Nothing But Star Wars Episode Five (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, 1980)
Star Wars became a world wide phenomenon. This meant that Lucas would get to build on his adventure. Already there were comics from Marvel, novels inspired by the first film and toys galore. How could they deny giving the audience more?!
And so, Lucas set forth to continue the story of intrepid rebels trying to take down the galactic Empire. This time he stepped back a bit from both writing and directing. Lawrence Kasdan stepped in as screen writer and Irvin Kershner as director.
Spoiling the Heck out of the Star Wars movies continues here!
Picking up anywhere from a few months to maybe even a year or two after a New hope, Empire opens on a secret Rebel base on an icy planet called Hoth. Han is trying to get out back on the run from Jabba the Hutt, feeling it is no longer safe for him. Han and Leia argue over his leaving, Han believing it is because Leia having feelings about him, Leia apparently feeling he is an asset against the Empire.
Luke has had a vision of Ben Kenobi which advises him to go to a planet called Dagobah and find a Jedi Master named Yoda. When the Empire finds the hidden base they attack. After getting the rebel fleet on it’s way, Han, Leia, Chewie, and C-3PO find themselves on the run in the Millenium Falcon. Luke and R2-D2 go off to find Yoda.
Dagobah turns out to be a swamp planet with no technology. Yoda himself seems to be a confused little kook at first, but really is a character meant to challenge Luke’s pre-conceived notions of what a Jedi Warrior is.
Darth Vader is on the hunt for Luke Skywalker. The motives for this are not entirely clearly during the film. We learn that Vader is, in fact, the right hand man of the Emperor.
The Emperor sanctions the search for Luke, for he sees the potential of a great new ally for the Empire. To this end, Vader has gone as far as hiring bounty hunters. I confess, one bounty hunter stood out to me above all the rest…
No, not him…
Yeah…Bossk. But he did not become the legend that was Boba Fett. Which is garbage.
Meanwhile, Han and Leia try hiding out with an old friend and associate of Han’s named Lando Calrissian. Lando is a reformed scoundrel turned legit businessman, running the sky based Bespin. But Lando, trying to protect his city cuts a deal with Darth Vader.
Vader torments Han and Leia enough to cause a disturbance within the force powerful enough to nudge Luke a few solar systems away (I am guessing, the fact is, the relationship of various planets to each other is never really clear in the world of Star Wars). Luke immediately seeks to rush off to help his friends, but Yoda and the Ghost of Obi Wan implore him to stay and focus on his training.
Vader has Han Solo frozen in Carbonite as a test to see if it will work for his plans to capture Luke. As Lando starts to realize he is going to see Vader continue to change the rules, he helps Leia and Chewbacca escape. Luke and R2-D2 arrive in Bespin, quickly becoming separated as Luke enters a confrontation with Vader.
Leia, Lando, Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2 fail to save Han, with Boba Fett managing to leave with the frozen body. They make their way to the Falcon instead. Luke and Vader’s confrontation ends with Luke losing his hand and lightsaber, and nearly his sanity. In one of the most earth shattering moments of all cinema, Darth Vader reveals that Kenobi lied. Vader did not kill Luke’s father…he was Luke’s father. Luke cannot accept this and appears to leap to his death. He manages to catch some outcropping below the city and reaches out through the force, connecting to Leia. She has Lando turn the Falcon around until they can rescue Luke.
Empire felt like a bit of a revelation for a franchise films. It was not merely a retread of the the first film. It felt like a natural extension. Han and Leia’s relationship grows from a complicated adversarial friendship to a romantic one. Luke learns that the dark side is not merely an external force. And the film ends on that heavy note of Luke discovering that Vader may be his father and Han has gone missing. The Carbonite subplot with Han was actually something of a safety move. It was uncertain if Harrison Ford would be willing to return for the third film, so it was a way to write Han Solo out if necessary.
Yoda, a small green puppet with big ears came to amazing life, voiced by Frank Oz, who (as well as going on to be a noted director) was part of Henson’s Muppet troop and the voice of Miss Piggy. Yoda was small, but as noted earlier, was meant to teach Luke very important lessons about his expectations. He describes Yoda (not realizing he is talking to Yoda) as a great warrior. Yoda just laughs and declares that “Wars do not make one great!” Luke Struggles with the force, moving small rocks and the like. Yoda can move Luke’s X-Wing without breaking a sweat. Luke finds himself unable to deny his worry about his friends. He is easily given to fear.
And again, that reveal. For the next three years, we argued about whether it was true. I mean, surely, Darth Vader was a liar, right? There is no way this could be true!
For the special edition of Empire Strikes Back, the work was largely cosmetic. And for the most part, I approve. There were some dialog changed (there is a redundant scene of Darth Vader telling his people to ready his ship so he can return to his star destroyer). I really liked the changes like blending the snow speeders into the picture better. One of the issues when they made the film was compositing the speeder on a white background. The lines around the ship were glaring. So they faded the images just enough…which resulted in the ability to see through the snow speeders. This was fixed for the special edition.
The city of Bespin was now full of windows allowing sweeping cloud fill skylines. And they expanded some of the stuff with the Wampa snow creature, allowing us to see more of the creature. But there was not anything I would call a “new scene” in the sense of that the Jabba scene was. But there was one change that made some folks genuinely mad.
The original film features a hologram of the Emperor that is distinctly different from the version we see now. This is because the actor playing the Emperor in Empire is Marjorie Eaton. The voice provided was Clive Revell. In Return of the Jedi, they cast Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor. And so, for the special edition they more closely approximated the look of the Emperor for the hologram with McDiarmid.
The Empire Strikes Back is the high mark of the Star Wars franchise. It is powerful, without losing the sense of fun and grandeur of the first film.