THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS
Back in 1977, audiences were first introduced to Star Wars, one of the most groundbreaking moviegoing experiences of all time. Three years later, audiences were treated to the sequel to Star Wars. It was titled The Empire Strikes Back and, just like with the first movie, it blew audiences away. In fact, the follow up even managed to outdo the first film. Not in terms of box office, but in terms of quality. The first film is one of my all time favourites, but Empire Strikes Back... now that is quality cinema.
The Empire Strikes Back picks up a few years after the original Star Wars. Luke (Mark Hamill) and Han (Harrison Ford) are out exploring the snow planet Hoth, all while Leia (Carrie Fisher), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), C3P0 (Anthony Daniels) and R2D2 (Kenny Baker) are at a rebel base, holding out hope that the two of them will return safely. But soon, the empire attacks, sending in all the troops they can, and it's this battle that divides our heroes in half. Luke and R2 are off in search of Yoda (Frank Oz), the Jedi master who trained Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness). Meanwhile, Han, Leia and C3P0 meet up with an old friend of Han's, Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), as they continue to try and take down the empire, still led by the relentless Darth Vader (David Prowse as the body and James Earl Jones as the voice).
The Empire Strikes Back does not follow your typical movie structure, and the filmmakers behind this movie knew that. The film opens on Hoth, a planet comprised almost entirely from snow. Luke is attacked by a Wampa, which is essentially the Star Wars equivalent to the abdominal snow man. Luke's tied up in the Wampa's cave and must use the power of the force to escape. It's one of the earliest moments in which we get to see Luke using the force and yes, it does lead to his escape. He deserves his escape. You've done good, kid. You've done good.
Han then arrives at Luke's rescue and this entire sequence is brilliant. I mean, the whole film is, but I really do love Han rescuing him. Why? Well, aside from the fact that Han's dialogue in this scene is flawless, he also wields a lightsaber at one point. Seeing Han with Luke's lightsaber just makes me happy. I love it. But seriously though, Han has never been better. He's still the scoundrel we first met, but he's a developed scoundrel who now cares for other people. Han's not my favourite Star Wars character for no reason.
This battle on Hoth lasts for a good chunk of the movie, yet I have no complaints. Like I said, The Empire Strikes Back doesn't have a clichéd narrative structure. The first half an hour or so is dedicated entirely to the characters hanging around on Hoth. It's exciting, romantic and sets up a surprising amount of emotional interest. A lot of The Empire Strikes Back is about developing these characters further, and that's why everyone, including myself, hails Star Wars as one of the greatest franchises of all time. The characters don't necessarily do anything that's more interesting than the characters from the prequels, but it's the fact that the writers have done a good job at providing depth to them and getting us to care about them.
Even Chewbacca goes from this strange, but loveable furry guy into a fleshed out character who you care an awful lot about. There's so many moments in this movie where Chewie really pulls on my heartstrings, the first notable time being when Han is locked out from the Hoth base. What does Chewie do? He roars out of concern. Another moment is later on in the film. Han has just been returned to his prison cell after being tortured and Chewie, the sweetheart that he is, can't stop hugging him. I love Chewbacca. I really do. I love him arguably as much as I do R2D2, and if you know me, you'll know that I REALLY love R2D2.
While Han and Chewie do steal a lot of the scenes in this movie, that's not to say that Luke isn't the central focus. He most certainly is. This film is a very personal journey for him and his character is developed drastically. He's no longer the kid we saw on Tatooine. He's not yet a fully fledged Jedi, but he's getting there. This film is about his training, and he gets trained by none other than Yoda, who, like a lot of the characters in this trilogy, are amongst the greatest film characters of all time. I have too many favourite Star Wars characters. They can all be my favourite character.
If you're one of the people out there who has seen the Star Wars prequels, but not the original trilogy, please forget everything you know about Yoda. The original trilogy Yoda is very different from the prequel trilogy Yoda. This Yoda has been isolated on a planet ever since the birth of young Luke Skywalker. He's a wise cracking trickster, yet he knows an awful lot about the ways of the force and the Skywalker family. He did, after all, know Luke's father, Anakin, although we all know who that ends up being. Every scene Yoda is in is an utter delight. Fun Yoda is much better than the serious Yoda we saw in the prequels.
Thematically, The Empire Strikes Back is a much darker film than the first. It's still a funny and goofy kids movie (and adult sized kids movie), but it's also a more serious telling of this story. From torture to betrayal to severing off arms to visual metaphors involving decapitated heads inside of other decapitated heads, The Empire Strikes Back isn't nearly as light hearted as the first film. While the darkest Star Wars film yet is Revenge of the Sith, I would argue that Empire Strikes Back isn't too far behind.
This film is titled The Empire Strikes Back, and so the empire, obviously, does strike back, and they strike back hard. When Han and Leia show up at Cloud City and are met by the smooth talking Lando, he soon betrays them, leading them right into the hands of Darth Vader and the empire. Want to know what Han does the second he spots Vader? He pulls out his blaster and tries to shoot him right there and then. Nobody messes with Han Solo. Not even the most villainous man in the entire galaxy.
Unfortunately, however, those shots fired towards Vader were for nothing as they're all taken hostage and tortured for no reason other than to get Luke to arrive. "They didn't even ask me any questions," Han says as they taken back into the arms of his true lover.... Chewbacca. I ship it. Anyways, Luke, now fully trained in the ways of the force, does come and he brings with him his newly learnt skills, taking on Darth Vader. But there's something that happens before this fight that I love even more. Something involving Han and Leia. Yeah, you know the scene I'm talking about.
Han is to be frozen in carbonate and sold off to Jubba the Hutt. Why? Because Darth Vader can. And he does. Han is taken away from the group, including Lando Calrissian, who has now revealed that he's not really a bad guy and didn't know what was going to happen. I still wouldn't trust him if I was them. But they do and that doesn't turn out to be a mistake as he is, in part, responsible for their escape. Han, however, isn't quite as lucky. He's frozen alive. Before he's frozen, Leia yells out to him "I love you," to which he responds with "I know." Fucking brilliant. One of the most unforgettable moments in cinema history, although this is one of the most unforgettable movies in cinema history as well.
With all hope lost, Luke finally arrives, taking on Darth Vader in a one on one lightsaber battle. It's dangerous, exciting and unpredictable, and you can really feel the rage building up inside of Luke as Vader continues to taunt him. Luke picked his fight too early, though. Sure, everyone makes it out alive at the end of the movie (although Han's fate is still unknown), but Luke leaves with a lost arm and a revelation he'd probably prefer to remain unknown. Darth Vader is Luke's father. *gasp* While everyone knows this twist now, it's still my favourite twist from any movie. It's brilliant and jaw dropping, and the fact that hardly any of the cast and crew knew until the film's premiere just makes the twist even better.
So there we have it. The Empire Strikes Back. It's one of those rare sequels that manages to take the plot and the characters of the first film and further them, resulting in an all round better movie. Whenever I watch this film, I honestly question whether or not Goodfellas is really my favourite movie of all time, or if this is. That's how good it is. This film blows me away every time I watch it. From the directing to the cinematography to the special effects to the iconic score, everything in this film is perfect. I JUST LOVE STAR WARS SO MUCH.
To sum up, Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back takes everything we love about the first film and adds more depth, resulting in a superior movie. It's fun, original and works on so many levels. I really can't say a single negative thing about it.
5 Stars.... obviously