“The Empire Strikes Back” (aka “Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back”) stars Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, and Frank Oz. Released on May 21, 1980, the film has Luke Skywalker learning the ways of the Force while Darth Vader and the Galactic Empire plot revenge against the Rebel Alliance.
The film is directed by Irvin Kershner, who also directed films such as Stakeout on Dope Street, Face in the Rain, and Never Say Never Again. It is the second installment in the original Star Wars trilogy and the fifth film in chronological order. After the surprise success of "Star Wars", a sequel was put into development, with George Lucas financing the project himself. When it was first released in theaters, the film received plenty of mixed responses from critics, but as the years went by, it went on to be considered as the best chapter in the original trilogy. I don’t remember watching this film from beginning to end, but with The Last Jedi coming out, I figured that I should give it a watch beforehand. Like my review for “Star Wars”, I will be looking at the Special Edition version that was released in 1997.
The story is set three years after the events of Star Wars, where the villainous Galactic Empire is in pursuit of the Rebel Alliance, lead by Princess Leia (Fisher). While Luke Skywalker (Hamill) sets off to find a legendary Jedi Master to complete his training, she and her friends, Han Solo, Chewbacca, and C-3PO, attempt to escape from Darth Vader’s evil clutches. Like its predecessor, the story in “Empire” is pretty easy to understand and the characters are just as fun as the actors portraying them, especially the two droids. The film tends to go a bit darker by raising the stakes for the main characters and making every action scene more intense than the last, and for a director who’s known for making low-budget films, Irvin Kershner managed to do just that. Considering the fact that it’s the second chapter in the trilogy, the story did its part in balancing storytelling with visual flair as well as setting the stage for the third and final chapter by incorporating one of the most affective plot twists in film history. Watching it again now, I still think that the twist is nicely constructed without winding up being obvious. The visuals and the set designs still remain as the main highlights of the film for bringing the world of Star Wars to life. The film uses practical effects, stop-motion, and puppetry to create certain creatures and ships, such as the AT-AT walkers from the Battle of Hoth sequence and the wise Jedi Master, Yoda, who is performed by puppeteer Frank Oz. There were also a few sequences where they rely on some CGI effects, but they didn’t distract me from viewing its splendid use of practical effects, so I’m considering that to be a good thing. The action sequences in “Empire” made some solid upgrades compared to the ones in “Star Wars”. The choreography for the lightsaber duels were much better than the duel between Ben Kenobi and Darth Vader from its predecessor, and the Battle of Hoth sequence was wonderfully filmed with rich intensity. I also really enjoyed John Williams’ musical score, especially “The Imperial March”, which I thought was very fitting for a menacing villain like Darth Vader.
Overall, “The Empire Strikes Back” successfully continues the original trilogy due to its affective storytelling, memorable characters, intense action, immersive visuals, and John Williams’ musical score. The film took the qualities that made “Star Wars” a beloved sci-fi masterpiece and made them slightly better compared to what we’ve seen in most sci-fi sequels. If you love “Star Wars”, then I’m pretty sure that you’ll love “Empire” as well. Two down, one to go.