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Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

Star Wars Episode V:
The Empire Strikes Back

Sci-Fi Fantasy Adventure / English / 1980

For the Action Movie Countdown.

Reposted from the Rate The Last Movie You Saw thread.

Lizards, Snakes, Kissing.

For as long as I can remember, when given the option to watch a Star Wars movie, I've almost always gone for Empire Strikes back. Popularly considered the best of the original trilogy, I can't say precisely what provoked that the favor from me so many years back except perhaps my at a glance preference for the VHS covers.

You got Vader above two isolated spaceships shooting at each other, you got Yoda who's hard to look at above a lightsaber duel, and you've got the oddball fan favorite redshirt Stormtrooper above one of the most memorable setpieces in the entire series, an ACTUAL WAR.

Upon rewatching this movie, I thought I might confirm how superior I originally thought it might be to A New Hope, but instead decided that while it's a better movie in general, it's higher highs and lower lows make it more of a lateral move to me.

My best praises for the movie are simply how it completely defies classic sequel conventions and literally attempts to make a movie that's bigger and better than the smash hit that came before it. We see more locations, more spaceships, more land vehicles, it introduces important and memorable new characters, there are heavier plot beats, and even a dramatic twist. Plus, as I already mentioned, the scale of the conflicts have increased dramatically. We see a massive on-ground battle, we see larger forces in space, and we even see a hostile takeover of a city.

Simply put, the stakes have been the raised, the odds are worse for the heroes, and the consequences are much more real. It makes a significantly more exciting movie.

That said, I think Empire Strikes Back falls behind the original Star Wars in one significant way: whereas Star Wars was a very solid, predictable, but excellently presented story, Empire takes a few dips. I suppose it's best to visualize it as a graph. On average, Star Wars retains it's level consistently throughout, and while Empire exceeds it most of the time, there are definite periods of the movie where it lacks.

Of those periods I would point to the significantly more attention paid to Han & Leia's totally forced romance. It seems the "princess" who proved herself strong and independent (in a rather refreshingly unusual way even to this day) in the first movie, has a thing for bad boys like Han, which I feel compromises her character as well as much of the dialog involving her.

If we had seen her relationship develop beyond where we left off in Star Wars, I might have been able to buy their romance, but instead it's just... there. And it doesn't really serve the plot in anyway other than to add drama to the hilariously bad "I love you", "I know" scene near the end. Anakin's "I don't like sand" line from the prequel trilogy is lambasted constantly, but it sounds much more natural in it's respective movie than Han who we're only really rooting for because of the goodwill he's already earned from us so far.

Another dig is easily the Dagobah section of the movie which progresses relatively slow. We're introduced to Yoda during this time and among some laughs we learn more about the rules governing The Force, and develop Luke's abilities across a timeskip.

Unfortunately, the grand setpieces and moments that defined nearly every other part of Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back seem to be on pause while Luke just messes around in a swamp for a good chunk of the movie. This wouldn't be so bad if what we learn about The Force during this time is well spent, but unfortunately the initial explanation of magic in the Star Wars universe is handled extremely poorly.

Firstly, "Do, or do not, there is no try" is one of the worst possible lessons you could try to teach anyone, and I personally find it irritating when it's affected in real life. "Do, don't try" attempts to dissuade pessimistic attitudes by getting people to act instead of doubting their ability to act. The main issue with this is simply that it ignores the logical exercise of "trying" and asserts that you might as well not even try if you can't even do. This flies in the face of a variety of things, including plotpoints in Star Wars.

Yoda argues that the only reason Luke can't imitate his telekinetic ability to levitate spaceships is simply because he doesn't believe it can be done OR that he doesn't believe he can do it himself. It's also shown that his ability to use the Force is marred by his distractions or simply overthinking.

All of this raises the question: If Yoda says size matters not, then what's stopping Vader from exercising his powers on a grander scale? It could easily be argued that Vader is self-confident if even narrow-minded, both of these things would arguably increase his ability to manipulate the Force because he believes in his own powers and can remain focused. If this is true, then what prevented him from simply stopping the Millennium Falcon from escaping Hoth on sight? Couldn't he just reach out and pause it in midair? The poor explanation of The Force's rules seems to create plot convenience.

The only counterarguments I can think of is simply that Vader's power has waned in old age (but we don't really know how old he is at this point), or that inexplicably, he has something constantly annoying him. Perhaps Boba Fett pesters him daily about, "Did you find Han? Did you find Han?" or maybe he spends all that time in the black sphere filling out paperwork to replace all of his dead minions. Maybe that's getting to him? Perhaps he's got a papercut?

Maybe that completely useless scene in the swamp where he randomly appears only to get beheaded is actually a recurring nightmare of his and his masked breathing is a solution to his hyperventilation brought on by anxiety?

The only other real strike against the movie I would make is the Ton-ton scene at the beginning. How disgusting it is besides, it's a major strike against otherwise likable characters to see them thoughtlessly ride other animals out into deadly temperatures just for them to die. **** you, Han. Why are you such a dick to Ton-tons? I know casually trading innocent life like this bothers virtually no one else in the world, but it bothers me.

Beyond that, there's still lots to love about the movie, and I gotta lend big points to a shocker ending that leaves the viewer nearly hopeless before tying it all together in a Halo 2 cliffhanger. Cliffhangers like these suck because they leave so many loose ends, but at least in Star Wars 5's case, it successfully hypes you for the sequel.

Final Verdict:
[Pretty Good]