on March 11, 2004
"My ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is."
It was a dark time for the Rebellion.
The now-famous scroll of yellow letters over the movie screen set the tone for the second chapter in George Lucas's Star Wars saga. In The Empire Strikes Back, we see a darker side to the conflict that was first introduced in the swashbuckling Star Wars. The stakes are higher, the battles are more tense, and the characters grow. In the same vein as the matinee movie serials that Lucas was honoring with these movies, Empire begins with a bang and ends on a cliffhangar, but, from beginning to end, showcases the best that the Star Wars Trilogy has to offer.
The Rebellion has just been driven from their base, and are set upon on all sides by the numerically superior Imerial Fleet, leaving the heroes scattered. Luke, yearning to finish his Jedi training, sets out to find a reclusive master, and must come to terms with his first defeat. Han and Leia travel to a magnificent city in the clouds, only to meet with betrayel at the hands of an old friend. Darth Vader, more sinister and evil than ever, has concocted a plan to capture Luke and turn him to the Dark Side of the Force, using Han and Leia as bait.
Lucas handed the directing reins over to Irvin Kershner (Never Say Never Again), who infuses his own brand of vision into Lucas's story, creating a much darker, character-driven narrative, and, arguable, the best film in the series. My first experience with the saga, Empire holds a special place in my heart. Either way, The Empire Strikes Back is filled with exotic worlds, fierce space battles, and climactic lightsaber duels.
The Special Edition of Empire adds less than it's predecessor, mainly placing in bits and pieces of effects shots that were never finished, and giving more substance to the ice monster that attacks Luke early in the film. However, the meat of the film is untouched, thankfully, and simply looks the best it has in more than twenty years. When it comes to film, there are movies, then there's Star Wars, and Empire holds its own against the original with talent to spare.
If you own Star Wars, chances are you own The Empire Strikes Back. If not, give yourself a good kick in the butt, and get it. NOW.
on February 13, 2004
Hence it seems to be a dark time for us as STAR WARS fans left hanging in the dark for the great mystery of how EPISODE 3 is going to transpire. After mixed bag reviews to EPISODES 1 and 2, I like many can only hope for the best. However I must remind myself there are only movies and very classy entertaining movies at that.
So what has been changed with the already perfect, in my opinion, STAR WARS: EPISODE 5 - THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK? For starters one may want to familiarize themselves with Donald F. Glut's storybook novelization to read any scenes that are not included in the original 1980 release. Despite many of the key scenes occuring out of sequence in the novel and comic book version - for instance, the Bounty Hunters are introduced following Yoda bringing Luke's X-Wing out of the swamp, and the arrival at Cloud City occuring after Luke's imaginary duel with Darth Vader inside the dark cave. What has been changed?
There are many unnecessary, in my opinion, changes seen throughout. When R2-D2 is nearly swallowed by the swamp monster, Luke's "You're lucky you don't taste very good!" is changed to "You were lucky to get out of there!" WHAT? WHY? A more visual look at the Wampa eating carrion while Luke struggles to free himself from the ice cavern. Plus an actual look at Luke slashing off the monsters' arm. The best changes made are a wider view of Cloud City. There are open windows making the city look more like a real metropolis instead of a very confined set as it was in the original 1980 release. When Luke takes his fall from the reactor core, his cry as he falls is a recycled sound effect of the Emperor falling down the shaft in RETURN OF THE JEDI. There are also added scenes of Darth Vader's shuttle departing for the EXECUTOR Star Destroyer's landing platform, which looks very similar to the set used for the uncompleted Death Star in RETURN OF THE JEDI. Probably recycled footage.
