|Directed by||Irvin Kershner|
The film is set three years after Star Wars. The Galactic Empire, under the leadership of the villainous Darth Vader and the Emperor, is in pursuit of Luke Skywalker and the rest of the Rebel Alliance. While Vader chases a small band of Luke’s friends—Han Solo, Princess Leia Organa, and others—across the galaxy, Luke studies the Force under Jedi Master Yoda. When Vader captures Luke’s friends, Luke must decide whether to complete his training and become a full Jedi Knight or to confront Vader and save them.
Following a difficult production, The Empire Strikes Back was released on May 21, 1980. It received mixed reviews from critics initially but has since grown in esteem, becoming the most critically acclaimed chapter in the Star Wars saga; it is now widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. The film ranks #3 on Empire‘s 2008 list of the 500 greatest movies of all time. It became the highest-grossing film of 1980 and, to date, has earned more than $538 million worldwide from its original run and several re-releases. When adjusted for inflation, it is the second-highest-grossing sequel of all time and the 13th-highest-grossing film in North America. The film was followed by a sequel, titled Return of the Jedi, which was released in 1983.
Even though he wasn’t at the director’s helm this time, George Lucas has done it again.
In a film like The Empire Strikes Back, especially a few years on the heels of such a mind-bogglingly great film like the original Star Wars, there is something that comes immediately to mind that would at first seem to count against the film, but instead only winds up increasing the respect that it commands. In the 1977 Star Wars, there is a clear reliance on simplicity in some parts. Obviously, it is much more than a simply made science fiction film, but like I said in my review of it, there was a lot of highly effective reliance on things that were not put on screen, such as Obi Wan’s description of The Force to Luke. In The Empire Strike Back, the first thing that we are treated to is the traditional scrolling text along a background of stars, depicting what has happened between the last film and this one, and reminding us of the things that were mentioned in the last film but never explained.
At first, this would almost seem to be a way to save money to get more information across to the audience without having to actually put it on screen, but this is really an ingenious way of furthering the story. The very fact that we are so willing to read all this information and forgive our inability to actually see it is a testament to the quality of the series, even at this early stage in its presentation, and we know the story so well from the first film that we are glad to see such a large change in what’s happening in the films, not for a second lamenting the fact that we have obviously missed so much action. And besides that, if and when George Lucas runs out of new prequels to release, and maybe if he someday begins to run low on how many hundreds of millions of dollars he has, he could go right back and make these in-between scenes into full length films. What would he call these, if he did that? Introquels? Who cares! The names themselves would be interesting enough, and if you go back and read the stuff that introduces this film, it’s obvious that there’s an entire film there just waiting to be made. I guess the question of actors would be a formidable one, though.
The Empire Strikes Back is the film where we are first introduced to the great Jedi master Yoda (`Away put your weapon!’), as well as some of the most thrilling battle sequences of the entire Star Wars series, and that includes the prequels. The battle scene where the rebels fight the Imperial Walkers on the ice planet is an incredibly well-made battle scene, not only in the way that it was put together so convincingly using models, but that the machines themselves are so creatively made. Indeed, the Imperial Walkers are some of the most recognizable machines from the entire Star Wars saga, right up there with the Millennium Falcon and the Death Star.
I have just watched this film again, having already seen Episode I and Episode II, and not having seen any of the original Star Wars films for maybe 10 years (except for the original 1977 Star Wars, which I saw and reviewed a few days ago – and these aren’t even the Special Edition versions!). When I first saw Yoda when watching The Empire Strikes Back again, I was really struck by how different he looked from in the newer movies. Obviously, he’s completely computer generated in the new films, but here in Episode V he looks like a muppet! Even so, I would like to express my opinion that Yoda is more realistic and more interesting here as a puppet than in the newer films as a computer generated image. At least here in the older films you know that he’s actually THERE, and that he’s not just added into the film later.
