Joss Whedon Has A Bone To Pick With The Empire Strikes Back

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Joss WhedonAs writer/director Joss Whedon prepares The Avengers: Age of Ultron for summer 2015, the 49-year-old geek icon might set up The Avengers sequel movie to be the darker middle portion of a movie trilogy. Ever since the release of The Empire Strikes Back in 1981, almost every sequel that followed tried to go dark, just like the Star Wars sequel, which is regarded by many as the best film of the franchise. But while Joss Whedon likes Empire , he also thinks it has one glaring flaw.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Whedon’s conversation ranges from The Avengers: Age of Ultron and the new S.H.I.E.L.D. series on ABC. He also calls The Empire Strikes Back and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part II two sequels that “got it right.” But the element of Empire that rubs Whedon the wrong way is its half-hearted ending. Here’s Whedon:

Empire committed the cardinal sin of not actually ending,’ Whedon noted to EW. ‘Which at the time I was appalled by and I still think it was a terrible idea.’ To which the EW interviewer blurted: ‘You think Empire had a bad ending?’

‘Well, it’s not an ending,’ Whedon explained about the 1980 film, which had a cliffhanger leading into the next entry of the series, Return of the Jedi. ‘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.’

Is Whedon right about the ending of The Empire Strikes Back? I didn’t watch The Empire Strikes Back until well after the release of Return of the Jedi in 1983, so I can’t weigh-in on the three-year cliffhanger. I can imagine it being frustrated to see our group of heroes’ storylines unresolved at the end of the film, but I don’t think it takes away the power of the movie.

The Empire Strikes Back is a darker film and shows that not everything will work out at the end. Director Irvin Kershner, screenwriters Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, and George Lucas did a great job managing the film’s story against audience expectations. That said, I don’t think you could get away with something like that today.

The Wachowskis did something similar with the ending of The Matrix: Reloaded. The ending of the film is even more of an abrupt (and unsatisfying) cliffhanger than Empire‘s ending. However, that cliffhanger left audiences hanging for a considerably shorter period, with only six months between the release of The Matrix: Reloaded and The Matrix: Revolutions. If Revolutions wasn’t going to be released for another three years, it would have been even more disappointing than how The Matrix sequels did turn out.

But taking the above quote from Joss Whedon into consideration, the ending of The Avengers: Age of Ultron will probably not have an abrupt, unresolved ending like The Empire Strikes Back. But seeing how Whedon’s film is in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the window between films will also be much shorter than three years. Movies from Marvel Studios are never meant to stand completely alone, but rather fit together into one cohesive, ongoing experience.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron will hit theaters everywhere on May 1, 2015, in 3D.


  1. The Gaf says:

    Hell, no. I was 8 for Empire, 11 for Jedi. I had no idea there would be a third going in, so setting it up made me crazy excited for the conclusion. There was no internet to ruin stuff, and let us know what was what, so it was an awesome time.

  2. jrd says:

    Sometimes its best to wait to get a movie right! I loved the ending of Empire! I hated the sequel to Star Trek . I dont know if it was a cliffhanger or not!

    • Shane Nokes says:

      The sequel to Star Trek from his franchise?!?

      This story is about Joss Whedon, not JJ Abrams. *sighs*

  3. DesertSkyFan says:

    minor complaint, this article lists 2 different years for Empire. 1980 then later 1981.

    • JimS says:

      Just to clarify for anyone, not in the know. It was released on May 21, 1980. 🙂

    • Eugene Joubert says:

      Depends where you were in the world at that time. Was released in 1980 in the US. We only got it in South Africa in like 1982 or 83 or something (not sure if it was even legally released at that time in SA due to heavy boycotting o_O ).

  4. azraelmorphyne says:

    pirates 2. that is all.

  5. Sleeper99999 says:

    This is just a bit of contrarianism on Whedon’s part. EMPIRE actually better captures the Saturday matinee serial experience than STAR WARS did; it began in the middle of the action and ended on a cliffhanger.

