“Laugh it up fuzzball!”
How can I review a film that I’ve watched countless times since opening the ‘Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition’ on Christmas Day, 1997? Yes, that’s how I began my review for Star Wars, and that’s how I’ll begin by review for Return of the Jedi! Let me just say, here and now, that The Empire Strikes Back is one of my Top 10 Films. Funnily enough, it’s the one I liked the least when I first watched the Star Wars Trilogy, but I needed maturity to fully understand and appreciate Episode V. Now, when I go back to re-watch the Star Wars (Original) Trilogy, it’s the one I most look forward to watching. It’s dark, emotional, inspiring (just listen to Yoda!), gut-wrenching, and very, very funny. Epic set-pieces push forward the story, emotions and characters in a way that is very rarely seen in cinema. Not only that, but it has one of the greatest endings/cliffhangers in cinema history. And, of course, it’s the greatest Star Wars film yet…
Unlike its predecessor and its successor, The Empire Strikes Back isn’t a conventionally structured film. There’s no definite beginning, middle or end. The film inverts the beginning of Star Wars by showing the Star Destroyer coming towards the screen, rather than dominating it and moving away from the screen. Just like that, we are hurled into the thick of things. The Rebel Base on Hoth is about to be attacked by the Empire. There’s little room for character reintroduction, or need for it. Even if you haven’t seen Star Wars, you understand the main characters in the first five minutes. Now that’s great script writing and acting! Soon enough, the Empire attacks Hoth and we have an epic battle on our hands…
Even by today’s standards, the action looks great. Sure, it’s been tinkered with a little by the wandering hands of the CGI-obsessed Lucas, but only to fill in a few see-through pieces of metal. But it’s still an impressive achievement. Think about it: it’s a battle in snow with snowspeeders and massive, lumbering AT-ATs. It’s all done with small-scale models. Every time I see it, I am glued to the screen (as I am for all of the film!). The music and the action combine to create a thrilling set-piece. The Battle of Hoth is worthy to be a climatic battle, and in a sense, it is a climactic battle. It’s the Empire taking revenge for the destruction of the Death Star. There’s no massive space battle at the end of ‘The Empire Strikes Back,’ just a personal lightsabre battle. So just like the beginning inverts the beginning of Star Wars, it also inverts the traditional explosive ending.
“Never tell me the odds!”
From that moment on, we are whisked away through an asteroid field, Luke’s search for the great Jedi warrior Yoda on Dagobah, and the cloud city of Bespin. In my youth, all of the character moments, Jedi training, and humour were probably a let-down after the amazing Battle of Hoth. However, the ‘middle’ of the film, if you can call it that, is not a comedown after that epic battle sequence. We flit between Luke’s story and the story of Han, Leia, R2, C-3P0, and Chewie with the greatest of ease. We see only what we need to see, and while there are no massive battles, the focus is on the characters and their journeys.
Han and Leia are drawn ever closer together, as they try to escape from Darth Vader’s relentless pursuit. They share some of the funniest, and most touching, moments of the entire trilogy. “Scruffy looking nerf-herder” is an offence I use to this very day! “Sorry, no time for anything else” is a line I frequently use on my fiancée! It’s a thoroughly believable and tangible blossoming of love between the two, never glossed over, but never fawned over, either. Its makes the final moments between the two bittersweet and tear-inducing. It’s rare to capture a sense of a real romance on the screen, but it’s executed perfectly here. Romance and science fiction have never been so well melded together!
“Looking? Found someone, you have!”
Compared to’ Star Wars’, ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ is ridden with emotional complexity. Luke’s journey to becoming a Jedi is full of promise, initially. He goes to Dagobah in search of the great Jedi Master Yoda, but comes across a bumbling dwarf goblin instead. Of course (SPOILER ALERT!), the goblin is Yoda, but the first appearance of Yoda is very funny. The ‘fight’ between Yoda and R2-D2 is better than any Yoda lightsabre battle in prequels. However, Yoda tells Luke to stay away from the Dark Side of the Force…“If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.” Luke could easily follow the footsteps of Darth Vader and become a Sith Lord. In the first one, he was the typical zero to hero type: now, he could become a hero or a villain. The training sequences are replete with quotable quotes: “Do or do not. There is no try,” ‘“I’m not afraid,” “You will be…you will be…”
‘The Empire Strikes Back’ is a very different animal to ‘Star Wars’. The Empire certainly does strike back, and always seems to be one step ahead of the rebels. Right from the Battle of Hoth, the rebels are fleeing from the Empire, and they never stop. As a sequel, it’s brave and willing to explore the darker parts of the Star Wars mythology. For that reason alone, it’s full of replay value. It expands and improves on its predecessor in many, many ways. Yes, it’s dark and brooding, but it’s laced with constant humour. Han Solo and Princess Leia provide much of the laughs in their growing relationship, but C-3PO and R2-D2, Luke and Yoda, and Yoda and R2-D2 contribute much to the smile quota. The script, the quotes, laughter, the battle scenes, the romance, the darkness, the (best of the saga?) lightsabre battle between Luke and Vader, the sense of scope and wonder, all combine to make a classic film. You may reach the credits without a smile on your face, but you’ll have witnessed one of the best films of all time.
VERDICT: 10/10. An almost perfect film . Easily the best film of the Star Wars saga, and one of the best films of all time!
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(Click here for my review of Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope)