The following article contains spoilers.
The adventure continues in this Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope sequel. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) face attack by the Imperial forces and its AT-AT walkers on the ice planet Hoth. While Han and Leia escape in the Millennium Falcon, Luke travels to Dagobah in search of Yoda. Only with the Jedi master’s help will Luke survive when the dark side of the Force beckons him into the ultimate duel with Darth Vader (David Prowse).
Where does one even try to begin talking about a movie so highly regarded and so influential as Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back? Even if you have never seen a film within the Star Wars franchise before, I am certain that you have either heard quotes from this movie or you have a general idea of some of the things that happen.
Most of my friends watched this film when they were young and growing up. Star Wars became a part of their childhood and in some way, helped shape the people they are today. They grew up watching the prequels and the original trilogy and were able to see the grand scheme of things within this universe.
But I didn’t watch a single Star Wars movie until my pre-teens. When I did watch my first film in the series, I fell in love instantly and fast-forward years later, Star Wars is my favorite media franchise in history. However, even before I saw any movie within the saga, I knew some of the most iconic lines spoken by some of the most beloved characters.
Growing up, I heard many lines such as “No, I am your father”, and “Do or do not. There is no try”, more times than I can count. And although I hadn’t seen the movies, I knew that Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia were the three main heroes of this story, while Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine were the main villains. And I also knew how truly influential and game-changing The Empire Strikes Back was and still is.
Star Wars really is a story of good versus evil. When you say it like that, it seems like it may be too simplistic of a story. A young farmer learns to become a strong warrior and wants to take down an evil villain sounds kind of generic when you say it like that. But the best Star Wars movies, games, shows, and comics all revolve around simplicity, and it helps to make it truly excellent.
Although this series may tell a simple story on the surface, the story really goes so much deeper and more complex than you could ever imagine, and it’s all thanks to wonderful writing from Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, plus truly masterful direction from Irvin Kershner. The Empire Strikes Back is one of the best movies ever made.
In A New Hope, we got little glimmers of how dangerous and evil the Empire is. They definitely don’t care whatsoever about killing innocent people, as shown at the beginning of the movie when they test an ultimate planet-destroying weapon on an unsuspecting planet known as Alderaan. They fire this weapon up, and it causes the entire planet to explode and becomes nothing more than ash.
Once they see that their weapon was successful, they move along and get back to work on other important matters to them. The Empire is a vile and evil autocracy and The Empire Strikes Back does a marvelous job at depicting this. John Williams’ “The Imperial March” theme is one of the greatest pieces of music ever composed for a film and perfectly illustrates in an auditory medium just how large-scale and scary the Empire truly is.
But by far my favorite aspect of The Empire Strikes Back is its story and its character development. With this film, we finally get some answers that were on our minds from A New Hope but first and foremost, the screenwriters made sure to tell a dark and deeply engrossing story. Who is Darth Vader? Will Luke Skywalker be able to become a powerful enough Jedi to be able to take him down and bring peace and order to the galaxy?
All of these questions burn on our minds upon the first viewing of the movie and when we finally start to get bits and pieces of the truth, the movie as a whole becomes remarkably intense and gripping. Han Solo and Leia Organa get some of the best development in this script. Their relationship is explored in brilliant ways, and once you see where their characters are going, it becomes heartwarming and joyous to watch. They are one of the best fictional couples in history, but they are also strong characters in their own right. Han is an excellent smuggler and pilot and Leia is a tremendous leader within the Rebel Alliance.
Luke Skywalker is certainly not the same person he was in the previous installment. In A New Hope, he was a whiny pasture farmer who just wanted to go to the Tosche Station to pick up some power converters. But in The Empire Strikes Back, he slowly but surely becomes a powerful Jedi capable of bringing Vader down for good.
This eventually leads to an absolutely mind-blowingly suspenseful lightsaber battle in Cloud City between Luke and Vader. The battle itself is full of emotion and strength with its themes. This battle contains no music either, which makes the scene stand out significantly. It feels powerful to watch.
During this fight, we learn that Darth Vader is indeed Luke’s father, Anakin, making for one of, if not the, greatest twist in cinematic history. Sadly, I don’t remember my first reaction to learning about Vader being Luke’s father, but I’m sure I was quite shocked. I love watching YouTube videos of parents showing their kids The Empire Strikes Back for the first time and filming their reaction to this moment. In every video I’ve seen, the kids look absolutely shocked and can’t believe their eyes and ears.
It’s such a brilliant twist because it literally changes everything from that moment onward. Just as we thought we had a good grip on what was happening within this world, this moment comes along to flip everything on its head in a phenomenal way.
During the confrontation between Luke and Vader, Vader ends up slicing Luke’s hand clean off with his lightsaber, which is something I definitely didn’t expect to happen the first time around. “How is he going to fight Vader with only one hand?” and “Is Luke actually about to die?” were questions that were racing through my mind.
And the film doesn’t give you all the answers at the end, either. The Empire Strikes Back ends not too long after this moment. Luke ends up jumping down a reactor shaft upon hearing Vader tell him he wants him to join the dark side and together, they can rule the galaxy. Luke would rather have died than join Vader’s quest for evil.
But instead of dying from the fall, Luke survives and manages to make his way out along with his allies Leia, Han, and Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams). The movie ends with our main heroes gazing off into the galaxy, all while Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine are still alive, and are surely planning another attack soon. But the credits begin to roll.
It might just be the best cliffhanger in any movie ever made. I can’t even begin to imagine the look on theatre-goers facers upon seeing the credits appear on screen after this moment. They had no idea when they were going to get the third installment in this series. Back then, people couldn’t just go online and look up information regarding the next chapter in the saga, they just had to be patient and wait.
Thankfully with the sequel trilogy these past five years, we were able to get updates and new pieces of information regarding the next film in the franchise thanks to news articles, Star Wars Celebration, and other events. But back in 1980, audiences simply had to just be patient and hold on for more.
But isn’t it genuinely amazing how a movie that was released forty years ago is still being talked about to this day? In fact, it’s probably being talked about today more than it was back when it was released. It’s a movie that defined a generation and inspired so many filmmakers out there to make movies of their own. The Empire Strikes Back is not just a movie for kids to enjoy. It’s a movie made for everybody. A movie made with immense, style, suspense, and skill. It’s no wonder why people wanted to go to a galaxy far, far away after watching this classic.
Overall Grade: A+
MPAA Rating: PG for sci-fi action violence
Directed by: Irvin Kershner
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: May 21, 1980
Running Time: 124 minutes