  6. Christopher Starr says:

    I like Joss Whedon. I LOVED the Avengers. I think he is dead wrong on this one. I was 7 when Empire came out. It was the first movie I’d seen where the good guys didn’t win. I didn’t feel like it didn’t finish; it absolutely told me there was more. What I got, almost innately, was that this was part of the 3 act structure. I didn’t have any doubt that the issue would be resolved–I distinctly remember being on the playground wondering if Darth Vader was really Luke’s dad and what that meant.

    I think what you have is a perfect example of a storyteller/filmmaker absolutely in touch with his audience. Star Wars starts in the middle of the story–the first image on the screen is Episode 4. That contract with the audience is set and maintained. I think your boy is wrong.

    • Eugene Joubert says:

      I wish George Lucas had got it right with episode 1,2 and 3 :'(

      • Christopher Starr says:

        I wholeheartedly agree. Three movies that are nothing but exposition didn’t serve anyone well. Maybe if that kid wasn’t crying all the time…Maybe if they gave Darth Maul more than 1 line to speak and then cut him in half…Maybe if they started the story at Attack of the Clones and actually showed us the Clone Wars in the movies…Maybe if General Grevious was more than the bitch he was and actually fought somebody…maybe…

        • Eugene Joubert says:

          Oh man, Darth Maul, that character had so much potential! He looked so awesome, his presence on screen overshadowed everyone else! They could have done so much more with him.

  7. James Parvey says:

    I was 21 when Empire first came out, and I have to say that I agree with Whedon. The “non-ending” left me feeling a bit cheated. and while there was no internet, there were still those intent on spilling the beans. I remember one reviewer who just had to tell everyone that “Yes, Darth Vader was Luke’s father”, before the film was in theaters.

  8. Witty Screenname says:

    Like Raiders, The Star wars films were written in the style of the old “cliffhanger serial movie” style of the 30s and 40s. It was “working as intended”, to draw the peoples attention and make them come back for more.

  9. Sargonarhes says:

    His opinion is why I consider him a hack, and will never watch any of his craptastic films.

    • Eugene Joubert says:

      So you don’t rate Firefly then?

      • Sargonarhes says:

        Didn’t bother with it. Hated his work before that, still hate him now and not wasting my time or money on him.

        • SubSumeYou says:

          I’m right with ya. I thought BattleStar Galactica was bad enough, but Joss comes along with the space cowboy rehash, I hated it immensely, thus ignored it. Hack.

    • SubSumeYou says:

      I’m losing my interest in this fellow already with his views which has mystified, he’s a couple of years older than I but I suppose he’s classically ‘full of himself’ now and champing at the bit to talk shit, I’m downright expired on him. What a guy. Mad respect to Irvin Kershner. No respect to Joss, gets the ass face.

  10. Mandalore2280 says:

    I was going to mention Pirates 2 but looks like I was beat to it. Thought that ended in the same style of Empire (but lets try and compare, Empire is damn near perfection). I just thought Pirates 2 was a good way to end on a cliffhanger, build that “OMG” moment, which ultimately lead to the anticipation (and in this case, let down) of Pirates 3.

  11. IrvineGray says:

    This really has nothing to do with Empire and has everything to do with Joss Whedon not liking cliffhangers. And I get and respect that. I didn’t like the ending of Empire, either. As a kid, anyway. Granted I saw the entire Star Wars saga in the mid-90’s when I was about 5 or 6, well after they’d been out for more than a decade, and with the complete knowledge that they were a trilogy; but even then Empire’s ending felt weak. I distinctly recall being like, “Wait, is that the end of it?” when Lando’s pulling away with Chewie in the Falcon. I couldn’t believe it. I wanted more. Fortunately for me I could just pop in the next VHS and end the entire saga with Jedi–which I did. And all my questions were answered. I can respect the ending a bit more now, but even watching it nowadays it still does just kind of…end.

