‘The Empire Strikes Back’

The best Star Wars film?

The Empire Strikes Back

Niko Pavletic, Movie Critic

Since I’m very original I’m going to waste my time rewatching and reviewing all 9 main saga Star Wars movies in order of release.  Now the only real reason I’m doing this is that I’m familiar with most of them and it is good practice for future reviews on other and better movies.  Now I’m not really a big fan of Star Wars and I’m not a Star Wars hater my view on the franchise is neutral even though they’re some of the first films I’ve ever seen.  Now for these reviews, certain sections in some of the reviews will have spoilers as for a lot of these movies I need to list an example for some of my points even if it’s a spoiler, but I will put a spoiler warning before talking about the said spoiler.  Enjoy my nonsensical rambling and praising (mostly rambling). 


The Empire Strikes Back (1980)


Rating: Pg


Runtime:2 Hours 4 Minutes


Genre: Action Adventure


Director: Irvin Kershner


Main Cast:


Mark Hamill-Luke Skywalker


Carrie Fisher-Princess Leia


Harrison Ford-Han Solo


David Prowse/James Earl Jones-Darth Vader



So I’m back with another Star Wars review only two weeks after the first one was published, and just like that original film this movie this one is pretty good, most people who have seen this movie know that.  But about that original review, I do feel like I could have done a better job explaining the plot because I did explain it in a fairly vague way.  I just figured it wasn’t important to elaborate on the plot at the time when I was writing it, and overall I was not a fan of that original review.  So I will try my best to improve on really everything in that review, so with that, this review WILL have spoilers.  Anyways about this movie.  This movie is really good.  And I mean really good, even better than the original one.  This is without a doubt the best Star Wars film, I mean that’s not really hard considering most of them suck, but none the less this movie is still really good.  This movie improves on the previous one in just about every aspect.  I mean just from the first shot you can tell it’s just shot better than the last movie, the cinematography is more lively and interesting.  This movie improves on every character, especially Darth Vader.  The characters now are more than standard action heroes, they are given a lot more depth in this film, the action is faster paced, the acting is better, it just takes everything up a step (shame the franchise fell down the stairwell afterward) but with that, let’s jump into this movie analogy.


Now one thing I hated from my previous review was my lackluster explanation of the plot.  So I will sum up the plot in a paragraph, so please try to keep up with me.  After the Empire launch a full-on assault on the rebels, Luke goes off to learn the force from Yoda on the swamp planet Dagobah, while Han and friends are on the run from the empire for the rest of the movie.  All plot points converge at cloud city where we can have our climax.


I hope I explained that in an understandable way, I tried to keep it short but informative.  So let me start off by saying that this movie has a far less important plot than the last film.  This movie is slower-paced and focuses way more on characters and their relationships.  The only major thing plot-wise would be the battle of Hoth, but even that isn’t as close to as important as the battle of the Death Star in the last film.  But I prefer that this movie focuses on characters.  It feels almost as if the importance of defeating the empire was put on hold for this film because that isn’t really the direct goal of anyone in this film, everyone is just trying to stay under the radar.  But the plot is still executed really well.  You can really feel the tension as our protagonists constantly find themselves in really bad situations, and that’s another thing about this movie.  It is darker than the first movie, and come to think of it I wouldn’t even say it’s darker it just tackles more mature themes than the first movie.  I mean the opening scene in this movie has Luke getting attacked by a Snow Monster, the Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive doesn’t even work for most of the movie, all our main protagonists except for Luke are stranded in an asteroid field while the empire looks for them, and by the end of the film, our protagonists are at their lowest point.


There is always an unsettling feeling present in the film, you feel as though the protagonists are never safe and that the empire can come out of anywhere, and yeah I guess this is a spoiler but just when the Millennium Falcon arrives at Cloud City, you finally feel like the protagonists are safe, and just as they start to relax, Darth Vader and the empire are revealed to have been at Cloud City before them.  This movie raises the stakes, and even though there isn’t a death star in this movie the empire somehow seems even more threatening than the previous movie.  


Now I need to talk about the characters because this movie improves upon every single one.  First, let’s talk about Luke Skywalker.  You can tell he has matured from the last film, but he is still an impatient hothead.  He rushes off to save his friends from the empire and it ends up costing him.  Before Yoda reveals himself to be a Jedi you can really see Luke’s frustration with being stuck with an annoying gremlin that trashes his stuff and eats his food.  But how does this impatient personality of his fit into the story?  It’s because when you mix his personality with the theme of the film “failure” you can really feel his frustration, and urge to just be like his father, but has to constantly fight against getting kicked in the gutter.  I mean the opening scene in this film has him getting attacked by a giant yeti.  It isn’t really until Return of the Jedi in which Luke fully matures his character.  His character structure is by far the most realistic over the course of the trilogy.  You can see him mature in every film, and his overall arc has a very realistic flow to it.


