Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

After the Rebels have suffered defeat by the Empire, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) begins the process of being a Jedi from Yoda. Luke’s friends are being pursued by Darth Vader (David Prowse) across the galaxy.

Director: Irvin Kershner

Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, David Prowse, Alec Guinness, Frank Oz

MPAA Rating: PG for sci-fi action violence

Fun Fact: Jim Henson was offered to do the puppet work on Yoda. While Henson wasn’t able to do the project, he suggested Frank Oz to play the part.

I have a confession to make once again. Growing up I will admit I wasn’t the biggest fan of The Empire Strikes Back. I don’t really know what my deal was with it, but it was the one out of the original trilogy that I watched the least. Many claim that it’s the best of all the Star Wars films so as I got older I tended to check it out a bit more and actually sit down and take a closer look at what I was watching.

While A New Hope is to me a fun movie, this film is a bit more than that. It’s more of an epic and much grander. The opening scenes on Hoth are huge as the landscape is vast. The space shots have the same feeling. Our heroes continue their quest of destroying the Empire, but there is something that the previous installment didn’t have. The key element in this film is that there is a sense of worry. Sure the Rebels scored a huge victory in the last film, but not everything is so peachy so to speak. The Empire is gaining an upper hand and it makes you feel for the Rebels. During the battle on Hoth I felt bad for them as the Empire was gaining the upper hand. No matter how hard the Rebels tried nothing seemed to work. Director Irvin Kershner does a great job capturing those moments and the film has a darker tone to it. It feels like for this film, the saga had grown up.

When I say that the saga had grown up, I mean that the themes are darker and have a shroud of mystery. This reflects perfectly on Luke Skywalker as he continues his quest to become a Jedi. Mark Hamill is terrific in the role as he stepped up his game even more. There are scenes that made me worry for him. For example there are two times in the film where he is in peril and he doesn’t know if he’s going to make it out alive. Hamill’s acting in those scenes are pitch perfect. You feel bad for him during his duel with Darth Vader because you know he doesn’t know what he’s getting into exactly. While Luke has his friends dealing with their own problems. The Empire is ruthlessly going after them for something and it brings tension to the group and who can they trust. Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher do a great job portraying this tension and there character’s relationship starts to progress to what we know about today.

All of these moments are well written from a team of George Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan, and Leigh Brackett. We even get a bit of backstory on Darth Vader and one of the greatest twists in movie history. It brings mystery to the character that we had been wondering about. Now if you haven’t seen this film I’m not going to spoil it. You may have heard about it, and I suggest you watch the scene to get the full effect. When I saw it as a kid the twist blew me away and it brings nostalgic memories whenever I watch it. We even get awesome new characters like Boba Fett and Lando. Lando, played by Billy Dee Williams, has a certain charm to him and Billy Dee Williams absorbs the role. The best new character though goes to Yoda. George Lucas gave us a character that is not only iconic, but when we first saw him it brings the mystery of Star Wars past that we wanted to learn about.

Just like A New Hope the effects and sets are fantastic. The way the effects are shot make it even bigger and grand like the rest of the movie. The walkers on the planet Hoth look unstoppable. The snow speeders and ships are once again top notch and look like it’s there from the magic of models and practical effects. Cloud City as a set looks fantastic as well. The one thing I liked about the Special Edition of this film is how they expanded the city and made it more open. When we see Yoda for the first time, we get a well-built puppet. It’s sad that in the prequels they used CGI for Yoda. With this puppet it looks like he’s really there.

Overall, while not my favorite Star Wars film, The Empire Strikes Back takes the saga in a new and darker direction. Maybe it was the themes to the movie that I didn’t really understand growing up. Now as an adult I view it in a different light. The film expanded the Star Wars universe in many ways giving us mysteries and lore to find out. The special effects once again hold up and everything looks huge and grand. The performances are taken to the next level especially from Mark Hamill. We also get one of the greatest twists in movie history in the climax. The Empire Strikes Back isn’t just a fantastic movie by itself, it’s one of the greatest sequels of all time as well.

Verdict: Hit

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