The Empire Strikes Back: Review
The sequel to the acclaimed Star Wars, which was released in 1977, The Empire Strikes Back manages to captivate hearts, young and old, across a variety of audiences. Empire brings a new feel to the franchise that no other movie in it can replicate thus far. Empire doesn’t need constant high paced action, with corny effects to lure the audience in. It uses unique storytelling, that doesn’t drag the film along, but also does not move too quickly.
When I first gave the film a try, I didn’t know what to expect. I had only seen the film that preceded it, and no other context was given. As your typical five year old child, it captivated me instantly with the iconic “STAR WARS” intro, followed by the opening crawl. As it faded with the music, I was overcome with what can only be described as pure, raw amazement. The opening shot of the Imperial Star Destroyer looming overhead put me much closer to the television screen. The establishing shot of the planet shows exactly what needs to be shown. We see a planet covered with nothing but ice. Immediately after, we are reintroduced to Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and the rest of the galaxy, as the Empire is searching for the Rebel Alliance and for Luke Skywalker himself, following the destruction of the “Death Star”.
Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford’s characters begin the film with the first exchange of dialogue. From the first line, we are given thee two who, originally didn’t see eye to eye, and now are like brothers. We are also reintroduced with Carrie Fisher’s character, Princess Leia. From the get go, it is implied that Solo and the Princess share a connection, and the tension between them is ever so present. Irvin Kirshner and George Lucas execute this love story so well. It isn’t overly cliche’ where they are embracing every five minutes. I felt as if they were real people, with real emotions, because they aren’t just lovey-dovey every shot. They have issues with each other, they argue over matters, and Leia points out annoyances she has with Solo. This builds ever so much in the movie, while not taking the main story of of Skywalker. Skywalker begins his hero’s journey, to begin his Jedi training, as guided by the spirit of his former mentor, Ben Kenobi.
Throughout, we are shifted back and forth between the struggles of Luke, trying to overcome his ignorance and save his friends from danger, while Leia and Solo attempt to escape said danger. The rising stakes cause the viewer to agree with Luke in him wanting to leave to save his friends, but also disagree, because they know that it is a trap, set by Vader. Vader’s character is expanded upon so much more in Empire as shown by his own personal issues with Luke. James Earl Jones delivers so much to the audience through his intoxicating voice. Dominance, power and pure brute strength.
Before Solo is frozen, he shares a final kiss with the Princess. She tells him that she loves him. Here, we all expected something like an “I love you too”. But Harrison Ford, ad libbed the line and responded with, “I know”. This line has become very famous as one of the most famous ad libbed lines in cinema. This in my opinion, fit Solo’s smuggler character much better than the cliche’ “I love you”. Solo is frozen, and there is a slight moment, where Leia is staring at the capsule, afraid, but clearly sad. I shared these same feelings. Sadness, but, also fear, as we didn’t know if he survived, as it was stated that carbon freezing usually would kill. Until Lando revealed that he was alive, we all were on the edge, wondering if he was alive or not.
The fight between Luke and Vader is very emotional. The actors were taught sequences from real martial arts, such as Japanese Kendo. This particular sword fight had what the newer ones don’t. Emotion. The Star Wars prequel fights are very flashy, consisting of spins and jumps, rather than true sword combat. Empire brought so much more tension with this sequence. We all knew Luke would win, or did we? It’s what most direct sequels at the time would do. The hero finds himself and conquers the villain. However, this is not the case. We see young Skywalker slowly losing this battle, being knocked out of a window, and almost off a chasm. When he is cornered, the unexpected happens. Vader severs his hand. The musical score at this point was scarce. But when it was present, it made you sit back, clenching your chair or couch, uneasy about if Luke would survive.
At this point the score returns and slowly builds up to perhaps one of the biggest reveals in cinema of all time. Luke exchanges with Vader, screaming that he had killed his father. Vader responds with, “No, I am your father”. The soundtrack, along with Luke’s facial expressions, captures exactly how we all felt, whether we liked the movie or not. The confusion, the emotion. I thought Vader was lying, as did many others. Luke could not come to terms with this, and refusing to join the Villain, he drops down to the bottom of the floating city, only holding on by a small antenna. At this point, Luke calls to Ben, asking him why he didn’t tell him the truth. Leia senses Luke, and returns for him with the crew of the Millennium Falcon. Luke is rescued, but our heroes weren’t home free. Vader returns to his ship in a last attempt to capture Luke.
The soundtrack is suspenseful, and makes it seem as if our heroes would be captured. However, the peculiar little droid R2-D2, manages to fix the ship, and our heroes are able to blast off into hyperspace, escaping the clutches of the Dark Lord. The last shot shows Skywalker getting a new hand, as he and Leia stare off into the galaxy, watching the new friend, Lando and Solo’s First Mate Chewbacca, fly off into space, in search for Solo. The credits close, leaving us in shock and in wonder if our heroes would ever be reunited once again.
The soundtrack is the selling point for not only this film, but the saga as a whole. Sir John Williams managed to give us so many emotions in the score. Fear with Vader and Luke, as the score with their fight was scarce, but intense and dark when it did make an appearance. The theme between the Princess and Solo is perhaps the most emotional piece in Star Wars. It can tell a story just by itself. It starts slow, then builds up to this grand spectacle, while finishing soft and slowly, with a lone violin at the end, as if the story is not yet complete, then the rest of the orchestra comes in, finishing. The soundtrack in my opinion is the most important part of a movie that uses it. When to use it, and when not to. What style to employ, and when to use it.
The Empire Strikes Back manages to bring back every Star Wars fan that saw the original, while keeping the characters and action we loved about the first, but at the same time, reinventing the franchise as a whole. While some effects are slightly dated, the majority of them still hold up today and are still considered amazing. This film manages to reunite the old, but brings in the new, with unforeseen twists and turns, while keeping the film enjoyable and not a jumbled mess of characters, emotions and effects. This is an exceptional film, with or without it's prequel.