Han and Leia have some really realistic growth in this film as well.  This is the first instance of a love story in Star Wars, and it’s the only good one out of all the films.  Right away you can see they kind of hate each other.  Han and Leia argue with each other for the first half of the movie.  It isn’t until they’re stuck together in the Millennium falcon in which they express their feelings for each other.  And it doesn’t feel like a forced romance either.  They kind of begin to accept each other.  And I am glad that during the middle act of the movie their relationship is the B plot, it’s put into the backdrop behind the A plot of Luke learning the force, and for good reason.  The director knew what to focus more on, and I’m not saying that their growth isn’t important, but it definitely works more as the second plot, because if it was the first plot I do think it would kill the movie’s pacing a little.


Now Han Solo is one of the best parts of this film.  He is cool, funny, sarcastic, and overall he is still kind of a douche bag just like the last movie.  He has a very realistic arc in this film.  In the beginning, we can see he just wants to escape the rebellion, but by the end of the movie when he’s about to be frozen in carbonite we can see he fully cares about his friends and just wants to help them.  I also love just how carefree and cool he is.  He rushes out into a snowstorm to save Luke.  His way of escaping the empire after the battle of Hoth is by hiding in an asteroid field.  And when the asteroid he hides in turns out to be a giant space worm, he hides on the back of a star destroyer.  But that’s not it, no there’s more.  When Lando Calrissian opens the doors to the dining room at Cloud City and Darth Vader is revealed to be at the end of the table the first thing Han does is pull out his blaster and start shooting.  I’m telling you he is so cool in this film.


Now before I talk about the best character in this movie, let me talk about the new characters.  The first character is Yoda.  Yoda is such a fun character in this movie.  It’s not really a spoiler because pop culture has spoiled it since this film came out but when we are first introduced to him we don’t know he is a Jedi.  He is annoying Luke by throwing his stuff everywhere and making Luke really impatient, but when Luke fails Yoda’s test of patience you can see just how wise he is.  He constantly puts Luke in his place by humiliating him, while training and teaching him things.  There’s a good balance between Luke being made fun of by Yoda, and Yoda constantly lecturing Luke.  But my favorite scene with Yoda is the scene where Yoda lifts Luke’s X-Wing out of the swamp with the force.  Yoda in the previous scene gave a really beautiful speech about the force, and it is the best explanation of the force in the whole saga.  And when Luke says “you ask the impossible” Yoda goes right over to the edge of the swamp and lifts the X-Wing right out like it’s an everyday task.


The other new character in this movie is Lando Calrissian.  Lando is just like Han, they’re both really cool.  Well, he’s not as cool as Han but still cool nonetheless.  See Han is cool through his actions.  Like what he does and how he talks to people.  Lando is cool in a suave way, but later on, we learn he’s kind of a jerk.  He betrays Han at cloud city and leaves him to die.  But he then ends up helping Leia and Chewbacca escape Cloud City, so he does have a moment of redemption.  Lando is a really cool addition to the franchise and I hate that anytime a Star Wars character is introduced in new Star Wars material over half the time they’re hardly interesting, it just shows how much more they cared back when Star Wars was still fresh.


Now I got to talk about the big guy himself.  The best character in this film.  Darth Vader.  Do you remember the last review when I said Darth Vader doesn’t have enough character?  Well in this movie they develop his character more than anyone else.  In this movie, he is not only more real and down to earth, but he is scary.  This guy will stop at nothing to get what he wants, he even sends an entire star destroy into the asteroid field just to find Han and Leia.  Not only that but he’s also really intimidating.  You can feel a pin drop when he enters a room and all the admirals and officers suck up to him.  And when those admirals fail nothing good happens.  When one of the admirals comes out of lightspeed too quickly and alerts the rebels down on Hoth that the empire has arrived, Darth Vader chokes him through the computer screen in his office.  But he has more to him than just being a threat.  His goal to find Luke Skywalker and convert him to the dark side is handled so well.  And the lightsaber duel between Luke and Vader uses Vader’s ability to remain calm perfectly.  And that’s what I love in villains.  I hate villains that just yell all the time, they’re annoying and it honestly makes them a lot less intimidating despite their constant shouting.  Darth Vader at no point yells.  He raises his voice, but he always remains calm, which honestly makes him a lot scarier as it makes him more composed.  During this duel as well you can see Darth Vader is really toying with Luke, it’s not until later in the duel that Vader has had enough and is actually trying, because once he does start trying he wins the duel, very, very quickly.


But despite Vader being really cool and basically having power over everyone, there is one person he does bow down to.  We get a brief glimpse of Emperor Palpatine in this film, and just like the first movie, I watched this on VHS so I saw the original cut before they changed Palpatine.  In the new version, it’s just Palpatine’s face in the open, but in the original, they do a good job at hiding his face, and all we can see is his eyes making him a lot more mysterious and builds up excitement and a mystery for when we finally do see him in Return of the Jedi.  You can see just by the way Darth Vader talks to Palpatine that Palpatine intimidates him, and the fact that the hologram Palpatine appears on is far bigger than Darth Vader shows Palpatine’s dominance (as I’ve said before the cinematography is insane in this film.)  This is the only time he appears or talks in the movie but it’s enough to make you interested in who he really is.


