Martens' Movie Reviews

Movie Reviews from an avid movie-goer

Star Wars – Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back Review

Release Date: June 20, 1980
Running Time: 2 hours 4 minutes

“The spirit of Obi-Wan Kenobi appears to Luke Skywalker in a vision, with instructions to seek out Yoda — a Jedi master who will complete his training. Meanwhile, Darth Vader, obsessed with finding Skywalker, leads a relentless assault on the Rebels and pursues the young Jedi’s friends, who flee to Cloud City in search of sanctuary from the Empire. It all leads to a deadly confrontation that will change our heroes forever.”

The Empire Strikes back, is my favourite Star Wars movie, and ranks at the top of my list, very narrowly beating out Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, but it’s the wonderful story, the unsuspecting twists, the actors getting more into their character, as well as this movie not being directed and written by George Lucas alone.

A lot of people will be mad at me for saying that, but the fact of the matter is, this movie, as well as Return of the Jedi are almost universally known as the top two Star Wars film, mostly because of that distinction of Lucas actually letting other people play in the sandbox that he created.

This movie is one of the best sequels to ever be made, and took everything that the first movie did right, and improved upon it as well as expanding the world even more. Now, onto the trailer, the cast and crew and then the review! Thanks for reading,

Star Wars – Episode V: Empire Strikes Back Trailer – Source: Lucasfilm Ltd.


Cast and Crew

Star Wars – Episode V: The Empire Strikes back was directed by Irvin Kershner, whose previous work includes the 1966 film ‘A Fine Madness’, ‘Up the Sandbox’ in 1972, as well as ‘S*P*Y*S’ in 1974. After working on Star Wars, he went on to direct other notable films such as the James Bond film ‘Never Say Never Again’ in 1983, and ‘RoboCop 2’ in 1990.

The story for Star Wars – Episode V: The Empire Strikes back was written by George Lucas, and was adapted in the screenplay by Leigh Brackett & Lawrence Kasdan. While I’ve talked at length about what Lucas has written and directed, I will focus this little part of the review on the other two writers of the film. Brackett had previously worked on 1959’s film ‘Rio Bravo’, ‘El Dorado’ in 1967 and ‘Rio Lobo’ in 1970, unfortunately Brackett passed away not to long after having worked on the script for this film. This movie was Kasdan’s first work as a writer, and has since written ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ in 1981, ‘Star Wars – Episode VI: Return of the Jedi’ in 1983 and ‘The Bodyguard’ in 1992.

Empire Strikes Back

Carrie Fisher as Leia Organa, Harrison Ford as Han Solo and Anthony Daniels as C-3PO – Source: Lucasfilm

Cast includes Mark HamillHarrison FordCarrie FisherAlec GuinnessAnthony DanielsKenny BakerPeter MayhewBilly Dee WilliamsDavid ProwseFrank OzJeremy BullochJohn HollisClive RevillKenneth ColleyMichael CulverChristopher MalcolmDenis Lawson and James Earl Jones


Review

The character of Luke Skywalker along with the actor that portrays him Mark Hamill both improved significantly since A New Hope. Mark Hamill’s acting ability in this movie was a big improvement over the last one, and with an amazing director, and better writers for the screenplay, he was able to excel. Luke Skywalker has grown and learned more about the Force and how to use them, as evident when he Force Pulled his lightsaber out of the snow bank in the Wampa cave.

While the character has learned to to control what little he knows about the Force, he’s also taken on a central role in the Rebellion, with his name spreading everywhere after he blew up the Death Star. In this film, he’s got the greatest character arc out of everyone involved, and we got to go on this wonderful and terrible journey with him, and I had a blast watching it.

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Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker on Hoth the location of a Rebel Base – Source: Lucasfilm

Harrison Ford is back as the very charismatic and lovable Han Solo, this time with more flirtation and more pointing at stuff (watch the honest trailer on this one, he really does point a lot in this movie). His character is a big part of the Rebellion after helping in saving the day against the Death Star, and has taken on a leadership role. He’s also grown a lot closer to the princess, and while he mostly gets in the way of himself, he manages to win her heart.

