The first Star War film was a risky hit when it first aired in 1977. Older fans of the franchise love to talk about how they waited in line for hours to watch this movie and how they fell in love with Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Chewbaca, Leia Organa, C-3PO and R2-D2, and even Darth Vader. This was the film that inspired a whole generation of directors, actors, and writers. Naturally, there was question if George Lucas and crew would ever top ANH. Boy, did it top the first one!
Released in 1980, directed by Irvin Kershner, The Empire Strikes Back sets the story three years after ANH with Han (Harrison Ford) searching for Luke (Mark Hamill) after not reporting to Echo Base. Meanwhile, Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones) plans for an invasion in search of Luke, which leads to the impressive Battle of Hoth sequence. After the Rebel Alliance were obligated to retreat, Luke left with R2-D2 to the Dagobah system in order to start his Jedi training with Master Yoda (Frank Oz). Meanwhile Han, Leia (Carrie Fisher), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and Chewie (Peter Mayhew) being chased off by Vader, the Imperial Troopers, and fan favorite bounty hunter Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch) and later meets up with his old smuggler friend Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), only to find out he was working with Vader the whole time.
While ANH helped establish the Star Wars universe, The Empire Strikes Back took an established story and raised the stakes VERY high. This film, along with The Godfather Part II, was unlike any sequel that has ever been released, and it helped set the bar for all the future sequels to emulate its success. Terminator 2, The Dark Knight, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and more are just a few movie sequels that movie fans often catalog them as “The Empire Strikes Back of Said Movie Franchise”, and with good reasons! TESB was a movie that didn’t just follow the sequel pattern Hollywood still constantly beat to death, in that it just took the good stuff and double it. TESB did so and even more. It wasn’t afraid to take risks and make it a darker, more intimate and personal story for all the characters, while expanding the Star Wars universe at the same time.
TESB also expanded Luke, Leia and Han’s characters development to new places, so much that fans are begging for this to happen in The Last Jedi with Rey, Finn, Poe and Kylo Ren, and not be a rehash like The Force Awakens was. For one, they aren’t together for the majority of the film. One would think that them being separated would make the film boring or unattractive, but it’s actually quite the opposite. Each character is treated like they have their own journey to follow in all of this. Sure, Luke is the “main protagonist” of the trilogy, but that doesn’t make Leia or Han any less interesting. The crews being separated helped for what I mentioned earlier: A more personal and intimate story for these characters to grow into something more.
Luke starting his Jedi training was marvelous to see. It all worked thanks to Yoda, who isn’t what Luke pictured. Yoda is small and old, but rich and connected to the Force in a way that Luke never expected. The scene where Yoda raises the X-Wing from the swamp is a highlight of the Star Wars franchise. The Force was seen as this spiritual connection to the world, and Yoda lifting the X-Wing proved it can be as powerful as fulfilling. Sadly, his training stopped because he felt his friends in danger, but this is all part of his journey. The payoff to this is his face off with Darth Vader (more on that later on).
Han and Leia’s story was also handled extremely well. At first, they aren’t too fond of each other, but audience could tell there was sexual tension between these two. Being stranded on a “asteroid” while fixing the Millenium Falcon and trying to escape the Empire helped these characters understand that they nag each other’s nerves because they’re attracted. That doesn’t mean this is the only development they faced.
I loved how Leia was handled in this movie. There’s more to her than just being a princess, this is a character that can defend herself whenever she needs to be. She can be loving, serious and show leadership depending on the situation. Carrie Fisher took the chance of embracing what she set up for Leia in ANH and make it her own, proving that a woman can be a great leading character in a film if the writer and director chooses it. Meanwhile, Han is still the awesome smuggler fans fell in love with, but TESB took the time to show a more relatable side to him. The scene where they froze him in carbonite was beautiful, especially the interaction between Leia and Han.
I cannot stress about characters from this film without talking about Darth Vader. This is the character that shines out the most to me. ANH showed that this is someone that no one wants to mess, but TESB took him to a whole other lever of great villains in movies. Vader is so powerful in the Force that it’s terrifying, like when Han grabs his blaster in the dinning room scene and Vader literally deflected them with is hands and grabbed the blaster. Heck, there’s a scene of him chocking an Imperial general WHILE FACETIMING HIM because they failed to capture Han and the crew! This character is so popular and awesome that the Imperial March is vastly popular among mainstream media. Any person can listen to Vader’s theme and automatically an image of him in his black robotic suit pops up on his imagination.
Thanks to Vader we got to finally see the Emperor for the first time, which let fans know that there is someone else behind the scenes running the show. As it turns out, the Emperor is Vader’s own master; so this means that, while the film expands Vader’s powers, there’s a Sith Lord even stronger than him. Boba Fett is also a character presented thanks to Vader. A fan favorite, Boba was hired to pursuit Han by Vader’s commands. It’s interesting to think that Vader and Bobba have known each other from before since he was very enfatic of “no disintegration:”. Details like that shows that there’s more to Star Wars than the current story.
And of course, we got to talk about THAT scene. The “I am your father” scene. If I ever owned a time machine I would love to go back in time, to the premiere of TESB, and see the audience’s reaction of this scene. Learning that the main villain of the film, who just cut your arm off btw, is actually the protagonist’s dad is most likely one of, if not, THE biggest plot twist in movie history. It worked so well because of how the third act took it’s time with the meet up between Luke and Vader instead of it being all fighting. It scaled the action more and more until the climatic reveal. Luke’s reaction is natural, a mixture of emotions surging from him; Anger, fear, sadness, defeat. Vader convincing Luke to join him and destroy the Emperor was a bold move, but Luke dropping from where he’s hanging is perfect. No answers, no debate, just a drop. This shows that Luke rather die than join Vader than betray your friends.
What I love about the Star Wars films is how the music is one of the most crucial components to the movie. The soundtrack is no exception. The score for this film is perfect, as expected by the great John Williams. Yoda’s Theme, The Imperial March, Han Solo and the Princess. These are just a few of the tracks that the film offers that are so good it’s difficult to NOT appreciate. They moved the story in ways the characters couldn’t, while making it easily listenable for newcomers to the franchise.
The Empire Strikes Back didn’t just raised the stake for Hollywood films, it set up a different category in filmmaking in general. It proved that you can make a darker film without loosing the charming appeal the previous film successfully set up. ANH still reigns as my favorite, I can’t deny that The Empire Strikes Back is STILL the greatest movie of the Star Wars franchise (Unless The Last Jedi does something so drastic that it changes my opinion).
Written By: Christian Quiles