Friday, August 30, 2019

Green Phoenix - Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back Review

. This poster shows a montage of scenes from the movie. Dominating the background is the dark visage of Darth Vader; in the foreground, Luke Skywalker sits astride a tauntaun; Han Solo and Princess Leia gaze at each other while in a romantic embrace; Chewbacca, R2-D2, and C-3PO round out the montage.Following the massive success that was the original Star Wars (later retitled as Episode 4: A New Hope), George Lucas found himself swamped in cash and ready to deliver a powerful new addition to his Star Wars mythology.

Teaming up with director Irvin Kerschner (who would later direct films like Never Say Never Again and RoboCop 2) to deliver a film was hopefully superior to the original film in every way.

Kershner had a tall order to fill in not only surpassing the original which was already being considered a classic and the start of the blockbuster era of American cinema, but also had to build up elements which would have to be paid off in the already planned third and "final" film in the Star Wars trilogy.

And Kershner succeeded in just about every way.

Up next in the examination of the Star Wars franchise by going in Machete Order, the film widely considered to be the greatest film in the Star Wars saga.

Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back.

  • Directed by Irvin Kershner
  • Produced by Lucasfilm
  • MPAA Rating: PG
  • Running Time: 124 Minutes



Following the destruction of the Death Star, the Galactic Empire has become hellbent on putting down the Rebellion once and for all, with the Emperor and his servant, Darth Vader, taking particular interest in the young would-be Jedi, Luke Skywalker, who destroyed the Death Star.

After tracking down the Rebels to the Hoth system and scattering them across the galaxy, Princess Leia, leader of the Rebellion, works with the roguish smuggler Han Solo to escape Imperial forces with the hope of reuniting with Rebel forces for a counter-attack. All the while, a vision of Luke's old master drives the young Jedi to the mysterious swamps of Dagobah to seek out a wise warrior strong in the Force.



I'm not joking.

In my opinion, The Empire Strikes Back is far and away the best film in the entire Star Wars nonology.

Yes, I am including The Rise of Skywalker in this running because I actually do doubt that anything is going to fix the major issues created in The Last Jedi (but we will get there when we get there).

The film improves on everything from the original film in a very smooth and natural way, whilst remaining an incredibly tight and thematically consistent piece. Very few sequels can say the same and I think that many future Star Wars films try their hardest to knock-off The Empire Strikes Back than the original film, it is that influential to the series overall.

VISUALS - 9/10

The original Star Wars was made on a budget. When George Lucas first expressed his dream project, absolutely no one had faith in it being an actual commercial success. In fact, there was so little faith in the project that distributors actually gave Lucas 100% of the profits off of any merchandise sold, thinking that Lucas was going to lose his shirt.

Image result for Battle of Hoth
Obviously, Lucas came out on top there.

But The Empire Strikes Back didn't have that problem. By the time Empire came out in 1980, Star Wars was a cultural phenomenon and Lucas tripled the budget from Episode 4 from 11 million to 33 million, all personally financed. And that new budget shows.

Gone are the days of cramped space ships and one single desert planet. Empire Strikes Back took you to a myriad of alien worlds, from the swamps of Dagobah to the frozen tundras of Hoth and the beauty of Cloud City. Lucas and Kershner expanded the universe of Star Wars to an unparalleled degree, using their increased budget and reputation to fill that universe with incredible aliens and creatures of every shape and size.

A sticking point that has always been in Star Wars favor is the fact that the universe has always felt lived in and ancient. Unlike a lot of science fiction which maintained a clean, sterile esthetic, Star Wars took a note of westerns and made a world that had elements which were clean and futuristic, but also had contrasting elements which were outdated and in need of repair. And The Empire Strikes Back really gives us a good sense of that dichotomy, in the clean fascistic environment of the Imperial Star Destroyers when compared to the falling apart Millennium Falcon.

Simply put, The Empire Strikes Back took everything that was great about the original Star Wars and bumped it up to 11. Even the additions that were added in re-releases of the film don't really take away from the overall visuals of the film. More so than any other film in the franchise, I feel like the money and passion behind this film enabled the original vision to be achieved without major modifications in re-releases and special editions, just minor touch-ups that don't take away from the original.

If only the rest of the series could've had such an effective result from Lucas' Rowling-esque meddling.


I gave the soundtrack a perfect score. The Star Wars soundtrack by John Williams is just as iconic and will always remain one of the best parts of the entire franchise. Even when I rank the other films lower than this one, more than likely the soundtrack will boost up any score I give.