    That said, I don’t know how I would do it any different, and the whole “jumping-into-the-middle-of-things-ending-in-the-middle-of-things” does work in the grand scheme of the Star Wars trilogy, and is very thought provoking and engages the viewer’s imaginations then either Hope or Jedi. But as Whedon says, he prefers his films to be whole, complete, and capable of standing alone, even if they are a part of something bigger. To each their own I s’pose.

  12. zirtoc says:

    The only major loose end is really Han Solo. Everybody else is hanging around, looking out space windows. Luke has a new hand. It’s all good.

  13. poochkins says:

    When I was a kid I didn’t like Empire… I missed all the cantina aliens, the space dogfights and I thought the ending was awful. I think around the time I was 17 I finally got it and it has been my favorite ever since. I just think that that kind of dark film with those sorts of themes certainly takes a certain maturity.

  14. THANK YOU JOSS. I concur, as that non-ending pissed me off too. I have always harbored a grudge at that, and it may be why I have never cared for Empire except as a bridge between Star Wars and Jedi, despite its acclaim and popularity (which I never did understand.) Glad to know I wasn’t the only one who felt let down by that.

    It was particularly a cruel thing to do since the third installment wasn’t even a thing you could be sure to see – no “Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel” sort of thing. AND it essentially held you hostage for the price of a second movie ticket, in order to get the whole story from the first you bought. Unfair and presumptuous.

    Joss, you are THE MAN. I knew there was a reason I liked you…

  15. Anyone who has read the first Mortal Instruments book (City of Bones) would understand where Whedon is coming from.

    TERRIBLE ending.

  16. Chris Carleton says:

    Fellowship Of The Ring

  17. Adam says:

    I love Empire beginning, middle and end. It almost operates backwards with the climatic battle at the beginning of the movie and ending on a quiet note. I like that the story arcs didn’t all line up nice and neat and something’s were left over. In fact I always felt Jedi committed the crime of wrapping every loose plot point up too easily.

  18. Eugene Joubert says:

    I agree with Gaf, we all made a mental commitment to Return of the Jedi after Empire Strikes Back. There was no way we were going to miss it. The wait and expectation for Return of the Jedi made it so much better because all our questions were finally answered. Chewie and Lando flying off towards a far off galaxy at the end with Leia helping Luke get himself patched back together was an awesome scene. It was a “Don’t worry guys, we know where Han is, he’s gonna be alright. We’re gonna kick ass and bring him back home and you’ll see it happen in the next movie.” kinda scene. It made me feel a hell of a lot better after seeing Han being carbonized.

  19. Anthony Mata says:

    What a douche! He has one hit movie and he’s talking smack about “Empire” ?When he made some of the worst Sci-fi/horror T.V. shows ever. The worst acting, special effects, the worst scripts, writers, story, name it. Ultron was more of an Iron man nemesis. he wants to jump into “Age of Ultron”? I really hope he fails now. I knew he was lame. But even the lame find a crutch(Avengers) sometimes. A-hole.

  20. SONICSNOUT says:

    I have to admit, I remember watching the movie in the theater when I was only four years old and being surprised when the credits rolled, because, well… it just felt like there was more movie left. I was too young to put it into words, but that was the feeling, I remember being all excited to see them go look for Han or whatever and then boom! Credits. Still one of the best movies ever, though. Maybe I was just too young to understand a movie where the good guys don’t win.

  21. JustJay says:

    Joss seems to have forgotten that this was a different time the era of potential nuclear war, we all lived on a cliffs edge and as has been mentioned buster Crabtree style series like flash gordon and buck rogers, were a major influence on the style, as an 11 year old I loved it but it made Jedi a disappointment at the time (was a hard act to follow).

  22. Paul Loudon says:

    What more of a conclusion do you need other than finding out who your father is? That’s some serious closure right there.

  23. Dominic Draper says:

    I actually thought the cliff-hanger was one of the best parts about it. Don’t get me wrong, I love Empire, but there is nothing better than being rewarded with a talking point – what is going to happen next.
    I was born in 87, so I didn’t have a three year wait, but in 97, I saw the ANH (non-special edition) on VHS at a friend’s house, then saw Empire at the cinema in the summer, then had the boxset on VHS for Christmas. It nearly killed me not knowing what happened. But boy was it worth the wait when I finally got to put the tape in the machine and see how it would be resolved.

