CLASSIC REVIEW: Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Theatrical Release Poster – By Roger Kastel

The following is a classic review of Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, a Irvin Kershner film. Expect spoilers.

The space opera fairytale that is Star Wars continued in May 1980. What met audiences was a very different film, which did not continue with the same mood that Lucas had ended A New Hope on. In many ways, The Empire Strikes Back is a completely different film than A New Hope, and, quite frankly, it is the film that made Star Wars a franchise.

All is not well in the galaxy following the events of A New Hope. The Rebel Alliance is still being hunted by the evil Empire, and the destruction of the Death Star has only meant that the Empire is more ferocious than before. The scoundrel Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is ready to leave the Rebel Alliance and Luke (Mark Hamill) & Leia (Carrie Fisher), as he is wary of the bounty on his head, but as he is about to leave Luke is missing, and soon the Empire attacks. Soon our heroes split up as Luke is instructed by the spirit of Obi-Wan Kenobi to go to the Dagobah system and meet up with a Jedi Master. Meanwhile, Leia and Han find themselves on the run from the Empire.

This sets up one of the most important films of Western pop culture. While A New Hope was the birth of the universe, The Empire Strikes Back was the birth of the franchise. This was when George Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan took the universe in a completely different direction. The origin of Darth Vader was completely altered, which left us with a very different view of the Obi-Wan character. He had lied to Luke for he was afraid that Luke would join the Dark Side.

And to follow up on that point, this was when the Dark Side really meant something, and thus the Force became more significant to the plot than A New Hope had originally laid out. There was suddenly a good chance that Luke could turn to the Dark Side, if he did not pace himself – if he didn’t follow the teachings of the Force. As such, this film also shows you how Jediism began (look it up). This became a religion to people, the Jedi teachings became words to live by.

What is clear for every student of the Original Trilogy is that this story is about Luke Skywalker and the Dark Side. While the first film teased us with the weapon of a Jedi Knight, the Force, and the Jedi Order – the second film showed us just how you can be manipulated by the Dark Side of the Force. I love what Mark Hamill does in this film. Hamill is, for most of the film, paired with a puppet and a droid – go ahead, kid, act!

Hamill perfectly shows us how frustrating patience can be to young minds, and you feel how Luke is changing. But it is a slow change, for sure, as Luke, basically, abandons his Masters on Dagobah to save his friends. Though warned of the danger, Luke rushes to Bespin to save his friends. Luke is the hero of 20th century cinema. He has to go, even if it could be the end of him.

And, of course, this was a trap. As we then enter into one of the final scenes of the third act, everything changes. We see just how outmatched Luke is when he is matched with Lord Vader. Vader toys with him, as he tries to learn just why the Emperor is impressed. And then it comes. The earth-shattering moment of the franchise (spoilers, obviously.)

VADER: If you only knew the power of the Dark Side! Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.

LUKE: He told me enough! He told me you killed him.

VADER: No, I am your father.

Luke’s reaction has become somewhat of an internet joke, but it is a really great scene, which becomes accentuated by John Williams’ perfect score. As the film draws to a close, audiences are left with one hero lost, and another unsure of himself. This truly is a dark sequel, and it would stun audiences. It is also the ultimate cliffhanger, of this there can be no doubt.

Of course there is much more to this film than simply Luke and Vader. This was the film that really upped the bickering between Leia and Han, with which there are some great moments. Han desperately wants Leia to realize that she is crazy for him, but Leia wants no part of it – at least not at first.

Interestingly, while The Empire Strikes Back today is regarded as one of the best films of all-time, it was not as popular when it was originally released. But over time the film has been recognized as the true classic it is.

Final Score: 10 out of 10The Empire Strikes Back is not just one of the best movies of all-time, it might be the best sequel of all-time.

I’m Jeffrey Rex

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