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Empire Strikes Back

2 Ratings: 5.0
A movie directed by Irvin Kershner

Considered the most morally and emotionally complex of the original Star Wars trilogy, THE EMPIRE STRIKE BACK continues creator George Lucas's epic saga where STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE left off. The Rebel Forces--which include young adventurer Luke Skywalker … see full wiki

Director: Irvin Kershner
Release Date: 1980
MPAA Rating: PG
1 review about Empire Strikes Back

Episode V: Last Law of Politics - Empires are Always Bad

  • May 26, 2005
  • by
Pros: Yoda's first appearence!

Cons: The Emperor also appears for the first time

The Bottom Line: I'll see Episode III SOON!!!...

The operatic feel of The Empire Strikes Back makes Star Wars fans generally regard it as the finest movie of the original trilogy, and in most cases the best in the entire saga. The good guys do manage to arise safe and sound from the dark void of evil surrounding the picture, but only at the low, low prices of their secret base, their most daring pilot, an arm, and a Faustian deal which one of the good guys was forced into making. Darth Vader may be the ultimate villain in the galaxy, but his roles in A New Hope and Return of the Jedi were bite-sized. In Empire, however, Vader’s totally unleashed, unrestrained evil is what truly set him among the highest tier of cinematic villains, among greats like Norman Bates, Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter, Auric Goldfinger, and Freddy Krueger.

When we last left our small but determined band of scrappy Rebels, they had restored at least a little balance back to the galaxy after the Empire’s big bully was beat up by a little dude with a little starfighter. Little did we know the battle may have been won, but the war? No such luck, jack, ‘cause the fact is after the destruction of the Death Star, Vader DID fly off into deep space unscathed in order to recover and menace our heroes again five minutes later. He’s currently being deeply disturbed by a new prescence in The Force which he probably thought he wiped out when Obi-wan took a nosedive in A New Hope. But no, now something’s up with this pesky brat named Skywalker, and now Vader’s recent obsession has been with tracking Luke to the ends of the universe to offer him one of those frying-pan-or-fire choices: Turn to the Dark Side or die. As the movie begins with the traditional Star Wars scrolling monologue, planet shot, and spaceship fly-by, we see a bunch of tiny little probes being launched from the cargo hold of an Imperial Star Destroyer.

Meanwhile, now-leader Luke Skywalker has led his group of Rebels to an icebox called Hoth. (Actually, it’s in Norway.) There’s very little life there, and Luke and Han Solo have given up the traditional speeder planet transport in lieu of a kangaroo-like freezer dweller called a taun taun. The first time we meet Luke, he’s making one of his rounds by taun taun, whining about the lack of life on Hoth. After a quick exchange between him and Han, Luke learns about predatory species on Hoth the hard way when one of them takes him hostage with the intent to eat him for dinner. Needless to say, Luke is rescued by Han just as the Imperial fleet exits hyperspace for an assault on the Rebel base, but not without Obi-wan showing up first and telling Luke to swing by the Dagobah system, where he’ll learn from the ultimate Jedi master, Yoda. After Luke recovers, he leads a small band of Rebels against a group of AT-ATs, giant Imperial walkers sent to turn the Rebel base into a smoldering heap of scrap metal. Although the Rebels get their a**es kicked by the walkers, most of them manage to escape unharmed from Hoth.

From that point, the movie divides into two seperate stories: The first is about Luke going to Dagobah, tracking down Yoda, and then trying not his Jedi training, but doing and doing not. The second revolves around Han, Leia, C-3PO, and Chewbacca running from a very persistent Imperial fleet in a badly damaged Millennium Falcon. They each go through their own seperate bunch of trials and tribulations: While Luke is on Dagobah seeing a weird premonition of himself being Darth Vader, the Millennium Falcon gang is busy outwitting several Imperial ships, asteroids, and a bounty hunter named Boba Fett who wants the reward money which will come when he delivers Han Solo to Jabba the Hutt. Eventually the gang meets up again in Cloud City, on the planet of Bespin, where the reunited group of Rebels is humbled by the whupping they receive at the hands of the Empire’s leader and troopers.

