the title of the movie. Otherwise we still had the main plot of Luke and Vader that started in the first film. I can take what your saying on-board, but Lucas was breaking the mould with the original Star Wars.

Steven on Aug 23, 2013


Episode 4 did NOT resolve its own conflict! Vader got away at the end, with no resolution whatsoever to this, Luke's major purpose. This is absolutely NO different from Han being frozen at the end of Episode 5.

Joe on Aug 23, 2013


Yes it is. The Death Star was the main plot point of A New Hope, it's blown up, along with Tarkin, and the Rebels win the day and Vader runs away with his tail between his legs. It's resolved, although it certainly leaves threads that CAN be picked up in future's not some big cliffhanger like Han being captured. To say there is NO difference is naive. Of course, in the grand scheme of things, Vader getting away looks like a much bigger deal, because the prequels are about setting him up as the main arc of the series. But in a vacuum, as a single A New Hope originally started out as, it is a 'complete' story. You can't watch Empire as it's own thing and feel a resolution at the end. I mean, look at the cliffhanger of The Matrix 2, it's a total cliffhanger that BEGS for another film. But look at the end of The Matrix. The human-machine war is still going on, the story is still 'unfinished' in that regard, but it's still a complete film with it's own resolution. If there never was a Matrix 2, you wouldn't have a sense of 'My God, the story was never finished', but you can't watch The Matrix 2 and then say it feels like a complete story. Same thing with Pirates of the Caribbean. The first ends in a 'That told a story, but there is room for more' way, while the 2nd is a 'My god, they need to finish it!' kind of ending. Compare the Back to the Future trilogy as well. It's a common thread in trilogies. The first is made in a way where they are hopeful for sequels, but are not sure it will happen, so it's a complete, self-contained story. But by the time they make film 2, they KNOW it will be huge so they leave a lot of things left to be resolved in film 3. Spider-Man 2 is guilty of this relative to Spider-Man.

Chris Groves on Aug 23, 2013


I admire your passion, but you are simply missing the point. No one really cared about the 'Death' Star, and really, what the hell was it, even, in the grand scheme of things? The conflict between Luke and Vader was the major 'theme' of the entire saga, and was established right away in Episode 4. To say otherwise is ludicrous. And to say that the film resolved its own conflict, unlike (again as you say) Episode 5 would be like Daniel-son witnessing the murder of Miagi by the school bully, and then the credits roll- after Daniel-son blows up the karate studio where said bully train, and without ever actually confronting the said bully.. Myself? I don't have a problem with 'cliff' hanger endings, as the episodic nature of the Star Wars films very accurately mirrored the source material from which they came, and as George Lucas himself has stated.

Joe on Aug 23, 2013


Really? Nobody cared about the Death Star? that's only what the entire film is about. RETROACTIVELY, the franchise was made all about Vader and his children. But think of this in terms of the original film. When it first came out, it was the only film in the series, it was the first. It was self-contained. You can watch it in a vacuum and it exists as a complete story. There is no Skywalker family stuff, there is no real dealing with the Emperor, there is no Yoda, nothing. It's a basic adventure story. Empire is then a sequel that has a very cliffhanger ending. It also introduced previously un-mentioned aspects of the story and plot like Yoda, like Vader being Luke's father, like there being some "other" besides Luke. Then Jedi had to follow up on all of these things, 'Oh, we lied about Vader being your father, and Leia is your sister'. If you step back and look just at A New Hope, originally there was no intent shown of a greater relationship between Vader and Luke, or of a sibling relationship between Luke and Leia, or of that fact that Obi-Wan was lying to Luke. Now, Lucas later made the prequels...and so he extended all of the arcs and tried to make it feel like a single, big story...but that's not how it originally was. In the grand scheme of the saga, now A New Hope, originally made very much as a stand-alone story(because Lucas couldn't have been sure he would get to make more films) is now the only film that doesn't feature Yoda or the Emperor and doesn't deal with the 'skywalker family' angle. Lucas tried to make it seem like the 'new' twists and turns introduced in Empire and Jedi were always part of the plan and part of the greater story of the saga, and the prequels make it seem that way...but that wasn't originally the case. Leia and Luke weren't originally meant to be siblings, etc etc.

