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Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

The 1980 Irvin Kershner-directed sequel to the original Star Wars film.

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Among the Greatest Films Ever Made

  • Jul 6, 2009
After the unprecedented success of Star Wars, it only made sense for there to be a sequel.  George Lucas himself had stated there would be three films.  The second film in the trilogy: "The Empire Strikes Back," is often considered the best Star Wars film.  It is also one of the darkest and most character driven of the entire saga.  George Lucas, however, opted not to direct.  Rather he hired a director named Irvin Kershner to direct the Star Wars sequel.  Lucas still had control, but Kershner has been considered, at least by fans, to have been a superior director.  That may be, however, because Empire is considered a superior film.

After the destruction of the Death Star the rebels abandoned their base and found a new base on the remote Ice World of Hoth.  The Empire now has a new goal.  To get a hold of Luke Skywalker.  Darth Vader seems to have become obsessed with it.  In their search for Skywalker they've launched several probe droids into space.  And they just happen to be near Hoth as the movie begins.

As probe droids crash into Hoth, Luke and Han are on patrol.  But they're convinced they're nothing more than meteorites.  Getting cold, Han heads back while Luke decides to check out the recent "meteroite".  He doesn't get that chance as he is immediately attacked by a monster.  Meanwhile, Han decides it's about time he leave the rebellion and pay back Jabba the Hutt... or else he's a dead man.  Of course, he doesn't leave.  Luke hasn't returned to base.  In a moment of character growth, Han decides to head out and save Luke.  While this is happening, Luke escapes his capture and sees Obi-Wan, who tells him he needs to go to Dagobah and find Yoda, the Jedi Master.  This is just before Luke passes out and Han finds him. 

Things only go from bad to worse.  The Empire soon discovers where the rebels are hiding and they're ready to attack.  This forces our heroes into a battle on Hoth in the snowspeeders, which doesn't end well for the rebellion, and doesn't end especially well for Han and Leia.  As Leia is unable to get to her transport, Han decides to take her out on the Falcon... except they're unsure it can fly.  As they're departing, Luke decides he's going to head to Dagobah.  This begins another classic ploy that Lucas probably influenced more than he realizes.  That being that in the second flim of the trilogy, our main cast of characters get separated.  Many have often pointed to The Empire Strikes Back as their inspiration.  This can be most clearly in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (at least right off hand, but X2: X-Men United also comes to mind).  The film constantly cuts between Han and Leia evading the Empire and Luke on Dagobah as he is trained by Yoda.

There are a couple of things that make Empire really good.  The first is the character development and character growth.  Darth Vader has become even more heartless and cruel than what we saw.  We definitely see a much darker side of Vader as he chokes his men for the smallest of things, and has no problem altering deals he's made.  Not only that but he also has no problem taking Skywalker's hand or freezing Han in carbonite.  It doesn't sound like much, but many of these moments are done in such a way that every character grows in some way.  Luke begins to use the force and learn the ways of the force.  Han realizes the galaxy revolves around someone else besides him and even falls in love with Leia, who comes to realize that Han isn't such a bad guy.  Threepio and R2-D2 still serve as a good dose of comic releif and Chewie is still Han's sidekick but they're more than just there for the ride. 

Another thing which Empire does is make sure that the good guys come out on the losing end by the time it's over.  It is dark.  In the sense that the good guys don't triumph over evil.  We watch characters get betrayed, captured, and come near death a couple of times.  And Yoda is certainly a harsh teacher.  All these elements make up The Empire Strikes Back, and all these elements serve to further develop the characters.  It also has more memorable lines than the first movie and stronger acting.  This is partially because Irvin Kershner was a little bit more lax than Lucas.  Instead of making them stick exactly to the script, Kershner was open to improvising.  The famous line uttered by Han Solo after Leia tells him she loves him ("I know") was not originally in the script (the line was to be "I love you too,") but Harrison Ford thought that didn't sound like Han Solo, and after they shot the scene Kershner agreed.  Kershner was also known to talk to his actors and work a little better with them than Lucas did.  

Yet we are still left to wonder if Lucas really had everything planned out from the get go.  Lucas's insensitivity to his cast and crew was still apparent.  He waited until just before shooting the famous, "I am your father," scene before actually telling Mark Hamill about it (it wasn't in the script) and David Prowse was never told his voice would be recorded over for any of the films.  It's a little insensitive of Lucas, but at least he stepped back a little and let Kershner control things, which was probably for the best.  Lucas still had a lot of creative talent at this time, but it continues to bring about if he really had this all planned out like he claimed.  It's hard to tell, and I'm sure Star Wars fans will debate that for years to come.

Just like Star Wars, Empire was released as a special edition in 1997 with additional footage and a few changes.  And once again in 2004 you got more changes.  Although the changes here appear more radical.  The biggest change is the conversation Vader has with the Emperor, which has been entirely changed to give it more continuity with the prequel trilogy.  Not to mention the original actor was replaced with Ian McDiarmid.  That actually sort of makes sense since he played the emperor in Return of the Jedi.  Nevertheless, this showed that Lucas was willing to really change things when altering his trilogy (but the biggest and arguably most controversial changes would come in Return of the Jedi).  For some fans this is a huge thing.  I'm not exactly one of those fans, but I did have problems with the conversation between the Emperor and Vader being changed.  It's still a good movie, but it's just a shame that for most fans, getting the 2004 DVD edition isn't exactly going to be the movie they grew up with.  And with the advent of Blu-Ray one has to wonder if even more changes are in store.  As with the first Star Wars, Lucas was never convinced that Empire was as good or as perfect as it could've been.

