Leading up to the release of The Last Jedi, the SuperBro team is reviewing all the films that came before it, and this week, I have the honor of reviewing the best Star Wars film yet: The Empire Strikes Back.
The Empire Strikes Back is the second film and fifth Episode in the Star Wars saga. It follows Han, Luke, Leia, and other rebels as they continue their fight against the Empire.
I’ll go ahead and get the obvious things out of the way. The special effects are amazing and still hold up today. The use of practical effects is something rarely seen anymore, and they really add a sense of realism to the movie. There were only a few times I was taken out of the story because something didn’t look believable, but that’s pretty good for a movie that’s 37 years old.
The score by John Williams is beautiful as always and probably my favorite of the franchise. Every scene is only enhanced by the mesmerizing music. This was also where we were introduced to Darth Vader’s theme The Imperial March, which is arguably the most iconic song in all of Star Wars (second maybe to Duel of the Fates).
The effects and score are great, but even bad movies have those things. What really makes this movie great is the story. Conceived by George Lucas and Written by Lawrence Kasdan, and Leigh Brackett, The Empire Strikes Back has one of the most original stories in cinema which has been copied by other franchises for decades. It serves as a continuation of the previous movie, but it stands on its own as well, which is everything you want in a sequel. It has perfect pacing and a perfect act structure, so it’s no wonder this film is studied in film schools. Not only that, each character serves their own purpose and is utilized perfectly, which is what I will elaborate on now.
R2D2 continues to have a personality of his own, despite only communicating in small movements and beeps. You actually feel like he has a relationship with Luke, and his banter with Yoda is some of the funniest in the movie. While he doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the table, he continues to save the day at a moments notice.
Chewbacca gets some much needed screen time in this one. He has always been one of my favorite characters, but he was barely even mentioned in A New Hope. While he still acts as a side character in The Empire Strikes Back, you get a lot more emotion out of him. Even behind inaudible screams, you know exactly how Chewbacca is feeling. My favorite moment with him is when he attacks stormtroopers before Han gets frozen in carbonite, and Han tells him he has to take care of Leia. This is one of the most somber moments in the movie.
Leia continues to be the fearless warrior that she was in the last one, only this time, you don’t see her as a princess. In A New Hope she was the royal princess that needed saving (although she did do a lot of the saving herself), but here, she acts as more of a leader/commander of the Rebellion. While all the other heroes are fighting or evacuating during the Battle of Hoth, she stays at the base until that last minute to ensure everyone’s safety. It’s this non physical strength that makes here such a great character. But she wouldn’t have as deep of a character arc in this film if it weren’t for Han.
Han Solo has some huge growth in this film compared to the last one. In A New Hope, he’s only looking out for himself and only comes back to help in the last moments of the film. Here, he’s sided with the Rebellion right from the start and looks out for his friends. He ventures out into the snow to rescue Luke without a second thought. He also has the funniest lines in the movie, but they’re not just throwaway quips like we see in modern films. Each line has meaning behind it and conveys his egotistical personality as well as his soft spot for the ones close to him. But he wouldn’t have as deep of a character arc in this film if it weren’t for Leia.
The romance in The Empire Strikes Back is easily the best in a big budget movie. Typically when you watch a movie like this, the romance is so contrived and it’s the last thing you want to see, but here, the romance between Han and Leia is one of the more interesting parts of the movie. You actually want to see the interactions between the characters, and this is mainly due to the writing and the chemistry between Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher. The movie takes its time for their relationship to fully develop. Han is fond of Leia from the start, but Leia is repulsed for obvious reason. You see Han slowly win over Leia’s heart with some more personal moments throughout the film, and it all culminates with one of the best lines in cinema history:
Speaking of the scene when Han gets frozen in carbonite, it’s probably the most impactful one in the movie. He doesn’t try to resist because he knows it will only make matters worse for his friends, so he submits to the Empire knowing that this will probably be the last time he sees Leia and Chewbacca.
There are lots of new characters here like Lando and Boba Fett, but the best one by far is Yoda. Yoda may be my favorite character in all of Star Wars (tied with Obi-Wan). He is first introduced as an annoying stranger to Luke in order to test his patience, but once he reveals himself as the Jedi Master Yoda who Luke has been looking for, you get a real sense of the type of trainer Yoda will be. It’s moments like these where I wish I was able to see the movie in theaters blindly back in 1980. Each of Yoda’s lines has tons of truth to it and can apply to the real world.
