You know what I just realised, at the time of writing this there are eleven days left until ‘The Force Awakens’ and I still have two more movies to review for this series (technically three). So I guess I’d better get a move on.
With the Empire closing in the Rebel Alliance faces complete annihilation as Han Solo and Princess Leia are pursued by Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker begins his training as a Jedi Knight. But with the darks side stronger than ever choices must be made and fates must be faced.
Should I open with the obligatory statement of how ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ is the best film in the ‘Star Wars’ franchise? Yes, because it is. Well to be fair we can all have different opinions over which one we think is our favourite film (and in some ways that can extend to what we consider the best as well) but even those who will list one of the other two as holding a place closer to their heart will still list this as the best one of the series. So what I intend to do with this review is some up why it is viewed in this way, enjoy.
At the risk of continuing this review with another clichéd statement, this has to be the darkest film of the franchise as well. In contrast to the cheeriness and optimism of the first film, one without pessimism and cynicism, ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ took it in such a different direction in every respect. Even on the most basic level of its core structure it shifts the tone, it is unusual in the sense that rather than building up towards a huge battle at the end, ‘Empire Strikes Back’ stages its big conflict right at the start. Furthermore, the evil Empire wins. When you think about the risk of that decision it is incredibly commendable, having spent the last movie (and three subsequent years since) establishing your heroes and villains and the hard-earned victories of those heroes, Lucas undermined it all within the first hour of the sequel. It immediately plunges you into a sense of darkness and despair as you see the good guys well and truly annihilated.
When talking about that sense of despair, even the fight scenes are staged in a more depressing and thought provoking way. Notice how instead of the high octane battles like the assault on the Death Star, Imperial Walkers (simultaneously the coolest and least practical movie vehicle ever)slowly march towards the Rebels with fear and anticipation, the Millennium Falcon endures an exhausting and unwavering pursuit through space and instead of brightly lit, open spaced Lightsaber duels, Luke faces Vader in an enclosed and dimly lit area, as if the darkness is drawing ever nearer for every second of the film.
But for all of that darkness there is so much humour in the film, the sparring between Han and Leia is wonderfully playful, as if it came from a screwball comedy. But it never feels out of place, take the scene in which Vader chokes his admirals one by one as they fail him, horrifyingly hilarious. Then the human touches of the film (which is ironic as it comprises of a lot of non human characters). But even as far as R2-D2 having to peer in through the window of Yoda’s hut amid the pouring rain to keep his eye on Luke. Tiny details like that allow the characters to suddenly become so much more complex.
It helps that those complex characters happen to inhabit a film that on its own is stunning to look at. The camera movements, the set design, the cinematography, everything gives you something else to wonder and marvel at. There are so many glorious details that may not have been necessary to the central plot, but enhanced the experience so much, did Han’s ship need to be swallowed by the giant space worm, no, but it was magnificent was it not? This galaxy may be far, far away, but in ‘Empire Strikes Back’ it is made to feel more real and more fleshed out than any other instalment. Which is remarkable as it seems quite limited in its area of travel, how much of the film takes place primarily aboard the Falcon, or just within that patch of swamp on Dagobah. But with that fairly limited space it expands the universe so much, we meet new characters that would be essential to the story like Lando Calrissian, Yoda and the mysterious figurehead known as The Emperor, not to mention different worlds and environments to explore, all of which are equally as impressive as anything in the first.
‘The Empire Strikes Back’ also ends on a complete polar opposite to the first film’s ending. As opposed to the heroes now having a solid victory to give them joy that is something more than just hope, the only thing they now have left to cling to is hope. In the face of this loss they must carry on against the seemingly unstoppable force. Really think about where we leave our protagonists here, one of them is out of any conceivable reach (either dead, sold to brutal gangsters or in a state of comatose, we don’t really know), another left heartbroken and another with their entire life view altered, left unsure of their future and reluctant to continue (after all Luke was willing to kill himself rather than confront his future as Vader’s son, spoiler I guess?).
You may want to re-read my review of ‘Star Wars’ because everything that I praised that first film for is also present in ‘Empire Strikes Back’, but when you add the darker and more mature themes, more thought provoking elements, more elaborate action, better character developments and everything else I’ve mentioned here, then you have a truly comprehensive review of this film. It lacks a single dull moment, features compelling characters and everything else you could ever want.