Chris Groves on Aug 23, 2013


I like you... you remind me... of.... me! But 'A New Hope' is about as much of a 'stand alone' film as (again) The Karate Kid movie I mentioned in which Daniel-son witness the murder of his beloved mentor, only to blow up the Karate Studio where the 'bad' students trained, and as the main antagonist (who murdered his beloved mentor) escapes out of the back door. The Death Star? Honestly, pal, that was far and away one of the 'silliest' aspects of the films... when I was a kid, and watched Star Wars for the first time, I didn't give a flip about the Death Star (whatever the hell it was supposed to be), but what I did care about was the menacing dude dressed in all black that was the driving force of the entire film- even when he wasn't on screen... and then the film ended, with him 'slipping through the back door'... and I thought, even at the time, that that was awesome- as it promised the story was far from over, and would 'resolve' itself later, in future installments... just... like... The... Empire... Strikes... Back...

Joe on Aug 23, 2013


Not JUST like it. The potential of more to come vs the NEED for more is not the same. The Death Star was blown up, that was a huge victory...Vader gets away, but the movie still ends with a big celebration and the heroes getting medals. Weighed against the station that blows up planets, Darth Vader getting(running) away was just a planted seed for the future. But Han Solo being taken by Boba Fett was a major story point. The whole 3rd act was structured around it, it DEMANDED another film.

Chris Groves on Aug 23, 2013


You can't even compare the two, Chris! Vader was the film's MAIN source of conflict- his archetypal confrontation with Luke being the culmination of the film's entire purpose! The entire journey is mapped out in 'A Hero with Thousand Faces', which Lucas, himself, admitted to structuring these (original) films around. Even as a little boy, I knew damn well where the MAIN source of conflict was coming from, and it damn sure wasn't the 'Death Star'! Again, the Death Star was just a means to end the film on a relatively celebratory note, but did NOTHING to address the films MAIN conflict, thus concluding the film with a CLIFFHANGER ending! And (yet) again, I purpose the question: which is MORE "cliffhangery": the MAIN antagonist freakin' getting away at the end without EVER facing the hero, or a (kick-ass) secondary character getting FROZEN?!

Joe on Aug 23, 2013


Resolving the conflict as you put it would have been the end of the Empire, which was not done until ROTJ. Vader escaping the Death Star is still an unresolved conflict in its own way.

TheManWithNoName on Aug 23, 2013


I'm more specifically referring to the 'Han got captured, we'll get him next time' cliffhanger aspect of the story. The Rebels vs Empire arc is played out over all 3 films, Vader is played out over all 3 films...but the Han capture and rescue is a sizable arc played out only over Empire and Jedi. Sure, the seed is planted in A New Hope, but his capture is done in Empire, and his rescue is in Jedi.

