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Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

What he said:


The Empire Strikes Back is almost universally thought to be the best Star Wars movie ever made. A large part of that - if you ask me - is because of the darker and more serious tone (having just watched the original, it's pretty dark at times). For as much as people love the original for its innocence and simplicity, people loved this one for being the opposite of that. It was so dark and realistic (for a fantasy flick). The good guys don’t always win in real life and I think people latched onto that aspect of this movie. I can certainly respect that, because I have always found it adds a degree of believability. The script called for a much darker tone than the previous film and director Irvin Kershner and cast delivered on every level. So much so, that people look down on Return of the Jedi a bit because it isn’t as dark, which I always found to be a little unfair. I like the believability that a darker story brings, but I never felt the need to punish Jedi for not being Empire.

It is also a very good-looking movie. The environments in Empire are some of the most captivating in the entire series. The movie opens up on the ice planet Hoth, which has become iconic not just within the franchise, but in movie history. You go outside and it's snowing or simply feels cold and anyone worth their weight in nerd gold references this infamous ice planet. It is a virtually lifeless planet whose environment is very unforgiving. It makes for a great hideout, but just surviving the conditions is a challenge. The environment adds a little something extra to the battle scene. We are then taken to this dank, dark, and generally unpleasant swamp where Jedi Master Yoda lives. Dagobah was actually an excellent representation for where the Luke is at this point in his life. The Cloud City in Bespin might be the coolest of them all though. It’s such a vivid, colorful, and different environment. It’s a really cool mix of the natural and man-made. The planet is a gas giant and there isn’t a whole lot that can be done with that…other than putting all of its cities in the sky!!! They are so sleek and advanced looking too. Plus, Lando lives there and he's the coolest mother fucker in the galaxy.

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

And speaking of the coolness that is Bespin, one of the best things about this movie is the lightsaber fight. A New Hope showed us what a lightsaber is, but Empire showed us what a lightsaber fight can be. It upped the ante. It’s power, experience, and just plain nastiness (Vader) vs. a young and athletic kid with raw talent, but not as experienced or fine tuned. There are many reasons why this a great movie, but that fight alone is the reason why it stands out. It is truly an epic battle. There’s so much drama and emotion going on here it’s almost too much to handle. Luke wants to rescue his friends, but also wants to take Vader’s head off, because he thinks he killed his father. Then he finds out Vader actually IS his father (sorry if that spoils anything for you, but the movie came out in 19fucking80)? Shit.... Luke is still angry, but for different reasons. He’s also confused, hurt, and got about 1000 different things running through his mind at the same time.

Empire picks up a few years (somewhere between 2-3 years) after the events of A New Hope. The group has clearly been through a lot together at this point and is much more familiar with one another as a result. You see an increased concern for one another as well. They aren’t just allies in this fight against the Empire, they’re friends. Shit, they are family at this point. Never was that more evident than some of the exchanges between Luke, Han and Leia. Han really needs to leave to pay off his debt to Jabba the Hutt. He doesn’t want to, Leia doesn’t want him to, Luke doesn’t want him to, but he’s a wanted man nonetheless. He has a price on his head and has been on the run far too long. There are too many bounty hunters after him for him to ignore the issue any longer. The closeness of the group really helped strengthen the series, as it adds depth to the characters and story. The first movie is great, but they are all new to each other. This time around, you can really see the relationships have developed. This also creates a lot more tension too, especially between Han and Leia....and C3P0, HA!.

Despite destroying the Death Star, the Rebel Alliance is reeling once again. The Empire has struck back with a vengeance. Their seemingly endless forces have driven the Rebels to take refuge at some of the worst places in the galaxy. Hoth is a nasty place. It’s cold and extremely dangerous, but desperate times call for desperate measures. It seems their luck has run out that, as the Empire has recently discovered their whereabouts. As a result, a giant battle ensues.

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

A New Hope was a big deal. It showed audiences things they only dreamed about or saw in very poorly done B movies. Alien words and species were as common in A New Hope as seeing other people at the grocery store. But just when you thought it couldn’t get any bigger or grander, Empire showed us some wonderful new landscapes; and the battle of Hoth throws us right into the deep end of the pool. Who wasn’t in awe the first time they saw an AT-AT marching towards the Rebel base? Who didn’t want a tauntaun to ride around their neighborhood? Hoth was such a cool (both literally and figuratively) new environment. Kicking off this sequel with such a grand battle in a vicious new environment was an excellent way to start the movie.

After escaping by the skin of their teeth, the Rebel Alliance is scattered all over the universe. Han, Leia, Chewie, and 3P0 seem to encounter one dangerous situation after another though. They spend the first portion of their escape fleeing from, hiding from, and fleeing again from Imperial forces. They are sidetracked for quite some time before they meet up again with the rest of the Alliance at the rendezvous point, and not without some losses along the way. Before finding the fleet though, they end up hiding out in the Cloud City on Bespin, which is maintained by Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams); who is the smoothest mother fucker in the galaxy. Han and Chewie know Lando from their smuggling days. He is a friend, but he isn’t. Smugglers don’t trust one another and for good reason. They end up getting in for more than they bargained for when they showed up on Lando’s doorstep.

This portion of the movie is one of the most hilarious things in the entire trilogy. Han likes Leia. She likes him too, but is completely resisting his "blue collar" charm. She shows this by being perpetually angry at him. Speaking of angry, Han can't stand the sound of 3P0's voice. Every time the droid speaks, Han is ready to shut him off and turn him into scrap metal. Then when we get to Bespin? Lando's flirting with Leia - which is so the opposite of subtle it's hilarious - and Han and Lando are doing their frenemy thing. 3P0 continues to piss Han off. This movie is known as the darkest in the series, but I'll be damned if it isn't REALLY funny at times.

