Empire Strikes Back's Darker Ending Would've Made the Best Star Wars Film Better
Even after 11 live-action movies and an ever-growing list of shows, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back still stands as the pinnacle of Star Wars. The 1980 sequel perfectly took the groundwork of Star Wars: A New Hope and developed it with some huge twists and turns. However, despite standing as one of the darker movies in the franchise, The Empire Strikes Back was originally intended to have a far sadder ending.
At the end of the film, the Rebel Alliance flees from the Empire, Luke Skywalker discovers Darth Vader is his father, and the heroes lose Han Solo to Boba Fett. However, despite those setbacks, the movie ends on an upbeat note. Lando Calrissian sets off with Chewbacca to find Han while Luke recovers with Leia and the droids aboard a medical ship as a hopeful John Williams song plays. But that wasn't always going to be the case, as those moments were added on after principal photography had wrapped.
The Empire Strikes Back Was Too Sad for Audiences
Two fans discussed The Empire Strikes Back's closing moment on Twitter, where one asked Mark Hamill for his take. Hamill replied, saying, "Filmed 4 months after we wrapped principal photography on ESB, it wasn't a 're-shoot,' it was an added scene. Concerned about the downbeat ending & thorough defeat of the protagonists, they wanted to add an uplifting moment of hope and rejuvenation to reassure the audience."
Hamill's comments suggest that, originally, the Millennium Falcon rescues Luke, avoids the TIE fighters, and escapes the Super Star Destroyer, then the movie simply ends. However, the studio was concerned about how the dark ending would fare with audiences. Therefore, for commercial purposes, the tone was changed. Yet, there's an argument to be made that the original ending would have improved The Empire Strikes Back because it sticks closer to the film's overall tone.
Star Wars Doesn't Always Need a Happy Ending
From start to finish, The Empire Strikes Back is filled with setbacks and failures. Despite the hopeful ending of A New Hope, the Empire remained as powerful as ever and forced the Rebellion to evacuate Hoth. Then, with the Empire's arrival at Cloud City, the villains continue to be one step ahead. And so, with the Star Wars franchise being about hope, this can seem out of character. However, the idea of hope is only made better when the heroes are faced with seemingly impossible odds but still make it out alive.
Luke Skywalker's story is also full of failure. The film opens with him being attacked by a Wampa; he likely would've died from his injuries or exposure if it hadn't been for Han. Then, during his training on Dagobah, he repeatedly disregards Master Yoda's teachings and fails to lift his sunken X-wing. And while going to save his friends was the morally right action, Luke doesn't even succeed at that, instead ending up hanging from an antenna beneath Cloud City after losing a hand.
Death and tragedy haunt the heroes all throughout the movie, so ending on a positive note does feel somewhat out of place. The sadness of losing Han is lost once Lando flies off to rescue him, and the impact of Luke's missing hand goes away once it's rebuilt. So, while The Empire Strikes Back's original ending may have been a bit too much for audiences, wrapping on a darker note would've fit perfectly.