Oh yeah, speaking of Yoda, can I just complain for a minute? What the hell was up with the Jedi training? Yes, I realize that I’m just a lowly IMDb reviewer, while The Empire Strikes Back is a part of the greatest science fiction series of all time, but would it have killed George Lucas to write in a little more creative training for Luke? The thing that struck me first about the Star Wars films when I first started watching them was how incredibly imaginative they were, but then Luke started his training. You know, when I was in high school I played football. I was a wide receiver/tight end and I hardly ever got to play because I was too tall and too skinny, but part of my workout was to carry the linemen up and down the stairs to the weight room. Some of these guys weighed 100 pounds more than me, and I still almost never saw the field, and here’s Luke Skywalker. He carries Yoda around this boggy swamp and he gets to be a Jedi! What the hell!
There is also the addition of a surprisingly fitting love story. First of all, anyone who has ever read my review of a Jerry Bruckheimer movie will know that I am not the biggest fan of cramming a love story into a movie where it doesn’t belong. I can’t seem to write anything about Bruckheimer movies without complaining about the idiot love story, and now it’s even worse because here’s this movie that was made so long before, from which Bruckheimer could obviously have at least learned a LITTLE bit about how to do it right. Han Solo and Princess Leia maintain the personalities that they developed in the first Star Wars film and there is now a sort of love/hate relationship between the two of them, where neither one of them wants to admit their feelings for the other. This romantic subplot is characterized perfectly in the scene just before Solo is carbon frozen, when Leia risks approaching a cheesy romantic moment by saying `I love you’ just before Han is lowered into the freezing chamber, and he saves the moment by responding, `I know.’ Han Solo. Smart-ass to the last drop.
Before I end I would like to point out that the goofs that can be found on the IMDb for this film are some of the most blatant that I’ve ever seen in a film. The scene where you can see someone giving a woman at the tactical maps a cue to deliver her lines is amazingly obvious, and some of the other ones, such as the stage hand swinging the light saber prop briefly into view as he switches it for an `off’ prop with Luke just after he knocks Darth Vader over backwards, are just as much fun to look for. I have one question about the goofs, though. There’s one where Luke looks off into the fog just after R2-D2 is eaten by the sea monster, and you can CLEARLY see a person running to the right a little ways off in the fog. Is that meant to be Luke? It seems that it’s supposed to be him running in his search for R2, because you can even hear the FOOTSTEPS of the person running. I can’t even IMAGINE how they could have missed THAT!!
It is, however, a testament to the quality of a film when such tremendous oversights in editing do nothing to take away from the overall quality of the film. The Empire Strikes Back remains an extremely powerful and well-made installment in the Star Wars series, not taking even a single step backwards in the sheer breathtaking adventure of the original film. It’s not often that a film as good as Star Wars can be released and then followed up with a sequel that is just as great, as is clearly the case here. Star Wars was a gigantic film upon its release, and with The Empire Strikes Back, Lucas has begun the formation of one of the greatest film series’ in cinematic history.
Towers Over All The Rest: Intensity
This is my favorite; the others are not even in the same ballpark. Kirshner was noted for his intensity that got him into trouble with RoboCop 2. From the first frame, it is non stop action, great acting and intensity. There is a depth here, characters are deepened from the cardboard cutouts they were in A New Hope. Those that love Vader, as much as I do, owe a debt to Kirshner for here he is deepened into the terrifying villain we all loved. This was before he was emasculated in Marquand’s travesty: Return Of The Muppets. Hoth is a fascinating planet full of weird creatures like the tauntauns. The action begins right away, no character development for a half an hour like New Hope. The probe droids, the attack on Luke, the rescue. Want to know how much I loved this movie? I saw it 30 times in my twenties waiting hours in line every time to see it in a 1100 seat rocking chair huge theater. Vader makes the earlier Vader look like a Cub Scout: strangling underlines, terrifying everyone around him; he strides with majestic evil throughout the movie. His has the best dialog of any of the movies: “Apology accepted Captain Needa. I am altering the deal, pray I don’t alter it any further.”
