10 Facts About The Empire Strikes Back for Its 40th Anniversary

Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker go head-to-head in The Empire Strikes Back (1980).
Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker go head-to-head in The Empire Strikes Back (1980).
Lucasfilm/20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Earlier this month, to celebrate Star Wars Day (“May the 4th be with you!”), we rounded up dozens of amazing facts about the Star Wars saga. But being that May 21, 2020 marks the 40th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back’s premiere, we couldn’t let the day pass without shining a little extra saber-provided light on the Oscar-winning second entry in the original trilogy. So here are 10 more fascinating facts about one of the most frequently misquoted films in the history of cinema.

1. The Empire Strikes Back's "big reveal" may not have been such a big secret after all.

Mark Hamill and David Prowse in The Empire Strikes Back (1980).© Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Much has been made of the lengths to which George Lucas and his fellow filmmakers went to keep the revelation that (spoiler alert?) Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father under wraps. In a 2004 interview with Sound & Vision, Mark Hamill shared that “it was a wonderfully hard secret to keep because [Irvin] Kershner, the director, brought me aside and said ‘Now I know this, and George knows this, and now you're going to know this, but if you tell anybody, and that means Carrie or Harrison, or anybody, we're going to know who it is because we know who knows.'"

But the truth is that anyone who picked up the novelization of the movie, which was released a month prior to the film, would have known the plot twist already. (Good thing Twitter didn’t exist in 1980.)

2. David Browse spilled the beans on Luke Skywalker's connection to Darth Vader in 1978.

Two years before The Empire Strikes Back novelization hit bookstore shelves, a crowd of approximately 1000 Star Wars fans gathered in Berkeley, California to meet David Prowse, the man in Darth Vader’s suit. Believe it or not, Prowse shared that critical plot point with the crowd. A newspaper clipping from 1978 teased the genetic connection, even quoting Prowse as saying, “Father can’t kill son, son can’t kill father.”

3. The Empire Strikes Back's most memorable line is also its most misquoted.

When Darth Vader drops the paternal bomb on Luke, he does so by stating, “No, I am your father.” The line is one of the most often misquoted in cinema history, and usually repeated as “Luke, I am your father.” (Yes, even Chris Farley got it wrong in Tommy Boy.)

4. Monty Python and the Rolling Stones made Han Solo and Princess Leia smile.

In 1999, Carrie Fisher penned an essay for Newsweek on her Star Wars experience and recounted the time she and Ford pulled an all-nighter at a party with Eric Idle and the Rolling Stones. “Eric had just come home from filming Life of Brian in Tunisia,” Fisher wrote. “He brought this drink that he said they gave the extras so they'd work longer. I called it Tunisian Table Cleaner. As a rule I'm allergic to alcohol, and Harrison doesn't really drink either. But that night, there was a makeshift party. The Rolling Stones were there ... We stayed up all night and drank the table cleaner and never went to sleep."

When Fisher and Ford arrived to the set the next morning, "we weren't hungover," Fisher wrote. "We were, like the extras in Tunisia, more than willing to work. That morning we shot our arrival at Cloud City, where we meet Billy Dee Williams. And it’s one of the very few times in the series both Harrison and I smile. To this day, Eric is proud as a papa of his impact on the trilogy.”

5. George Lucas wanted Jim Henson to play Yoda.

In an interview with Leonard Maltin, Lucas admitted that he wanted Muppets maestro Jim Henson to play the role of Yoda. “I went to Jim [Henson] and said, ‘Do you want to do this?’ And he said, ‘Well, I’m busy, I’m doing this, and doing that, I’m making a movie and all that—I really can’t, but ... how about Frank [Oz]? You know, Frank’s the other half of me.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’d be fantastic.’”

Henson also recommended creature designer Stuart Freeborn, who explained that, “I was the one who kind of put all the elements of Yoda together, and although Jim didn’t make Yoda, George and he had an understanding that they would exchange technology information. George would give to Jim and Jim would give some of his people to George to help. Wendy Froud helped out a little bit with the character and two other people from Jim’s company worked the cables for me.”

