Star Wars 5: The Empire Strikes Back

[This review includes spoilers.]

Leia: "I love you."
Han: "I know."

It's a middle movie. But it never felt like one.

The opening battle on the ice planet Hoth with the imperial walkers is just stunning. I remember being totally floored when I saw it in the theater. (Yes, I'm old enough to have seen Empire in the theater.) And I was shocked down to my socks three times -- when Vader cut off Luke's hand (they didn't do stuff like that so much back then), when Vader told Luke he was his father, and when they dropped Han Solo into the carbonite. I watched Empire, like, two days after it was released and I was totally unspoiled. Ah, for the good old days.

Darth Vader was so much scarier. Maybe it was the string of hapless commanders that he killed for displeasing him. Although it was probably mostly the big revelation of who he was. I also remember how exciting it was to catch the smallest glimpse of Darth Vader without his helmet. How tantalizing to learn that Darth Vader was human, and disfigured. It instantly gave him more dimension, even before we learned he was Luke's father.

I must admit I loved the Han/Leia romance, too. Yes, it was juvenile, but Harrison Ford pulled it off, and Carrie Fisher managed to keep up with him. Less enjoyable is Leia kissing Luke, although it continued with the popular archetype of a princess torn between a good guy and a not so good guy.

This movie had a bigger budget and better writing than the original, and it showed. The story was exceptionally detailed and compelling. They had the most amazing Muppet ever created, plus the most exciting male lead in the movies, Harrison Ford. No wonder that Empire is nearly everyone's favorite Star Wars movie.

Bits and pieces:

-- Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher were both noticeably better, acting-wise, than in the original.

-- C3PO was classic in this one, working much better as comic relief than before.

-- Loved the clever introduction of a hugely favorite character, Yoda. At the time, he was the most complex and believable puppet that had ever been created.

-- The addition of the imperial march to the classic score still gives me chills.

-- The walkers have always been a favorite of mine, even though I always thought the legs made them way too easily toppled.

-- I always liked the sequence where Yoda trained Luke. (Maybe it was Mark Hamill's biceps.) And the khaki on Luke on Dagobah was always my favorite look for him.

-- This episode's dismemberments: Luke lost his hand, of course. The snow critter in the opener lost his arm. Luke decapitated his Vader hallucination. And C3PO ended up in pieces.

-- If you're considering a rewatch of the Star Wars movies, you might want to check out J.D. Balthazar's article, How to Watch Star Wars.

Empire is by far and away the most quotable Star Wars movie, so here you go:

Leia: "I'd just as soon kiss a wookiee."
Han: "I can arrange that."

Han: "Laugh it up, fuzzball."

Leia: "Why, you stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy looking... nerf herder!"
Han: "Who's scruffy looking?"

C3PO: "Sir, the odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field are approximately three thousand seven hundred and twenty to one!"
Han: "Never tell me the odds."

Leia got to say it this time. "I don't know. I have a bad feeling about this."

Luke: "I'll give it a try."
Yoda: "No. Try not. Do or do not. There is no try."

Darth Vader: "Apology accepted, Captain Needa."

Obi-Wan: "That boy is our last hope."
Yoda: "No. There is another."
That drove us nuts. Who could they possibly be talking about, we endlessly discussed?

Lando: (looking at C3PO in pieces) "Having trouble with your droid?"
Han: "No. No problem. Why?"

Darth Vader: "No. I am your father." He never says "Luke, I am your father," but that's how he's always quoted. Much like "Play it again, Sam," which Humphrey Bogart never actually said in Casablanca.

The Empire Strikes Back is one of the best movies ever made, and beloved by geeks all over the world. Four out of four stars,

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

2 comments:

HellBlazerRaiser said...

EMPIRE is tied with SITH for my #2 favorite film of all time.

Like a lot of other films that had an impact on me, I remember which theater I first watched this is in and who brought me to see it.

Vader was at his awesomely evil best in this movie.

For me, the lightsaber duel between Luke and Vader is the best of all six films and one of the best duels I've ever watched.

Tom L said...

I knew Episode 5 was one of the most praised and beloved Star Wars movies, so my expectations for it were very high. And while I can certainly say it was a great movie, it didn’t blow me away.

Let’s start with what I didn't like: the first act was so long that, I have to admit, it bored me a little. Also, there was stuff that made me cringe, such as the bear-looking creature that came out of nowhere and took Luke down. Some classmates of mine laughed out loud at it and a friend who was by my side said “that’s so trash”, to which I replied “yeah, but give it a break, it’s an old movie”, only deep down all I thought was that the scene could’ve been done better.

Luke and Darth Vader’s fight, while very dark and interesting, felt rushed. Luke simply arrives on the fight stage through some elevator or whatever, just like that? Then, after a while, Vader falls, Luke jumps and enters a tunnel, and Vader reappears. Again, rushed.

When Anakin’s name came up, I vaguely remembered it from the new movies as being the original name of Darth Vader, only I wasn’t sure. But as Luke saw himself behind Vader’s mask, I thought “oh boy, Anakin really is Darth Vader and Luke is his son.” Naturally, the “I’m your father” revelation didn’t have the impact it was suppose to, but even if I hadn’t been mildly spoiled, I would’ve cringed at Luke’s melodramatic “noooo” (double melodramatic “noooo” at that) anyway.

Also, the final act didn’t have much in the way of final. Solo wasn’t rescued and there wasn’t any strong sense of conclusion, as there was in A New Hope, with the destruction of the Death Star.

All these complaints aside, I really did appreciate Empire as a chapter of the Star Wars saga. It was a hell of a ride through different settings, planets, ships, asteroids and interior of animals. It’s amazing how much they fit in two hours.

I particularly liked Dagobah, mostly because Yoda was SO MUCH FUN! That scene where he and R2-D2 start fighting made our entire class laugh out loud. Yoda is such a great character. He is a puppet that manages to be cute, funny and serious, all at the same time. Quite the accomplishment. Luke’s training was fascinating, and perhaps my favorite sequence from both movies. Of course he would be his young-man-who-doesn’t-hear-his-elders self and walk into the trap.

Another cool bit was the twist of Darth Vader expecting Leia and Solo at Lando Calrissian’s building. The set-up for that moment was very well done. Speaking of Leia and Solo, their interaction was a hoot. You could so totally tell she was falling for him and he was loving it. “I love you”/“I know” was both funny and in character. C-3PO and Chewbacca were a hoot as well. Specially C-3PO. I want a C-3PO! And while we are at it, a R2-D2 to be his pal.

I think I really liked this movie, otherwise I wouldn’t have written so much about it. My favorite bit? Something that Yoda said about war not making men great (he says it right after Luke mentions “a great warrior”). Such a great quote and it embodied the message of the movie so well. I can’t wait for the next episode (which I’ll watch with no expectations), and to find out who/what is the other hope.