Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

swtesbConsidered by many to be the gold standard of the franchise, I’ve always had a middling feeling about this film. I didn’t think it was noticeably better than ANH. But I watched it again with new eyes to see what I could see.

You know what, Obi-Wan is starting to annoy me now. “Yoda, the Jedi Master who trained me.” Uh, what? Why are you dissing Qui-Gon? I suppose I could buy that Obi-Wan did his time in the youngling studio with Yoda teaching him, but come on! Now I’m starting to wonder if Lucas even watched his own films before writing the prequels.

After we watch Han Solo save Luke’s life a second time, we get the big action set piece for the first half of the film: the Battle of Hoth. Which looks really cool, I’ll admit, even though I still don’t understand why the walkers are better technology than a good treaded vehicle like a tank. It’s not like that technology doesn’t exist in this galaxy. We saw it in Episodes II and III. Also, this battle on the ground is just to push in far enough to break the rebels’ shield generator. Here’s something you won’t hear often: thank you, Phantom Menace. Yes, I said it, because only there do you get a clear explanation of how these shields work. In the battle between the Gungans and the droids, you see projectile weapons bounce off the shields, but the droids can push themselves through slowly. (The Star Wars shields work just like the ones from Dune.) That makes much of the rest of the series make so much more sense!

The middle of the film is a strange (at least in 1980 terms) structure, with Luke going off to learn about the Force, and Han and Leia trying to evade the Empire. Lando is a nice addition to the series. And the reveal of Darth Vader is still chilling. I could have done without the forced “humor” of C-3PO getting blasted and then partially put back together, and then whining about it through the entire finale. There’s also the moment at the end of the Dagobah sequence when Obi-Wan says, “That boy was our only hope.” Then Yoda corrects him. “No. There is another.” Uh, Obi-Wan? You were at Leia’s birth. Dang it! How easy would it have been, George, to structure the prequels to match the handful of lines that reference them?!

During the Millenium Falcon’s flight through the asteroid field, there’s a quick section of music that always sends chills up my back. It’s a theme Williams put in there, and nowhere else in the series. Part of me always wants it to return, but another part of me loves that he hasn’t diluted this small theme (like he did with “Duel of the Fates” when it reprised in ATOC.)

It’s in this film that we start to see some of the structure that Lucas was putting in place. In ANH, there’s one climax: killing the Death Star. In this one, there are two: Leia’s escape and Luke’s battle with Vader. (In TPM there were four. I wonder if he originally wanted to keep upping the ante, but got to ATOC and realized he couldn’t sustain five simultaneous action sequences.)

I want to point out one thing that really got to me, the first time I saw it (subliminally) and every time since as I’ve figured out what they were doing. When Luke is escaping and Vader is calling out to him with his mind, they used a strange sort of “fast dissolve” instead of a straight film cut. It adds a dreamlike quality to this psychic connection. It wasn’t ever used before or since, so, like that music cue, it’s just for this film alone.

The end of this movie is surprising in so many ways. They didn’t save Han and Luke sacrifices himself when he learns Vader is his father (after losing a hand). Say what you want about Lucas, he pretty much dared people to hate this movie, and they responded with unqualified love. My love isn’t unqualified, but I did enjoy it more this time around.


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