Kirshner is such a visual genius, watch for Vader always enveloped in steam or smoke like he emerged fresh from Hell. The duel between Luke and Vader may not have the athletics or the speed of Darth Maul and Obi Wan but Vader is so ruthless here. Watch how he pops out and almost chops Luke clean in half. This is the core of the success: Vader is depicted much deeper and more terrifying. The strength of his delineation is what gives the movie its power. It also, by the way, it part of the reason, besides the Muppets, that Jedi stinks so badly. They felt the need to lighten Vader and let Sidious be the heavy in Jedi; it wrecks all the work Kirshner did here. All the characters are deepened, the romance between Leia and Han acts as emotional clout to the impending freezing of Solo. The bravery to show Han being tortured, that was Kirshner. We can all but wonder what Jedi would have been if Kirshner and not Marquand had directed.
The main attack on the movie has always been that it suffers from being the second chapter of a trilogy leaving the viewers with a bad ending. We now know how it ends; that has faded in time. Yes, in 1980, you did have this awful lack of satisfaction with the cliffhanger ending. But, if you want to appreciate how great it is, compare it to that Clone crap second chapter in the prequel trilogy. This shows how great a well done second chapter could be. Luke’s training with Yoda moves quickly and is not boring. Yoda is introduced well and grows quickly into the endearing Icon he became until he was ruined in the prequels. The other five movies are quite inferior to this in characterization, acting, writing and intensity. The freezing of Solo, with its attendant devastation on Leia, is done like any serious film would have presented it. The Masterpiece Of The Series. I do not regret one hour I spent waiting in line to watch this over and over, you will love it!!
It’s NOT the darkest of the trilogy – it’s the most mature
Author: Spleen from Canberra, Australia
26 October 1999
`It avoids having the standard shoot-’em-up ending,’ says a friend of mine, `by not having an ending.’ I suppose this is what most people think, but all the same the film manages to form a satisfying whole; or at least, a whole that satisfies me. I’m therefore inclined to think it DOES have an ending. Obviously, I can’t discuss this without giving things away to those few who don’t know what happens. If you’re one of those few, then believe me: your ignorance is precious enough to be worth guarding until you see the film. Stop reading now.
After the surprise attack on the rebel base, Luke Skywalker splits with Han, Leia, et al. Han’s party gets away first (is it just me, or is the shot of Luke watching the Falcon flying off while he stands stranded on the ground, a poignant one?), but thereafter they face one narrow escape after another, while Luke slinks off quietly and safely to train with Yoda.
The training scenes are many and Yoda talks a great deal of rubbish. But somehow it doesn’t matter. The film is ambivalent in its attitude towards Yoda, anyway. Our sympathy clearly lies with the entirely non-spiritual concerns of Han, Leia and the adolescent Luke. The main story concerns the understanding that builds between Han and Leia. In the end they are honest with one another; and if Han’s being frozen and shipped back to Tatooine is the price to pay for this, well, it’s the price to pay. It was very important NOT to end with the dashing rescue that opens `Return of the Jedi’, which would be dramatically beside the point. Instead we end with the promise that the rescue will some day occur. That’s enough.
As for Luke: he abandons Yoda to rescue Han and Leia, and achieves NOTHING WHATEVER. This was my favourite touch. All five Jedis – Luke, Obi-Wan, Yoda, Vader, and the Emperor – find that their conflicting instincts are all entirely wrong. The film is really about the temporary triumph of human impulses over the mystical Force. Luke’s human idealism is vindicated, but his supernatural powers, just this once, are not.
When George Lucas gave his Star Wars trilogy a fresh coat of varnish in 1997 he felt he had to justify the expense by making needless changes. You’ll notice he made precious few changes to episode V. There just wasn’t room. He added a few extra shots of the ice monster, which of course weakened that one scene; but even with those changes in place the Special Edition is virtually identical to the original edition. Since Lucas was so keen on making changes wherever he could this is obviously a tribute to the tightness of the story and the direction. It’s also a tribute to the perfection of the original special effects, more innovative than the effects in the first Star Wars movie and better than the effects in any subsequent one.
The best film in the original trilogy.
