Feb 3, 2012

[Movies] Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

It's kind of crazy how quickly we've been going through the Star Wars movies in this review series - or perhaps it's just crazy how the past 5 weeks have passed us all by so quickly.

But that's neither here nor there - we're here to continue to review all of the Star Wars movies and finally add them to my movie review archive. This started as a sort of timely effort to get this item off my blogging bucket list given the upcoming release of The Phantom Menace in 3D this month but also because I've really enjoyed this franchise, despite the horrible prequel trilogy.

This movie tends to stand out versus all the others and is often cited as the best of the franchise. Perhaps it's because it's one of the few Star Wars films not directed by George Lucas. Maybe because it had such a dark and gritty mood to it that made things more realistic and less like a fairy tale. Or perhaps we all just love bounty hunters and cities in the clouds and guys who wear capes. Yeah, we totally dig the capes.

Whatever the reason, this is definitely one of the must-see movies in the franchise and a personal favorite, if I may be so bold.

The Empire Strikes Back is the second Star Wars movie ever released and the fifth movie in terms of the franchise's chronological sequence. It was directed by Irvin Kershner with a screenplay by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan as based on the original story by George Lucas.

Three years after the destruction of the Death Star, the Rebel Alliance continues their struggle against the Galactic Empire. One such cell is currently holed up on the ice planet Hoth as led by Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) together with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford). They know that they can remain safe on Hoth for only so long - a fact that is proven true once an Imperila Probe Droid stumbles across the Rebel base, thus summoning Imperial forces to the planet.

While they eventually escape the Imperial assault (this can't be a spoiler - it's just the opening sequence of the movie!) Luke decides to go alone (well, with R2-D2) in search of the Jedi Master Yoda (Frank Oz) after receiving a vision from his old master, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Sir Alac Guinness) while Han, Leia Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and C-3PO try to join the rest of the Rebel fleet. But naturally their hyperdrive malfunctions and there' forced to evade the Imperials in the system while they figure a way out of there.

The movie is notable for many reasons. It's next to impossible to list them all without offending some fan group who will argue in favor of some other aspect of the movie.

Hoth trench defense
Hoth trench defense (Photo credit: Ѕolo)
Thus from a personal perspective, things that I really liked include the bit AT-AT walker battle on Hoth, the formal introduction of bounty hunters like Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch) and IG-88, lots and lots of Yoda speak, Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) and of course the big Luke vs Darth Vader confrontation at the end. There are spoilers beyond that point, so I'll not tread that for the sad few who still haven't seen this movie. I feel for you, I really do.

It's hard to imagine this movie was made all the way back in 1980 given how epic the Hoth battle feels, even without the augmentation of CGI added in for the Special Edition. The creepy shaky walk of the giant transports across the ice as the Rebel forces are almost helpless against their power is an awesome sight indeed and one that really drives the feelings of the scene home. As early as this part of the movie, it was pretty clear that this wasn't going to be an overly happy movie.

The overall tone of the film and the complexities of the emotions evoked contributes strongly to its overall success, I feel. Because the movie does become so morally ambiguous with us left to question how things are really supposed to work out in the long run especially with the "shocking" reveal at the end really did something to bring this movie to a new level. The conflict isn't resolved within the span of the film - instead we're treated to a complex interplay of rising tension with a somewhat abrupt end. Some argue that this took away from the movie but I felt that it made it the sterling example of storytelling that is is considered to be today.

Plus this movie features the most Jedi training that we've ever seen in terms of the original movie trilogy. In the first movie all we had was the quick bit with the training probe. In the final movie Luke was already calling himself a Jedi Knight. This movie was a great transition piece, even with the seemingly crazy Yoda handling Luke's education.

This movie probably works better if you haven't seen the prequel movies yet - thus the continued argument among fans whether it's better to watch the Star Wars movies based on their original release dates or based on the story's internal chronology. I tend to favor the former over the latter, only because a lot of the "reveals" make more sense that way. When you watch the prequels first, you sort of get "spoiled" already as to how things are going to turn out.

The Empire Strikes Back is indeed a great movie and personally my favorite in the entire franchise. It has all the good stuff - pulse-pounding action, budding romance and of course lots and lots of fearsome foes. Thus the movie gets 5 double-crosses at Cloud City out of possible 5.

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