He then trusts an old friend whom he won his precious Millennium Falcon off of, which would have been fine, if the Empire had not beaten them to Bespin. He gets tortured, and Leia confesses her love for him, right before he gets frozen to be brought back to Jabba the Hutt for the bounty on his head. The actor didn’t see a point in possibly returning, thinking his story arc would be finished and wasn’t sure that he would be back for Episode VI, and was actively hoping to be killed off, fortunately for us, he wasn’t killed off right away (more on that in the Episode VII review).

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Han Solo on Hoth – Source: Lucasfilm

The character of Leia Organa also improved since A New Hope, and while still being bossy and confrontational when it comes to Han, it was really well acted by Carrie Fisher. I really enjoyed the fact that she opened up throughout the movie, and seemed less standoffish than earlier. She was more charming and intelligent in her decision making.

She also took a more leadership role for the Rebellion, and I feel that she’s already Force sensitive after having been able to communicate with Luke, even if it was entirely a one way connection. I feel like it could possibly be explored in the latest movie that will be coming out, but I do know that it’s been hinted at during a few scenes in the next couple of movies (chronological (VI & VII)) as well as in the book ‘Bloodlines’, where she feels a connection with her unborn son – Ben Solo.

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Dagobah swamp – Source: Lucasfilm

Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian is another scoundrel type character that lost the Falcon to Solo in a card game. He now runs a mining colony in Cloud City on the planet Bespin. He made a deal with the Empire almost right before the gang arrived to hand them over in order to protect his new people. It’s something that is understandable as a lot of people would have a hard time making a different decision, but it’s also a really scummy thing to do to his old friends.

Frank Oz is probably the best in the business as a puppeteer, and he did a masterful job as Jedi Master Yoda. As a kid, when I first saw this movie, I was a gullible and stupid child, where I thought what I was watching was real. I didn’t understand the concept of things being fake. Sure I understood playing pretend, but what I saw in a movie, I thought was real. Yoda absolutely floored me as a kid, and even now, 37 years after it’s been released, the job that they did with Yoda is simply amazing. The character of Yoda himself, had become a crazy older hermit living alone, and you can see that when he’s testing Luke before introducing himself, that or he’s an amazing actor, that Yoda. I found that the character of Yoda was fantastic in how it was handled, and the philosophy that he was trying to teach to Luke, who even if he kept failing and not fully believing, he kept trying to teach him, partly I think, because it could possibly save the galaxy, partly because he didn’t want to give up on someone who despite failing multiple times didn’t want to quit, so Yoda wouldn’t either.

Empire Strikes Back

Frank Oz as Yoda – Source: Lucasfilm

Anthony Daniels returns as C-3PO, and Kenny Baker comes back as R2-D2 in Episode V, and I find that while 3PO had his own little misadventure, it was something that made sense to the storyline to have that happen to him, it? R2 had his own adventure with Luke on Dagobah, and I still enjoy the fact that they gave that droid so much personality and made it so entertaining, even though we don’t understand a word that it says.

Speaking of characters that we don’t understand the language, Peter Mayhew is back as Chewbacca and has less of a role than the previous film. Something that I don’t understand about the character for this movie is that they made him less of a Wookie, and more of a cowardly bear dog, where the character is frightened a lot, and is more cuddly than the previous film, where he was someone who should be feared a little. Out of everything, this is one of the things that I nitpick on, when the character has a change of characteristics that was a big part of who they were in the previous film.

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Kenny Baker as R2-D2 on Dagobah – Source: Lucasfilm

At the start of this movie, there is a weird sort of “love triangle” between Han and Leia and Luke and Leia, as the former have been flirting and have had some obvious attraction to one another, but when Han goes too far at one point, Leia decides to make Han jealous by kissing her twin Luke (couldn’t resist). Eventually I feel like maybe Luke starts to realise that he has to focus on other things rather than emotional and romantic entanglements, and back off from Leia. The relationship, and the gradualness of it between Han and Leia was nice, and actually felt organic to the story, and I really appreciated that it didn’t feel forced, and that the relationship that was developing didn’t change who the characters were, and that it served the story, and not the other way around.

