A Look Back At Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
It’s getting to be that time. As a massive chunk of society anxiously awaits the arrival of the newest chapter in the Star Wars saga coming next week, we here at PCU are taking a look back at the films that created the mega fandom.
Right off the bat, if you haven’t checked out Harry’s review of A New Hope, READ IT!! As a guy who bleeds Star Wars, no one is more fit to look at the film in detail.
Now, onto what I and many feel to be the best chapter of Star Wars from a film perspective The Empire Strikes Back. When I looked at this film, I tried to look at the film on its own, and only references A New Hope when necessary, i.e. the Obi Wan backstory. That being said, I cannot even describe how much better this film is from all the other chapters, and that includes 4. I found myself looking more for nitpicks rather than legitimate criticism. The aspects that I remember being annoying are actually quite effective. Which only makes me disappointed in child me, who was more bored from this movie than the others. What the hell was wrong with me.
Firstly, the plot of this movie seemed very organic and embracing of the tragic hero story. We watch Luke come to his own here, as the famous sequence with Yoda forces him to face his demons and his greatest obstacle, himself. Also, now famously obvious, we find out the relation of Luke and Darth Vader, when Vader proclaims arguably the most famous line in cinema history. What I really found myself drawn to, however, was the Han and Leia story, which took us from the escape from Hoth to the Cloud City conflict. We really begin to see Han’s macho personality be strongly challenged by Leia, who, in my opinion, has some of the most strong (character wise) scenes in the film. You get the impression that while Carrie Fisher’s Leia may be a princess, she is hardened, and you do not want to mess with her. While this is apparent in the other films, it’s handled much better here; significantly less heavy handed.
Two performances in this film really blew me away on a rewatch. The first being Harrison Ford as Han. Every time he’s on screen, he demands your attention. There’s not much I can say that hasn’t been said about Ford’s portrayal, as he seems to be widely lauded as one of the best in the series, but I would be remiss to not mention the sequence of him getting frozen in carbonite. I know, it’s easy to pick on this scene, but I dare you to watch it and not get chills when he utters the famous “I know”. What I didn’t remember, however, was that there’s a solid minute or so where Ford locks eyes with Fisher, before getting frozen, and you can pretty much gather the entire series relationship of the two from that one look. There’s a sudden vulnerability, but stoicness that is absolutely chilling and powerful.
The other performance that took me aback is one that is frequently the butt of jokes in Billy Dee Williams’ Lando Calrissian. We always joke about his sense of “coolness” and almost jokey nature, but Williams really performs strongly. In the silent moments, where Lando realizes he just sold out a friend to probable death and in his aid in the escape from Cloud City, he manages that line between overacting and expressing the insane emotion of the scene. He’s very subdued, (which won’t necessarily last in Jedi) which left me captivated.
Now, there are a few, and I mean FEW, aspects of the film that left me feeling a little off. It just felt a little long at points. The beginning of the movie felt a little long, for a battle that happens seemingly lighting fast. While I love the feel of Hoth, I definitely found myself getting distracted right before the battle. Also, the biggest drawback to the original trilogy, for me, is Mark Hamill just hamming it up. While he’s fairly subdued in this movie, the reaction to Vader’s revelation will forever live in infamy of overacting. This may, however, be my inability to connect with Luke. His angst comes on a little too strong for me, and that lies more in Lucas and the Screenwriters rather than Hamill.
One last piece I want to touch on is the technical work in this film. While the grandiose shots of space are nice, the lighting design is near impeccable, especially in the final Vader and Luke fight. The production design is justifiably looked upon as one of the best, and the lighting is a piece that gets often overlooked, but, in many cases, makes the entire scene. The dread whenever Vader is on screen is so strong, in acting and ambiance, that we as viewers cannot help but be afraid.
All in all, The Empire Strikes Back is, by a landslide, the strongest Star Wars film to date. When looking at the overall mythology, this film gives us many of the major aspects, i.e. Yoda, a certain father/son relationship, and a hinting of a sibling alliance. That said, Leia kissing Luke will NEVER stop being horrifyingly awkward.
4.5 Altered Deals out of 5