Sunday, June 1, 2014

MR Star Wars Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back

Since this was "STAR WARS MONTH", let's end this final week on another Star Wars movie review!

Don't miss out my previous Star Wars-related reviews!

Movie: The Empire Strikes Back or nowadays known as Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back aka simply Empire Strikes Back or just Empire 
Directed by Irvin Kershner
Release date 1980
Genre Science-fiction/space opera epic
Country USA

When the original Star Wars exceeded all expectations of anyone in Hollywood - specially for a film independently financed back then - it was a big surprise for everyone around the whole world.

Except the cast and crew working on the film, who started believing in what George Lucas was making at the time. And everyone who got to see it on theaters, blown away by this wide scope of imagination.

It was like nothing at the time. This blend of fantasy and science-fiction, this classic "hero's journey" given a grand space opera epic setting.

Of course since nobody believed in it to begin with, it came to no surprise George Lucas chose this time to simply finance The Empire Strikes Back by himself, which he could easily do after the first film. It allowed him to fully control his Star Wars franchise.

Only this time he didn't decide to direct the film, focusing instead on other aspects of the film, from the designs to the special effects, and much of the post-production. With his company Industrial Light & Magic returning for the FXs.

With Irvin Kershner's directing this episode, Empire feels a bit different from the rest of the overall series, better structured than George Lucas' episodes. It is certainly more dramatic, with tension and with so much to cover, it moves quickly, fast-paced.

For Empire Lucas selected a couple writers, Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, to rewrite his screenplay.

This was probably the nerdiest film ever produced, back then at least.

Empire Strikes Back is also "Star Wars Episode V". Which means it's a "middle film". A perfectly fine example of a sequel taking the previous episode basis and following it directly. It's a film with no proper beginning nor introduction and with no actual ending.

Instead it's just a bridge in-between both chapters of the original Star Wars trilogy.

Which means Empire doesn't really work much as a standalone film. It's an "episode" right down to its structure and conept. It expands the series while setting up the next film.

And there's nothing wrong with that. It's a perfectly fine film that way.

Empire is the second film released back then, the 5th episode in chronological order of the overall series.

The story is set 3 years after the original Star Wars/A New Hope.

The Galactic Empire ruled by the evil Emperor was thwarted by the Rebel Alliance.

Following the destruction of the Death Star, the rebels were chased away from their base on Yavin IV and are now on the run from the Empire. For now they have established themselves on the frozen planet of Hoth. Meanwhile the Sith Lord Darth Vader is chasing after  our heroes.

Vader has set his sights on the young Jedi Luke Skywalker's friends, Han Solo, Chewbacca and Princess Leia Organa.

While they decide to seek refuge in Cloud City on the Bespin planet, following the advice of the ghost of his old mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke goes looking for the last Jedi Master, Yoda, on the planet Dagobah. In his death, Obi-Wan was able to become one with the mysterious Force.

But it's a trap! Searching for refuge in the city in the hands of an old friend of Han, Lando Calrissian, they find themselves instead in a trap by bounty hunter Boba Fett. And Vader is also here!! Han gets trapped in suspended animation! C-3PO is dismantled!

Luke is able to learn his friends are in trouble, through the Force. Instead of completeing his training to become a full proper Jedi Knight, Luke decides instead to go after Darth Vader aboard his X-Wing spaceship with R2-D2!!

It all ends in an epic first confrontation with the Sith Lord and the most unexpected surprise in movie history... about thirty years ago. Needless to say, we all know it by now... But the reveal always comes with such a great impact on film!

Empire Strikes Back has a lot going for it.

For one it's more gritty atmosphere and personal approach, while still keeping special effects in the forefront.

The film also counts on the legendary introduction of the Jedi Master... a little green frog-ysh alien named Yoda! Appearances can be deceitful. Yoda also counts on the great puppetry and voice of Frank Oz.

Special effects-wise, everything was improved tenfold with this sequel. No surprise here, with the success of A New Hope this time Fox actually gave Lucas a proper bigger budget as well. The stunning AT-AT Walkers fight scenes are simple proof of that. Every spaceship scene, every battle, every new creature. It just shines through the picture. The Millennium Falcon never looked better! There's a lot more details on the ships and other miniatures.

As far as the actors go, everybody returned for this sequel: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels (Threepio) and Kenny Baker (Artoo), Peter Mayhew and even Alec Guinness who had the Obi-Wan character killed in the first film!

Let's also specially mention along a pretty fun Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian who has gone to become a great new addition to the series and a fan favorite!

Everything ties so well together at the end, for the last following episode. Luke coming to term with his training with the force, etc.

This episode was probably the one most inspired by old 1930s serials such as Flash Gordon, what with similar concepts of a city in the clouds and the whole episodic tone.

John Williams comes back to score yet another Star Wars feature film and it's just inspiring how beautiful, how grand and how memorable his stunning compositions are. He expands on several previous themes (the Empire March, Luke's theme,..), reinterprets those and gets to go from one familiar tune to another. Providing the film with an on-going musical score saying as much as the picture.

You'd be surprised to know back then the film originally received mixed reviews... and yet it has since then nowadays become a fan-favorite episode which most people call the "Greatest Films Ever Made". But you could guess that when this cult favorite actually was the best selling film of 1980.     

Overall, a classic film through and through, where every element matters.

People love regarding it as the best film in the entire series while it strangely doesn't stand as much on its own at the same time.

The Empire Strikes Back is more of a middle act than anything else, really. I mean, Empire has no proper conclusion!

It's probably because its the deepest darker chapter. With the backstory now out of the way, the film can focus on making the characters deeper this time around and developing them over the course of the plot.

And let's not forget one of Hollywood's best twist of all times!

In 1997 for the 20th Anniversary of Star Wars, Empire was original digitally remastered for the first time and re-released in a new edition. Which included new shots and minor edits. Small changes all in all. Finally a second recut titled the Special Edition was released on DVD in 2004, newly restored and re-remastered again with some more little changes for better continuity between the films. These include some light additions of the previous new cut, mostly confined to some exterior planet shots (Cloud City) and principally replacing the stand-in Emperor holograph for Ian McDiarmid who has since interpreted the Emperor/Palpatine in Episode 6 and all subsequent films.

All in all, Empire Strikes Back validated Star Wars' cult status. Several comic book adaptations, videos game tie-ins and many, many more merchandising followed the film, ranging from billions of action figurines to hundred of t-shirts and much more!

I give it:
3 / 3 Anakins!


  1. Yup, another good review.

    This is my least favourite of the original movies. Not bad. Just kinda... there. Everything meshes really well though. It just feels like its lacking... something?

    1. Nothing against you, I just want to say you have some surprising tastes regarding the SW series! This one's your least favorite of the trilogy? Wow. I know everybody usually call this one the best of the series (personally I have a slight preference for the original or Ep. 6, I'm a big sucker for happy endings).

      Maybe you feel it lacks a proper conclusion, like I tend to do...?