Han Solo and the crew on the Millennium Falcon manage to flee from Hoth into an asteroid field after their Hyperdrive malfunctioned, and they had to improvise. They went into the body of a Space Slug, that he eventually figured out after Chewy had shot his crossbow outside of the ship, and the ground shook. They manage to get out in time before it closed it’s mouth, and had to find a new hiding spot where the Imperial Fleet wouldn’t look for them. That turned out to be right on one of the Star Destroyers, where they would stay until the Fleet dumped their trash before going into Hyperspace. This brilliance and creativity on Han’s part was great to see. Unfortunately Boba Fett managed to see that coming, and followed them to Bespin.

Empire Strikes Back

Luke and R2-D2 – Source: Lucasfilm

Alec Guinness returns in Episode V as Obi-Wan Kenobi’s Force Ghost, something that he learned from communicating with the Force Ghost (off screen) of Qui-Gon Jinn, the lesson that Yoda had wanted him to train during his years on Tatooine. Everything to this version of Kenobi is from a certain point of view, and I think that he ‘stole’ that line from Anakin when he told him that from his point of view, the Jedi are evil, even though that line would be written approximately two decades after this movie was released. I enjoyed seeing him come back, and I feel like his inclusion in the film just expanded the lore and mythology of the Force, and of this universe.

Darth Vader’s abilities keep growing in this film, and you can see his intelligence in full display when he can feel that what was spotted on Hoth is them, he hires bounty hunters to hunt down the Falcon, showing his resourcefulness, and his power is incredible in this movie, going as far as stopping blaster shots with his hand, and Force choking an Imperial Captain through a screen, not even having to be near him to reach out with the Force to do that was incredible. He takes it easy on his son in their lightsaber duel to begin with, but then overpowers him with ease at the end. Darth Vader was and continues to be a badass.

Empire Strikes Back

Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian, Leia Organa, Han Solo and Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca – Source: Lucasfilm

In Empire Strikes back, we journey to three different worlds, the first being the Icy planet of Hoth. There we find the heroes at the start of the film at a secluded Rebel Base in a very hostile terrain. Luke gets ambushed by a Wampa, and eventually frees himself after slicing off its arm, something that would foreshadow his own loss of limb later on in the film. Han rushes to try and find him, and good thing that he does as he finds him after Luke briefly saw Kenobi’s Force ghost telling him to go to Dagobah, and was about to freeze to death. Unfortunately, because of Vader’s obsession with finding the boy who destroyed the Death Star that has the last name of Skywalker, a remote probe droid spots the base, and the Empire is coming after them.

The Battle of Hoth is very interesting as it’s mostly an evacuation for the Rebels, and a lot of people sacrifice themselves in order to give others a chance to escape, and I find that a lot of the people are not usually recognized as heroic. We get to see the similarity between Luke and Anakin in their resourcefulness and piloting abilities once again. It was Luke’s idea to use the harpoons and tow cables to cycle the legs of the AT-ATs to make them trip. When his ship got shot down, he got out, and grabbed a harpoon cable and used his lightsaber to open the hatch at the bottom of another AT-AT to throw a grenade in it.

Empire Strikes Back

AT-AT attacking Rebel Base – Source: Lucasfilm

Another of the different worlds shown in this movie is Dagobah, a mostly swamp like planet in which Jedi Master Yoda exiled himself to after failing to defeat the Emperor at the end of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.

