Star Wars: Episode 5 - The Empire Strikes Back


Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

Star Wars: Episode 5 - The Empire Strikes Back
"It is a spectacular, brilliantly realised piece of moviemaking"

The Empire Strikes Back is the single best sequel ever made. The astonishing and vigorous progression of storytelling takes a front-seat, in a continuation of Star Wars. It develops all of its major characters through action and meditation, climaxes early, and takes us on a journey deep within our characters. To say nothing that it is a spectacular, brilliantly realised piece of moviemaking, not only deeper and richer in terms of storytelling, but it is the hundreds of little details, the absolute belief in itself, which earns it a place in our hearts and minds.

Luke Skywalker, the Jedi-wannabe hones his skills in the Force, under the careful and sagely tuition of the great Yoda, who spouts strangely poignant help and seemingly fortune-cookie advice. Frank Oz performs a small Zen-master muppet who delivers the best performance of all the movies. Skywalker's powers grow quickly, but his rash impulsiveness leans him towards taking the slippery, quick and easy path to the dark side of the Force, like Darth Vader before him. Underlined superbly and implicitly in the scene where Luke confronts his own worst fears. His failure is but a lesson, to control his weaknesses, where Vader failed.

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Indeed, let us not forget the story threads of Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca and the droids. The Empire chase them in hot-pursuit halfway across the galaxy. This thread is barnstormingly exciting, full of clever and inventive visual effects, and in the case of Solo and Leia, even touching, as they have their own unconventional romance, climaxed at a brilliant payoff. The Empire Strikes Back pushes through many locales, from the ice-ball planet of Hoth, to the overgrown Dagobah, to the splendidly visualised Cloud City on Bespin. The prequels touch this film for sheer visual splendour and intoxication, yet are sadly strongly lacking when it comes to this film's shiveringly dark delights. From the Falcon taking on the might of a Star Destroyer, the chase through the asteroid field, Skywalker walking into Vader's trap... that kind of stuff; the odds are very much stacked in the Empire's favour.

The Empire Strikes Back is known as the dark horse of the Star Wars saga, and for all the right reasons. Shocking revelations of parentage aside, the bad guys are always on top, personal dramas unfold brilliantly, and the film never runs out of steam. Daring story developments shroud Empire, such as Luke's terrifying encounter and failure at the cave. Moreover, Han Solo *stays* frozen in Carbonite, and is shipped to a vile gangster for punishment unknown! Wonderfully dark stuff, especially in 1980, when the sequel was 3 years in the making, and given the stunning and unexpected story twists in Empire, who only knew what the next part would hold?

Being the middle part of a trilogy is a blessing, in that speculation could be rife, and a curse, in that Empire cannot stand on its own, other than as a superior piece of entertainment. The crossed up story threads are developed, initiated and capably handled. There is even some time for well-written character humour, with a couple of pleasing running gags. It gives the darker aspects of the story something to blend well with.

Not even the joyous bubblegum fun of A New Hope can touch The Empire Strikes Back for sheer excitement, or storytelling bravado. It is the best Star Wars film of all, and, unless George pulls out a minor miracle for Episode III, this is not going to change.

Reviewed on: 04 May 2005
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Star Wars: Episode 5 - The Empire Strikes Back packshot
Superior sequel, to Lucas's space hit.
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Director: Irvin Kershner

Writer: Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasdan

Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, David Prowse, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz, Alec Guinness, Julian Glover, Michael Sheard

Year: 1980

Runtime: 127 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: USA


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