A Retrospective on Star Wars – Episode 5 The Empire Strikes Back
As we near the end of our journey into the Star Wars saga, things aren’t looking good for our budding heroes. The Empire is closing in and all Luke can rely on is the wisdom of something small, green and very peculiar…
The Empire Strikes Back is the first of the only two Star Wars films not directed by George Lucas himself, and is considered by many, including myself, to be the best in the classic trilogy.
Despite being set three years after A New Hope, the time jump is still nowhere near as jarring as those of the prequel trilogy.
While Leia retains a position in the Rebel Alliance appropriate to her aloof nature, Luke has now left his life of a starry-eyed farm boy behind him to become a pilot in the alliance’s X-Wing Squadron and a promising Jedi-in-training.
Han has also forgone his self-centered smuggling lifestyle, choosing instead a life of responsibility as an upstanding rebel.
Thankfully, in spite of these developments, our heroes still feel familiar, and soon enough settle back into their roles, giving us the same feeling as that of reunions with old friends.
Following a devastating assault by the Empire, the alliance is left scattered, with Han, Chewbacca and Leia seeking the help of an old friend, while Luke seeks to complete his Jedi training after hearing from an old friend of his own.
All the while, Darth Vader is hunting them, obsessed with capturing Luke for his master Darth Sidious.
After the almost whimsical triumph of the rebels at the end of the previous film, it’s surprisingly refreshing to be reminded just how deadly the Empire is. Watching them barging through the rebel’s supposedly secure defences, this film’s opening sequence helps to establish the scale of the threat faced by our characters and reminds us that even the scruffiest of nerf herders are always under real life threatening danger.
While on their adventure, we get to witness the love between Leia and Han blossom, which is nothing short of a delight to watch. Amongst all the insults, teasing and rapport is something which genuinely feels like a believable love story, which is lightyears better than the forced and chemistry-devoid relationship of Anakin and Padme in the prequel trilogy.
Playing Han’s roguish charm and cockiness against Leia’s standoffishness, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher are to be commended for their performances. After all it can’t be easy to make love seem convincing while a pedantic C-3PO jabbers on in the background.
While all this is going on, Luke is off on a mission of self-discovery under the tutorage of a peculiar and downright bonkers Jedi Master called Yoda.
For those watching the classic trilogy before the prequels, the sight of such a small and odd creature may be a little off putting. I myself admit that it takes away from the more mature themes of the rest of the film somewhat.
However, I found that the little guy did grow on me and I accepted it as part of the kookier side of Star Wars that keeps it entertaining amongst the heavy themes of war.
In the final act of the movie we see the culmination of Luke’s training as he rushes, with his trademark recklessness, to save Han, Leia and Chewie from the clutches of Darth Vader.
Herein lies the huge plot twist and my main reason for recommending that any newcomer to Star Wars begins, as Lucas intended it, with the classic trilogy.
Having the foresight as to Darth Vader’s identity that one gets from watching the prequels makes the entire reveal anticlimactic and you will never get a glimpse of the mass hysteria caused when it was revealed for the first time upon Episode 5’s release.
So please do yourself a favour and heed my words.
To conclude, Empire Strikes Back ticks all the boxes of an excellent sequel.
The story is expanded but still feels contained so we don’t lose track of the characters we have grown to know and love, while cliff-hangers leave us desperate to learn their final fates along with the fate of the galaxy as a whole.
A daring rescue mission ensues and final, devastating, confrontations come to a head in our final instalment next in Episode 6 Return of the Jedi…