Luke goes to Dagobah, and is eventually trained in the ways of the Jedi by Master Yoda. He learns a lot of acrobatic abilities, and balance, but fails in his belief of the Force, and concentration on matters in the present. He’s too impatient and has a lot of anger built up inside, which Yoda is trying to caution him on letting it go. He fails in his test in the cave, where he gets a vision of facing off against Darth Vader. He bests Vader in a lightsaber battle by decapitating his head, and the the mask of Vader explodes revealing Luke’s face, which foreshadows the twist that happens later on in the film. After not being able to clear away the vision that he has of his friends in danger, he eventually leaves to go and save his friends at Bespin.

Empire Strikes Back

Luke receiving training from Master Yoda on Dagobah – Source: Lucasfilm

The last of the new worlds explored in Episode V is Bespin, mainly seeing the Cloud City in which the mining colony is owned by Lando Calrissian. There’s a lot that happens in a very short amount of time on this planet. Lando greets the crew, and gives them shelter for a while, and they end up losing C-3PO to a surprise attack by Stormtroopers.

After Chewbacca finds 3PO in a junk pile and Leia and Han already not trusting Lando, he brings them straight to Darth Vader and Boba Fett in what turns out to be a last minute trap. At least they were treated to what looks to be a wonderful meal by their hosts before being captured? As mentioned above, Han is frozen in carbonite after being tortured, and is told that Leia loves him. It also features the wonderful scenes that follow involving Vader and Skywalker.

Empire Strikes Back

Cloud City – Bespin – Source: Lucasfilm

After enduring torture by Darth Vader, it is decided that Boba Fett gets to take Han away for the bounty on his head back with Jabba the Hutt on Tatooine. It’s decided that the best way to transport him there without incident is to carbon freeze him, while also testing out the machine so that Vader can use it in a trap that he is setting up for his son Luke. Leia declares her love to Han in a very famous scene, where he responds with the now classic ‘I know’, right before getting frozen.

After Luke was convinced to stay longer by Master Yoda after first having visions of the future of his friends in danger, he eventually decides to leave Dagobah and his training early in order to save them. Yoda tries to plead with him to stay and finish his training as he is not ready to face Vader alone. Luke vows to return to finish his training, and we hear Obi-Wan mention to Yoda that he is their last hope at saving the galaxy, while Yoda responds with ‘No, there is another’.

Empire Strikes Back

David Prowse as Darth Vader – Source: Lucasfilm

The character of Boba Fett was played by Jeremy Bulloch, and was probably the most badass and cool side villain of all time until he dies so horribly and stupidly in the following movie (spoiler alert). I feel like the character was handled really well, and added a new and interesting character that was a lot cooler the more mysterious he remained. Now that you know that his father was the man that they used for the clone wars, and that he saw his father get decapitated by a Jedi really makes him a tragic character rather than a ‘badass’ (in my opinion).

In Empire Strikes Back, we get our first glimpse at Emperor Palpatine, that was originally played by Marjorie Eaton, and was later reshot with Ian McDiarmid for the special editions as of 2004. We don’t see much, but we do see Vader and the Emperor discuss that the hero is in fact Anakin Skywalker’s son, and Vader tries to convince himself and the Emperor that he could turn in, in order to have an asset. Darth Vader is doing this to protect his newfound son, as well as possibly overthrowing the Emperor and rule the galaxy together, while the Emperor is allowing it as he believes that Luke can replace his father as his right hand man.

Empire Strikes Back

Lando Calrissian and John Hollis as his Aide – Source: Lucasfilm

The music was once again done by brilliantly by John Williams, the greatest composer in movie history (in my opinion). The score for this movie featured so many beautiful and amazing pieces that it was easy to feel what they wanted you to feel during scenes. John Williams added amazing pieces such as ‘Yoda’s Theme’, ‘The Imperial March’, ‘Departure of Boba Fett’, ‘Han Solo and the Princess’ and ‘The Duel’, those are all featured heavily on my instrumental playlist that I listen to almost daily. Williams is able to meld the music and themes that are utilised in other parts of the movies so wonderfully that it makes the soundtrack and score of the movie so seamless.

The cinematography in this film was spectacular, having so many beautiful set pieces to film as well as featuring so many iconic shots, was done by director of photography Peter Suschitzky.