6. Frank Oz says George Lucas didn't want him for the voice of Yoda.

In a 2014 interview, Oz, the normally reclusive puppeteer and director, said that, “George didn't want my voice in the beginning. I gave him a tape. He said, 'No thank you.' And in post-production for about a year I heard that he was auditioning voices for Yoda. He had no intention of using me for the voice. Then I was on my honeymoon with my first wife about 25 years ago or 30 years ago, and he [called and] said, ‘Frank can you come out … I think we'd like to try your voice.’ So I flew back and recorded Yoda.”

7. The Empire Strikes Back marked the end of Gary Kurtz and George Lucas's partnership.

Though it’s George Lucas’s name that’s most synonymous with the Star Wars universe, producer Gary Kurtz—who came up with the title for The Empire Strikes Back and also served as an uncredited assistant director—was an essential contributor to the first two films. Yet the pair ended their partnership following The Empire Strikes Back.

“I could see where things were headed,” Kurtz told the Los Angeles Times in 2010 of his reasons for stepping far, far away from Lucas’s film galaxy. “The toy business began to drive the [Lucasfilm] empire. It's a shame. They make three times as much on toys as they do on films. It's natural to make decisions that protect the toy business but that's not the best thing for making quality films.”

8. The Emperor used to be a chhimp.

In the original version of the film, the scene in which Darth Vader converses with the Emperor used to look a lot different. Though many viewers automatically associate the character with actor Ian McDiarmid, the original Emperor was an old woman with chimpanzee eyes and the voice of Clive Revill. (You can see both versions side-by-side above.)

9. Mark Hamill wasn't a fan of some of George Lucas's tinkering with The Empire Strikes Back.

While fans have long lamented the many changes Lucas has made to the original trilogy over the years, even Luke Skywalker himself wasn’t crazy about some of them. “I can't say I cared for that scream they added to the Special Edition (now gone), when Luke sacrifices himself [in The Empire Strikes Back],” Mark Hamill told Sound & Vision. “Kersh and I talked about the fact that when he actually reaches the point whether he has to join them or not, he lets go. It's like he's committing suicide rather than going to the Dark Side. So it is a calm thing. Look, it’s [George's] to tinker with as he sees fit. I always say it's his train set, if he wants to put up new billboards and new landscaping … Remember the old, ‘It's good to be the king?’ I guess George is ‘It's good to be The Emperor!’ If he wants to make them into musical comedies, that's his choice.”

10. Cliff Clavin has a small role in The Empire Strikes Back.

John Ratzenberger in The Empire Strikes Back (1980).© Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Two years before he began his decade-plus run as Boston mailman/trivia expert Cliff Clavin on Cheers, and a full 15 years before he began voicing Hamm in the Toy Story series, John Ratzenberger made an early-career appearance as Major Bren Derlin, part of the Rebel Force in The Empire Strikes Back. While he loved being part of such a major film franchise, what he remembers most is how “I somehow got a parking space next to Kermit the Frog. It was Jim Henson’s space, with this Kermit the Frog sign. So I took a photo of it and sent it to my mom with a caption that read, ‘Look, Mom. I made it. I got a parking space next to Kermit the Frog.’”

11 Gifts for the Sci-Fi Fanatic in Your Life

Amazon
Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Science fiction has found its way into countless books, movies, TV shows, and video games over the years, making it tough to figure out which products are actually worth your time when shopping for a fan of the genre. We’re taking the thought out of it with these 11 recommendations for the sci-fi fan in your life.

