In 1977, a cultural revolution began with the little-known science-fiction film called Star Wars created by visionary director George Lucas. It ended up being the highest-grossing film of all-time and it still ranks very high in the midst of today’s blockbusters. It was a very enjoyable movie and it created memorable characters that will live on for eternity. So of course we would get a sequel. In fact, Lucas created a whole world around his baby -an ambition that was not normal in 1980. With the sequel-The Empire Strikes Back, Lucas handed the directorial duties to his former college film professor Irvin Kershner because of his duties with his rising visual effects company Industrial Light and Magic, but of course he was very involved with this film. But enough of the background, let’s talk about this film. This sequel is much darker in tone, more mysterious, and quite frankly the best film in the franchise. Our favorite characters like Luke and Leia Skywalker and Han Solo are back and we are introduced to more characters that are stored away in our hearts forever such as Yoda and Lando Calrissian. This is also the movie where we have the famous battle and reveal between Luke and Darth Vader…or shall I say between father and son, but more on that later.
After the Rebels blow up the Death Star at the end of A New Hope, they hide away in the icy planet of Hoth. But the rebel base is soon discovered by Darth Vader (James Earl Jones and David Prowse) and the empire. From the battle that ensues, our characters are separated. Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) flee across the galaxy from the Empire. They end up going into Cloud City where they come across an old friend of Han’s- Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams). Meanwhile, Luke (Mark Hamill) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) are sent to the abandoned planet of Dagobath where he continues his Jedi training with an old Jedi master named Yoda (Frank Oz). But will they stay forgotten for long with Darth Vader relentlessly pursuing Luke across the galaxy?
One of the biggest improvements over the original film is the visuals. While the visuals in the 1977 film were good for its time period, George Luca’s new production company really improved upon the visuals. Along with the visuals, the film has strong production design and character design. I loved the look of Yoda, which was a puppet of course. You can tell the visuals were strong for a variety of reasons. There were the sights of the majestic Imperial Walkers during the battle of Hoth, the hairy sloth creature that attacks Luke after he gets lost on Hoth, the creepy, dense look of Dagobath, the spiral towers of Cloud City, and of course that lightsaber battle between Luke and Vader.
SPOILER!! My highlight out of many of them is the revelation that happens near the end of the movie in Cloud City. I am sure most of you have seen the movie but if not, read no further. Darth Vader reveals to Luke during their intense duel that he is Luke’s father, Anakin. Of course in the process, Vader chops of Luke’s hand and he falls through a chute but is saved from falling to his death thanks to the Millennium Falcon. Also, the movie ends with Han Solo being captured by the Empire and frozen solid. So these events are just some of the reasons why this film is darker and more sinister than the space opera feel of the first film.
The acting remains a strong point in the movie. Harrison Ford is excellent as always. I loved his “wounded ego” attitude and his bantering with Chewbacca added some lightheartedness to the movie. Yoda is my favorite new character. Not only did they want a realistic puppet, they actually wanted a good actor to bring that puppet to life. And Frank Oz did just that. Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher remain excellent in their respective roles as Luke and Leia. And the voice of James Earl Jones? Well, the same magic that it always created! Need I say more?
Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back is my favorite Star Wars movie, and frankly one of the best sci-fi films of all time. It really expanded upon the mystery and the lore the first film provided. The film explores its mythology in darker tones and that added depth and humanity to our characters. Lawrence Kasdan’s and Leigh Brackett’s screenplay took Lucas’s world and created something that was evolutionary and breath-taking while staying true to its roots. The film ended on a sinister cliffhanger, so you bet we will be seeing a third film. The story and the visuals are fantastic, and now you can see why this is my favorite Star Wars film.
“No, I am your father!” (Vader to Luke)
“Try not, Do, or do not!” (Yoda to Luke)
My Grade: A