Empire Strikes Back

Skywalker vs Skywalker – Source: Lucasfilm

 

The confrontation between the two Skywalkers is something that people were waiting for since the end of the first movie, where they were close to a confrontation via space battle, but were rudely interrupted by Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon. Luke is walking right into a trap that was set up to get him to show up to save his friends, and is warned at the last minute by Leia as she’s being taken away. Luke goes to the chamber where Han was very recently frozen, and is met by breathing and silhouette of Darth Vader waiting for him.

Luke is the first one to light his lightsaber, and starts the duel. Vader is using his lightsaber one handed, as he’s not trying to fully attack his son with any power, and is mostly testing him while trying to get him into the trap. It’s a little bit of a cat and mouse game, where the Vader is playing with Luke. You can see Luke is only using both hands as he was trained by Obi-Wan in that style, and after seeing that Vader is using one hand, Luke will eventually try his hand at one handed fighting, but quickly gets disarmed. It’s something that I find to be very interesting as it’s storytelling through fighting, and I really enjoy this duel between them.

Vader then goes to test Luke’s spacial awareness and Force ability when he starts using the Force in the duel by launching things at Luke while fighting him, displaying Vader’s ability to use all the tools available. Vader is getting tired of playing games, and starts to be more aggressive against Luke, and is actively using power attacks in order to get the upperhand. Luke surprises him with a slash at the shoulder, and Vader punishes him by chopping off his right hand.

Empire Strikes Back

Jeremy Bulloch as Boba Fett escorting the carbon frozen Han Solo to his ship on Bespin – Source: Lucasfilm

The granddaddy of all twists, something that seems so obvious for anyone that knows a little bit of German, Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father. This was so heavily thought of as a spoiler, that even the filmmakers didn’t tell the cast that were in the movie. Mark Hamill has famously said over the years, that the original line was ‘Obi-Wan killed your father’, and that only Kershner (director), Lucas and Hamill knew that was going to be the line, and obviously James Earl Jones, the voice of Darth Vader.

Making the big bad evil guy the father of the hero, who’s been wanting to know anything and everything about his father but never being told anything was an amazing twist. You can really feel the confusion and pain that Hamill is displaying in that scene, and it’s a very believable reaction to being told that information, especially after someone that he trusted ‘lied’ (certain point of view) to him about the fate of his father.

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Luke Skywalker learning the truth about his father – Source: Lucasfilm

Lando eventually changes his mind after being told that the Empire has changed their part of the deal, and threatens to alter it even further. He helps Leia, Chewbacca and the droids escape, and help in saving Luke after he got his hand cut off, and threw himself down the ventilation shaft. This was the first movie that I had seen where the good guys essentially lost, and almost nothing good happened to them in this film. It was a dark film after following a very hopeful first movie. This film changed the way that I looked at movies, as having endless possibilities.

Empire Strikes Back

C-3PO, R2-D2, Luke and Leia watching Lando and Chewbacca go after Boba Fett and Han Solo – Source: Lucasfilm

Overall, this movie will always hold a special place in my heart, because this movie is one of the movies that sparked a huge interest in science fiction when I was very young. It’s very difficult being objective with a movie like this, and it might reflect in my overall score, but I will debate with anyone who tries to fight me on my score.

I also realize that this is the longest review that I’ve written so far, and I apologize to those that don’t enjoy long reads, even though those people probably stopped reading way before this point, and probably skipped to the score out of curiosity. Everyone has different opinions and favourite Star Wars movie, this just so happens to be my favourite. At the end of the day, I would give this movie a score of 9.5/10.

What did you think of the first sequel to the original trilogy in the beloved franchise? After looking back on the film, do you have a different opinion than what you had when you first watched it? Do you agree with my score, if not what would you give it? Let me know in the comment section below, I would love to hear your opinions!

Thanks for reading,

Alex Martens

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2 replies

  1. My favorite Star Wars movie hands down

    Liked by 1 person

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