Star Wars Revisited Part III – ‘Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back’
Welcome to part three of Star Wars Revisited! To quickly recap the story so far, in the first entry we met Luke, Leia, Han, and Obi-wan as they learn about the Force, hear stories of Luke’s father, and stand up to the evil Empire in destroying the Death Star. We then looked back at Luke’s father, Anakin, as a child and saw the beginning of his journey as a Jedi under the tutelage of a young Obi-wan.
Today we check back in on Luke and the gang. The Empire has the Rebels on the run after the destruction of the Death Star. They are hiding out on the icy planet of Hoth when we catch up with them. I really like how the first act of the movie plays out on Hoth. They introduce a new world and explore its uniqueness and dangers, then the Empire shows up and a huge battle erupts as the Rebels try to escape. This was designed perfectly to help us catch up with the Rebels, find out what they’ve been up to for the last couple of years, and jumps into the action to show that they are still just a thorn in the sides of the Empire.
From there, Luke heads to Dagobah in search of Yoda, who we remember from the Jedi council in The Phantom Menace, to pick up his training where Obi-wan left off. While watching the movies in this order does ruin the surprise reveal of Yoda being the cantankerous curmudgeon Luke finds on Dagobah, it does help to drive home the fact it’s just an act to test Luke. As a kid, I remember thinking Yoda was just a senile old cook, but watching it with this way shows he is as sharp as ever.
Meanwhile, Leia and Han immediately run into trouble when escaping Hoth. They hide out in an asteroid field and eventually are able to escape to the Bespin Cloud City, which is the home of Han’s friend Lando. The asteroid field sequence might be my favorite moment of the whole series. The music is the best of the series, the tension is great, and the special effects couldn’t be better even if it were done digitally.
Unfortunately, Leia and Han’s story starts to lag when they get to Bespin. If this were my first time watching it, I might be into it more. There is a lot of intrigue and multiple double crosses that need to be there for the story to work, but ultimately it feels a little slow upon repeat viewings. I don’t really know what could be cut to help. It’s all pretty necessary. I especially like the progression of Leia and Han’s relationship throughout the film.
During his training, Luke has a vision of Han and Leia being tortured. Yoda urges him to look past it and complete his training, but Luke is determined to save his friends. He leaves before he can finish. Obi-wan and Yoda warn him they won’t be able to help him if he chooses to fight Darth Vader. He leaves anyway, and Obi-wan and Yoda discuss the possibility of the awakening of another Force-sensitive person.
Han is encased in carbonite and given to a bounty hunter named Boba Fett to take to Jabba the Hutt. Luke arrives at Bespin and falls right into Vader’s trap while Lando rescues Leia, Chewbacca, and the rest of the crew. Luke is able to fight off Vader long enough to learn that Obi-wan had lied about his father’s death. Vader hadn’t killed Anakin…HE WAS ANAKIN! What?!?
It’s obvious while watching this movie why it’s widely regarded as the best of the series. The acting, which I have complained about in the two previous entries, is lightyears better than it has been in the past. You can definitely see the growth from all of the youngsters, and they are able to grow their characters and really make the audience care about them at a level that had not yet been present in the series.
The special effects are incredible. The effects in A New Hope were quaint and fantastic in a cool, homemade way. The effects in The Phantom Menace were over the top, unnecessary, and unbelievable. However, the effects in The Empire Strikes Back are the best so far in the series. All practical but to a level that makes A New Hope almost look bad in comparison. It is vastly superior in believability and realism to anything we’ve seen so far.
Looking forward, I have a hard time believing it can get better than this. The story is amazing, the acting has come around, the special effects are mind blowing (could you imagine seeing an AT-AT onscreen for the first time in 1980?), and the level of drama is exactly what you want to see in a sequel. It has to be placed with movies like The Godfather: Part II, X-Men: United, and The Dark Knight on a very short list of sequels that may be considered better than the original.
Now that we know that little annoying kid from The Phantom Menace grew up to be the most powerful Sith we’ve met so far, let’s try to figure out how that happens. Next time, we go back to Anakin’s story with Attack of the Clones.