Alright now there’s really only one more character Boba Fett, but there’s not much to say about him.  He’s pretty cool in this movie (shame they made him a clown in the next film.)  I mean he is the one who tracks down the Millennium Falcon to cloud city.  He’s pretty cool and only says four lines throughout the entire film.  He serves his purpose as being, well, a Bounty Hunter.  He gets paid to find Han Solo, finds him, then after Han has been frozen Boba takes him to Jabba’s Palace.  Pretty simple character, not much to say.


Finally, I have moved on from all the characters and can now talk about the music.  This film has the best soundtrack in the entire saga and no one can change my mind.  The themes it does introduce are some of the most iconic themes in cinema, the best ones being the Imperial March, and Yoda’s theme.  Yoda’s theme does a good job at making this whole force power, and Yoda’s character seems mystical.  It’s a slow higher-pitched theme that has always been associated with the force and in general the good guys.  The Imperial March on the other hand is the opposite.  It was never played in the first movie, but when it’s heard for the first time in this film and a star destroyer flies into view you can feel a sense of dread.  Not to mention this does add to Darth Vader being intimidating.  There’s a really good scene in the film in which Darth Vader enters the rebel base on Hoth.  We just cut from our protagonists trying to escape, and then you cut to an empty hallway followed by the wall being blown open which is followed by Darth Vader and some Snowtroopers entering the base and the Imperial March starts playing, this one use of the soundtrack is enough to make the audience realize the protagonists are in real danger.  It makes the whole empire seem like a massive threat, just one theme.  And that is an example of a good movie soundtrack.


The effects in this film are also pretty good and I must remind you THAT I WATCHED THE THEATRICAL RELEASE OF THIS FILM NOT THE SPECIAL EDITION.  The effects aren’t as stand out as the last film because this movie is a lot more focused on characters and in general, is just less bombastic, but the effects are still really good.  The battle of Hoth still looks really convincing, just the way the AT-AT walkers move through the snow looks real, and it’s impressive that those were actually models used on a set.  Then there’s Yoda.  Yoda is one of the all-time best practical effects for any film because he’s a puppet that was being controlled from under the floor and he moves like a living thing.  And one other thing that I find impressive is that Mark Hamill couldn’t actually hear Frank Oz (the voice of Yoda) while they were filming and he still manages to interact with Yoda like any other actor is really impressive.  The locations used in the movie are also really cool.  They actually went to Norway to film the Hoth scenes, and they filmed those scenes outside in the snow.  A lot of the shots in cloud city are paintings.  These things just show the authenticity of the film and when you have that in the back of your mind the movie becomes a lot more enjoyable to watch.


Overall The Empire Strikes back is without a doubt the best film in the saga.  It does everything right including the twist at the end, which is such a big twist that it could have been so easy to mess up.  Everyone probably knows what it is, pop culture spoiled it a long time ago, but nonetheless, this film is an example of the perfect sequel, it’s up there with The Godfather Part II.  And from these first two reviews, it might seem like I’m a huge Star Wars fan, but I think this film is the LAST good Star Wars movie that was ever released, and it will take a lot of convincing to change my mind.  So with that, I am going to give Star Wars Episode 5 a full-on 10/10.


Alright, now there’s not much to say about the special edition in this film because it’s the one film in the trilogy where the special edition isn’t awful.  There really aren’t many changes.  I already talked about the Palpatine change so that’s already one of four out of the way, but besides that change, there is the updated Wampa scene.  As I said before in the first scene of the movie Luke is attacked by some sort of yeti-like monster and it drags Luke back to its cave.  In 1980 when the film was released we never really see the Wampa, we just hear it growling somewhere in the cave.  However in 1997 when they updated this scene they did show the Wampa gnawing on some sort of meat.  While I don’t mind this change I do prefer the original version simply because I think not showing the monster builds up a lot of tension for what is going to happen.  Another change is Boba Fett’s voice.  They changed Boba Fett’s voice in 2004 because of Star Wars Episode 2 released in 2002.  In that movie, it is revealed that Boba Fett is a clone, but it was allegedly weird that he sounds different from the rest of the clones in the original cut of Empire Strikes Back, so they did change his voice to sound like the rest.  I don’t like this change, it makes Boba Fett less interesting because he’s just another clone, and technically this is the fault of episode 2 but it still did end up affecting this movie.  The only other real change is the pointless dialogue that was either changed or added.  It doesn’t add or take anything away from the film but it just had me scratching my head asking “what was the point in changing this?”  But with that there’s my review for The Empire Strikes Back.  Thanks for sticking through this ridiculously long review and I will be back in February to review “Return of the Jedi”.  So with that, bye!