Release Date: June 20, 1980
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Irvin Kershner
Release Format: Theatrical
In Loving Memory of Carrie Fisher
May The Force Carry You Into The Light, Sweet Princess
What happened to good sequels? You see so many of them nowadays and yet so many are just terrible. It’s sad because we used to see a sequel as the continuation that furthered the story and made it better. Terminator 2, Aliens and The Godfather Part II were all magnificent and shining examples of this. Granted, at times we’ll still get great sequels like The Dark Knight or Spider-Man 2. However, for the most part, sequels have been represented these days by meaningless cash grabs. Was anyone asking for Sinister 2, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 or Transformers: Age Of Extinction? No, and they were all garbage. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back not only represents a time when sequels were great, it remains the gold standard for how a sequel should be made.
The Empire Strikes Back furthered the story, furthered the characters, up’d the drama, up’d the stakes, up’d the action and gave us one of the best twists in film history; if not the best. It would have been so easy to just make a complete rehash of the first film. A New Hope was such a financial success that they could of thrown anything on the screen, called it a sequel and everyone would have gone to it. The Empire Strikes Back, however, didn’t take the easy way out. It was a sequel that surpassed its predecessor in every aspect. The acting was better, the characters were more fleshed out, the story was more engaging and the action was unforgettable. The Empire Strikes Back was a perfect sequel in every way imaginable.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead
Luke (Mark Hamill) is visited by Obi-Wan’s (Alec Guinness) Jedi Spirit, who tells him to go to the Dagobah System to learn from Master Yoda (Frank Oz). After the Empire attacks The Rebellion on Hoth, the rebels, including Luke and his friends, are forced to retreat and find themselves on the run. While Luke goes off alone to Dagobah, Han (Harrison Ford), Leia (Carrie Fisher), Chewie (Peter Mayhew) and everyone’s favorite Droid duo (Kenny Baker & Anthony Daniels) escape on The Millennium Falcon. Han manages to receive help from an old friend, Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), on Bespin. However, little do they know that Darth Vader is nearby, setting a trap for Luke. Despite his training with Yoda, Luke senses his friends are in danger and leaves to help them, leading to a showdown with Vader and an epic twist that sent many fans to therapy for years.
Might as well get the twist out of the way now. So, if you haven’t seen The Empire Strikes Back, go watch it and finish reading this later. Also, you should consider getting your priorities in order. Just saying, its only one of the greatest sequels of all time for God’s sake.
__Ready? You sure? Okay, here it is…
Lando betrays Han & Leia! DUN, DUN DUN!!!
Oh, and there’s also that thing where Darth Vader is Luke’s father! DUN, DUN, DUN!!!!
The revelation of Vader stating “I Am Your Father” represents the perfect twist because, let’s be honest, not a single person saw it coming. It was so surprising and unexpected that people are still blown away by it after all these years. So many other twists in movies just seem to kind of die after awhile. The Sixth Sense has a great twist but it’s not something that’s really effective after more than one viewing. You see it, it shocks you and it never really does again because most twists only work once. However, this twist has continued to thrive. It still sends chills down the spines of most Star Wars fans whenever they see it. That’s not just a great twist, that’s great writing in general.
The entire film is filled with brilliant writing just like it, especially in regards to the characters, both new and old. Luke is a far more interesting character this time around, as we see him go through his Jedi training with Yoda. He still complains now and then but given the burdens he’s forced to bear in this film, it’s not hard to understand. Yoda’s words of wisdom aren’t exactly straight-forward. “You must unlearn what you have learned”… what does that even mean? Luke proved himself a capable pilot at the end of A New Hope and now we get to see more of a warrior side to him as he finally learns to use his lightsaber. The battle that ensues between him and Vader is epic and, due to the twist, incredibly dramatic.
“That’s not true. That’s impossible!” Trust me, Luke, we thought so too.
However, it’s not just Luke going through the Jedi training that makes it enjoyable. A key factor in this is Yoda and Frank Oz’s legendary portrayal of him. He starts out acting like this annoying idiot, who seems like he’s just messing with Luke’s head. However, a few scenes later, we discover that his actions were merely to test Luke’s patience to see if he deserved to be trained. It shows just how clever and wise Yoda is and just how short-sighted and impatient Luke is. Yoda doesn’t just tell him who he is right away, nor does he just tell him that he’s not ready. No, he demonstrates for Luke first-hand why he’s not ready. It’s little things like this that give The Empire Strikes Back its own unique feel. Not to mention, the puppetry for Yoda is beyond masterful.
That being said, I’m about to reveal one of only two things in this movie that bug me. Now, again, going into spoiler territory but this time for Return Of The Jedi. Early in the next film, we are told that Leia is the other hope for the Force because she is, in fact, Luke’s twin sister. This is alluded to in this film when Obi Wan’s force ghost states “that boy was our last hope” and Yoda corrects him by saying, “No. There is another”. That being said, why did Yoda tell Luke to stay with him and let Leia die? If Leia is another hope for the force, then how is her being dead beneficial to you at all? And what if Luke had stayed? How differently would that conversation in the next film have played out?
Obi Wan: The other that Yoda spoke of was your twin sister.
Luke: Leia … Leia was my sister.
Obi Wan: Your feelings serve you well, Luke. I…
Luke: What the heck is wrong with you people?
Obi Wan: Pardon?
Luke: You let me stay here while my sister was brutally murdered on Bespin. I was about to go save the “other hope of the Force” and you let me stay here?
Obi Wan: Well… you weren’t ready to fight Vader and…
Luke: She was my sister, dude!
