Happy Birthday to… The Empire Strikes Back

Vanity Fair notes that The Empire Strikes Back is 30 years old.  Here’s what I had to say about it five years ago when I included it in my old website’s Film Classics section:

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Although the Death Star has been destroyed, the Empire is far from defeated. The rebels have been pushed back from their hidden base and have set up a new base on the ice world of Hoth. Darth Vader has launched thousands of probes into space to help find Luke Skywalker.

This time the film starts with the front of an Imperial Star Destroyer. On Hoth, Luke is attacked by an ice creature, which gives us an idea of how much his powers have grown – he his able to unlodge his lightsaber from the snow, destroy the creature and escape. He is nearly killed by the cold but is stirred by a vision of Obi Wan Kenobi which tells him to go to the Dagobah system to be trained as a Jedi by Yoda.

“Why you stuck up, half witted, scruffy looking nerf-herder”

Han wants to leave so that he can pay off his debt to Jabba the Hutt. Leia’s reaction to this starts them bickering and is the start of the sexual tension that builds up between the two of them. He is stopped from leaving when he finds an Imperial droid and destroys it. This lets the Empire know where the rebel base is, and they send in the big guns.

“There aren’t enough scoundrels in your life”

At this moment you are aware that this is better written than the first film, with a dark sense of humour. The music is also a lot more upfront and is used as a way of expressing emotion – from the imposing Imperial theme to the more romantic moments. It really is one of the stars of the film.

“Laugh it up, fuzzball”

When the Imperial troops overrun the base, Han and Leia escape on the Millennium Falcon and Luke heads off to Dagobah, to meet Yoda and start his training. He finds it difficult to deal with the expectations on him, and when he knows that Han and Leia are in trouble he leaves to help them, despite warnings that he is not ready to leave by both Yoda and Obi Wan.

“There is another”

Han and Leia are busy fighting off TIE fighters, asteroids and a big monster (in a scene where we discover that the Millennium Falcon has headlights.) They set off to meet up with an old friend but are betrayed, and Han ends up frozen in Carbonite.

The film reveals a lot more about the characters – we get our first real dealings with Boba Fett – but this is especially true of Darth Vader, when we discover that even he kneels for the Emperor. We also see a glimpse of the ravaged human head that exists under that helmet. There are other scenes where it almost looks like there is emotion is those black eyes. The Emperor has realised Luke’s importance and together they hatch a plan to try to turn him to the Dark Side.

What follows is Luke’s showdown with Vader and one of the biggest twists in cinema history. In the battle Luke loses a hand, but survives and is patched up. Ironically, in the process he becomes part machine – something of a family tradition.

Unlike the first film there are no niggles about this second chapter – it is still the best Star Wars film in the whole series, and everything is just pitch perfect.

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