Classic Film Review: Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back

Directed by: Irvin Kershner

Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Frank Oz


What’s the worst thing about The Hangover Part II? What’s the worst thing about nearly every horror film’s sequel? They just copy the original. Rinse, repeat. The Empire Strikes Back certainly does not.

Perhaps one of the greatest sequels of all time, The Empire Strikes Back takes the story created by A New Hope and improves on it with new characters, new worlds and a greater story. After the Empire attacks a rebel base, Luke (Mark Hamill, A New Hope) gets split from the rest and, led by visions of Obi-Wan (Alec Guinness, A New Hope), searches for Yoda (Frank Oz), to be trained in the arts of becoming a Jedi Master, strong enough to challenge Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones, A New Hope). Meanwhile Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han (Harrison Ford, Blade Runner) try to escape the Empire’s attack through various planets.

This film is beautiful. The planets they go to, the space battles, the musical score, the characters, some of the camera angles, the spaceships. Nearly everything about this film is beautiful: what isn’t, though, is the wipes. I still hate them five films later. And there are a couple of times where there are a few quick cut scenes, which didn’t flow as nicely. But they are a few small markers on an otherwise beautiful film. But my favourite thing about this film is Darth Vader: in my review of A New Hope I noted how Vader didn’t have this aura of a villain; in this film he does. He’s killing his men if they disappoint him, he has his own theme; he’s terrifying. With Vader feeling like a true villain, and the size of the Empire in their attacks, they truly feel terrifying, and that only serves to enhance the story of our heroes.

And speaking of our heroes, all the characters go on their own journeys and improve as the film goes on, and unlike the prequel trilogy, or Rogue One, we actually care for their journey. And what helps their journey is the fact there are no lengthy scenes of talking or any of the committee meetings or any time where it feels like the heroes can chill and regroup and relax before the fighting continues, in this one Han, Leia, Luke and the team have no lengthy moments of relaxation, it is a continuous pummelling from the Empire. Luke’s journey in training to be a Jedi, his psychological battle with Vader, his main battle with Vader, the Vader reveal, he goes on a lengthy journey and Mark Hamill is a lot better in this film. He’s still not amazing, by any means, as is easily the weakest of the main actors, but he’s a lot better in this film.

The pacing of the film is brilliant, and not something you see all too often that it is action-filled all the way full. It starts off with action, moves on to more action and finishes with some brilliant action. And it doesn’t get tiring or boring, which is the most impressive thing about it. The film also adds so many cliff-hangers for Return of the Jedi as well as new character developments and progression, that it serves as the perfect middle film: building on its original, while setting up its sequel.

I struggled thinking of any major issues (outside the wipes) with this film, and settled with Luke and Leia’s kissing (knowing who they are, anyway), the weird slow-moving scene in Luke’s psychological vision and the ending of Luke and Vader’s battle is a bit as-if. I won’t spoil it but I believed everything leading up to that, but scoffed at how it ended.

Prior to this series I wasn’t a fan of the Star Wars films, and after setting on watching them in timeline order it has taken an awfully long time, but I finally got a thoroughly enjoyable Star Wars film. And I do wish I’d chosen the Ernst Rister order of watching the Star Wars films (Rogue One, IV, V, I, II, III, VI, VII, VIII), as you get the better films first and treat the prequel trilogy as a lengthy flashback, while maintaining the excitement from The Empire Strikes Back in the build-up towards Return of the Jedi.


Plot: * * * * *

Acting: * * * *

Writing: * * * *

Presentation: * * * *

Overall Rating: * * * * ¼


Other films in the Star Wars series:


Five Positives:

  • Constant action.
  • More character development.
  • Darth Vader.
  • Beautiful score and visual effects.
  • Brilliantly improves on original film, and leaves cliff-hangers for the third.

Five Negatives:

  • Wipes.
  • Some very quick scenes.
  • Luke and Leia kissing.
  • The weird speed in the first psychological scene between Luke and Darth Vader.
  • The ending of Luka and Vader’s battle is a bit as-if.

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