Stars Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Director: Irvin Kerschner

1980

This has been playing on a loop at work for the last two weeks so you’d think I’d be bored with it now but I haven’t actually had the chance to watch the entire thing. The story picks up right where we left off in Episode IV and yet it can be viewed as a stand-alone film too thanks to the nifty scrolling subtitles at the start.

There’s a marked difference in Luke Skywalker or rather in Mark Hamill’s appearance following a horrific car accident between shooting the films. His skill as a Jedi has progressed since A New Hope (1977, George Lucas) yet he’s nowhere near complete in his training. And thank goodness because if he were then we would never have met Yoda who is lets face it made of epic ness!! His journey to Dagobah and Yoda is guided by Obi-Wan (even in death he is still to guide Luke) despite being dead obi wan is not gone and makes a number of appearances. Luke is still a bit of a petulant child although as he progresses towards becoming a Jedi knight he grows up effectively.

“Episode V as more personality: Romance blossoms in the lead trio, and strong new characters appear (like Billy Dee Williams’s dashing scoundrel Lando Calrissian), all of them safely in the sure hands of the studio workhorse Irvin Kerschner.” (662, Angela Errigo, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) Leia and Han are still bickering but it’s very clearly the early stages of their relationship forming. Some sort of misguided competition between Luke and Han for Leia’s affection – the true nature of Leia and Luke’s relationship is still unknown at this point.

Speaking of bickering C-3PO and R2-D2 are still like a married old couple, something that comes across even though R2 speaks in beeps and squeaks rather than actual words. “Charming comic interplay for the scene-stealing androids C-3PO ad R2-D2, and ever weirder alien creatures wowed audiences the world over.” (662). I love how even though characters like R2 and Chewbacca don’t speak in conventional terms you can still understand them and the gist of what they’re saying. They are some of my favourite characters and have been since childhood when I first watched Star Wars. It’s always quite upsetting when R2 and C-3PO are separated. Chewie becomes oddly protective of 3PO – rescuing him from a junk pile and rebuilding him.

While Han is still somewhat of a rogue smuggler he is beginning to change his ways – on the verge of leaving the Rebellion he instead goes to find Luke in the wilderness of the unforgiving ice planet Hoth, and all without the prospect of a reward. He’s forming many more meaningful relationships rather than being the somewhat lone wolf with only Chewie for company. And he tends to stick around more, despite all his talk (and there’s a fair bit of it!) of leaving. He condemns Lando for selling them out – something he himself would have done just a short while ago.

Darth Vader still cuts a menacing figure now hell-bent on finding and destroying Luke, and of course the Rebellion as a whole. Leia goes from strength to strength; she is still the driving force behind the Rebellion, even giving the briefing to the troops before the first land battle seen in the trilogy. And what an epic battle it is, Lucas is not just limited to creating spectacular battles in the heart of space. Although of course it must be remembered that it’s not Lucas holding the reins this time but Irvin Kerschner. You can see the difference by only just. This installment feels tighter than A New Hope and indeed all those directed by Lucas himself. As much as I’m willing to admit that Lucas is a cinematic genius I’m of the opinion that he is a much better producer than director. He is an incredible storyteller, that cannot be denied, and yet sometimes his execution just doesn’t quite hit the mark.

Angela Errigo says “one-liners became catchphrases”(662) and she’s not wrong, most of them coming from Han Solo (who else?!) like “Never tell me the odds”, “Can it furball” and of course the “I love you; I know” exchange between Han and Leia.

With the new film come new creatures, planets and characters. Gone is the hot, dusty desert landscape of Tatooine from A New Hope and instead we are treated to the ice planet Hoth and the swampy, jungle like Dagobah, (home of the infamous Yoda!) and the cloud city where Lando resides.

Yoda is amazing! He’s such a well-rounded character, which is remarkable considering he is a puppet. We are so lucky to have had the talent like Frank Oz around to bring life to such an iconic figure. Like Errigo says he is “a wizened puppet sage performed with startling expressiveness and exasperation by Muppeteer Frank “Miss Piggy” Oz.” (662) I actually prefer the puppet Yoda to the more high-tech computer generated version in the prequels (which I have said before but it bears repeating). He has such a unique way of speaking – one oft imitated and impersonated.

Along with new Jedi characters in the form of Yoda we are also introduced to the puppet master behind Vader, known as the Emperor (it all makes sense once you’ve watched the prequels). It’s an interesting point that everyone refers to Luke’s father in the past tense especially considering what is revealed at the climax of the film.

Boba Fett is yet another epic character in a world jam-packed with hugely iconic characters that tend to transcend the films. He also has an interesting back-story unveiled in the prequels.

You start seeing the “Star Wars” cuts and wipes where Lucas has employed all the different styles of cutting techniques, ones that we were steered away from during my degree. The whole idea of cutting and editing in general is to be unobtrusive. Instead Lucas draws attention to the editing and cutting process, and it’s very much a part of the new cinematic style he gifted to the world of filmmaking.

Sound is of great importance in the Star Wars films. Where would the films have been without the instantly recognizable breathing of Vader as well as the iconic sound track? Not to mention the unique sound of the light sabers – everyone automatically makes the noise when playing with one!

The carbonite process is horrible to watch and yet creates one of the most recognizable images from the entire franchise. It’s all red lights and puffs of smoke, creating a menacing or rather foreboding atmosphere. Lando does indeed redeem himself for his betrayal of Han and Leia and becomes part of the ever-growing Rebellion, spearheading the rescue mission for Han.

Finally Luke and Vader face off against one another, despite Luke not completing his training with Yoda. Elements of their fight are reflected in the prequels … Mace Windu being sucked out a window very similar to the one Luke falls through and Yoda tearing things off the wall with the force to aid in a fight. And the biggest similarity is the loss of the hand. The father inflicts the same wound on the son. It’s such an epic climax to the film with the big reveal and one of the most famous lines in cinema history “Luke I am your father“. And then you get the connection between Leia and Luke – a hint of what their true relationship is, if you’re good at piecing bits of information together that is.

The Empire Strikes Back sets the scene for the conclusion of the trilogy – The Return of the Jedi (1983, Richard Marquand) and at the same time manages to avoid being the filler film in a trilogy.

 

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