Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

This entry is part 6 of 8 in the series Star Wars

Released: 1980
Director: Irvin Kershner
Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford


The best film in the series – but not my favourite

It’s generally acknowledged that Episode V of the Star Wars saga, The Empire Strikes Back, is the best film in the entire saga.  It’s the one with the best action, the darkest themes and the most shocking discovery in cinema history (although this would be spoiled for anyone who watched the prequels first).  I can’t argue with any of these points but to me, Star Wars – the original film – will always have a place in my heart that the others don’t.  Not even this one.

Despite the successful destruction of the Death Star at the end of the previous film the rebellion is in disarray.  Empire forces, led by Darth Vadar, are ruthlessly hunting them down.  The new base on Hoth is attacked and Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia only just manage to escape.  Luke travels to the Dagobah system to train as a Jedi Knight under the tutelage of Yoda.  Han Solo and Princess Leia travel to Cloud City on the planet Bespin, where Han’s old friend Lando Calrissian the colony’s administrator. Betrayal leads to one of the most famous confrontations ever on film and sets up an epic conclusion to the story.

The three leads remain outstanding.  Despite her youth Carrie Fisher exudes power and confidence.  She completely convinces when giving orders to large groups of fighter pilots and rebel commanders much older than herself.  Mark Hamill was involved in a car crash which scarred his face – giving him a more rugged appearance which actually aided his credibility.  The star of the show remains Harrison Ford as Han Solo.  He is without a doubt the most charismatic actor in the entire series.

The action is virtually non-stop and thoroughly exciting.  From the battle on Hoth to the thrilling duel between Luke and Darth Vadar the pace is relentless.  There is no downtime at all.  The blossoming romance between Han Solo and Princess Leia offers some respite from the action but doesn’t slow the story at all.  And what a love story it is – the Princess and the Scoundrel.  Where the Anakin/Amidala romance was ponderous and dull this is sparky and fun.  The kind of love story we want.

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen The Empire Strikes Back.  It must be in the hundreds but I watched it today with fresh eyes and it really enhanced the experience.  It seems that my familiarity with the film had bred a degree of complacency.  I was especially struck by the Imperial Walkers – pretty fearsome weapons for the poor rebel footsoldiers to face.

The scope of the sets and locations is amazing.  From the Ice Planet Hoth to Cloud City and the swamps of Dagobah the different environments of the galaxy are explored wonderfully and brought to life by director Irvin Kershner.  George Lucas should have learned a lesson here – he has a wonderful imagination and has created expansive new worlds, but he should let someone else realise the visions on his behalf.

The Empire Strikes Back is the most accomplished film in the series.  It combines adventure, love, betrayal and a fantastic cliff-hanger.  I know why so many people think it is the best of the six – I just can’t agree with them.  Star Wars just edges it.

Previous and next posts in this series:<< Star Wars Episode IV: A New HopeStar Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi >>
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  1. Star Wars also has that special place in my heart. I think that’s because it was the first one I saw and I preferred it over Empire Strikes Back as a kid.

    I wasn’t aware that Hamill had been in a car crash which scarred his face. Always thought that was make-up. But you;re right about Harrison Ford – he steals the show.

    I think the excitement for these new Star Wars Blu-rays is reaching fever pitch.

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