What's still missing? Following Luke's recovery from the Bacta Tank there was to have been a scene where 2-1B the medical droid removes an adhesive mask from Luke's face to heal the injury scars, and rebel officers discovering Luke's dead tauntaun. Plus the capture of a wampa, and Threepio removing the warning sticker to lead stormtroopers to their "Wampa Chow" fate. Also missing are longer scenes during Luke's Jedi Training where he levitates glowing magical balls or cleaves sticks with his lightsaber. Also missing for probably good reason is Han Solo enduring the shock torture which was to have gone longer, but according to interviews director Irvin Kershner cut it short, fearing it would be too gruesome for chidren. As if stuffing Luke inside a dead tauntaun wasn't bad enough. It's also strange that the Computer Graphics crew weren't able to remove the classic bloopers where Luke flees from the Wampa cave with his lightsaber activated just after you hear him turn it off, and C-3PO's body on the conveyor belt with the camera crew briefly reflected. I'm not going to argue anyhow because EMPIRE still remains a classic entry in the series as it is. It's one of those movies that stands alone as a great film in a series.
As an added bonus the Special Edition trailers to THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RETURN OF THE JEDI are also included on this video release.
All things considered, it's a shame that only the SPECIAL EDITION films will be released on DVD on September 21, 2004. If George Lucas really wanted to monopolize on the Star Wars franchise he should have both the original and special edition releases available in the same set. Similar to how on some DVDs one side is standard edition and the other is widescreen format. That would be some heavy duty technology to pull that off, but it would be worth it. Still I am definitely going to buy the DVD releases, since I strongly feel that the films will be given their long overdue justice - not to mention fantastic picture and sound quality, which with STAR WARS is a must. I also hope for Special Features the original, yes you read me correctly, ORIGINAL trailers will be included. After 2005 when EPISODE 3 is released, fans all over Earth will no doubt have their visual dreams realized - if still lacking the old time freshness.
MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU!
on November 7, 2003
As long as there had been motion pictures, there had been science fiction films. Unfortunately, very few of them ever managed to hit the spot. That was, until 1977 rolled around. It was in this year that George Lucas would change the way we look at science fiction. How would he do this? With the film he released that year - Star Wars. The film was so successful, that two sequels were released! And in 1997, special edition versions of the films were released! How does The Empire Strikes Back, the second film in the classic trilogy measure up? Read on for my review.
The basic story of the movie goes something like this. Three years have past since the events of the first Star Wars film. The Rebel Alliance has gone into hiding in a base on the remote, icy world of Hoth. Unfortunately, the Galactic Empire discovers them. After an intense battle against imperial forces, Luke goes to a distant, swampy world to begin his training to become a Jedi knight, while Han and Leia get chased by the Empire, and a number of bounty hunters employed by them. The climax of the film comes in a lightsaber duel between Luke and Darth Vader, in which Vader makes a startling revelation...
A great film - no questions asked. This is a rare example of a film nearly thirty years old that doesn't seem dated. Even by modern standards, this is still an excellent film. I was glad to see the movie get the remastering it so desperately needed. Oh, and to all you folks new to the series - steer clear of the prequels. Stick with the CLASSIC trilogy.
Even though this is a VHS tape and not a DVD (god only knows when this film will get a DVD release), Lucasfilm has included extra features. Before the actual film begins, you get a "making of" featurette, which is very informative and entertaining. But the best extra of all is the new footage - each film has had some new footage added. Of all the films, this one probably got the least new footage. A shame, since this is my favorite Star Wars film. Though these new scenes don't reveal anything important (many were originally thought of as outtakes), they're still a nice touch.
The Star Wars films are science fiction masterpieces that don't fail to stand the test of time. Hell, these movies are better than most of the modern sci-fi films out there! If you're a fan of the genre, the Star Wars series is not to be missed.
on November 6, 2003
With the phenomenal success of Star Wars in 1977, George Lucas realized he could continue the planned trilogy he had been outlining since the early 1970s. His original outline contained the raw material for Episodes IV, V and VI as well as the nebulous backstory that would become the foundation for the current prequels. So in 1978, with Star Wars (which would be rechristened Episode IV: A New Hope) earning hundreds of millions in box office receipts, Lucas, producer Gary Kurtz and the Lucasfilm production team began work on The Empire Strikes Back, the film most Star Wars fans believe is the best in the entire saga.
