Director: Irvin Kershner
Cast: Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz
Series: Star Wars
MPAA Rating: PG
Length: 129 Minutes
Buy on Amazon!
The Greatest Space Opera Ever
This review is of the 2004 DVD Re-Release, which includes re-touched footage and added sequences from the 1997 Special Edition (a.k.a. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back). However, while reviewing the film I actively ignored the Special Edition add-ons, and this review will be based on the original footage as well as my memories of the original cut of the film. In a specially marked section I will discuss the Special Edition footage, which includes a few spoilers for The Empire Strikes Back.
The Empire Strikes Back is one of those rare sequels that is as good as, or better than the original. While I love the first Star Wars film for the sheer wonder and joy it can evoke in a person, The Empire Strikes Back is a Perfect 10 for a different reason. This is just an amazingly made film, that takes the stakes, characters, and universe of the original and builds and improves on them in every way.
This is a far darker film than Star Wars (1977), yet at the same time, it feels just as hopeful and wonderful. This is, like its predecessor, one of the greatest sci-fi films ever made, and a classic that shall ride eternal on the roads of Valhalla, shiny and chrome.
Some time after the events of Star Wars (1977), Luke (Mark Hamill), Han (Harrison Ford), Leia (Carrie Fisher), Chewie (Peter Mayhew), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) have hidden themselves from the Galactic Empire, and the terrible power of Darth Vader (James Earl Jones), who has been on a personal mission to capture Luke. Their respite doesn't last long though, as the Empire tracks them down and assaults the Rebel Base they've been hiding in. During the assault, Han, Leia, Chewie, and the droids are separated from Luke, and they make their way to a city in the clouds of the planet Bespin, where Han's friend Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) might be able to offer them help. Meanwhile, Luke sets off to find an ancient Jedi named Yoda (Frank Oz) on the swampy planet of Dagobah, so he can begin his training to become a Jedi, and possibly, one day be able to defeat Darth Vader for good.
So there's not much I can say about this film on a technical level that I didn't already cover in yesterday's review. The music is beyond brilliant (perhaps even more so than the original because the heart wrenching use of the love theme), the special effects are phenomenal, and the performances are nothing short of perfect. What sets this film apart are it's many iconic scenes.
This big emotional pull of the film, and probably one of the greatest romances ever put to the silver screen, is the budding relationship between Han and Leia. Harrison Ford's charm stat was at 100 for the filming of this movie, and Carrie Fisher brought out her A game as well. Few film love stories are as perfect and enjoyable as this one. Every scene between them lights up the screen. I can't help but smile after every one of their scenes, and by the time that famous "I love you" "I know" exchange happens, I guarantee that you'll be totally invested in those two characters.
And what would this film be without its other big draw; the action? There's the big three, the Battle of Hoth, the Millennium Falcon's escape from the Empire, and the climactic lightsaber duel, one for each act of the story, and each is as exciting and well filmed as the last. Perhaps the greatest moment in this film doesn't stem from the action scenes, but the instead it comes from the introduction of one of the series' most beloved characters, Yoda. Not only is this scene absolutely hilarious, but Frank Oz's performance is absolutely delightful. There's a reason everyone loves Yoda, and it ain't because of Attack of the Clones.
Now, as far as the Special Edition changes...
...they don't bother me in this one at all. 99% of the changes improve the overall feel of the film, especially the extended establishing shots of Cloud City and the digitally redone interiors. Perhaps the only irksome change is the scream that they added when Luke falls in Cloud City.
So, yeah. That's all.
Really, I couldn't say too much more without being utterly redundant. What I will say though, is if you haven't seen this film yet, hurry the fuck up and get on it. This is another cultural and filmmaking milestone that deserves all the fame it's acquired. Not many franchise films would have the balls to do half of the things this film did, and I guarantee if it's your first time, the ending will leave you gobsmacked.
Go watch it already!