The music score here is even better than what we got in the first film.  It's stronger and darker.  In particular, the Imperial March is among the best musical pieces of the entire trilogy.  It brings out the dark nature of the film, Vader and the Empire in general.  The love theme for Leia and Han is also very moving.  The movie plays on two fronts but never becomes too lost on one front or the other.  It might take you a moment to understand all of Yoda's teachings the first time, but that's also part of the fun.  The Empire Strikes Back, of all the Star Wars movies, is perhaps the most thematically provacative--perhaps even thought-provoking in some instances.  It's amazing how much you are shown, but also how much isn't directly stated, but left up to movie-goers to piece together for themselves. 

The Empire Strikes Back is often labeled the best Star Wars movie and one of the greatest sequels ever made.  When it originally came out it was panned by critics, and also left people with one cliffhanger of an ending.  An ending that back in 1980, fans would have to wait three years to see the conclusion of.  Yet, Empire aged very well. 

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More Star Wars: Episode V - The Emp... reviews
review by . May 02, 2011
This is the best of the bunch people, admit it. I love it, personally, when a great movie is followed up by an equivalent or better sequel, and Empire Strikes Back is definitely better than A New Hope, which was still a masterpiece of science fiction all the same. Empire Strikes back still has the entertaining chase scenes (unlike the consensus says), but its also a tad bit darker than the first one with the same visuals and the same sense of wonder and excitement, of course with that legendary …
review by . August 24, 2010
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I was a freshman in college when I took my new girlfriend, (now married for over 30 yrs.) to see George Lucas’ 1977 film “Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope.”  This movie literally blew our minds!!!  Audiences were not used to the great special effects this film introduced to the world!  Even more compelling for me was the story.  The movie had a visceral magnetism that took hold of me.  It was only years later when I found out why that was, and the answer …
review by . September 26, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Luke is trapped by the evil Lord Vader
We need to have more movies out now "ruined."      How ironic is it that the best of all Star Wars movies is the one that elicited a tantrum from George Lucas and how he thought the movie was awful with the way others in charge put it together and turned it into one of the finest pieces of sci fi ever?      What else is ironic is that ESB was initially panned when released and is now looked back on as a masterpiece.  People I've talked to continually …
Quick Tip by . September 25, 2010
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The most awesome thing with "Star Wars" on the label. Time has proven it to be a classic.
Quick Tip by . August 08, 2010
Nice foreshadowing, good twists, immersive world. This is what Star Wars is meant to be---not the prequels and new Lucas-schlock.
Quick Tip by . July 04, 2010
Darth Vader is out to capture Luke Skywalker and corrupt him and drive him to the dark side. Takes what the first movie had and made it run deeper and turns up the drama. A great sequel. Also has the benefit of being the one of the original series to not suck completely by it's special edition.
review by . January 18, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
What I love about The Empire Strikes Back is that it's such an original sequel to A New Hope. Also, unlike the other episodes of the original trilogy, all of the revisions/alterations to Empire I think make it better. The ships look much better and more realistic (no more grey boxes around TIE Fighters). Cloud City on Bespin evokes more beauty. This is as close as we'll ever get to seeing a restored version of the original movie.
review by . January 18, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
What I love about The Empire Strikes Back is that it's such an original sequel to A New Hope. Also, unlike the other episodes of the original trilogy, all of the revisions/alterations to Empire I think make it better. The ships look much better and more realistic (no more grey boxes around TIE Fighters). Cloud City on Bespin evokes more beauty. This is as close as we'll ever get to seeing a restored version of the original movie.
Quick Tip by . January 07, 2010
Finest Star Wars outing expands more on it's characters and has plenty of eye candy and drama for fantastic sci fi entertainment.
Quick Tip by . December 04, 2009
Not only the greatest "Star Wars" film ever, but also one of the most triumphant sequels ever. Intelligent sci-fi with a heart and soul. : )
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Sean A. Rhodes ()
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I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back is a 1980 space opera film directed by Irvin Kershner. The screenplay, based on a story by George Lucas, was written by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan. It was the second film released in the Star Wars saga, being followed by Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, and the fifth in terms of internal chronology.

The film is set three years after the destruction of the Death Star. Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia Organa, and the rest of the Rebel Alliance are being pursued by Darth Vader and the elite forces of the Galactic Empire. While Han and Leia are chased across the galaxy by the Empire, Luke studies the Force under Jedi Master Yoda. Vader is secretly plotting a trap for Luke that will lead to a fierce confrontation and a shocking revelation.

Following a difficult production, The Empire Strikes Back was released on May 21, 1980, and received mixed reviews from critics, although it has since grown in esteem to become one of the most well-regarded chapters of the saga and one of the most highly rated films in history.[3][4][5] It earned more than US$538 million worldwide over the original run and several re-releases, making it the highest grossing film of 1980. When adjusted for inflation, it is the 12th highest grossing film of all time in the United States.

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