N.Y. Times critic Vincent Canby on The Empire Strikes Back, posted on 6.15.80: “The Empire Strikes Back is not a truly terrible movie. It’s a nice movie. 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. Attending to it is a lot like reading the middle of a comic book. It is amusing in fitful patches but you’re likely to find more beauty, suspense, discipline, craft and art when watching a New York harbor pilot bring the Queen Elizabeth 2 into her Hudson River berth, which is what The Empire Strikes Back most reminds me of. It’s a big, expensive, time-consuming, essentially mechanical operation.
“Gone from The Empire Strikes Back are those associations that so enchanted us in Star Wars, reminders of everything from the Passion of Jesus and the stories of Beowulf and King Arthur to those of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, the Oz books, Buck Rogers and Peanuts. Strictly speaking, The Empire Strikes Back isn’t even a complete narrative. It has no beginning or end, being simply another chapter in a serial that appears to be continuing not onward and upward but sideways. How, then, to review it?
“The fact that I am here at this minute facing a reproachful typewriter and attempting to get a fix on The Empire Strikes Back is, perhaps, proof of something I’ve been suspecting for some time now. That is, that there is more nonsense being written, spoken and rumored about movies today than about any of the other so-called popular arts except rock music. The Force is with us, indeed, and a lot of it is hot air.
“Ordinarily when one reviews a movie one attempts to tell a little something about the story. 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. That was actually one of the more charming conceits of Star Wars, which began with a long, intensely complicated message about who was doing what to whom in the galactic confrontations we were about to witness and which, when we did see them, looked sort of like a game of neighborhood hide-and-seek at the Hayden Planetarium.
“One didn’t worry about its politics. One only had to distinguish the good persons from the bad. This is pretty much the way one is supposed to feel about The Empire Strikes Back, but one’s impulse to know, to understand, cannot be arrested indefinitely without doing psychic damage or, worse, without risking boredom.”