1. Star Trek: The Original Topps Trading Card Series; $22

Abrams/Amazon

Topps trading cards were the essential collectible during the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s—so it was only right that Star Trek would have its own set for fans to obsess over (though it actually debuted seven years after the original series was canceled). In this chunky coffee-table book from Abrams, high-quality scans of the fronts and backs of all 88 standard cards are featured alongside insights and essays from Trek experts Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Star Trek Socks; $25

Bio World/Amazon

Though you might not want your loved one to walk around the house in a Starfleet uniform, you should definitely get them these Next Generation socks to make their feet feel a bit more official. And whether they relate to the command, engineering, or science division of the Enterprise, there’s a pair here for them.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Frank Herbert’s Dune Saga; $28

Ace/Amazon

With a new take on the Dune movie franchise hitting theaters soon, there’s no better time to make sure the sci-fi buff in your life has the first three installments—Dune, Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune—in author Frank Herbert’s landmark book series.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Sci-Fi Book Cover Postcards; $21

Penguin Books/Amazon

One of the most striking aspects of the sci-fi genre is the imaginative, if not downright weird, book covers that come along with it. This collection of postcards features reproductions of 100 covers from publisher Penguin’s past, featuring work from H. G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, J. G. Ballard, Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut, and Ray Bradbury. This set is ideal for any avid collector, especially ones that want to turn the postcards into unique crafts and decorations for the home.

Buy it: Amazon

5. and 6. The Making of Alien and The Making of Aliens; $31-$42

Titan Books/Amazon

If you ever want a comprehensive behind-the-scenes book about your favorite movie, look for the name J.W. Rinzler. He’s best known for his in-depth accounts of the original Star Wars trilogy, but he’s also dabbled in other franchises, like the first two movies in the Alien series. Packed with rare photos, unused concepts, original script drafts details, and more, these books contain all the anecdotes and details a fanatic could ever want.

Buy it: Alien (Amazon), Aliens (Amazon)

7. The Future Is Female! 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women; $20

The Library of America/Amazon

Some of sci-fi’s best women writers get the spotlight in this expansive anthology collection from the Library of America. The stories themselves range from the campier pulps of the '20 and '30s through the more thoughtful and serious evolution of the genre in the ‘60s. This is a crash course in sci-fi history, told through the lens of an often-unappreciated group of authors, including James Tiptree, Jr. (real name Alice Bradley Sheldon) and Leigh Brackett, who was responsible for the first draft of 1980's Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Classic Sci-Fi Magazine 1000-Piece Puzzle; $22

Brook & Wyman/Amazon

Though sci-fi is usually exclusive to novels and blockbuster movies today, it really got its start thanks to the plethora of genre magazines on stands during the ‘30s and ‘40s. And now, you can put together those striking—and impeccably surreal—covers to Fantastic Adventures, Amazing Stories, and more in this 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Cyberpunk 2077; $60

CD Projekt Red

Cyberpunk 2077 has arguably been the most anticipated piece of sci-fi media over the last five years. CD Projekt Red already created one of this generation’s best games with The Witcher 3, and now the studio is throwing players into a Blade Runner-esque cyberpunk world, where every choice you make will shape the world around you in different ways. Plus, you’ve got an arsenal of weapons and augmentations at your disposal. This one hits shelves on December 10.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films; $113

Criterion/Amazon

Godzilla’s unique charms resides in the way the franchise seamlessly alternates between thought-provoking and schlocky. And in this handsome, 15-movie Blu-ray set from Criterion, fans can revisit the series’s most influential installments, from 1954's groundbreaking original all the way through the campier later days of Megalon and Mechagodzilla. The set also contains both the U.S. and Japanese versions of 1963’s cringe classic King Kong vs. Godzilla. In typical Criterion fashion, the whole package is accompanied by hours of extras and a gorgeous hardcover book filled with original artwork.

Buy it: Amazon

11. Moebius Library: The World of Edena; $34

Dark Horse Comics/Amazon

One of sci-fi comics’ most important artists, Moebius helped define a visual style that would influence George Lucas, Ridley Scott, and pretty much every other major force in the genre for decades to come. In this collection, Moebius’s The World of Edna stories are reprinted in beautiful hardcover format, complete with lush colors that perfectly complement the strange worlds to which he transports readers.

Buy it: Amazon

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15 Extremely Valuable Funko Pop! Figures That Might Be Hiding In Your Collection

In the 1990s, collectors salivated over Beanie Babies. In the 2000s, it was Pokemon. Today, the collectibles market is dominated by Funko Pops!, the ubiquitous vinyl figures that turn pop culture characters into block-headed, saucer-eyed cute bombs.