Author: EggoMan (email@example.com) from Chicago, Illinois
2 May 2000
The Empire Strikes Back is the best film in the original Star Wars trilogy. It has all the great qualities that the original Star Wars has: great effects (at the time of its release), appealing characters, and lots of spellbinding action. It also has eliminated some of the problems that plagued the first: the storyline is tighter, and goes much deeper into character development. The performances are terrific, especially by Harrison Ford as Han Solo, and Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian. George Lucas has also remembered to include a spellbinding battle sequence with the snowspeeder sequence near the beginning of the film. The conclusion, with a lightsaber duel between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, is truly one of the most suspenseful and dramatic scenes in the entire series. This is a truly wondrous film, and serves as a constant reminder that just because a movie is expensive and a blockbuster doesn’t mean that it has to be shallow and two dimensional. This film will undoubtedly entertain viewers of all ages from start to finish.
Finest of the trilogy because Lucas didn’t write the script
Author: TheNorthernMonkee from Manchester
22 May 2005
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
SPOILERS Three years after “Star Wars”, creator George Lucas released the second part of his trilogy. Giving scripting credits to Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasden, as well as directing to Irvin Kershner, Lucas made his smartest ever decision and as a result was able to release the finest film of the trilogy by a mile. Considerably darker and more mature than it’s predecessor, “The Empire Strikes Back” is a masterpiece of modern film. It is an intense, powerful, entertaining film with the ultimate cinema twist and with a script worthy of it’s potential.
After the events of the first film, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) are now members of the rebel alliance. Hidden on a frozen planet, the rebels hide from the domineering glow of the Empire. All is not well however as the evil Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones) is on his way to find them.
Easily the best of the trilogy, “The Empire Strikes Back” has so much going for it. A wonderful plot, an equally good script with some brilliant lines (even actor Harrison Ford joining in with a line or two of his own) and special effects to match, this film is a glowing example of why people love the trilogy so much.
Since George Lucas passed on the major responsibilities for this film, we are given a more professional, well made film for our attention and Lucas’s vision is better off for it. With it’s recent remastering, it is also the only film in the trilogy to not be damaged by Lucas’ tampering. Extra images are added, graphics are honed, but nothing major is changed. As a result the film appears to us to be no different from it’s original self.
Darker and more mature as well, this sequel is better than the original “Star Wars” because it isn’t so black and white. Presenting the evil Darth Vader as a more balanced individual, we don’t quite have the confused Vader of the final chapter, but we are beginning to get signs that he isn’t quite as we expected.
This second part also gives us the finest performance ever by one of the universes most important characters. Still a rubber puppet with bendy ears, Jedi Master Yoda is introduced in this film as a creature of wit and intelligence. Voiced by Frank Oz, Yoda is brilliant because of his lines. Legendarily possessing of an obsession for splitting sentences up and rehashing them together, Yoda very often speaks normally throughout this film. Occasionally demonstrating his penchant for bad English, he does make a few minor errors, but ultimately it is up to the later scripts of George Lucas to corrupt Yoda’s style and turn this wonderful character into an annoying figure of fun.
There’s no real way to fault “The Empire Strikes Back”. The finest part of the original trilogy, this film is amazing because it is professionally done. Nobody would ever deny that George Lucas did something wonderful when he thought up “Star Wars”, but unfortunately for a lot of the films, Lucas always insisted on too much control. A dire writer of scripts, Lucas can destroy his films by making them infuriating to watch. In this part though, Lucas didn’t get involved and as a result, “The Empire Strikes Back” is a masterpiece in it’s own right.
Outstanding follow up.
Author: antonjsw1 from United Kingdom
12 September 2010
Congratulations have to go to line producer Gary Kurtz and director Irvin Kershner in pushing the production to out-perform A New Hope, even though the consequence was a film that came in massively over budget, and almost cost Lucas his hard fought independence from the Hollywood system.
The plot moves quickly, from an interesting script by Leigh Bracket and Larry Kasdan, focusing on exploring two key relationships. The first is the relationship between Han Solo and Leia Organa, which is touched upon in a New Hope, but is fleshed out more in this film. The other is the more central relationship between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. This relationship is also linked in to the main supporting character in this film, Yoda, who is fantastically well realised by the film crew and performed brilliantly by Frank Oz. There are other characters, but whereas C3P0 and R2D2 were a central part of the story in the previous film, they are more on the sidelines.