Lucas gave his story to Leigh Brackett, an acclaimed science fiction writer, and hired her to write the screenplay. She passed away soon after finishing the first draft, so Lucas (who would serve as executive producer) handed the project over to up-and-coming writer-director Lawrence Kasdan (Body Heat, Continental Divide, and Raiders of the Lost Ark). Furthermore, he handed the directing reins to Irvin Kershner (The Eyes of Laura Mars); the Star Wars shoot had drained Lucas emotionally and physically, so the series creator focused on the behind-the-scenes aspects of Empire's production.
The Empire Strikes Back picks up the narrative some three years after the events of Episode IV: A New Hope. Despite their impressive victory at Yavin, the Rebels' destruction of the Empire's Death Star marked only the true start of the Galactic Civil War. Darth Vader (Dave Prowse, voice of James Earl Jones), last seen heading into deep space in his damaged TIE fighter, made his way to Imperial territory and was given the assignment of eradicating the main resistance cell of the Rebellion. Somewhere along the line (and the movies never explained this), Vader discovered the identity of the X-Wing pilot who destroyed the Death Star. Some time after the Battle of Yavin, the Empire forced the Rebels to flee from their hidden base and pursued them across the galaxy. Now, as the title crawl narrates, Vader, "obsessed with finding young Skywalker, dispatches thousands of remote probes into the deep reaches of space."
One of these probes crashes on Hoth, an icy world in the backwaters of the galaxy and so inhospitable that even smugglers avoid it. Its fiery descent is seen by Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), now a commander of Rogue Squadron, as he rides on his trusty tauntaun. However, before he can check it out, he's attacked by a Wampa ice creature and dragged off to its cave for future consumption.
Meanwhile, unaware of his friend's plight, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) returns to the Rebel base and tells the commanding officer (Bruce Boa) that he's leaving the Alliance to pay the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt the money he still owes from an incident predating his involvement with the Rebellion. When Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) reacts angrily to his decision to leave, he tells her he knows she wants him to stay not because he's "a natural leader" for the Rebel pilots but "because of the way you feel about me." But their sparring is interrupted when Luke (now hanging by his ankles on an ice cave's ceiling) is reported overdue and Han recklessly rides out into the bitter cold of a Hoth night to find him.
Skywalker, aided by his untrained Jedi abilities, manages to escape from the Wampa before he becomes its dinner, and runs out into the teeth of a Hoth night storm. Before collapsing in exhaustion, the spirit of his slain mentor Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi (Alec Guinness) appears before him and tells Luke he must "go to the Dagobah system. There you will learn from Yoda, the Jedi Master who instructed me." Ben disappears and Luke falls unconscious to the snow, but Han reaches him in the nick of time.
Although Han's tauntaun dies and the two friends must themselves be rescued by Alliance pilots, Luke survives and everyone is briefly reunited. But the Imperial probe that Luke failed to investigate discovers the Rebel base and reports to the Imperial fleet. Soon, Vader and his hordes of Imperial forces, supported by a fleet of Star Destroyers and lumbering armored transports, descend on Hoth, and the band of Star Warriors scatters. Luke and his astromech droid R2-D2 fly off to Dagobah to find Yoda, while Han, Leia, Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) are pursued relentlessly by Imperial ships and the bounty hunter Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch).
The Empire Strikes Back took very big risks, such as surprising fans with its Episode V subtitle, having its big battle take place during the first half of the movie, giving the director's chair to Kershner, and making the ending a big cliffhanger with so many story threads left dangling. Would Luke complete his training with Yoda (Frank Oz)? Could Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) be trusted? Who did Leia really love, Luke or Han? Most importantly, was Vader really Luke's father, as he claims at the end of the de rigeur lightsaber duel on Cloud City? For three years, fans theorized and conjectured many different scenarios and grumbled about the unfinished feel of the ending, but Empire was a resounding critical and popular success. The script and directing gave Episode V depth and more personality shadings to the characters, the effects were even better than the first film's, and John Williams' brilliant score built on A New Hope's established musical themes and added new and more interesting leitmotivs that gave the Star Wars saga its operatic sweep. Empire is one of those rare sequels that in some ways surpasses its predecessor film, and almost 25 years after its release it still thrills and chills its many fans.
