Ahead of Ted Lasso’s Season 2 premiere in July, ears all across the galaxy perked up when Jason Sudeikis compared the upcoming season to The Empire Strikes Back in an interview with the Kansas City Star. It was also a comparison that Hannah Waddingham, who plays AFC Richmond owner Rebecca Welton in the show, made earlier in the summer. And that was enough to set off furious speculation amongst fans about what could be expected in the second installment.
The association set a high bar. Empire is widely viewed as the best of the Star Wars films and contains some of the boldest reveals in cinematic history. But it’s also an incredibly dark film at times, and left original audiences shell shocked with a three-year wait for the original trilogy’s conclusion.
Until this three-season arc of Ted Lasso concludes, we can’t say for certainty all of the ways that Empire informed the second season. But here are four similarities Ted Lasso and The Empire Strikes Back – and one striking way that they are different.
The Dark Forest
Sudeikis has acknowledged how Empire is built on the foundation of Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey,” which involves characters heading through the dark forest, or a swampy planet in the case of Luke Skywalker, on their quest for self-discovery. The “Beard After Hours” bottle episode near the end of the season is a version of this metaphor, though the general darkness that envelopes the entire season and differentiates it from Season 1 is Dagobah on a macro level.
Coach Lasso explains the concept of the Dark Forest quite well as it relates to romantic comedies in “Rainbow” (episode 5), but he doesn’t leave everyone in a lurch. In that same scene, he also promises that “it will all work out.” Because he believes in hope.
Introduction of a Wise Sage
One of the reasons there’s hope that things will work out is because reinforcements arrived to help everyone through their tough times. Team psychologist Dr. Sharon Fieldstone, played by Sarah Niles, was an amazing guide not just because of the advice she gave but also because of how well she listened. A master of the Socratic method, she knew how to bide her time before dropping the perfect proverb. She’s far more eloquent than Yoda, but both share a penchant for cracking a knowing smirk when they know they’re pushing the right buttons. It’ll be interesting to see if Dr. Fieldstone returns for Season 3, or if the seeds she planted will have to continue to grow in her absence.
A Cringy Kiss
Nate might have set a record for “what the hell, dude?” moments in Season 2. But the kiss he planted on Keeley was particularly not great. Luke and Leia’s sibling smooch is guaranteed to blow it out of the sky in terms of pure grossness, but Nate and Keely’s was far more painful in real-time. The build-up just kept holding the beat, which gave the audience hope that maybe he would bail at the last moment. So when he finally dove in, he didn’t just cut the tension. He viciously stabbed it.
Dark Dad Reveals
Fathers don’t get a ton of on-screen time this season, but they are constant agitators across the arc. Numerous characters struggle deeply with ways in which their dads hurt them and as a result, all kinds of insecurities bubble up and create tension. Sometimes even destruction. As the saying goes, “hurt people hurt people.”
To fight off their dark sides, each character has to come to terms with who their father is and how to live in that reality. Some of these confrontations occur in hearts and minds, though Nate and Jamie are forced to go face-to-face with their dads with mixed results. As in life, few of the characters landed in a great place, so those relationships are guaranteed to ripple into Season 3.
But for all the similarities to Empire, one way this season of Ted Lasso deviated from Episode V is that it did a much better job of landing the ship. The writers could have left viewers with far less resolution and given the hot take machine enough fodder to blow up an entire planet. Audiences left Empire with questions about whether or not Darth Vader was telling the truth, the overall state of Han Solo, and where the Han-Luke-Leia love triangle was going to go in the event he was alive and could make it out of Jabba’s clutches.
Many fans of Ted Lasso feel like they were put through the wringer this season. But in the end, they were let treated far more gently than Star Wars fans exiting the theater in 1980. There’s plenty to debate and postulate over the next few months, but not so much as to lose sleepover.
And thank goodness they only have to wait several months instead of three years for their soccer Ewoks.
Check out the author’s Ted Lasso podcast: Richmond Til We Die: A Ted Lasso Podcast
Ted Lasso Season 2 is streaming on Apple TV+ now.