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

Meanwhile, Luke is off on a personal mission to find the legendary Jedi Master Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz). Obi Wan (Alec Guinness) appears to Luke and instructs him to seek out Yoda and complete his training. It is here we are introduced to the backwards-talking, mysterious, but loveable - and initially hysterical - little green guy that has become a pop culture ICON. Luke would eventually abandon his training to help his friends when he has a vision of them in danger while at Bespin. This is where he encounters Vader. Yoda disagrees with this choice. He thinks Luke should stay and complete his training, but Luke leaves anyway.

The Empire Strikes Back brings us back to the Star Wars Universe where there are a bunch of familiar faces, as well as several new ones too.

As I mentioned above, I really enjoyed the deeper relationships between the regulars. In the original, Han only agreed to help because he was being paid. At the end of the movie, he ends up showing up at the final moment and we find out there’s more to him then money. It’s obvious he stuck around a while after that too. There are some references to events between movies that indicate he’s been around for some time, so when he mentions he really does have to leave this time, Leia is furious. She pretends it’s because Han is a good soldier and asset to the Alliance, but we all know she’s got the hots for him. Even Han knows, which makes for some very entertaining scenes between the two.

Han and Leia both show a genuine concern for Luke throughout the movie too. Early in the movie, Han rescues Luke from the hostile environment on Hoth. While everyone else is terrified to go out into the treacherous conditions, Han rushes out to find and rescue his friend. Later on while in Bespin, both him and Leia are concerned for his safety as Vader’s plan for Luke unfolds. It adds a sense of familiarity and caring to the characters. It was great seeing how the relationships have grown from the first movie from a group of individuals thrown into a situation, to one that chooses to be together.

I already said this but there are some REALLY amusing stuff between Han, Leia and C3P0 - and later Lando. I would kill to see a buddy cop movie with Han, Lando, and 3P0. Tension is high as they are attempting to outrun the Empire. Han and 3P0 don’t exactly see eye-to-eye on a lot of things. They are opposites to say the least. Han is courageous – if not foolish at times – and 3P0 wants to avoid danger at ALL costs. Their interactions are VERY amusing. I crack up and just how pissed Han gets whenever he has to put up with 3P0. Chewie and 3P0 also have some funny scenes too, particularly when they’re on Bespin and Chewie is trying to put him back together, but doesn’t quite finish. I love when Chew is running around Bespin with parts of 3P0 strapped to his back, firing at stormtroopers along the way. There’s a lot of good banter here.

The silent but deadly bounty hunter Boba Fett is one of the new characters. Though he actually does very little in the film, his look and very presence are so cool he captivates audiences to this very day (see the current phenomenon that is The Mandalorian). There are whole books and comics dedicated to this character, despite his minor – but important – role. He’s the perfect example of less is more. Even Vader respectsrespects his skills. You can tell by the interactions between the two of them that Fett has earned his reputation.

Also new to the series are Jedi Master Yoda and charismatic “business man” Lando Calrissian.

Yoda is the alien version of the stereotypical “wise old man” character. If you thought Obi-Wan Kenobi fits that description, wait until you meet this little green guy. He may frustrate Luke, but he entertains audiences immensely.

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

Lando is an old buddy from Han and Chewie’s days as smugglers. Despite knowing him for many years, they still aren’t sure whether they can trust him are not; but that is life when you travel in such circles. These are the kind of guys who will shoot the shit while drinking a beer and playing cards, but will steal from your pile of chips if you turn your head for even a second. Billy Dee Williams is fantastic as Lando. FAN-TAS-TIC. He’s slick, cool, and dresses extremely well to boot. Lando is introduced during the movie’s final act, and his introduction is a fairly complicated one. He’s pretty much forced into betraying his friends even though he has no love for the Empire.

The Empire Strikes Back is everything A New Hope wasn’t. This approach could have worked against the film, but it actually ends up being its biggest strength. It is dark, gritty, and realistic. For this reason and others it is many people’s favorite Star Wars film. and universally accepted as the best one.

My only complaint about the movie is this scene. What the hell were they thinking here? Yeah, it’s bad-ass Luke would rather die than align himself with Vader, but how in the hell is he supposed to survive that? This scene is downright insulting to the viewer’s intelligence, even for fiction.

Verdict: Thumbs up

This movie review was originally written a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, but was recently revised on December 18, 2019.

Note: As I mentioned in my review of A New Hope, I own the 2004 version of these movies. I can't say what each and every change from the originals are anymore at this point. They are all unnecessary. The ones that noticeable in this movie are the scenes on Bespin - which stand out something terrible - changing Boba Fett's voice, and the Emperor's appearance. The Emperor – while he looks more like the crappy version from Revenge of the Sith rather than the clearly superior makeup in Return of the Jedi – looks better than the original version. You can see comparisons right here if you want to see them side-by-side. Bespin was ok. Some scenes look more crisp and colorful, are so obviously not apart of the original movie that it's not worth the effect of putting them in there. You can tell they were added after the fact. Changing Boba Fett’s voice was a truly awful decision. There’s nothing wrong with Temura Morrison’s voice, but Jason Wingreen's was sooo much better. It was so much more menacing in the original version. This is one of the changes that really pissed people off. It’s the wrong choice and disrespectful to the original actor.