It’s at the whupping point in Cloud City where Luke goes head-to-head with Darth Vader in a terrifying lightsaber duel for the cinematic ages. Luke fights good and hard, and The Force is with him, but just not as much as it is with Vader. The two actually start out pretty even-handed, but when Vader starts mind-throwing a plethora of heavy objects at poor Luke, it becomes clear this match is the equal to a heavyweight boxing match between Muhammad Ali and some random guy who was just picked off the streets. Vader chops Luke’s arm off, breaks the big paternal news to him, then has the gall to nicely ask Luke if he would like a spot as supreme ruler of the universe. Those four words, “I am your father,” made one of the biggest surprises in movie history. Luke, however, takes the path of a true Jedi Knight by accepting a free-falling death instead of turning.

The Empire Strikes Back brings more of the characters to the front and center. There are more explorations of them and they way they interact with one another than in any other Star Wars film. In A New Hope, for example, Han always came off as a self-centered guy who was only in it for the reward - in fact, he admitted it. However, by the time Empire takes place, he’s clearly formed a tight bond with Luke, as shown in this exchange when Luke is out in the cold during the freezing night of Hoth:
Officer: Sir, the temperature is dropping very rapidly.
Han: That’s right, and my friend is out in it. Is there a speeder ready?
Officer: No sir, there are no speeders ready.
Han: Then I’ll go by taun taun.
Officer: Sir, the temperature is dropping too fast. Your taun taun will freeze before you reach the first marker!
Han: Then I’ll see you in hell.
That’s not exactly how it went, but you get the idea. Later, when Han is frozen in carbonite, Luke returns the favor for him when he goes into Cloud City, having not completed his Jedi training and knowing full well he’s walking into a trap. There’s also the romance between Han and Leia, which begins to show up here. It’s really the right way to do romance in any action or science fiction movie. There’s the hinting, the chemistry, and a couple of quick kisses, but nothing overly sappy. The most romantic things get between the two of them is when Han is about to be frozen and Leia tells him she loves him, and Han simply says “I know.”

Two new characters are thrown into Empire to confuse us. One is Lando Calrissian, the mayor of Cloud City, a real scum who lost the Millennium Falcon to Han after gambling it in a game of chance. He was forced to make a deal with the Empire which makes him start off looking bad in the eyes of Leia and Chewie, but Lando has no love for the Empire, and eventually he wins over the the two of them. The most noteworthy character, of course, is Yoda, the Ultimate Jedi Master who teaches Luke about the ways of The Force. Yoda comes off funny at first, acting as though he’s never seen many of the things Luke has with him on Dagobah before. But when Obi-wan pops in with a voice-over, the wise old Jedi Master shows his true colors. He’s not a tough teacher, and he’s certainly no Army drill Seargent. Rather, he just kind of takes a backseat and lets Luke perform the trial-and-error work of learning what The Force can really do by himself. Boba Fett is a minor character with a pivotal role - he’s the bounty hunteer that takes Han to Jabba.

Empire contains two of the best scenes in the entire saga: The first, of course, is the impressive land walker sequence on Hoth. The walkers’ immunity to common laser blasts means the Rebels have to find more creative ways of bringing them down. It’s funny to see these massive walkers stopped by a little string launched from a harpoon, and also a grenade thrown into the underbelly of one. However, a case of weird Star Warsian logic appears when the harpooned walker trips over its string, falls over, and is promptly hit with a single laser blast from a speeder in the area between its head and its body, and blows up with that one shot. By that, shouldn’t the Alliance have been able to wipe out all the walkers with a few well-placed shots instead of sacrificing all those men? The asteroid field scene is also excellent, and a scene in which Han lands in a cave that turns out to be more than a cave is just the icing on the cake.

Howeveer, Epire is unquestionably Vader’s movie. We see Vader unleashed, and at the ttop of his game, the most evil he’s ever been in the entire saga. Aside from all the things he does to Luke, he is also on the giving end of the deal Lando is forced into making, and he punishes officers who screw up by killing them.

Maybe it’s not the best of the whole saga anymore, but The Empire Strikes Back is still the best movie in the original trilogy. It’s also the only one to truly escape George Lucas’s 90s buff-ups completely unscathed. You see more of Cloud City and the Wampa that captures Luke, but that’s it. So if you root for the bad guys, grab a big bucket of popcorn, a Pepsi, flip on Empire and hoot and hollar away.


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