REVIEW – ‘The Empire Strikes Back’

This epic entry in the 'Star Wars' saga is still the best film in the series!

Review by J.T. Johnson

ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: May 17, 1980
DIRECTOR: Irvin Kershner
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Peter Suschitzky
WRITERS: Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasdan
MUSIC: John Williams

Series creator George Lucas stated that when he initially wrote “Star Wars”, it was actually a much bigger script that contained too much material for just one film. After the surprising success of the original film, Lucas decided to finish the rest of his story. In order to do this, he took a step back as producer and hired director Irvin Kershner to helm the sequel.

He also hired writers Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan to pen the screenplay based on Lucas’ story. What developed is the film that is undoubtedly the best entry in the series thus far and one of the greatest films ever made in general. The name of the game here is character development.

After having successfully destroyed the Death Star, the Rebels find themselves held up at a base on the icy planet Hoth. Darth Vader (David Prowse) has been tracking the Rebels in order to find Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the man who destroyed the Empire’s deadly space station. While on Hoth, Luke has a vision of Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) telling him to head to the Dagobah system to find Yoda (Frank Oz), an old Jedi Master that can help Luke learn more about the Force.

Meanwhile, after Hoth is attacked, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) find themselves on the run from Vader’s evil forces. This leads to several thrilling action sequences including the Millennium Falcon’s daring escape through an asteroid field. While on the run, Han and Leia’s relationship is developed further before they meet Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), the leader of a mining operation on the Cloud City of Bespin.

The original film did a wonderful job of introducing us to the characters that we fell in love with as they raced to take down the Death Star. In this movie, we get to learn more about our characters and the relationships that they share. Luke is trying desperately to learn the ways of the Jedi so that he can ultimately defeat Darth Vader.

It is with Yoda that we learn about Luke’s weaknesses and just how underprepared he really is despite being naturally gifted in the ways of the Force. While he is good at heart, he is also impatient and angry, two things that could lead him to the Dark Side of the Force. Part of the drama of the film is questioning whether or not Luke has what it takes to be a Jedi in the first place.

Meanwhile, Han and Leia are both trying to avoid the fact that they need each other. Han is being the boneheaded smuggler that he’s always been and Leia is trying to maintain her strong shell while not wanting to admit that she too is vulnerable at times. They’re love story is a subtle one for the most part, but it is also one of the best told love stories in the series.

Kershner stated in later interviews that he knew he didn’t have the climax of the overall story since there was still another story to tell after “Empire”, but he did know he had something else. He had the emotional climax with the development of the characters at large and with the now famous revelation about Darth Vader’s relationship to Luke. Armed with this revelation and a brilliant story, the filmmakers created the ultimate Star Wars experience!

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