The Battle of Hoth theme is incredibly thrilling and helps make that battle one of the best in franchise, as is the Asteroid chase theme which is a hell of a lot of fun, especially with the music. The music of The Empire Strikes Back is so iconic for me because I remember playing the N64 game Shadows of the Empire, which heavily featured elements from The Empire Strikes Back, including the music.

But the sound mixing is also just incredible. The final fight between Luke and Vader is all the more chilling because of the pathos created by Williams' score, and the final reveal of Vader's true identity remains an iconic moment in part by the sudden music shift which reveals its truth and implications to the audience way before Luke can truly come to terms with it.

So for that reason, among others, I have to give The Empire Strikes Back a perfect score. Without its iconic score, I doubt that it would've been as effective as it was.


As iconic as the characters in Star Wars have become, it was Empire that forged the interpretations that entered the public zeitgeist. Han Solo and Princess Leia truly come into their own in this film, kept away from the "protagonist" of the last film for the vast majority of the run-time, their personalities and burgeoning relationship has become the stuff of film legends.

Luke's story has matured alongside his character. Gone is the whiny kid dreaming of adventure and glory, replaced by a young freedom fighter slowly uncovering his heritage and destiny and how it is irrevocably tied with Darth Vader and the Emperor.
Image result for Darth Vader skywalker fightSpeaking of Darth Vader. This film was the one that transformed  Darth Vader from a notorious villain to a cultural legend and icon. In A New Hope, Darth Vader was mainly following the orders of Grand Moff Tarkin, which gave the impression of a powerful sorcerer on a leash. But in The Empire Strikes Back, the leash has essentially been removed. Darth Vader is just an absolute force of will throughout the entire piece, with the fear of both his subordinates and enemies palpable in every scene he is in. You can feel the power that surrounds Vader and his final fight with Luke feels more like a pity on Vader's part than a legitimate fight.

Beyond the characters that we were introduced to in the first film, Empire also introduces us to Yoda, the wise Jedi master-in-exile, and Boba Fett, the notorious bounty hunter that does essentially nothing except build-up Han Solo's story of Episode 6. Regardless, Fett's introduction will also do a tremendous deal to introduce the audience to the Fett family (and by extension the clones) in the prequels.

In summary, A New Hope may have introduced the characters to us, but Empire defined and codified them.

STORY - 10/10

There has always been an eternal struggle for sequels. They must live up to the expectations and legacy of the original, deliver something unique and fresh whilst at the same time providing a similar substance to that which drew audiences to the series in the first place. Very few films succeed at this, even fewer manage to stand on their merits independent of their original film.

Films like T2: Judgement Day and Army of Darkness, as well as The Empire Strikes Back.

It was  actually the story of Empire which attracted director Irvin Kershner to the project. He enjoyed the darker narrative and the immense thematic subtext and build-up that would inevitably be released in Return of the Jedi. Where the original Star Wars' story was incredibly simple, with very generalized approaches to portraying an evil Empire and absolutely good protagonists, Empire Strikes Back reveals a level of grayness to the universe.

We are not only introduced to the manipulatively charming Lando Calrissian, and the self-serving bounty hunter Boba Fett, but also to the idea that our own protagonist, Luke, might be persuaded to the dark side of the force, like Vader was. That dichotomy between Luke and Vader was born in Empire and it would go on to form the central thematic core of the entire Star Wars franchise.

I could go on in greater deal how influential The Empire Strikes Back has been on the cultural zeitgeist (arguably even more than the original Star Wars) and so much of that stems from how ubiquitous and high quality the story was. Above even the visuals, characters, and soundtrack; it was the story of Empire that drove it to become, in my opinion, the greatest of all the Star Wars movies.


Everything that A New Hope did, The Empire Strikes Back did bigger and better. I will stand by this until the day I die. If I have to show someone just one film in this series, it would always be Empire. An iconic story, with a narrative twist which transformed the cultural expectations of genre fiction in film. A triumph of both independent cinema and the culmination of Lucas' vision in its purest form, before the gradual and unfortunate decline.

It never got as good ever again, but when you have to follow-up The Empire Strikes Back? I'm honestly not sure if that could've been done by anyone. But before we go into the finale of the original series, let's go back in time and, following Machete Order, watch the fall of Anakin Skywalker and the rise of the Empire in Episodes 2 & 3.

  • 9/10
  • 10/10
  • 10/10
  • 10/10

 FINAL SCORE - 9.75/10

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