The Empire Strikes Back ★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Wars-A-Thon '18: JMN Strikes Back
Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

Despecialized Edition V2.0

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

Lauded by some as the best sequel of all time, The Empire Strikes Back is a helluva blockbuster, and an undeniably worthy followup to Star Wars. The universe is expanded in interesting ways, characters are satisfyingly developed, and the production values have improved exponentially thanks to an increased budget. Where the original was essentially an ascended B-picture, this feels totally broad and expansive by comparison, which is definitely a good thing.

Simultaneously, you get the feeling that some of the sillier elements of the first movie have been diminished in Empire. The screwball interactions are still there - most notably between Han and Leia - but they seem more mature and refined than they did before. There's a decidedly intellectual bent to this episode, with the goofier ideas being deemphasised in favour of a more mythological through line. This is possibly part of what makes the film so popular with cineastes: in many ways, The Empire Strikes Back is a Star Wars movie for people who don't usually like Star Wars movies.

Having said this, Empire cannot really be considered a standalone effort. Almost every major character is introduced via the previous adventure, and their storylines are all concluded in the final chapter of the trilogy. In that sense, I personally prefer the original Star Wars as a cinematic experience, purely because its individuality makes it a more re-watchable entity for me. Nevertheless, The Empire Strikes Back is probably my second-favourite SW episode, and remains a definitive example of the rare sequel that almost equals its progenitor.

The Good:

Irvin Kershner's direction. Not just because the scenes are well shot, but also because his style seemingly brought out the best in all the actors.

Darth Vader. Cool as he was beforehand, this instalment is where he truly became the icon of villainy we all know and love.

The Battle of Hoth. Still the best example of ground combat in the saga to date.

Mark Hamill. His acting in the first one was fine, but here he begins the trend - see also Hayden Christensen and Daisy Ridley - of Star Wars leads delivering a superior performance in their second episode. No small thing when spending most of the film acting against a muppet and a trash can.

Dagobah, and every scene set on it. It may be a swamp planet, but it's also the spiritual centre of the entire franchise. Plus, that cave scene is just awesome. As is when the X-Wing gets lifted from the bog. And did I mention how amazing Yoda is?

Lando Calrissian. Can we all admit that Billy Dee Williams is the smoothest dude in the galaxy? Because he damn well is.

Cloud City. A deeply gorgeous and highly symbolic environment: heavenly at first, hellish once you go beneath the surface.

The lightsaber duel. Virtually every shot is frame-worthy, and that climactic revelation continues to pack a wallop.

The Bad:

Some of Threepio's dialogue in the freezing chamber ("I can't see," "they've encased him in carbonite," etc.) can be a little distracting.
That's about it.

The Williams:

“Yoda and the Force” Ever welled up a little out of sheer happiness? I have, usually whenever that scene plays.

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