While Funko has a deep bench of licenses, many figures are exclusive to retailers, available for a limited time, or are otherwise hard to find. After perusing recent auction sales and Funko online price guides, we’ve excavated a few figures that are being bought and sold for stacks of cash larger than the toys themselves—and could be hiding in your very own collection. Take a look at 15 of the most sought after and valuable Funko Pop! figures that could net you a small fortune on the secondary market.

1. Ghost Rider Metallic Freddy Funko // $4210

The spirit of vengeance was unleashed as an ultra-exclusive variant edition that's a mash-up of the Marvel hero with Funko mascot Freddy Funko. Released in 2013, it was limited to just 12 figures. As a result, it’s a high-ticket item. The Pop Price Guide, which tracks Funko Pop! values and sales, estimates it at $4210.

2. She-Ra // $690

Funko

The warrior princess of the 1980s Masters of the Universe spin-off cartoon made a splash in 2013. The figure wasn’t a limited edition, but so many fans snapped her up that she’s hard to find.

3. Mike Wazowski Glow-in-the-Dark // $1960

The jolly green creature from 2001’s Monsters, Inc. was available in a limited glow-in-the-dark edition beginning in 2011, but collectors had to go on a scavenger hunt—only 480 were produced.

4. Reggae Rasta // $1200

Walmart

This Bob Marley-inspired figure has been sought after by collectors for sporting a limited-edition green outfit instead of the multi-colored one in the image seen above. That regular version sells for around $400.

5. Holographic Darth Maul // $5070

The horned villain from The Phantom Menace, 1999’s Star Wars prequel, got the glow-in-the-dark treatment from Funko in 2012. San Diego Comic-Con attendees had first crack at the variant, which was limited to 480 figures.

6. Master Chief // $650

Funko

The hero of the Halo 4 video game was a Blockbuster Video exclusive and commands $650 on the open market.

7. Ken Griffey Jr. Bronze // $3150

One of Major League Baseball’s most celebrated players got the Pop! treatment in 2018, with just 24 gold-finish variants made for fans at Seattle's Safeco Field (which was renamed T-Mobile Park in late 2018). The current market value is $3150.

8. Headless Ned Stark // $980

Funko

One of the most tragic and unexpected deaths on Game of Thrones was immortalized in this 2013 San Diego Comic-Con exclusive, which features the head of the Stark family and his detachable melon. The Pop Price Guide has valued Stark at $980.

9. Black Ranger Freddy Funko // $1850

This hybrid of Funko mascot Freddy Funko and the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers was limited to fans attending the Funko Fundays event at 2017's San Diego Comic-Con. Only 24 were produced, which is why they’re extremely difficult to find, even on auction sites.

10. The Notorious B.I.G. Metallic // $1930

Funko

The late rap headliner got the deluxe treatment in 2011, with a metallic coat and hat version that was limited to 240 pieces. (The regular version is pictured.) Its listed value is $1930.

11. Batman Blue Metallic // $1400

The Dark Knight is looking a little more ostentatious in this 2010 San Diego Comic-Con offering, with a shiny blue cowl and accessories.

12. 1970s Elvis Presley Glow-in-the-Dark // $2170

Funko

A 1970s-era Elvis (above) comes in a special glow-in-the-dark version that has an estimated value of $2170. Another limited chase figure that depicts him at the height of his powers in the 1950s will run you as much as $1700.

13. Clown Dumbo // $5900

The ear-shaming of Disney’s 1941 animated classic Dumbo continues to strike a chord with people. The 2013 edition of Dumbo in clown make-up was limited to 48 pieces for San Diego Comic-Con attendees.

14. Planet Arlia Vegeta // $3500

Funko

The flame-haired Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z was exclusive to fans at the 2014 New York Comic Con and the Toy Tokyo store in New York City.

15. Bob’s Big Boy // $850

This iconic advertising character was a San Diego Comic Con exclusive in 2016. Only 1000 were made.

This story was updated in 2020.