Chris Groves on Aug 23, 2013



TheManWithNoName on Aug 23, 2013


People will over-react. He has said that he loves the movie, we all do. But he makes a great point. There is a trope known as the 'two part sequel'...where you have a trilogy, and film 1 is self-contained and resolved, while film 2 and 3 feel like one big movie divided into two parts. The Matrix 2 and 3, Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3. Compare how film 1 ended to how film 2 ended. Empire and Jedi have the same relationship. Empire is very much about setting up problems and building things up, and Jedi resolves them. Return of the Jedi is very much 'The Empire Strikes Back, part 2'. It doesn't hurt the greater saga for it to do that, but still, it is a flaw. Now, how Lucas retroactively made it a 6 part story sort of helps massage that minor flaw, but it's still there. If you look at the original trilogy in a vacuum, huge elements like Yoda, The Emperor, and the story aspect of Luke's parentage...those are arcs played out over 2 films, Empire and Jedi, not 3. The way Lucas did the prequels now makes those stories overall arcs of the entire 6 films, and A New Hope takes a back-seat to dealing with those arcs, featuring no Yoda or Emperor. Imagine a version of 'The Empire Strikes Back' where the 1st act of Return of the Jedi is the 3rd act of Empire. Remove some of the material from the middle of Empire...where Luke is doing a lot of training with Yoda, and Han and co are doing a lot of running and hiding from the Empire, and move the rescue of Han from Jabba's palace to the end of Empire. Even leaving the greater arc of the Rebels vs Empire left to be resolved in Jedi, resolving the Han Solo/Boba Fett/Jabba story thread in Empire could have given it a rather spectacular finish without taking anything great away from it. I mean, look at The Dark Knight. SURELY I'm not the only one that remembers the early reports of the initial plans...that it would essentially 'end' with Joker's defeat and capture, and with Dent becoming Two-Face at the end, thus setting up the 3rd film which would feature both characters. Nolan wisely said 'No thanks' to that, and both the Joker and Dent story-lines were resolved in The Dark Knight. Sure, the 3rd film didn't have it's story totally set-up by the 2nd film, and they had to come up with something that felt like a proper continuation/conclusion to the first two...but at the same time, it resulted in a much stronger 2nd film. People should really think about what Whedon truly means when he says these things, and consider it with more poise and rationality, and not just look at it in terms of 'Oh, he said something negative about a great film, he sucks!'

Chris Groves on Aug 23, 2013


How can Whedon critize a film for not being complete within itself? The guy made 'The Avengers' for crying out loud.

Ari on Aug 23, 2013


The Avengers might not have been the beginning of the franchise, but it told it's own story. That was Loki using the cube to bring an army to try and conquer earth and the Avengers coming together to stop him. He didn't freeze Tony Stark and haul him off to Thanos and make us wait until Avengers 2 to resolve that cliffhanger.

Chris Groves on Aug 23, 2013


"It's not a movie, it's an Episode." Seriously? Just because it's an "EPISODE" doesn't mean it's not a "MOVIE". I'm not going to get into a stupid f**king definition war. Starving for attention = ridiculous statement.

avconsumer2 on Aug 23, 2013


I swear, it's like everyone on the internet doesn't know the definition of a cliffhanger ending and why it's a somewhat negative thing. A film can leave points unresolved and open for future films while still resolving it's own main conflict. Each of the first two Lord of the Rings movies very much do this, the Star Wars prequels each do this. But a film that leaves one or more major story threads unresolved for the SOLE intent of following up on them in a sequel is in fact dealing with a Cliffhanger ending, which is not a great thing. It doesn't make Empire any less amazing...but it's still a cliffhanger ending that demotes Return of the Jedi to very much being 'the Empire Strikes Back: part 2' in the same way that The 3rd Matrix film was 'The Matrix Reloaded: Part 2'

Chris Groves on Aug 23, 2013


Dude, you are dominating this thread

axalon on Aug 23, 2013


I can't stand foolishness.

Chris Groves on Aug 23, 2013


You're the commenter we need and seriously, the one we deserve

axalon on Aug 23, 2013


Thanks, I truly appreciate that

Chris Groves on Aug 23, 2013


Yeah, right, Chris, because even as a kid, I couldn't care less about the baddest, most terrifying Villain my young eyes had ever seen- who just murdered our hero's mentor- right in front of him, no less... nope. It was all about that pesky 'Death' Star that captivated my attention... never mind Vader, I was just glad that this (the films most glaring conflict???) was resolved...

Joe on Aug 23, 2013


Sure, you cared, we all cared. There is a REASON Lucas turned Vader from a terrifying henchman into the main character of the whole saga. But as initially conceived, Vader getting away is not a cliffhanger ending anywhere near the same way that Han being shipped off is.

Chris Groves on Aug 23, 2013


Well every one has a point, it's the Internet, he made his point lets move on. I think Empire was the best n I doubt any more episodes can top that let see was J J does for the franchise

Francis.F on Aug 23, 2013


Coming from a director of a complete and utter nonsense movie, how am i supposed to take that sorta comment seriously? Sure. Buffy. ok. hmm. Firefly. I get. Nathan was funny and cool...kinda like a Han Solo rip off. ESB was beautifully directed and its ending is WHY its so good.