What makes this film so great though is the involving and effective way the relationships operate within the broader story. The banter between Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher is highly effective and amusing, operating through the classical love-hate relationship. One senses that Kershner, as a director of character driven films, worked very effectively with the actors and gave them the space to develop their characters which meant plenty of choices for the director in terms of their performances. The same goes for Mark Hamill’s interaction with Yoda(Frank Oz). This is totally convincing and builds up the confrontation with Darth Vader very well. It was time well spent in getting these performances right. Kershner is very good at keeping the performance naturalistic, but reduces the level of broadness in the characters, making them more complex and interesting. Darth Vader benefits from this with scenes in the film that add to the mystique of the character.
The confrontation with Luke Skywalker is riveting and dramatic and elevates the film above the level of its predecessor.
Technically the film is even more impressive than its predecessor. Credit has to go the Oscar nominated Art Direction team. John Barry, who had worked on the previous film, passed away during the production, but Norman Reynolds led the team superbly, with the excellent creations of Dagobah and Hoth, albeit Bespin in the original does feel a bit like a set, and the digital embellishments in the special edition were helpful in creating a bigger feel to those scenes. However, I was disappointed in the reworked scene with Palpatine in the special edition – while putting the excellent Ian McDiarmid was supporting continuity, to show him face on was, in my view an error and the reworked scene would have played much better with his face shrouded, or at the least partially obscured. The whole point of the scene was that the dialogue as strong enough without the need to ram an unsubtle visual at the audience.
Editing is excellent, led by Star Wars veteran Paul Hirsch, but it is known that both George Lucas, and his then wife Marcia were also heavily involved in putting the film together. Peter Suschitzky’s photography is more conventional and low key in approach than A New Hope, but is particularly effective on the Dagobah scenes in Elstree Studios, and the location scenes in Norway.
ILM’s visual effects were outstanding, and rightly won an Academy Award. The crew consisted of the following: Oscar winning A New Hope veteran Richard Edlund, working with British effects supervisor Brian Johnson (who had just won an Oscar for Alien), effects photographer Dennis Muren (who would become an award winning and digital effects pioneer for ILM for ET, Return of the Jedi, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Innerspace, The Abyss, T2 and Jurassic Park) and compositor Bruce Nicholson, who would go on to win an Oscar for his work on Raiders of the Lost Ark, and work on a wide variety of films in Hollywood. George Lucas took a strong interest and influence in the special effects and also has to take credit for some of the excellent sequences in the film, which also work because they help drive the story along.
Again, like a New Hope, sound work was first rate and Oscar winning. In most cases the sound has to be recorded in a studio and added many months after filming has been completed. Sound re-recordist Bill Varney would win another Oscar for Raiders of the Lost Ark. Steve Maslow and Gregg Landaker also worked as sound-recordists and are both prolific contributors to many high profile movies. They would also win Oscars for their work on Raiders and then some fourteen years later win again for their work on the Keanu Reeves hit movie Speed. Peter Sutton won for his on–set work and has a large body of work in film since this movie. Also credit has to go the Ben Burtt’s sound design work, which creates a fabulous sound-scape for the film.
However, despite the above outstanding technical contributions, which serve to enhance and exciting and interesting story, it is composer John Williams who, yet again, takes this film to another level with another astounding musical score. Working with the director and producers, Williams develops and expands original themes. He creates a new and unforgettable theme for Darth Vader, with strong militaristic overtones, and clever themes for Leia and Han, and for Yoda. He weaves the score into the film expertly, giving moments of tension, excitement, thoughtfulness, mystery and tragedy with aplomb.
The score feels more operatic than a New Hope, and helps cement this as one of the best adventure/fantasy films ever made.
Congratulations to Mr Lucas for delivering a remarkable sequel, but also to Gary Kurtz and Irvin Kershner for having the courage to push everyone out of their comfort zones so as to reach this level of excellence.