Movie Review – The Empire Strikes Back

1980 Twentieth Century Fox

Five Stars
Three years after the release of Star Wars fans were eagerly awaiting the opening night of the sequel in May of 1980. Once again I was there on the first night and thrilled by a sequel that was even better than the first.
As Empire begins an unspecified length of time has passed since the events of the first movie. Luke, now a commander in the rebellion, is riding through a snow covered landscape on a strange beast; welcome to Hoth the new and very chilly home to the rebel base. After the destruction of the Death Star the rebels are on the run and lying low hoping the Imperial forces won’t track them down but their hopes are soon dashed when an Imperial Probe Droid lands with a few Star Destroyers not far behind. Soon the rebels are running for their lives and Luke is off to the misty swamp covered world of Dagobah to learn from Obi-Wan’s instructor in the Jedi ways (or one of his instructors it seems).
Right from the start it is clear that this is not a clone (pun intended) of the first movie. Unlike many sequels that play it safe and do the same old thing Empire is a totally different experience. The story is more layered and concentrates on making the characters more three dimensional while expanding the universe introduced in the first movie. This movie elevates an already interesting story to the next level as well as giving us many classic scenes like the AT-AT attack on the rebellion, the asteroid chase, and the end duel between Luke and Vader. In addition we are introduced to two more classic characters as Yoda and Lando make their debuts.
Between Irvin Kershner’s great direction, Lawrence Kasdan’s and Leigh Brackett’s top-notch screenplay, terrific cinematography, and sharp dialogue this movie is a well-balanced piece of entertainment. Add in the best special effects of the trilogy courtesy of Brian Johnson and crew and another wonderful music score by John Williams and it just gets better. In no other Star Wars movie have all the elements been handled so well and the result is the best movie of the six and one of the best all around science fiction films of all time in my opinion. It is not often a sequel tops the original but this one did.
Once again the fans got to play the waiting game for another three years and the release of next chapter of the story: Revenge of the Jedi…err…make that Return of the Jedi.

The good:

The best dialogue and the best character development of all the Star Wars movies.

Amazing job by Frank Oz and the creators of Yoda.

The best special effects.

Classic opening shot.

The Ion Cannon is awesome. Too bad they couldn’t mount it on a rebel ship.

This is a perfect example of how to make an exciting and suspenseful action scene.

There is a sense of urgency and danger that adds to the drama.

Run away, run away…

So if you have ships this massive why do you need a Death Star?

Well at least they squeezed a couple Y-Wings in before the end credits.

A big round ship is not destroyed by an exploding reactor.

This is a fantastic looking movie. With all that’s going on with the matte paintings, lighting, set design, cinematography, etc, this movie could have been a mess but it is utterly gorgeous.

Amazing set…and it’s real.

My favorite shot of the movie.

The not so good:

I would have preferred that Darth Vader didn’t turn out to be Luke’s father.

Why couldn’t he have said “Yes I did kill your father. Obi-Wan did tell you the truth.”

Random thoughts and observations:

I waited in line two and half hours with my mom and brother to see the first showing on opening night. This was before matinees and non-stop showings all day long so we had some sizable lines.

Since the destroyer droids in the prequels were equipped with a shield generator and they were much smaller than an AT-AT or AT-ST it begs the question why weren’t the Imperial walkers equipped with shields? One of the hazards of writing prequels after the end (or middle) trilogy and waiting 16 years in between is a lot of inconsistencies will appear.

Every time Luke looks through binoculars something bad seems to happen…

…see what did I tell you?  Pay no attention to the clearly visible end of the prop arm.

There is no substitute for using genuine large scale sets. There is a level of realism lacking in CG sets that I find disturbing.

A clear indication that Luke and Leia were not yet brother and sister when this movie was made.

Why is Han’s sidearm always changing. Does he have spares?

I always feel bad for this poor bastard. He comes around the corner and bam!

This is one of the only movies that takes into account that space is not a two dimensional surface. Too bad more writers don’t take advantage of that fact.

I find it interesting that the Han Solo who was frozen is not the Han Solo who emerged in Return of the Jedi. The character was not written anywhere near as well as in this movie.

I’ve heard many people complain that Luke was whining like a wimp in this movie and Han was better. Well Han didn’t see his Aunt and Uncle burnt to a crisp, or get mauled by a big pissed off hungry snow beast, or get his hand cut off, or find out his father was one of the most despised men in the galaxy, and then wind up hanging upside down thousands of feet above a gas planet. Give the guy a break.

How it this little lamp going to help Luke get out of this slimy mudhole? Must be one hell of a lamp.

Luke only gets his hand cut off…

…but gets a bit more than that replaced. I guess they had to cut off even more. Luke is having one big bad luck streak.

“That boy is our last hope.” “No. There is another. Did you forget his twin sister whose birth you witnessed?”

“For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us.” No mention of midi-chlorians thank goodness.

The Special Edition:

  • There is nothing added in The Special Edition of this movie that adds any real value.

Did we need to see this? I think we all figured it was missing an arm after it fell to the ground.

This scene does not feel right with Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor. The rhythm is off.

Lando’s looking for the missing wall. I’m looking for the point of changing this scene.

Well at least the people in the foreground aren’t CGI. That’s the only good thing about this addition.

This is a ridiculous addition. It screws up the pacing of the movie big time.

Vader’s shuttle accidentally delivers him to the second, even more powerful Death Star.

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