Buzzfunk on Aug 23, 2013


Whedons just pissed hes not directing EP 7

Christopher Philip Cinquegrano on Aug 23, 2013


“I still believe that even though The Empire Strikes Back is better in innumerable ways than Star Wars, Star Wars wins because you can’t end a movie with Han frozen in Carbonite. That’s not a movie, it’s an episode.” That why the full title is: Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back.... it supposed to be that way...

Nick D. on Aug 23, 2013


Tell Peter Jackson.

Hugo Armando on Aug 23, 2013


Who cares what Joss Whedon thinks. There is nothing wrong with that ending, look at all the movie series that did the same thing, its awesome. Better than every movie ending, thats just stupid. Episode I is a prime example, we knew the trilogy was coming, why the big celebration at the end, just stupid.

Angry Lester on Aug 23, 2013


From the guy who had Angel always in a sunlit room.

mooreworthy on Aug 23, 2013


Joss Whedons cool, I like his mini series stuff but I didn't like The Avengers, and they made Empire in a different time where we weren't a 100% fast food fast everything culture. He also call it not a movie but an "Episode" , isn't that what all the SW movies are -EP 1,2,3,4,5 and 6

Christopher Philip Cinquegrano on Aug 23, 2013


I think Whedon's recent success has gone to that giant head of his. He's crazy. TESB is one of the best movies of all time. Better than all his stuff combined.

cobrazombie on Aug 24, 2013


I actually love when they do this kind of ending/cliffhanger in the first and second part of a trilogy. Seriously! It makes me so hyped for the next part. Back to the Future is the best example I can give.

dave on Aug 24, 2013


Joss Whedon's stupidity is far beyond me: "That’s not a movie, it’s an episode.". Well, didn't he know that this movie is actually an episode? Yeah, it's the five episode in the saga for god sake, and it's called that way from the start. So they can do it this way (not having and 'ending') and it's perfectly fine.

Lautaro on Aug 24, 2013


Well, as a kid it blew me away how that movie ended. So depressing but I had to watch it again. I do t necessarily agree with Mr. Whedon on this one. Episode or movie, it was a classic. You definitely want to see the next one & that's what continuing a saga is aboot (yes, aboot).

JudgeMethos on Aug 24, 2013


This guy just needs to shut up and focus on The Age of Ultron. Let's see if you can do better with your big mouth hot shot! Making a statement like that just blows my mind you don't spit at a classic that actually revolutionized Hollywood in such a way it has never been the same since 1977. Thank you George Lucas for your vision and screw you Joss Whedon because Mr. Lucas MADE YOU!

BinaryChaos on Aug 25, 2013


I get his point, but I think he's talking out of his ass on this occasion. If he ever directs a movie that comes close to the cinematic greatness of The Empire Strikes Back, then I'll respect his opinion. He is no doubt a very talented man, but The Empire Strikes Back SHITS on The Avengers!!

Chewy Gomez on Aug 25, 2013


While Empire has a lot of good parts, I've always thought A New Hope the better movie.

Brent Snyder on Aug 29, 2013


I agree with Whedon. I remember being quite disappointed by it; it's like a movie in reverse, where the big climax is at the beginning (battle on Hoth) and then the end is anti-climactic and, as Whedon points out, unresolved. I was 11 when Star Wars came out, and it was a defining moment for children like me. By Empire, I was 14. Return Of The Jedi didn't come out until I was 17; now a young man, and it felt like going to see it was a kind of obligation to get the story over and done. I can quite understand why Lucas didn't then make any more. The original demographic had grown out of what were a set of (good) childrens' movies. The schedule of movie making in the modern era means that being episodic, with gaps of three years and more, is not a good idea. Gone are the days when you got a new James Bond every year. Leaving viewers hanging for three years with a cliffhanger is just wrong, and especially so with kids' movies, where the nature of the audience is changing so fast as they grow up. I thought the ending of Empire was bad then, and I do now. I agree with Whedon.

Ian B on Aug 19, 2014

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