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Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back


1. The Empire Strikes Back

(this is going to be a long review)


I'm sure this probably isn't a surprise at this point, but my pick for my number one favorite film of all time is The Empire Strikes Back. The second film released in the Star Wars franchise and in my opinion the best Star Wars film ever made (and also the best film I've ever seen in general, at least in my opinion). The film is great on every level. The characters, the intensity of the unconventional narrative, the set design, the music, the tone, the writing the acting the performances, the effects the cinematography, the sound, the editing every single aspect of this film is just so incredibly well done.

What's interesting about this film is that it breaks nearly every structural narrative screenwriting rule in the book. There isn't really an act structure based around a protagonist (if anything the only character really making things happen and with a goal in the manner of a conventional protagonist is Vader, but more on that in a sec). The movie simply begins and then the characters each go off on their own tangential subplots as the tension builds and comes to a climax where the narratives intertwine and then the film ends, and on a pretty down note as well. As a film, it shouldn't work, but for some reason everything came together in a way that does as well as any film I've ever seen just because it's that good of a movie.

The film begins with Han, Leia, and Luke with the rebels at a new rebel base on the ice planet of Hoth. After Luke briefly gets lost in the icy tundra and receives a message from the spirit of Obi-Wan Kenobi, he is rescued by Han and brought back when it is discovered that the Empire has found the base and is going to attack, leading to the evacuation of the rebels in one of the best action sequences in the series, the Battle of Hoth, the Empire led by Darth Vader who is back, with more power than ever before as he is making commands and has one goal in mind: get to Luke Skywalker. After the rebels make it out of Hoth in one piece, the film diverges into it's three plotlines.

The first plotline is Luke's, following ghost Kenobi's advice and seeking out the jedi master Yoda to continue his training, by going to the Dagobah system. Dagobah is, in my opinion, the greatest feat in production design in the history of film. That set is so incredibly well done, it feel so much like another world with the foggy atmosphere and the very alive feeling with the animals and foliage moving around and just the entire feel of it is so incredible. When Luke arrives he meets a small green being that promises to bring him to Yoda, however ultimately reveals that he himself is in fact the jedi master. Reluctantly, he agrees to train Luke, and this is where the film really expands of the philosophical nature of the force in a way not seen in the previous film. We learn about the ideology present in the entire saga, about the natures of light and dark, and of good and evil. Yoda delivers one of the best lines in the film (which features some of my favorite lines in film history), "Do or do not, there is no try."

Meanwhile, Han, Leia, Chewie, and Threepio, while attempting to flee from Hoth, realize that their hyperdrive isn't working, and then end up in the pursuit of the Empire. Han then makes the bold, and frankly stupid, decision to fly into an asteroid field to evade the empire. Ultimately they end up escaping the Empire's grasp (more stuff happens to get there but what's important is) and head to Cloud City in the Bespin system, not yet realizing that they are being followed by the Bounty Hunter, Boba Fett. they arrive on Bespin and meet an old friend of Han's, Lando Calrissian, who welcomes them and provides them hospitality and repairs to the Millennium Falcon.

This brings us to the third Storyline, Darth Vader's. Vader has realized that the force sensitive who destroyed the Death Star is Luke Skywalker, now a commander in the rebel army, the son of Anakin Skywalker, a jedi, and surmises that he must capture Luke in hopes of turning him over to the dark side of the force so he and Luke and the Emperor may rule the galaxy. Once Luke evades him at Hoth and leaves, he finds Han and Leia trying to escape, and realizing they are allies of Luke, hopes to capture them. With the aid of Boba Fett, he tracks them to Cloud City and beats them there, offering Lando a deal (well threatening him really) to set a trap for Luke using Han and Leia as bait. Storyline 2 intertwines here as Leia and Han walk right into the trap.

Luke, still training on Dagobah, senses that Han and Leia are in trouble and decides he must leave his training to face Vader in hopes of saving his friends. Yoda and ghost Obi-Wan implore him to stay, saying he will lose to Vader and he needs to finish his training. Luke, making the wrong decision and not listening to his masters, decides to leave anyway and sets out to Cloud City to confront Vader. Luke's storyline is really about failure and growth. He fails at every single step of the way in this film, and ultimately he grows from those failures into the full fledged jedi scene in Return of the Jedi. Luke's story now intertwines with Han and Leia's and Darth Vader's storylines.

Before Luke arrives on Cloud City, Han is set to be frozen in carbonite so Boba Fett can have him to collect a reward for the bounty on Solo's head set by Jabba the Hutt ( subplot teased in the first film in the Greedo scene in which HAN DEFINITELY F*CKING SHOT FIRST D*MMIT). At this point, Leia professes her love for Han (a subplot detailed throughout the film that is one of my favorite onscreen romantic subplots), to which Han answers, in legendary Han Solo fashion , "I know" which is one of the great lines in film history as well (we have one more great line as you probably all know to get to). Leia, distraught, manages to escape Cloud City with the help of Lando, who has a change of heart and ultimately they escape on the Falcon.

Luke arrives and confronts Vader in the best lightsaber duel in the franchise and one of the great scenes in film history. It's such a visual marvel as well as such a powerful scene in the context of the narrative as well. Luke is clearly outclassed by Vader who is toying with him for some of the fight before he gets Luked cornered and cuts his hand off. Vader then confronts him about joining him on the dark side so they may rule the galaxy. Luke protests, saying he will never join him. Vader then muses that Obi-Wan never told Luke what happened to his father, to which luke responds that Obi-wan told him that Vader had killed him. Vader then responds in one of the great plot twists in film history...

"No... I am your father,"

At which point Mark Hamill goes full William Shatner and shouts very loudly and animatedly in response. Vader offers again, saying that they could overthrow the Emperor and rule together as father and son. Luke, who is about 900% done with this Sh*t, elects to attempt suicide rather than join his father, letting go of the antennae he was attached to and falling to what would have been his death, if not for a fortunate tube that sucked him out of the big chamber and he ends up hanging from another antennae, calling out for Leia who saves him, getting him on the falcon and then flying off to meet up with the rebels, where Luke is given a new hand, and then the film just kind of ends, with the hero's defeated and the biggest narrative bomb in the franchise dropped.

Earlier I said that Vader represents the closest thing this film has to a protagonist and while that's not entirely true (in terms of character growth and screen time Luke is very clearly the protagonist), in terms of screenplay structure, the film's story revolves most directly around the actions of Vader and his character. Luke's storyline is an independent subplot, and the storyline of Han and Leia also is relatively self contained, except for both things change as a reaction to the actions of Vader's storyline. He has a goal, he is making things happen to achieve that affect every level of the narrative, and other characters are reacting to him. Vader's goal to find and turn Luke is what brings the entire story together, so in that way you could argue that it is his movie more than anyone else's, which makes sense for a film called The Empire Strikes Back.

Irvin Kershner brings a whole new look and feel to this film from the last movie, which suffers from the fact that it's great in spite of George Lucas being a poor director, not because he's a good one, as evidenced by the lesser performances and less interesting cinematography. The camerawork is truly gorgeous and the performances are the best in the original trilogy. The film brings one of the greatest songs in movie score history to life in Vader's theme, The Imperial March. It introduces Yoda, one of the most interesting and beloved characters in the franchise who presents some of the most interesting philosophical and ideological aspects of the franchise in this film, and it has some of the best lines in film history and best scenes in film history. I could break down every single frame and go on forever about this film but this review is already the longest one I've written, it's just such an amazing film.

The Empire Strikes Back is a masterpiece of the highest order, and my favorite film ever made.

++++++5 out of 5 doesn't even cut it