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Film Review: Star Wars Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

Updated on January 1, 2018
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Written by: Jason Wheeler, Film Frenzy Senior Writer & Editor.


In 1980, Irvin Kershner released The Empire Strikes Back, the second film in the Star Wars franchise and second film in the original trilogy. Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Frank Oz, Jason Wingreen, Julian Glover, Kenneth Colley, Michael Sheard, Michael Culver, John Ratenberger, and James Earl Jones, the film grossed between $534.1 and $538.4 million at the box office. The 12th highest-grossing-film in North America, the film won the Academy Award for Best Sound Mixing and the Special Achievement Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score and Best Production Design. It also won the Saturn Awards for Best Actor, Best Director, Best Special Effects and Best Science Fiction film.


Following the destruction of the Death Star, the Galactic Rebellion has set up a base on the ice world of Hoth. But when Luke sees a vision of Obi-Wan instructing him to search for the Jedi Master Yoda, he must seek him out following a vicious assault on the base by the Empire. Meanwhile Han and Leia must flee pursuing Imperial forces.


As a sequel to the film that surpassed nearly everyone’s expectations, The Empire Strikes Back proved to be better than its predecessor. It does so by completely inverting the type of ending seen in the prior film and makes it so that the villains basically win. The Empire nearly annihilates the rebel forces on Hoth, while Han and Leia get trapped in an asteroid field, barely escaping with their lives, only to be routed by the Empire on Bespin, where Vader tortures them for information about Luke and imprisons Han’s body in carbonite, which is taken to Jabba the Hutt on Tatooine by Boba Fett. And following the carbon freezing, Darth Vader has an incredibly well done battle with Luke, which results in the latter getting his hand cut off. While Luke, Leia, C3PO, R2D2, Chewbacca and Lando escape Bespin, they’re still split up. The whole films ends with Luke, Leia and the droids remaining aboard a medical ship while he gets fitted for a robotic hand, while Lando and Chewbacca head to Tatooine in order to save Han whose frozen body is still with Fett. It’s a great ending, too, showing that while the rebels have been dealt a serious blow, they may be down, but they’re not out. The chapter may be over, the story will continue and the fight will go on.

The film also presents some good continuation with Luke’s character arc. It’s the only film in the series where he carries both a lightsaber and a blaster, which demonstrates his torn feelings between being the rebellion hero and being a Jedi. In the end though, he chooses to take the path of a Jedi and from then on, he only uses the lightsaber for his fight with Darth Vader. And even then, he displays how he’s not exactly the Jedi he thinks he is, due to how he fails every test that Yoda puts him under. He seeks a great warrior and fails to recognize Yoda in their first encounter. He ignores Yoda’s suggestion to not take a weapon into the cave. He is unable to understand how the X-Wing could be lifted with the Force. It all exhibits that Luke still has a lot to learn when it comes to the ways of the Force. Further, when he activates his lightsaber before Vader does in their battle, it highlights that he’s still impatient and aggressive.

There’s also some really good background events that happen throughout the film. Following the exit out of lightspeed to surprise the rebels at Hoth, Vader strangles Admiral Ozzel with the Force and promotes Captain Piett upon his death. During all this, the technician behind Ozzel and Piett just continues working. Something similar happens again following Needa’s death as the crewman who are watching quickly go back to work when Vader turns around. Though seemingly throwaway moments, it does serve to show that events such as these happen all the time on board Vader’s ship. It also gets a good subversion a third time around, following the Millennium Falcon’s jump to hyperspace. All the officers stop what they’re doing and prepare for Vader to come down on them, but he just leaves. However, there is one person who is still typing into a computer and only realizes just what happened after Vader walks past.

The film is also responsible for unleashing the biggest theatrical plot twist of 1980, with Darth Vader telling Luke that he is his father. It wonderfully comes right out of nowhere, leaving audiences guessing into the next film whether or not Vader was telling the truth (with James Earl Jones even thinking so). And if he was telling the truth, it presents a great setup for the next film to portray the climactic clash between a son and his fallen father. It was also done well technically, with only a select few people (Lucas, Kershner, and Jones) knowing about the line with David Prowse telling Luke that Obi-Wan killed his father. With everybody left in the dark, it was a great way to make sure nobody spilled the beans prior to the premiere.

5 stars for The Empire Strikes Back

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