“Wars not make one great.”
“No. Try not. Do… or do not. There is no try.”
And in my favorite scene of the franchise:
“Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship.”
This scene where Luke attempts to lift his X-Wing out of the water, but fails, so Yoda proves that “size matters not” is the best scene in any Star Wars film, let alone any film ever. It’s the first time we ever see the force being used in that way. Yes, we see Luke move his lightsaber and lift some rocks, but that’s nothing compared to what Yoda does. This scene perfectly captures the magic of Star Wars that people always talk about. I still get chills watching it despite seeing this movie several times.
Luke Skywalker continues his quest to become a Jedi, and he’s matured a lot since the last movie. In A New Hope he came off as a bit whiny, but here he’s assumed his position as a leader, and he’s fearless in the face of danger. One of my favorite moments with him is when he exits his crashed X-Wing and boards the AT-AT to take it down singlehandedly with his lightsaber. Where Luke really grows, though, is on Degobah with Yoda. Here he learns patience and the true meaning of being a Jedi. I’ve already talked about how much I love his scenes with Yoda, but that’s my only problem with the movie. There’s not enough of those. He only appears to be training with Yoda for a couple of days, and I feel like it should have been a couple months of training for him to really learn a lot. This is what I’m hoping to see in The Last Jedi, a stronger focus on Rey’s training. While I would’ve like more scenes of Luke with the rest of the heroes, I understand that this was necessary for each character to have their own arc.
We also learn a lot about Luke’s darker past and his secret lineage (which you probably already know), and this is foreshadowed perfectly throughout the movie. When he enters the “dream” cave and faces off against Darth Vader and the way the Emperor talks to Darth Vader about Anakin Skywalker all foreshadow to the final reveal. Speaking of…
Darth Vader also get’s some much needed screen time and development in this one. While he was a menacing presence in A New Hope, we wasn’t in it enough to become the fully fleshed out character everyone knows and loves. He has so many great moments where he chokes out the people aboard his star fighter for making mistakes and this is highlighted by people’s reactions of him. There is also that secrecy surrounding him throughout the film like when we get a glimpse of him without his helmet on and when he senses the force around Luke Skywalker. His and Luke’s story all culminate in the greatest cinematic reveal of all time (I know I’ve said that a lot but that just shows how good this film is).
Before I get to that, though, I have to talk about the best LightSaber duel in the franchise. I know many prefer the duels of the prequels over the ones in the original trilogy, but to me those are too choreographed and don’t convey enough emotion. The LightSaber duel in The Empire Strikes Back between Luke and Vader is, while a bit clunky, much more grounded and realistic. It’s this realism that keeps you on the edge of your seat and able to see subtle nuances in the characters’ movements. You can tell Luke is inexperienced with his large swings and more attackful nature. Darth Vader, on the other hand, isn’t trying to take out Luke, so he easily remains on the defensive side with quick and easy blocks. But there are times when his anger overcomes him once Luke get’s a slight upper hand. What really makes this the best duel, though, is the final reveal, which everyone that’s ever been alive knows of:
DARTH VADER IS LUKE’S FATHER! Like I said before, it’s moments like these where I wish I would’ve been able to see the movie for the first time in theaters back in 1980. As shocking as that line still comes to me, I can’t even fathom how unbelievable it was for those first time viewers. Sadly, we won’t even get the same reaction from The Last Jedi once Rey’s lineage is revealed because we know something is coming. That’s what makes this reveal so great, no one was expecting anything.
Shortly after this comes another great character moment from Luke. He leaps to his supposed death without a moment’s notice. He didn’t know he would be conveniently be saved, but he would rather have died than be seduced by Vader who easily could’ve been lying.
This movie, to sum it up, is perfect in every sense of the word. I don’t throw that term around often to describe a movie, but The Empire Strikes Back is well deserving. There’s so much I could go on about it, and I didn’t even touch on how amazing the space fights are. But I’ll leave it at this.
Rating – 11/10
- The Empire Strikes Back
- A New Hope
- The Force Awakens
- Rogue One
- Return Of The Jedi
- Revenge Of The Sith
- The Phantom Menace
- Attack Of The Clones
Now let’s hope The Last Jedi can top this.