Review: Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back [1980]

a review by the Swan!


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OPENING CRAWL

“One of the greatest movies of all time” – according to many sources, The Empire Strikes Back was one of the highest grossing films of 1980 and, to date, has earned more than $538 million from its original run and the re-releases that followed [1].

This dark sequel to the 1977 film Star Wars left audiences on the edge of their seats. It did not seem like the fairy-tale ending that fantasy stories often provide. Instead, George Lucas, Irvin Kershner (director) and script-writer Lawrence Kasdan formed a story where the protagonists were constantly in danger every step of the way. And I for one liked that. I don’t usually mind happy, predictable situations in most movies. But, I do like it when filmmakers shake things up a bit. Especially in Star Wars, one of my favourite movie franchises. And, yes, the movie does have that twist which has been parodied in many movies, TV-programmes and other forms of media in the years that followed.

So, let’s strap ourselves into the seats and jump into lightspeed for the second time!


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THE BATTLE OF HOTH

WARNING: SPOILERS, YOU MUST AVOID

The story of Empire takes place three years after Episode 4. The Death Star has been destroyed, but the fight between the Rebels and the Empire is far from over. So much so, our heroes have set up camp in a snowy planet of Hoth, in order to get away from the baddies. After the opening crawl, an Imperial probe droid can be seen scouring the planet Hoth for any signs of life-forms, particularly Rebel forms. We then see a rider on a creature resembling a winter camel also surveying the area. The rider turns out to be Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who’s just spotted a meteorite that hit the ground. As he prepares to head back to base, he’s immediately attacked by a Wampa (white-looking beast), who also kills the camel-like creature (known as a tauntaun). Luke is subsequently dragged back to the wampa’s cave, a bleak start to a bleak-looking movie.

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Meanwhile, we get a scene at the Rebel base where Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is preparing to leave the group, in order to pay off Jabba the Hutt. Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) isn’t too happy about this and they spend the rest of the scene arguing with each other. Now, where the prequels failed to provide a realistic progression to the relationship between Anakin and Padme, this film gets it right with Han and Leia. They can’t stand each other at first, but fate and unfortunate circumstances bring them closer together. Kinda what you might get in a rom-com film (not that I’m particularly fond of rom-com movies, but I digress).

The sequence that follows is one that is a plus in my book. Luke has been imprisoned inside the wampa’s cave and it’s the first time we see Luke “use the Force” to retrieve his lightsaber from the snow. It’s a slow, but steady progression of how the protagonist is learning more about himself, as well as improving his own abilities during the course of his journey. I think this trope should be used in more movies (not just Star Wars) in order to make them realistic and engaging. Luke escapes the cave and between his occasional moments of falling asleep in the snow, receives a message from his mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness). He’s told to travel to Dagobah and learn the ways of the Force under somebody called Yoda. This is also engaging, as it provides intrigue to a character we haven’t been introduced before (well, if you’ve seen the prequels, you have).

Han Solo rescues Luke and brings him back to the Rebel base. The heroes promptly go their separate ways, as the evil Empire attacks the base. Another good aspect of this movie is that we see the dragon, Darth Vader (body filled by David Prowse, while James Earl Jones lends his booming voice to the character) adopting a commanding role over his terrified minions. And, he’s become more ruthless than ever, as he telekinetically throttles Imperial officers who make even the slightest fuck-up. That’s what makes a good villain! Someone who commands every scene he’s in, while making the audience poo slightly in their Calvin Klein underpants.

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Anyways, the audience are treated to a nice, scenic battle between the Rebels and the Imperials in the snow. It’s quite clever how the Rebel pilots use their snow speeders to trip up the Imperial AT-AT walkers, using the tow-cables. Furthermore, it’s also nice to see Luke lead the battle, as well as demonstrate his Jedi abilities. I think you guys have guessed it: There’s not many bad things I have to say about this movie.

Han, Leia, Chewie and 3P0 make their escape via the Falcon, as they’re being chased by the Empire. These scenes give Han and Leia the opportunity to get closer together. As much as I like the progression in Han and Leia’s relationship, their consistent bickering has the tendency to be somewhat irritating. There’s one scene on the Falcon, where Han tries his luck on a pissed-off Leia.  I find it borderline creepy, as charming as Han Solo is.

I haven’t got time for anything else.

– Han Solo (with a cheesy grin)

Prove me wrong, anyone?