on September 27, 2002
...you come across a movie like this. And all of a sudden everything clicks - you realize that this is the reason you've spent close on to a hundred dollars on movie tickets this past summer; this is the reason you fork out big time every time you happen to enter a blockbuster store - in the often vain yet ever present hope of coming across a movie like this one. Because once you've found it, all is right with the world, and life once again seems worth living. It is hard for me to pinpoint exactly what it is about this movie that is so incredibly inspiring. Sometimes I think it has to be the plot, with its weird, unpredictable twists and turns (much more unpredictable than the original, I thought), sometimes it has to be the characters, and their wonderful, strong personalities that shine through at any opportune moment; sometimes I wonder if its not just a certain little green puppet from Degobah, with the vast and mystical powers of the universe at his very fingertips... Whatever it may be, one thing's for sure - this movie took my breath away. It was far and away my favorite out of all the Star Wars movies so far. In my eyes, The Empire Strikes Back is as far above the original Star Wars as that classic is above all the rest of the newer movies put together. The Force certainly was strong in this one. Now if only George Lucas could pull off another miracle like that today...
on July 24, 2002
George Lucas' second instalment in the Star Wars franchise is far more ambitious and exciting than A NEW HOPE. Directed by Irvin Kershner, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK moved away from the high-sprited antics of the first film and took a step towards the dark side. The Empire is preparing to seek revenge on the Rebel Alliance, C3P0 gets blasted to bits and Luke Skywalker finds out that Darth Vader is his dad! Even John William's strident score is much darker in tone than his previous efforts. But the film is an excellent adventure that many fans consider to be superior to the original. Mark Hamill returns as Luke, Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia and Harrison Ford as the sardonic Han Solo. And we are introduced to the wise Yoda, who trains Luke about the ways of a Jedi. There are some great one-liners from Han ("Laugh it up, fuzzball!") and Jedi master Yoda ("Stinky? Smelly? My home this is!"). The amazing models and Special Effects in the film are far above the FX in ANH, and the myriad of creature creations is suitably spectacular. The action ante is upped considerably, with exciting chases through asteroid feilds, battles between the imperial fighters and the AT-STs and Luke's rescue mission. And the Bespin Duel, where the confrontational battle between Vader and Luke ends with one of the most shocking revelations in movie history (Even if it's somewhat un-surprising for future fans who watch all the completed films in sequence). One of my all-time favourite movies. DVD please....
on October 15, 2001
Stop for a moment, please, and think about what an epic movie is like. Glorious music, sublime cimematography, likeable characters, and a plot that builds and builds to its climax.
Now think about darkness and tragedy: a symbolic representation of the fact that life is short, choices have to be made, and all too often they are the wrong choices; and even after you have found out they were wrong, there is no going back.
Now try to figure out how you can combine these two forces, the epic and the tragic, into one movie. If you can figure it out, then go to Skywalker Ranch and ask George Lucas for a job. Because you'll know how to do something that very few people in the world know how to do.
"The Empire Strikes Back" is epic. It is tragic. It is a symbolic retelling of the real emotional experiences of young adults, who are forced to realize even as they come into the power of adulthood that they will have to pay a tragic price someday for their birthright and, indeed, they may already be paying it.
Luke's argument with Yoda about what a hero ought to do, and what a hero ought to be, is a series of scenes of awesome power.
on September 1, 2001
By far, at that. The story is far more in depth and the Empire and SW galaxy all together are fleshed out wonderfully. And I like dark, too, for the record. Irving Kershner's directing is wonderful, with timing, lighting, camera angles, and so forth all done masterfully.
The pace is slower than the other movies and indeed it has more depth to it as well. The lightsabre fight is the most well-directed, well-planned-out, and overall dramatic in the trilogy.