  24. Pitchy says:

    I was 9 when Empire came out and absolutely loved it. Still to this day, it remains my favorite of the entire franchise. The cliffhanger that he speaks of was not a let down, it was hope… it was anticipation. It left me wild eyed and excited for what I could only imagine would be a 3rd film.

  25. Andrew Arnold says:

    Alls I know is that when I was a kid, I went to see TESB, and at the ‘end’ of the movie we see Luke getting his new hand attached (Sorry- SPOILER). Then the camera pans out to space and the credits roll… I was gobsmacked and I ain’t even British! I was SOOO angry that I had to wait another 3 years for this movie to end!!!

  26. ErikRP says:

    I was 10 when Empire came out and it was a revelation. Practically note perfect in every respect (who will ever forget the first time they heard the Imperial March while watching Empire on the big screen?!) including the cliffhanger.

    It’s probably simplistic to say, but 30+ years ago people weren’t as into the instant gratification like they are now. We didn’t have the internet, we didn’t have streaming video. Think about it, A New Hope wasn’t even available to rent in video stores until *5 years* after it came out in the theatre!

    Did the cliffhanger drive people crazy? Of course! But if it makes sense, it was crazy in a good way. It spawned imaginations, it spawned interest in the next movie to come out. For me, and many of my friends, one of the best parts of Empire was the “tune in 3 years from now” to find out what happened to Han. It’s also what made ROTJ that much better (since on its own it’s really not all that great), since there was such a pent up demand for answers after Empire.

    (Worth noting that the “starving man syndrome” that made people accept ROTJ’s failings wasn’t strong enough for viewers to ignore the many failings of Episode 1…)

  27. Phill A. Sheeo says:

    Whats the agenda with Whedon suddenly? First Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom gets his critique, now Star Wars? In two days? Uh huh.

  28. adhalshdakjhdkjahskjdhakajhd says:

    Ya Joss Wheadon says the empire didnt have an ending, and he was the one that showed us Thanos at the very end of Avengers instead of any point before that. What a hyprocite or however you spell that shit

  29. DoigtDuPeuple says:

    I liked it.. the 3 years for the wait for horrible, but it puts in the knowledge that the’ll be making another one which we were stoked about in those days.. Then we saw the Ewoks and thought “Is Lucas putting story second and product placement first? NAAAAAAH!”.. and then came Star Wars Episode 1.. then 2.. then 3.. oh good lord..

    But I take what Whedon is saying and I think he’s right for the Avengers franchise were they need to close the loop at the end since the characters need to do their own franchise.

    While they can mention what happened in the Avengers movie or set off from it like Iron Man 3 did, if you don’t close the loop then you push YOUR story to the director or writer of that franchise to continue for the character then need to push to your movie by the end of it.

    I think by closing the story you give something for the writer to work with for the character yet are not obligating him to loop in your story.

    In the comics world the Avengers would do their thing in NY and in the same month Iron Man would be getting the heck beat out of him in Cali. So they would separate the story lines and may mention it later on in some way with the famous ” *see Iron Man 145″ note in a square corner.

    In the movies people want to see continuity. Hence why it’s hard for them to imagine another actor taking the role of Iron Man other than Robert Downey Jr when in fact you will need to replace him at some point.

    And as The Gaf says, in those days no internet made it pretty damn awesome by waiting for the next movie to come out as no one gave scoops, pictures, comments or story lines years before even seeing it. We did something highly unusual.. we waited for it.. 😉

  30. Troy James Martin says:

    “Empire” was the very best of all the Star Wars entries. Even if it was never concluded it would have been a great movie, open-ended or not.

  31. frog says:

    I was 10 when Empire came out. The ending blew me away. Till this day I still consider the last 45 minutes of Empire to beat any other film. For the next 3 years it was a constant conversation among my friends. Looking back I don’t think Empire would have been so amazing with a, wrapped up in a bow tie ending.