(Quick aside before my actual review. In my Song of the Day post for today, I promised to reveal why it was that my blogging had slowed down some this week even though I had only worked two days at the mall. It’s because I finally got around to starting on a screenplay. I know I’ve talked about that a lot of times on here, but I actually sat down and tried to write for the first time in a long while. And it’s going really well so far. I started Tuesday or Wednesday I guess. I’m not sure for sure, but I’ve written 30 pages since then. The average screenplay is either 90 or 120 minutes long so I’m either a third of the way there or a fourth for my first draft. I’m not going to share it with anyone until I’ve finished my first draft and done some proofreading/minor editing, but when it’s taken real shape, I will let all of my loyal readers know. Now, on to Star Wars!)

When this blog was in its infant stages, one of the first 50 films that I reviewed was Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope. Nearly the entire saga is on my list (except for The Phantom Menace because I will never voluntarily subject myself to that film again), and it’s taken a year and a half for the random number gods determining which films I watch from my master list to provide me with another entry in the series. The Star Wars franchise is one of the most beloved film series of all time, and although I think that the Lord of the Rings trilogy is superior to the original Star Wars trilogy (it’s not even a competition about being better than the prequels), there’s still something magical about watching the original films. That magic is never greater than in Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back which remains the crowning achievement of the franchise.

After destroying the Death Star at the end of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back picks up three years later with the Rebel Alliance in hiding on the ice planet of Hoth. After Luke gets stranded over-night in the frozen wastes when his tauntaun (basically a reptile horse alien creature) is killed, he sees a vision from his old mentor Obi-Wan telling him to visit the planet of Dagobah to find the Jedi Master Yoda. Luke is rescued from Hoth by Han Solo only for the planet to be invaded the next day by the Empire. After holding off the Imperial forces, Luke heads to Dagobah (with R2-D2) while Han, Leia, Chewbacca, and C-3PO escape on the Millennium Falcon while evading constant pursuit from the Empire. As Luke is trained in the ways of the Jedi by the mysterious and tiny Yoda, his friends must stay one step ahead of the Empire if they want to avoid the clutches of Darth Vader.

Many of my thoughts about the original film remain relevant here. Outside of Han (and now Billy Dee William’s Lando Calrissian who appears in Empire), most of the film’s characters are more of an archetype than actually well defined characters in their own right. Luke is still your classical hero-in-training/messianic archetype (although actually, it’s hard to decide whether Luke or Anakin is actually the one who brought balance to the force and I don’t want to spark that nerd debate here). Leia is your rebellious princess. Darth Vader is the fallen hero (though you don’t find that out til the next film), and The Emperor is… the evil emperor. Only Han’s loveable rogue breaks the rules of mainstream storytelling, and it’s a testament to his character’s popularity that Han himself has become nearly a stock character type since the series began.

Similarly, the acting itself remains hit or miss. Harrison Ford is as charming and rakish as always, and the decision to play with the sexual chemistry between himself and Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia was wise. Let’s face it. Han telling Leia “I know” when she says that she loves him remains one of the most bad-ass moments in film history (rivaling any of the actual action sequences of the series). Carrie Fisher is appealingly tough as the Princess even if there isn’t much going on beneath the surface there. However, Mark Hamill, the center of the franchise as Luke, avoids being the worst leading actor in the series only because Hayden Christensen would show up later to ruin Anakin Skywalker forever. He’s wooden, weird inflections, and his angry face is more hilarious than dramatic. Thank god James Earl Jones is still around to add some gravitas to the interactions between Luke and Darth Vader.

What makes Empire Strikes Back my favorite entry in the franchise is the way that it expands the universe in consistently interesting ways without falling prey to any of the “cutesy” trappings that would mar Return of the Jedi (fucking Ewoks man) and straight up ruin the first two prequel films. A New Hope can basically be summed up as Tatooine, escaping the Death Star, destroying the Death Star. Empire Strikes Back is more willing to diversify the settings as well as the act structure. The film also introduces many of the most famous and beloved characters of the franchise. We see Boba Fett, the Emperor, Lando Calrissian, and Yoda all for the first time in Empire. If you really pay attention to the dialogue of the film, you will walk away knowing much more about the Star Wars universe than you did at the end of A New Hope.

The other (and pretty much primary) reason that I prefer The Empire Strikes Back to any other film in the franchise is that it’s easily the darkest entry in the series. Well, perhaps Revenge of the Sith is darker, but it also ultimately falls apart when it’s examined too closely (cause George Lucas did not write a compelling enough downfall for Anakin) so it’s disqualified from this race. Nearly every aspect of the final act of Empire Strikes Back is a downer. If you somehow haven’t seen the film stop reading now because you’re about to get some spoilers. Star Wars is the original blockbuster film series, and it’s decision to have its middle chapter end on the stark note of Luke losing his hand and finding out his father is his sworn enemy as well as Han Solo being captured and frozen in carbonite would ultimately shape the narrative structure of future series such as The Matrix.

I haven’t actually worked on my screenplay any today because I slept in til nearly 2 (even though I went to bed before 11 last night. I just slipped into a minor coma) so I’m going to keep this review short and try to write about 5 or so pages of my screenplay before I go to bed and get ready for class tomorrow. I’m sure at some point, I will review Return of the Jedi (I’ve now decided that even if my list has Revenge of the Sith or Attack of the Clones first, I’m just going to watch the films in the order they were released) although I don’t know when. I just hope that my earlier statement where I expressed my love for Lord of the Rings over Star Wars doesn’t inspire a Clerk 2-esque flame war in the comments section of this page. May the force be with you.

Final Score: A

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