Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Director:  Irvin Kershner
Cast:  Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher
Plot:  While Luke takes advanced Jedi training from Yoda, his friends are relentlessly pursued by Darth Vader as part of his plan to capture Luke.

Genre:  Action / Adventure / Sci-Fi
Awards:  Won 1 Oscar - Best Sound.  Nom. for 2 Oscars - Best Art Direction, Best Original Score
Runtime:  127min
Rating:  PG for sci-fi action violence.

Following the surprise success of A New Hope (1977), George Lucas continues his science-fiction saga with one of the best sequels of all-time, The Empire Strikes Back. Directed by Irvin Kershner from a screenplay written by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan based on the story by Lucas, the second installment is without doubt the best picture of the ‘original’ trilogy. 

I am still curious over Lucas’ decision to hand over the directing reins to Kershner when he could have directed the film himself.  After all, Kershner is an average filmmaker whose next most well-known film is Robocop 2 (1990).

Lucas’ faith in Kershner thankfully does not spectacularly backfire; instead it goes beyond the wildest dreams of anyone, further cementing the cultural phenomenon that is 'Star Wars', and possibly making Kershner one of the greatest one-off filmmakers of all-time.  It is a case of nothing went wrong than everything gone right for the director. 

The Empire Strikes Back is thematically the darkest of the series, perhaps only matched by Revenge of the Sith (2005), the final film of the ‘new’ trilogy.  Empire starts with a devastating attack by Imperial forces on a Rebel base on the frozen planet of Hoth, and concludes with a cliffhanger that suggests, if any, faint hopes of crushing the Imperial stranglehold.

In between, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) seeks out the reclusive Jedi master Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz), who attempts to train him with mixed success, before the former decides to rescue his friends Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) from the evil Darth Vader (David Prowse) at Cloud City of Bespin, unknown of the trap that Vader has set up to capture and lure him to the dark side of the Force. 

Much is discussed about the famous revelation late in the film when Luke learns the terrible truth about the Skywalker legacy from Vader.  While the mythic qualities of Lucas’ space opera hinges upon that revelation, The Empire Strikes Back allows it to be a springboard which advances the even deeper emotional resonance depicted in Return of the Jedi (1983). 

Special visual effects are stunning especially the scene-stealing giant, metallic Imperial Walkers.  The swamps of Dagobah where Luke finds Yoda is also an exemplary showcase of impressive art direction and mood setting.  The film features another rousing John Williams’ score who outdoes himself by composing another theme as instantly identifiable as the main theme: the Imperial March.

Of all the oddball characters in The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda is perhaps the most endearing.  Calm, patient and full of wisdom, his facial expressions and choice of words reveal a tortured figure whose melancholic eyes are a reminder of a fateful past. 

The romance between Han and Leia is further explored while androids C-3PO and R2-D2 provide the usual comic relief.  Although it is less thrilling than A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back has more substance and is less cheesy, and is without question, one of the top ten science-fiction films of all-time.

Verdict: No doubt the finest "Star Wars" movie ever made.


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