In a lot of ways ESB is the ani-ANH, as far as Star Wars goes. Wheras ANH started out slow, then got right into the action and stayed there until the climax, ESB has the big Imp-Rebel battle in the first half hour. And it's a battle that seems more WWII-ish than futuristic, despite the towering mechanical walkers. The Battle of Hoth is definetely the best ground battle in the series.
The acting, characterizaion, and so forth is all well done. ESB is also the deepest SW movie, by far, and also goes the furthest in the overall SW universe, thus defining it for other fine works in the books and comics.
Bravo to Kershner, Lucas, and everybody else. You've put together one of the best movies of all time.
on August 16, 2001
"The Empire Strikes Back" is arguably the greatest sequel ever made, next to "The Godfather Part II". It continues the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C-3PO as they are pursued across the galaxy by a fierce empire. The fifth chapter in George Lucas' stellar space opera, "Empire" is the story of the coming of age of our band of heroes, the loss of innocense, and realizing things for the first time. It expands upon the universe by introducing us to new characters and new worlds, and brings a growth in the characters that further engulfs you into a galaxy far, far away.
What makes "Empire" a great sequel are the strengthening relationships between the characters. They seem to grow before our eyes as the story unravels. There's an unfolding romance between Han and Leia; the sage-like advice from intergalactic Jedi Master, Yoda; Luke Skywalker is just starting to learn his full potential; and Darth Vader hides a startling revelation. On top of all that, the filmmakers heighten the level of special effects, making the story much more dramatic. As the middle chapter of a trilogy, it's also the darkest film in the series thus far--this is Star Wars at its darkest hour.
The Special Edition version of the film enhances the look of Cloud City, a key location in the story. The CGI special effects open up the set, making for a much broader scope for way of storytelling. Also, some of the early matte work was patched up, namely for the battle of Hoth at the beginning of the film. However, the new features and enhancements only make the experience all the more enjoyable. Either way, it's still a classic.
"The Empire Strikes Back" is the best of the Star Wars films. It adds a sense of darkness, heroism and swashbuckling adventure to the saga that moves the story to new heights. A definite classic.
on August 14, 2001
I disliked this movie when I was younger, but I've grown to appreciate it more and more over the years. It's hard to believe it's 21 years old...unlike the original "Star Wars," it doesn't look at all dated. Even the special effects, which do seem a tad primitive today, have their own special timelessness, and unlike many FX-laden movies, they don't get in the way of the story.
What story? some cynical "Star Wars"-haters may ask. Come on. The story is classic good vs. evil, and more than any of the SW movies so far, it explores this theme with grace and moments of genuine beauty. Luke Skywalker not only loses his innocence, he loses it brutally...and in part because of his own foolishness. Mark Hamill gives quite a good performance in this movie, going from boyish hopefulness to petulance to overconfidence to sheer brokenness...and then back to hopefulness. However, the film focuses equally on the more charismatic "bad boy," Han Solo, who's having his own problems with Princess Leia. Somewhere in the three-year gap between "Star Wars" and "Empire," this unlikely couple fell in love. They spend the first part of "Empire" masking their feelings with bickering, then finally give in to them, only to be heartlessly torn from each other. Both Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher are good and have some nice chemistry, particularly in the extremes of their characters' relationship (the early fighting, and when they are forced to part). Lucas turned expectations on their heads by making Leia fall for Han (the anti-hero) rather than Luke (the hero), and frankly, I wish he'd left it at that instead of shoehorning in the stupid "twins" plot twist in "Return of the Jedi."
Many have assailed the SW movies for their lack of depth--and not entirely unfairly. However, I've seen "deeper" movies whose scenes lack the fundamental power of Darth Vader's icy calm as he deflects Han's blaster shots and then telekinetically rips the blaster itself from Han's hand with a "We would be honored if you would join us," or of Han being lowered into the carbon-freezing chamber while he never takes his eyes off the woman he loves, or of Luke finding out that his hated enemy is actually his father, or of Luke's wordless rejection of Vader's "join me" offer by letting himself fall off a platform into space. For those scenes alone, "Empire" deserves five stars.