STAR WARS: EPISODE V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
Like so many Star Wars fans, this is my personal favourite installment. Everyone cites the fact that it’s ‘darker’ as their reason for liking it better. But I think Return of the Jedi was pretty dark in places, so I don’t think it comes into it much. For me, it was the fact that the Empire was winning in this film. In A New Hope, it was all about the rebels scoring one against the Empire; in this film, it’s about how much damage the Empire and Vader, its supreme sinister agent, can inflict on the rebellion. The group of friends we have come to know previously (Luke, Han, Leia and Chewie) is split, both in a physical and emotional sense. Luke jets off to Dagobah to find Yoda, whilst Han, Leia and Chewie are chased from one corner of the cosmos to the other by Vader himself. Han grows closer to Leia, and Luke in a way becomes more emotionally detached from the group as he focuses on his training and upon the burden of confronting Vader which lays so heavily upon him. When Vader reveals to Luke that he is in fact his Father, Luke screams and you feel that as much as he screams through sheer horror at the revelation, he must also be distressed because he knows that he is even more different than the rest of the group. He is a Jedi, sure – but now he is the evil henchmans son. As much as the uprising against the Empire is a matter of life and death to them all, the fight has got that little bit more personal considering it has now turned into a battle of Father Versus Son.
This is the first time we meet Yoda, and Frank Oz does a brilliant job of creating a sagely, but slightly senile mentor for Luke. In his most lucid moments, Yoda is capable of conveying the sheer importance to Luke of his training, of his destiny.
“That place… a domain of evil it is… in you must go…” he tells Luke at one point, shortly before Luke fights a vision of Vader. When he decapitates Vader, the helmet blows apart and we see it is in fact Luke Skywalker inside. I never suspected that Vader was Luke’s Father, so seeing this scene it felt as though it was a message to Luke saying ‘THIS is the dark side. HE is the dark side. YOU could become THIS.’ No-one watching this film for the first-time has an inkling that whilst the scene serves as a warning to Luke about the dangers of the dark side, it is also a pointer to the fact that he and Vader are related.
As for stand-out scenes, this whole film is an endless array of them. I have to admit I always found the battle of Hoth a bit superfluous. However I love the character stuff going on in the first part of the film, so for me that compensates.
The chase through the asteroid field is fab, as is Han’s ingenious method of evading capture by clamping onto the back of a Star Destroyer. Boba Fett makes his entrance in this film, and he proves to be a much better mercenary than his Father Jango. Lando’s deception and subsequent change of heart. Han and Leia’s blossoming affection and love for one another, culminating in that famous moment:
Leia: “Han… I love you…”
Han: “I know.”
Luke and Vader’s epic lightsabre battle – my favourite sabre fight overall of all the films – and the open ending where the Empire has effectively gotten rid of Han, Luke has lost a hand and had his mind totally blown, and the Rebellion is left out in space, headed who knows where, its direction and eventual destination possibly in doubt…
Irvin Kershner proves to be the best Director of all of the films for the way in which he balances action with quieter moments, and manages to pull a truly brilliant performance out of all the actors, even C3PO and R2. This film is Star Wars at its very best. This is what, to me, Star Wars is about. It’s about a small band of people standing up against the mighty Empire, against the odds, and it’s about keeping going even though you have less now than you did before.