The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

SW_-_Empire_Strikes_BackThe first Star Wars film may have been a classic, but I think we all know that it was basically building up for one of the strongest film sequels in the history of the medium. It certainly earned the highest esteem of any Star Wars film, usually considered the best of the whole series, and they’re right. All the ingredients for a commandingly brilliant sequel are certainly there. It built on the first film’s mythology and characters, it raised the stakes in terms of narrative, and it took the characters and the viewers to exciting new places. It’s really the best sequel this side of Terminator 2, though even as part of something bigger, it stands out as an extremely memorable moment in cinematic history.

In this film, set three years after its predecessor, the Galactic Empire had apparently driven the rebel forces out of their former base, forcing them to hide in a new base on the ice planet Hoth. The empire subsequently scours the galaxy in search of them, with Darth Vader insistent on capturing Luke Skywalker, who eventually goes to learn the ways of the force. Unbeknownst to Luke, his adversary may have a trick up his sleeve.

Of course, this film is memorable for its plot twists, which I won’t mention because I’m sure everybody knows them by now. Coupled with the noticeably darker tone of the film, this presented a more powerful, more nuanced, and more sophisticated narrative than the previous film did, and if I sound like I’m just using this film as a stick to beat the first film with, then maybe I am, but I might feel quite justified in doing so. After all, you probably know what’s coming with the first Star Wars film (though it hasn’t really lost its power), but this one grips you every time.

The acting improves slightly in this film, as I’m sure the main cast of Star Wars had become more confident about their roles. A few new characters were introduced, and they each brought something new to the table (at least for the time, this technically being the second Star Wars film). All the characters were brilliant on screen. Their performances amp up the drama significantly, and the characters themselves benefited from confident direction and fantastic writing.

Of course, I can’t go without mentioning the visual spectacle. The visuals are noticeably sharper than in the first film, and you can see that in the new worlds introduced in the film, from the icy wastes of Hoth to the swampy lair where Yoda lives, and from there to the airy, utopian-esque Cloud City, all ripe for the film’s unbridled fantasy. The film also demonstrates remarkable use of practical special effects, as can be seen in Yoda’s design. I’m sure that I’m not alone in saying that the Yoda of this film looked far better than the Yoda of the prequel trilogy. Not that I’m putting down the film’s CGI-laden action scenes, which, as always, are stunning displays of technical splendour.

There’s not a whole lot more I can say about this film actually, perhaps because it tends to speak for itself. As much of a visual spectacle as it is a triumph of epic storytelling, this film builds upon its predecessor as much as it possibly can, and yet leaves the audience wanting more, and perhaps that’s what every good sequel should do. Indeed, many sequels have since tried to emulate that quality, and nearly all of them failed.

  • Score: 97%
  • Grade: S
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