Yoda: Your sister, she was. Made out with her, you did.
Luke: *throws up* … Why would you even bring that up?
Yoda: Um … taking the focus off us being idiots, we are?
Luke: Ya know what, screw this. Screw the Jedi, I’m out. *gets up and leaves*
R2-D2: Beep, Boop, Beep, Boop!
Luke: R2, I am in NO MOOD!
Obi Wan: *turns to Yoda* That boy was our last hope
Yoda: No. There is another… wait… oh yes, let her die, we did.
Obi Wan: Yes, probably not the best move on our part.
Yoda: Well, royally screwed, we all are.
Now, I do understand that Leia would have been saved by Lando, with or without Luke’s help. Luke really didn’t have a hand in saving Leia, which was clever of the filmmakers. However, Yoda and Obi Wan had no way of knowing that. For all they knew, they were condemning Leia, the other hope, to death. I’m sorry, watching it again, this is something that just bugs me to no end. Yoda is supposed to be this wise master of the Force but this was just dumb. It’s a small detail that I don’t want to harp on too much about but when you stop to think about what happens later, it doesn’t really add up that Yoda would do that. Maybe wanting to let Leia die was revenge on Vader for killing the younglings or something, I don’t know.
However, Yoda isn’t the only new character. The Empire Strikes Back also introduced us to Lando Calrissian in The Cloud City of Bespin. Lando’s an old friend of Han who is forced to betray him when Darth Vader comes snooping around. Of course, he made the right decision, saving Leia and Chewbacca, but not before Han is frozen in carbonite and taken away by Boba Fett to Jabba’s palace. This was a very clever lead up to the next film to follow and it leads me to my second and final issue. Keep in mind, this is not an issue with the film. No, this is an issue with how so many people perceive a character in this film.
Boba Fett SUCKS! There, I said it. Boba Fett has this huge cult following for being this amazing bounty hunter and he doesn’t do a thing in this movie. Even in Return of the Jedi, he goes out like a little pansy. And don’t you dare insult me by saying, “Oh my god, he’s so great in the books. You don’t know what you’re talking about.” People were praising Boba Fett before those books were even written. Even if they had been written, these are movies! What has he contributed in the Star Wars films? He took Han from point A to point B and died like a little Sissy Mary. There is nothing fun about this character, there is absolutely nothing interesting about this character. He is useless. He always has been. Please stop worshiping this guy, it’s really getting annoying. Thank you, let’s move on.
Going back to Leia and Han, a romance blooms between these two characters. What works about it is that it doesn’t come out of nowhere. There was tension between these two opposites in A New Hope. The Empire Strikes Back takes this a step further. They argue all the time but you can definitely see from the beginning there’s something between them. Han, being the cocky smuggler he is, is convinced that Leia wants him and as much as Leia denies it, it’s not too hard to see where this is going. Just on a side note, when Leia tells Han she loves him in the film, the original line from Han was going to be “I love you too.” However, Harrison Ford didn’t see that as something that the cocky, arrogant Han Solo would say. So instead, Han comes back like a pimp and says “I know”.
The Empire Strikes Back gives as much to these characters as it takes away. It gives them development and more depth but puts them in a situation where they lose at the end. Han was frozen and taken away, the rebels were forced to retreat, Luke’s Jedi training was incomplete and the revelation of Darth Vader being Luke’s father left us all wanting more. It left us with no idea about what would happen next or how these characters were going to strike back after such a harsh blow. The Empire Strikes Back wasn’t afraid to be dark with its story, nor was it afraid to put these characters we grew to love in as much turmoil as possible.
While the first film had a brilliant climactic battle, The Empire Strikes Back opens with one of the best action sequences of the series. The Empire Strikes Back‘s first war sequence was the first taste of brutal violence we got in these movies. It’s not a war movie like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, but that doesn’t stop this Sci-Fi / Fantasy flick from giving us some brutal action and great effects. I remember being six years old, with my jaw dropping to the floor at the sight of the imperial walkers. Yeah, the action in this whole sequence is phenomenal, but it’s the designs of the weapons and ships that help make it such a joy to watch.
Overall, just about every Star Wars fan has named this the best film in the series and as much as I loved Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Revenge Of The Sith and even A New Hope, they’re all pretty much right. Despite that minor gripe I have with Yoda and everyone praising Boba Fett for absolutely no reason, The Empire Strikes Back is a perfect sequel. In a time when sequels are put on a conveyer belt with no creativity in an attempt to make a quick buck, The Empire Strikes Back represents a time when effort was put into sequels. Sequels mattered to the people making them. They mattered to the artists and actors involved. They cared enough to develop a story that fans and common moviegoers would never regret seeing. The Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars film and for good reason.
- Amazing Twist
- Ambiguous Ending
- The Best Acted Of The Whole Series
- Groundbreaking Effects Work
- Great Character Moments
- A Better Understanding Of The Villain
- A Better Understanding Of The War Itself
- Yoda Telling Luke To Let Leia & Han Die... Still Bugs Me.
- ... Um... Wow, This Is Hard... Um... Stop saying Boba Fett Is Amazing. Boba Fett Sucks! He Doesn't Do Anything. I Don't Care How Cool His Costume Is, He's Still Useless.... Eh, That's About It.
A graduate of Full Sail University with a Bachelors Degree in Creative Writing, Adam is a Writer and Film Critic, looking to make his mark on the world. When he isn’t at the movies, writing for The Nerd Stash, playing Duck Hunt (respect the classics) or delivering pizzas to his neighbors, he is back at school earning his Masters Degree in Film Production.