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Rewind Reviews - Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

by Andrew Siddall. Published Mon 04 May 2020 11:46, last updated: 05/05/20
Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

The Star Wars saga began in 1977, and since then has enjoyed many ups and downs over the years. In this Rewind Review we look back at, what is arguably, the best of the lot, with Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back.

After a ghostly encounter with his former mentor, Luke Skywalker travels to Dagobah in the search of a legendary Jedi master, while Han, Leia and Chewbacca do their best to evade capture from the Empire, bounty hunters and the evil Darth Vader.

Making his second appearance as Luke Skywalker is Mark Hamill (Batman: Mask of the Phantasm). Luke is now in training and has developed his skills as a Jedi, showing off some new abilities. The character has certainly matured, but he’s still learning, and this is reflected in his arc. It makes him a more interesting character and helps the audience form an attachment to him.

One of the best characters from the original trilogy is Han Solo, played again by Harrison Ford (Raiders of the Lost Ark). Han never really gets to develop as much as the other characters, but we do get to see a softer side to him. He genuinely seems to care about the other characters in this film and the interactions he has with them are some of the funniest scenes.

The late Carrie Fisher (The Blues Brothers) also makes her second appearance as Princess Leia. She’s a lot more active this time around and gets to be a part of the bigger moments. She’s also one of the more developed characters in the movie as we get to see different sides to her, especially with her interactions with Han. She’s a great character and Carrie Fisher genuinely was the best choice for the role.

Empire also marks the first appearance of fan favourite Lando Calrissian, played for the first time by Billy Dee Williams (Batman). We meet up with him late in the movie, but he makes an instant impact. This is the best he’s been because we see different aspects to his personality, and a good portion of the plot hinges on what he does.

Along for the ride are Chewbacca (the late Peter Mayhew), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker). These character do feel a little side-lined, but make up for it with some excellent scenes that shows off their unique personalities.

On mentor duties this time around is Jedi Master Yoda, who steals the show with his quirky, yet wise, presence. Operated and voiced by puppet wiz Frank Oz (Little Shop of Horrors), Yoda is an instantly iconic character who actually feels real, due to the brilliant animatronics and puppetry.

Back to menace the heroes once again is Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones and performed by David Prowse). Unlike his appearance in A New Hope, Vader starts to feel more like an actual person, as the story slowly starts to flesh him out. He’s much more intimidating this time around as well, providing a harder challenge for the heroes to overcome.

The story follows the usual sequel structure by splitting the action in two, with part of the story following Luke as he trains with Yoda, while the other part follows the rest of the Falcon crew as they race to escape the Empire.

Luke’s path delves deeper into the mystery of the Force and does raise some intriguing questions. We also get an idea of the conflict within Luke, which is brought to the foreground in Return of the Jedi. It’s an interesting story that keeps us invested.

Meanwhile, Han, Leia and Chewie are caught up in a thrilling chase that lasts the majority of the movie. Trying to keep a long chase interesting can prove difficult, such as The Last Jedi, and yet, this manages to consistently do so. The heroes are almost never given a chance to rest, with the Empire hot on their heels.

The movie also continues the tradition of sequels being darker, and this is one of the darkest movies in the saga. It does push the boundaries for what is considered a “kids movie”, but it isn’t too grown up to prevent younger audiences engaging.

The romance is also stepped up a gear in this one, with the chemistry between Han and Leia brought to the light. It isn’t lingered on too much and it doesn’t distract from the plot. It feels like these characters have known each other a while and this is naturally where they are during the events of the film.

With CGI not really being available in 1980, Empire Strikes Back makes good use of practical effects, which still look good today, and haven’t aged like other films from the same era. The effects are much more imaginative this time around and allow for some very creative action sequences.

The action is incredible to watch. It feels more visceral and energetic with a more dramatic weight than Episode IV had. The imagery of the Falcon weaving through an asteroid field, or Luke’s confrontation with Vader have made a lasting impact on cinema.

Star Wars creator, George Lucas, always maintained the need to expand the Star Wars universe and introduce the audience to new worlds, and this is no different. The locations are completely different from what we have seen before and look incredible. From the swamps of Dagobah to the snowy wasteland of Hoth and floating ‘Cloud City’ of Bespin, these are some of the most iconic and visually interesting worlds that Star Wars has to offer.

The worlds and atmosphere are helped a great deal by the Oscar-winning sound design. This has always been a key aspect of Star Wars, and the sound effects in this one are fantastic. It really helps solidify the merging of Sci-Fi and fantasy with some otherworldly and mystical sounds.

And now on to the music.

The Star Wars theme is probably the most iconic movie soundtrack in cinema history, so composer John Williams really had a challenge on his hands. And he delivers!

The soundtrack to this movie is incredible and features some of the most memorable tracks from the original films. From the battle of Hoth to the chase through the asteroid field, every scene has its own theme, and all of them are instantly recognisable and distinguishable.

Like the rest of the original trilogy, Empire has been given a remastered rerelease. The changes have been met with some criticism, but surprisingly, Empire seems to have been left mostly alone. The updated scenes actually work rather well, such as the Emperor’s first appearance and the scenes on Bespin.

Overall, this is a fantastic movie and manages to break the sequel curse, by not only equalling the quality of the original, but exceeding it. The characters are further developed and the universe expands. It might be darker, but no less engaging. With great effects, an amazing soundtrack and a solid story that still has the power to shock, this is one of the best movies ever made and deserves attention.

Purple Revolver rating: 5/5. “The Force is strong with this one!”


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