The power of betrayal… It works every time. Mark Hamill, Academy Award nominee Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Billy Dee Williams star in Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back.
Cast of Characters:
Luke Skywalker – Mark Hamill
Han Solo – Harrison Ford
Princess Leia Organa – Carrie Fisher
Lando Calrissian – Billy Dee Williams
C-3PO – voiced by Anthony Daniels
Darth Vader – David Prowse/voiced by James Earl Jones
R2-D2 – Kenny Baker
Chewbacca – Peter Mayhew
Yoda – voiced by Frank Oz
Boba Fett – Jeremy Bulloch
Obi-Wan Kenobi – Alec Guinness
Director – Irvin Kershner
Screenplay – Leigh Brackett & Lawrence Kasdan
Producer – Gary Kurtz
Rated PG for sci-fi action violence
Three years after the destruction of the Death Star, the Rebel Alliance have been driven from their base on Yavin IV by the Galactic Empire. Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), along with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), leads a group in a new base on the ice planet Hoth. There, Luke is instructed by the Force ghost of Obi-Wan (Alec Guinness) to go to the planet Dagobah to train under Jedi Master Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz).
Meanwhile, the Imperial fleet has learned of the new Rebel base on Hoth, and captures the base. Han, Leia and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), are able to escape the attack, but Darth Vader (David Prowse) summons the aid of several bounty hunters, including the infamous Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch), to hunt down the Millennium Falcon.
And then, later on, Luke discovers that his…
Following the box office and critical success of A New Hope, it’s no surprise that George Lucas had a followup planned. Three years after the first Star Wars film, its successor, The Empire Strikes Back, was released and was met with mixed reviews initially for reasons I can understand. The film had an extremely difficult production, and some weren’t all that thrilled with the change in tone from good triumphing over evil in A New Hope to a much more downbeat vibe. Over time, though, it’s become regarded as the best of the entire series.
Simply put, The Empire Strikes Back is not only the best of the Star Wars saga, not only the best sci-fi film ever made, but also one of the greatest films period.
This time around, Lucas took a step back from the filmmaking chair, providing only the story synopsis and serving as an executive producer. Filling in as the screenwriters were Leigh Brackett (who died of cancer two years before the film’s release) and Lawrence Kasdan, who would soon go on to write the best Indiana Jones film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and have a successful filmmaking career throughout the ’80s and ’90s with Body Heat, The Big Chill, Silverado, The Accidental Tourist and Grand Canyon. Sitting in the director’s chair was Irvin Kershner, who would later go on to direct RoboCop 2.
Think about that for a moment. The man who directed – yes, directed – The Empire Strikes Back directed RoboCop 2.
Once again, that is RoboCop 2.
With Lucas’s story as a backdrop, Kershner creates an grim tone that strangleholds the entire film like Vader’s Force choke. Even when it feels like things are going right within the story, there’s an uneasy feeling lurking in the background waiting to reveal itself. John Williams’s score, which carries over certain themes from A New Hope, is more brooding and tragic, the standout track of the score being Vader’s “Imperial March”. Even Vader himself is voiced by James Earl Jones with much more sinister authority. Unlike A New Hope, where Jones wasn’t originally planned to voice Darth Vader, and had to follow Prowse’s body language to get inspiration for his voice work, Jones took inspiration from Kershner recording himself reciting Vader’s lines. According to Jones, Kershner’s vision for how Vader should sound was, in his words, “scary as hell and was scarier than I could ever be.”
Who doesn’t get enough credit here, yet should, is cinematographer Peter Suschitzky. Suschitzky’s photography paints the film with such a cold, ominous texture that complements Kershner’s vision perfectly. Luke’s training with Yoda on Dagobah is shot to look gray and dank. The climactic showdown between Luke and Vader on Bespin begins on a beautiful shot of the two standing off against each other, with Vader enshrouded in silhouette. It’s first-rate DP work.
After pushing the envelope with special effects toward the close of the 1970’s, Lucasfilm ushered in the ’80s with edge of your seat visual effects and action sequences that exceeded the groundbreaking work done in A New Hope. An opening battle on the ice planet Hoth between the Rebels and the Empire’s new weapon, AT-AT Walkers, a thrilling midpoint battle between the Millennium Falcon and the Imperial fleet that shows off more of what the Falcon is capable of doing, and the lightsaber duel between Luke and Darth Vader, which features improved choreography over its predecessor, are as much eye candy today as they were when first seen in May of 1980.
The major improvement here was in the character development. Both Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher feel much more comfortable in their roles than they did previously, the former shedding his whiny demeanor in Episode IV for a genuine feeling of conflict. Harrison Ford gives Han a little more humanity this time around, sharing a great onscreen chemistry with Fisher in their romantic subplot that comes off natural and unforced (his iconic “I know” response to Leia’s “I love you”, before being lowered into the carbon freezing chamber was improvised). Later in the film, we’re introduced to a smooth and charming Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian, Han’s friend whose actions might initially seem despicable until they’re revealed to have a little more shades of gray complexity to them.
SPOILER ALERTS: The most meaningful moments of the film occur while Luke is training under Yoda on Dagobah. It’s there that we begin to see more of the parallels between him and his father Anakin that would define each character. Much like his father, who faced difficult choices in dealing with his mother’s death in Episode II and his premonitions of Padme in Episode III (where Yoda instructed Anakin with the answer he needed to hear in letting go of Padme, in contrast to Palpatine who gave Anakin the answer he wanted to hear), Luke faces a similar difficult path with his own friends. Yoda and Obi-Wan have dealt with this before to more tragic ends, which is why they’re insistent Luke let go of his feelings and continue his training. They, more than anyone else, know what waits for him, and know it will only lead to pain. Yet this time around, unlike the failure they’ve both personally accepted with Luke’s father, as much as they adamantly state that Luke needs to stay, they let Luke go anyway to face the consequences.
This all leads to the big, earth-shattering reveal (I’ve warned you all enough times). I think it’s safe to say that most everyone, even those that haven’t seen the Star Wars movies, are aware of whom Luke’s father really is; it’s a moment that’s been engrained into pop-culture and parodied countless of times. That single moment, that one line, carries more weight than any other line in the entire series. What Lucas, Brackett and Kasdan has done was humanize Darth Vader, and in a way, turn him slightly into the voice of reason. This is no longer the terrifying cyborg we thought he was in A New Hope. Now we see that there is a man behind the suit who holds a deeply personal connection to the film’s protagonist, and when he tells Luke that he is his father and that Obi-Wan, Luke’s mentor and also his as well at one time, lied to him all this time, you realize that he has a point.
It’s a heart-wrenching turn of events for Luke, but also for the viewer ’cause now Luke feels like he doesn’t know who to trust. The man he thought he could once trust, Obi-Wan, he now feels has betrayed him, just how his father felt in Episode III when he saw Padme with Obi-Wan on Mustafar. It’s a brilliant move on Vader’s part ’cause he hits Luke close to home and changes in an instant everything he thought he once knew. The film closes leaving the viewers left hanging, not knowing whether Luke will fight through this or if he will turn to the dark side of the Force.
Improving upon every aspect of its predecessor, Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back is the darkest and most involving story of the entire Star Wars series, and packs the hardest emotional punch out of all six films. From the effects, story, character development to one of the most gripping cliffhangers in all of film, Episode V continues to set standards for sequels that we’ve seen throughout the following years in films like The Road Warrior, Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Knight. It’s a filmmaking achievement that rightfully earns its spot amongst the greatest films ever made.