Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back
The Empire Strikes Back is nothing short of a masterpiece. It would have been nearly impossible to improve upon the success of, and love form the first Star Wars movie, but that’s exactly what George Lucas did with this installment.
As sequels should, the story builds off the first movie but adds more to the plot. New characters arrive. The old characters continue to grow. Most importantly, though, secrets get revealed that turn everything audiences thought they knew completely around.
After the supposed crippling success the rebels had over the Empire in the first movie, the Empire has been fighting back in force. Their attacks have been relentless, pushing the rebels into hiding out on remote planets. When Empire Strikes Back starts, the rebels are on the ice planet Hoth.
Placing one of the most epic battles of all Star Wars movies in the snow was a stroke of genius. The gritty action was there in stark contrast to the landscape. When the AT-ATs walk into frame, audiences everywhere had the same reaction, their jaws dropped. True to Star Wars fashion, though, the battle maintains an element of fun along with the nervousness and worry everyone feels for the primary cast. As usual in Star Wars battles, audiences are cheering when the good guys start winning. When Luke and Wedge Antilles take down the first AT-ATs, the audience cheers will naturally ensue.
From the successful retreat away from Hoth, the rebels are scattered and split up. Han, Leia, and Chewbacca go to Cloud City to meet up with Han’s old friend, Lando. Luke, meanwhile, goes to complete his Jedi training on Dagobah with Yoda, a Jedi master.
En Route to Bespin, aka Cloud City, Han and crew run for their lives in an exhilarating escape from the Empire who stay always hot on their tail. During the chase, Han shows both his slyness as well as his great pilot skills as he flies directly into an asteroid field, lands on one to let the Empire fly past, and disguises his ship as space trash to remain unnoticed. There’s a reason Han has survived as a smuggler as long as he has, he’s very cunning and street smart. Nothing displayed that more throughout the Star Wars movies more than this chase scene.
Darth Vader hired bounty hunters to find Luke, the destroyer of the Death Star. The most cunning of the bounty hunters, Boba Fett, decides to get at Luke through his friends. Fett is the only one that manages to follow Han’s crazy path during his escape from the Empire. Likely, this level of awesomeness is why Boba has developed such a huge cult following. He’s a dangerous, mysterious man of few words, yet he’s one of the most popular characters of the entire Star Wars series. Boba takes Darth to Bespin to capture Han, Leia, Chewbacca, and the droids. Besides delivering Luke to Darth, Boba also wants Han for the bounty Jabba the Hutt has put out on Solo’s head.
While all of this is happening, Yoda trains Luke in the ways of the Force in the swamps of Dagobah. At this point, the prequels had not existed, this was everyone’s first introduction to Yoda. So, it was a surprise that such a small, puppet-looking creature was an extremely powerful Jedi master. Using Yoda in this way drives home Lucas’ point of the scene that anyone can be anything if they try hard enough. As Yoda says, people shouldn’t be judged by their size. Yoda trains Luke to never give up, to levitate, and to see visions of the future. Aside from cryptic images of becoming like Darth Vader, Luke also see his friends in danger and rushes to aid them at Bespin.
Everything comes clashing together in a climactic scene at Bespin. Lando knowingly duped Han in an effort to save his people, but he sits uneasy with his arrangement and tries to help Leia after it’s too late. The other characters, and maybe the audiences, find it difficult to trust or even like Lando at this point. However, he was stuck between a rock and a hard place. The gambler that he is, he was constantly looking for angles where he’d come out on top. His goal was to save all of the inhabitants of Bespin as well as Leia and Chewy by giving up one single person, Han. It’s difficult position to be in, but he chose the needs of the many over the needs of the few. Darth has Han encased in carbonite, which is an utterly heartbreaking scene. From that scene, we’re given the famously improvised line where Leia tells Han, “I love you” to which Han replies, “I know”. Boba then takes Han, still alive in hibernation, to his ship.
Luke shows up just in time to fight Vader, one on one, in an amazing lightsaber duel. In the fight, Luke loses his hand. Worse yet, though, one of the biggest movie twists of all time gets revealed. Darth is Luke’s father. Darth is Anakin Skywalker! That’s such a “what the hell?” moment that no one should ever rob themselves of it by watching the prequels before the original trilogy.
Watch the series like the rest of us, with the originals first and the prequels as backstory. Or, you could watch them in the “machete order” in which you watch New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, then the prequels, and end with Return of the Jedi. That way, you have the delayed gratification of moving from Empire to Return of the Jedi and get the backstory on Vader’s revelation in between.
Star Wars entries are always action packed with people getting killed left and right. This entry, though, seems darker. The rebels are on the run. Han gets captured and taken away, seemingly on the verge of death. Leia admits her love for Han only to lose him. Luke has visions of succumbing to the dark side of the Force and becoming like Vader. Then, finally, his spirit is nearly broken when he discovers Vader is his father. None of the primary cast is left unharmed by movie’s end.
It may have ended on a dark and dreary note, but Empire Strikes Back is incredible. Most consider it the best of all the Star Wars movies. It catapulted the franchise from being a great movie to a great series.
Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back – A Sci-Fi Masterpiece (B)
Writing - 10/1010/10
Storyline - 10/1010/10
Acting - 9.5/109.5/10
Music - 10/1010/10
Production - 10/1010/10
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