So we’ve reached The Empire Strikes Back, arguably the best of all the entries in the Star Wars franchise, and definitely my favourite of them all. Much like Revenge of the Sith, this film was an attempt at a darker, slightly more serious continuation of the story of Star Wars, and boy does it really pay off. However, when it was initially released, people weren’t sure what to make of this tone, and it wasn’t widely recognised as the best of the trilogy until quite a few years later. I find this quite hard to believe, because it’s definitely the best directed and most well written of the three, but hey, I wasn’t there.
You can really see that with a good script these films can be absolutely incredible. The story, the dialogue, and one of the most iconic moments in cinema history all combine to create a film that stands the test of time, and will forever be a part of pop-culture.
Anyway, like Ben with A New Hope, I’m going to have a hell of a tough time picking out some bad points about this film.
- First of all, it’s a tenuous point at best, but the few scenes that really bug me in this film are introduced in the special edition changes. Every other change to this film is absolutely fine by me, but the establishing shots of Cloud City that were constructed with CGI stand out like a sore thumb compared to the practical sets. I have no problem with the idea to show more of the city, and in fact I like that we get to see more of it, but the execution of the idea is just pretty bad. In my book, if you can’t do it to a good standard, you might as well not put it in there, because all it does is detract from the film.
- I have to say thank you to a friend who suggested that the characterisation of Boba Fett is lacklustre at its best. I’m so used to accepting that he’s just there to do a job that I always forget how little attention is really paid to him. As with Darth Maul, there’s a lot of wasted potential in the character of Boba Fett; a wasted potential that isn’t even remedied in Return of the Jedi which would be the best place to do it. Now, I know there’s the argument that the lack of characterisation is due to the fact that his mysterious nature is the key to his popularity, and I do agree with this to an extent, but they could’ve given him just a few more lines to reveal a little more about his motivations and character. They could even use these lines to create even more mystery and ambiguity around him, but hey, I can see why they did the things they did.
- I personally don’t have any issues with the special effects of the original 1980 cut, and to be honest, that Yoda puppet is about a hundred-times more believable as a character than the CGI turd-pile they gave us in the prequels. Buuuuuuuuut… I guess some people MIGHT have a problem with the practical effects, as much as it hurts my heart to say it… and that’s all I’ll say on the subject, because they’re wrong.
This is getting really difficult now…
- I’ll admit, the dialogue can be kinda melodramatic, and I think you’ll know what moment really does stick out the most; some line about something not being possible or something… anyway, the thing is, when you’re completely absorbed in this film, you don’t notice the melodrama, and it can even feel like the most natural line in the world when you’re committed to this world you’re seeing on the screen. Really though, it’s pretty over-the-top, but what part of Star Wars isn’t?
Right, that’s about all I can manage to think of in terms of bad points about this film. I’m very sorry that they’re weak in comparison to some of the points I came up with for the prequels, but I mean, when you hold up The Empire Strikes Back against the likes of The Phantom Menace, there really is no comparison.
Ok, now let’s get on and dig into the good stuff. There really is a lot of it-
- I’ve already spoken a little about the dialogue in this film, and I’ve already mentioned that the story is pretty damn good too, but I’d just like to expand on what why this script is one of the stand-out things that make The Empire Strikes Back For me, my love of the film definitely stems from the content of the script, and the great dialogue. It’s a much more personal story than A New Hope, all the stakes are directly related to the characters rather than the galaxy as a whole, and I think this allows for deeper explorations of their personalities and motivations. As well as this great characterisation, we aren’t force-fed much exposition at all, and we’re thrown into the action and tone of the film immediately, with the Battle of Hoth happening pretty quickly after a little adventuring with Luke and Han Solo. The entire Dagobah scene is one of my favourite moments of Star Wars, and don’t even get me started about Luke’s eventual confrontation with Vader, because I’ll be talking about that shortly…
At its heart though, The Empire Strikes Back is a love story. We finally get to see Leia and Han’s relationship develop beyond some roguish flirting into a mutual affection for each other, with some pretty hilarious lines from Harrison Ford thrown in as a bonus.
“I love you”
What a loveable dickhead!
- Industrial Light and Magic reach an entirely new level of quality with the special effects of this film. I’m certain that most people went into the cinema thinking that they would never be able to do better than Star Wars: A New Hope, but boy were they proved wrong. Everything just looks so well put together and designed here, but despite this neatness of design, it still feels likes Star Wars, and still looks all beat-up and used when it counts. In particular, I’ve always been impressed with the effects used for the Battle of Hoth, which stand-up today with very little CGI enhancement. Another superb scene is the asteroid chase, which is just as fun and tense every time I see it. I have yet to spot the famous shoe though, so I guess I’ll just have to keep watching it…
- The performances of the cast are at an all-time high here, which was probably made possible by the well written story and script, but I think credit where credit is due. It seems like they’re a lot more comfortable in their roles than before, and there’s a nice natural chemistry between Hamill, Ford and Fisher; Ford and Fisher in particular. Hats off to Mark Hamill for his interactions with Frank Oz performing Yoda too. It can’t be easy acting against a three-foot puppet, but he pulls it off very believably. I’ll just make a quick honourable mention of Billy-Dee Williams as well for playing the smoothest criminal the galaxy has ever seen.
- Another move by the writers I have to acknowledge is the idea to use Empire to progress the characters’ relationships and create a conflict that would result in a very emotional and powerful finale in Return of the Jedi. The fact that the film doesn’t really have an ending is one that frustrated a lot of movie-goers, but it really isn’t an issue for me. Ending the film on a note of uncertainty and defeat is one of the things that makes Empire stand out from the other films in the franchise. We’re left with a lot of questions that we desperately want answered; it leaves us anticipating the conclusion of the saga.
- Oh boy, the most iconic moment of the entire Star Wars franchise exists as the pivotal moment in this film. Even if you’ve never seen Star Wars you’ll know that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father from the countless pop-culture references and just general knowledge. This moment is such an icon of cinema that it’s almost become a part of the world’s collective consciousness; everybody knows it. The story goes that nobody but Mark Hamill, David Prowse and the writing/directing crew knew what the famous lines actually read. Everybody else was under the impression that the revelation was that Obi-Wan was the one who killed Luke’s father, rather than Vader (which is a pretty good twist in itself). As for the fight, rather than the twirly, over choreographed duels of the prequels, we see Luke in a far more realistic, almost desperate attempt to save his friends, avenge Obi wan, and not die in the process. It really is a one-sided fight, and it’s clear that Vader is just toying with him until Luke gets a lucky hit in, at which point Vader decides to end it, and try to bring Luke over to the dark-side. This is such a tense sequence of events, and the amount of emotion and substance in the fight is only rivalled by their duel in Return of the Jedi, but perhaps that’s a fight for Ben to discuss tomorrow…
Again, I can only apologise for the lack of negative points here, but it’s honestly just that good of a film. I didn’t want to get pedantic and start picking out little details or subjective opinions, because they really don’t affect the overall enjoyment of the film. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this, and you can look forward to Ben’s review of Return of the Jedi tomorrow, followed by our review of The Force Awakens on Thursday.
It’s an exciting time to be a Star Wars fan!