Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) – Irvin Kershner

Oh yeah, the 101 Sci-Fi Movies is kicking into high gear now, with lots of familiar titles (heck I own a good percentage of them from here on out) so this should be a lot of fun!

1980, I was still living in Borden, Ontario and that was where I first saw The Empire Strikes Back. This is one of the great examples of a sequel that outshines the original film, though both, well honestly, all three films of the original trilogy have a special place in my heart.

With The Empire Strikes Back, George Lucas allowed others to play in the universe he created for the first time, the story was his, but it was tweaked and by two other writers, Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan (who is apparently hard at work on the new chapters that are being brought to life with J.J. Abrams at the helm, with Lucas helping with story ideas, much like he does with the very successful Clone Wars series).

lukeLuke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and their rebel associates are now hiding out on the ice planet Hoth, after being routed from the moon of Yavin by vengeful Imperial forces led by Darth Vader (David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones).

After a stunning battle on the surface featured the armored walkers, AT-ATs to us geeks, our heroes are split into two fleeing groups with Han, Leia, C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) dodging the imperial fleet in an asteroid field, in a show-stopping sequence, before running to Bespin, and Cloud City, overseen by an old friend of Solo’s Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams). Through all of this, Solo still has time to romance the Princess, and gets one of the best exit lines ever, ad-libbed by Harrison Ford.

Luke, at the urging of Ben Kenobi’s (Alec Guiness) spirit travels to the swamp world of Dagobah with R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) to seek out the Jedi Master Yoda (voiced and performed by Frank Oz, more ably than the CG creation of the prequel films).

Han Solo & Leia OrganaThe film is darker, with friends betraying friends, as Lando turns over Han and company to Vader and the bounty hunter Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch), Luke facing his fears not only of becoming a Jedi, but of what he may become, and what he’ll have to face.

The special effects, are fantastic, building on the already incredible effects in the first film, the now fully established Industrial Light and Magic company pulls out all the stops, and the sound department scored an Oscar for their work.

And of course, you can’t have a Star Wars movie without a powerful score by John Williams. and of all of the films, I think this one has some of my favorite pieces in it. definitely some of the ones I whistle most!

vaderBy letting others work in the world he created, while providing the groundwork of the story, and letting someone else direct it, it’s the strongest entry in the entire series. It also features stronger performances from all the leads.

The revelations of Luke’s parentage at the end, where, at the time, simply gob-smacking. I remember my friends and I being completely stunned, how could this possibly be? and who is this other that Yoda spoke of?

The film carried on the grand tradition of the space opera, while elevating it to new heights, putting our characters in the most dire of straits as the film comes to a close, audience and characters reeling emotionally, and leaving us begging for more.

It’s the perfect middle piece of a trilogy, it advances our characters and the plots woven around them, it expands the universe we’ve been introduced to, it raises the stakes, and makes for fantastic entertainment.

May the Force be with you!

What are your memories of seeing Empire?

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