Meanwhile, Luke and R2-D2 travel to the swampy planet of Dagobah in order to find the Jedi Master, Yoda. Yoda appears in the form of a small green alien (Frank Oz), as he reluctantly agrees to train Luke. Luke is put through a series of gruelling exercises and is taught a few valuable lessons regarding “da Force”. Great stuff.

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Han, Leia, Chewbacca and 3PO take refuge in Cloud City on the planet of Bespin. We’re introduced to a new character, Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) who takes the Rebels in, while his men fix the hyperdrive on the Falcon. Apart from being the token black guy in the series (well, until Mace Windu and Finn come along), Lando seems like a smooth operator and I do enjoy watching scenes with the guy.

One of the best things about Empire (as I’ve written earlier) is the tension and how the filmmakers manage to shake things up. Almost everything goes to complete shit, when Lando betrays the rebels to Darth Vader and Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch), another beloved character of the movie franchise. Fett hardly does anything in this movie and only has a couple of lines. But, hey, he does look cool, I guess. Luke (using his Spidey Sense – nah, just kidding, Force abilities) sets out to rescue his pals and engage in a brutal lightsaber duel with Darth Vader. And, things just get even crazier and downhill from there!


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THE REBELS

LUKE SKYWALKER: 7/10

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Hamill spreads his wings as the “Jedi-in-training” and it’s cool to see him in some bad-ass scenes (I mentioned in the last review that he was my favourite Star Wars character, right?). Even though he has that hammy reaction towards the twist in the movie, it doesn’t compromise his status as the primary antagonist. Although, poor Luke gets his arse handed to him quite a lot in this movie.

HAN SOLO: 9/10

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Still love this character. Ford still manages to give a strong performance as Solo, even though things don’t go as well for the character this time round. I do like this quote, though:

Leia: I love you.

Han: I know.

That wasn’t even in the script, but it’s still effective!

PRINCESS LEIA ORGANA: 8/10 

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Leia’s still lippy as hell in this movie, but it’s cool to see her join the battle at the end. I also like the progression of her relationship with Han. It’s nice to watch.

CHEWBACCA: 8/10

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Chewie’s awesome! ‘Nuff said.

C-3P0 & R2D2: 6/10

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R2-D2 provides some help to the characters in the movie. Unlike 3-PO, who constantly whinges his way through every scene he’s in and is just a selfish prat in general. No wonder he got shot to pieces near the end of the movie.

LANDO CALRISSIAN: 8/10

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I do like this character, as it represents a guy who tries to do the right thing, at the cost of selling out his companions. Williams provides a strong performance to the character and he makes the movie fun to watch.

YODA: 8/10

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Oz makes his debut as the wise Jedi Master, Yoda. He’s that kind of person/alien who would read you a bedtime story as a kid. Man, I wish the Force was real, as Yoda provides some very insightful knowledge concerning the galaxy around him.

OBI-WAN KENOBI: 7/10

Obi-Wan’s role is slightly diminished here, but he still manages to pull off the “wise mentor” trope pretty well.


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THE EMPIRE

DARTH VADER: 9/10

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SPOILER ALERT (well…not really): You knew Vader was Luke’s father, right? Cool, moving on. I think I mentioned how I feel about Vader in this movie. He is just the best example of a dragon in the movie. Ruthless, cold and determined. Vader has some cool lines of dialogue in the movie, but it’s very hard to pick a favourite.

EMPEROR PALPATINE/DARTH SIDIOUS: 6/10

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Palpatine doesn’t have much of a presence in this movie, but I like how the film sets him up as the Big Bad. I’ll wait until I review Jedi to talk more about this character.

BOBA FETT: 7/10

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This character doesn’t have much of a big presence in this movie, but I like the look of his armour and weaponry. Plus, he does have some good lines: “What if he doesn’t survive? He’s worth a lot to me.” I will say this, though. I prefer Fett with an American accent in the 1980 version, as opposed to the New Zealand accent we hear in current versions of Empire. I know Lucas was trying to keep the movie on the same level as the prequels, but I can’t get used to Fett with a Kiwi accent. I just can’t!


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ENDING CREDITS

Although Return of The Jedi is my favourite movie, I really do like Empire. It’s one of those films that I’d happily watch on multiple viewings, and it’s very quotable (Well, I find the other Star Wars movies quotable too, but I digress).


Rating: 8/10

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