Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back

2011’s pretty much over and I’ve still got shit to write. Better get some actual work done. Let’s get this whole Star Wars thing knocked on the head, shall we?

Star Wars : Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
 A New Hope is good (well, fantastic actually), but of the “proper” Star Wars flicks, Empire is my favourite. Why? Well, ignoring the deeper story and numerous feckin’ terrific scenes, it all boils down to the fact that The Empire Strikes Back does everything a sequel should. It takes the well-established characters of the source material and expands on not only them, but the universe they inhabit. Most sequels can manage only one of these two elements, but what truly makes a sequel special in my book is doing both those things in a way that seems organic to the original. I’ll come back to that in a minute, once I’ve typed out a pointless plot summary.

“The Force is with you, young Skywalker, but you are not a Jedi yet.”

So, after blowing seven shades of intergalactic shit out of the Death Star at the end of A New Hope, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has become a bone-fide rebel hero and has been made Lieutenant Commander for his troubles. However, after getting a visit from the ghostly Obi-Wan (Alec Guinness) Luke travels to the swamp planet of Dagobah to meet with a Master Yoda and continue his Jedi training. Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) end up travelling to a city in the clouds, Bespin, to meet with Han’s old friend Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams). All the while, the presumably very dizzy Darth Vader has become obsessed with finding Skywalker and the possibility of turning the young Jedi to the Dark Side. The plot is darker and more complex than A New Hope‘s and it works well. It’s hard to imagine the “big twist” being a surprise, but it’s still a rightfully classic moment. The actors are all great and major new addition Billy Dee Williams adds some effortless and much needed cool to the Star Wars universe.

As an example of what the hell I was talking about in the first paragraph, I’m going to (some would say unfairly) compare Empire with the second Pirates of the Caribbean film, Dead Man’s Chest. Both films were made to capitalise on a surprise hit film, both go for a “darker” tone than the first one and both have a soppy lead character and a much more entertaining cooler-than-thou character in tow. Now, was it just me, or did the Captain Jack in Dead Man’s Chest seem like a pale photocopy of his full strength Curse of the Black Pearl form? Well, no, it isn’t just me. I know that. I just wrote that so you as the reader feel there’s a semi-interactive element to all this dogmatic opinion-yelling. He is a pale photocopy of himself. It isn’t up for debate. It’s what happens when writers actively try and make a character act like themselves rather than focusing on what makes sense for the character. Han Solo is the antithesis of all this. After becoming BFF’s with Luke in the first film and helping him destroy the Death Star, this Solo really feels like the same Han we grew to know in A New Hope but with some of the corners sanded slightly. Most of this is due to his burgeoning relationship with Leia. This love story is handled extremely well and is not contrived in the slightest. It feels real. She resists him for a long time, he can’t put aside his alpha male swaggering to tell her how he feels and the pair share a stolen kiss in the Millennium Falcon. It’s so much better than the standard movie hookups we’re still expected to buy into these days. He chucks acid into the head honcho’s face, saves the day and then she decides that yeah, he’s worth a tumble in the hay and then they kiss, credits roll and I fashion a shiv out of what I found down the back of the sofa and stab myself in the thigh.

Empire arguably set the precedent for having a “darker” sequel. It certainly ends on a rather sombre note, with Han frozen and Luke’s wanking plans thrown all out of whack thanks to his new robotic hand. It also has one of my favourite scenes ever, where Luke faces off against Vader for the first time, culminating in that scene. I’m also pleased that the Yoda training sequences hold up, despite my cynicism and ability to spot puppets having increased tenfold since childhood. I’ll tell you the one thing that blew my mind more than the Vader father thing when I originally saw it- the fact that the Jedi Master Yoda is a short, old green thing with big ears (his species has never been named and even the mighty Google can only hazard a guess). This revelation spoke volumes to me about the ways of the Jedi and the mysticism of the Force. As Yoda himself said: “Size matters not”, something which my really-small-for-my-age child self took to heart. This is part of the reason why the whole midichlorian bullshit in Phantom Menace is so fucking infuriating.

What I really like about Empire is that it really delivers on the “war” part of Star Wars. A New Hope can act as a stand-alone experience. The Empire gets their collective arses handed to them and despite Darth Vader conveniently not dying, the story’s all done and dusted. Empire smartly decides to just have the destruction of the Death Star as a minor setback and shows you the extent of the Empire’s reach. Christ, the Rebel Alliance can’t even go on a short skiing trip without some fucking huge plodding machines showing up. I love the design of the AT-ATs too. They are truly iconic creations and one of the first things I think of when I hear the words “Star Wars” and filter through the top level of seething hate for recent Star Wars films and changes. Oh yeah, this is kind of a Blu-ray review as well, isn’t it? Well luckily, they didn’t change too much in Empire. Certain effects have been altered or modified, but nothing that dragged me out of the film kicking and screaming. The most heinous changes are in Return of the Jedi, but we’ll get to that soon, dearies.

“Do or do not, there is no try.”

So, The Empire Strikes Back is amazing. I could type reams about certain scenes and why the whole thing meant and still means so much to me. I’ve typed enough now. Bye bye.

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