RELEASED: May 21st 1980
DIRECTED BY: Irvin Kershner
WRITTEN BY: George Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan & Leigh Brackett
PRODUCED BY: Gary Kurtz
MUSIC BY: John Williams
STARRING: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Peter Mayhew, Kenny Baker, Anthony Daniels, Alec Guinness, David Prowse, James Earl Jones, Ian McDiarmid, Jeremy Bulloch, Temuera Morrison & Frank Oz
I had nothing but praise for the original Star Wars, and to be honest, the same is pretty much true of it’s sequel, The Empire Strikes Back.
While Star Wars was a great foundation, Empire ups the stakes even more, pushing characters through the ringer to get to their natural destination.
The story sees the Rebels on the run, as the Empire goes on the offensive following the destruction of the Death Star. After escaping an assault on their secret base on the planet Hoth, Luke Skywalker seeks out to find Jedi Master Yoda to learn the ways of the Force, while Han, Leia and the rest of the gang flee across the Galaxy, closely pursued by Darth Vader, who has vile plans for Skywalker and his friends.
The reason that this film is heralded as one of the best of all time, is because it takes everything that was great about Star Wars and expands on it. In Luke’s story, we get a more in depth view at the nature of the Force and the Jedi. Meanwhile Han’s story shows why the Empire is a force to be reckoned with, even without their planet destroying weapon.
The plot steps away from the paint-by-numbers story of the original, introducing more diversity and taking the characters to dark places.
Like, seriously dark. Spoilers for a 37 year old movie: The main character gets beaten half to death and dismembered by someone who then reveals that they are his father, another character gets killed off, the group are betrayed by a friend, and another character is blown up. Sure, in a world with Rogue One, it may not seem like Empire is the darkest Star Wars, but when you really think about it, it definitely is. It’s bold and unafraid of living dangerously, which is probably why, at the time, it wasn’t so well received. But looking at it from a clear perspective, you can see that it was definitely the right thing to do.
It’s that twist reveal that Vader is Luke’s father that everyone remembers, and rightly so, but there’s a lot of other things in this movie to appreciate. Which is just as well, seeing as newer generations may have experienced the Prequels first, and therefore already knew of Luke’s parentage.
On top of that twist (that most of the actors didn’t even know at the time) there’s also the fact that Empire, like Star Wars before it, looks stunning: whereas in the first film, we got barren planets, colourful taverns and epic space-stations, this film takes a step further into the spectacular, showing us cities in the clouds and elf-like creatures that can move things with their mind.
I said in the last post that Darth Vader is the greatest movie villain of all time. And while A New Hope defined his look, it was Empire that defined his character. Here, Vader is a man who demonstrates unimaginable power and ferocity; no one is a match for his violent tendencies, and few can live up to his high expectations.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for one of the secondary villains introduced in Empire: Boba Fett. Fett has since gone on to gain a cult following, but based on what we got in Empire, he’s not all that impressive outside of his distinctive look. Especially not when you compare him to his father, Jango Fett, in Attack of the Clones. That would be my only complaint about Empire (well, that and the fact that, for the most part, Leia doesn’t have all that much urgency) but seeing as this film is really centred on Luke, Vader and Han, these things are understandable, especially with a third film in the trilogy still to come. Regardless of their place in the film, each actor plays their role to perfection, with Billy Dee Williams being a welcome addition to the cast, and Anthony Daniels getting more of a chance to flex his comedic muscles.
But once again, it’s not just the looks and the characters that are impressive about this film, but also the music. John Williams returns, and with him, he brings the Imperial March and a new score that is now just as synonymous with Star Wars as the original theme, which is an impressive feat in and of itself.
All-in-all, I give it:
For taking a stellar film concept, and taking it in a bold and interesting new direction.