Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes continues the tale of the Jedis and the Empire right from where the previous installment left off. The Death Star has been destroyed but the Jedis are still unable to match the strength of the Empire and have been driven across the galaxy to the desolate world of Hoth. Hoth is a la Antarctica setting with freezing cold and inhospitable conditions. Darth Vader is obsessed with finding Luke (Mark Hamill) and sends thousands of probes across the galaxy looking for him and the rebels. While on Hoth Luke has a fatal encounter with a predator and is nearly killed but he is rescued in time by Han Solo (Harrison Ford). But before he is rescued he gets a vision of Obi Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) who urges him to go to the Dagobah System and learn the ways of the force from Master Yoda.
In the meanwhile The Empire tracks down the rebels at Hoth and arrive the following day with a furious onslaught. The rebels are unable to withstand their attack and escape out of the planet. While Leia (Carrie Fisher), Han, Chewbacca and the two droids make their way in the Millennium Falcon towards a safe refuge, Luke follows the advice of Obi Wan and goes to the Dagobah system to learn from Yoda. While Leia and the others land from one frying pan onto another chased by Darth Vader himself, Luke has to contain with a Yoda who is not exactly convinced of Luke’s candidature to be a Jedi master. Dart Vader also dispatches a ruthless bounty hunter Boba Fett to capture Solo and hand him over to Jaba The Hutt whom Solo owes a debt.
The Empire Strikes back is my favorite Star Wars film till date. This is an extremely affecting film for the primary reason that the bad guys keep wining and no matter what our heroes do, they just seem to loose. After their escape from Hoth which is in no way pretty, Luke finds it extremely difficult to cope with Yoda who is not only judgmental but also makes him go through stuff that questions his belief in whatever he has known till date. There is an exciting scene where he is asked to enter a wood wherein he faces off against a projection of Vader and when he beheads him, he sees his own face inside Vader’s helmet. This scene works as an indication of what is about to come our way. Han and Leia are on the loggerheads firstly because of their inability to shred their vanity and express their feelings for each other and secondly because of the amount of risks and furious attack of the Empire that they have to face off against.
Han is finally captured when he lands up at Lando’s (Billy Dee Williams) Cloud City for refuge. Vader orders Lando to let Boba Fett carry Han to Jaba The Hutt while he lays a trap for Luke to come in search of his friends and face him instead. Luke takes the bet and leaves his training in between and rushes to help his friends. The two masters Yoda and Obi Wan tell him that when he faces Vader, he has to do it without their help and he agrees to it. Yoda is still doubtful of Luke’s power and thinks that he might be in real trouble. This is also the time when he for the first time mentions the existence of another Skywalker or atleast hints at it. Hans capture is heartbreaking in ways that you cannot imagine.
Luke arrives in Cloud City and faces off against Vader. Their battle is exceptional and a marked improvement over the light saber battle of the first installment. Vader, in the midst of their battle reveals that he is Luke’s father. This is one of the most epic and climatic scenes of this series and also one of the most shocking expose of cinematic history. Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father! Can you believe that? I was just exasperated at this point. Luke decides to kill himself than be Vader’s son and jumps off from a tower but is saved by Leia and Lando who were escaping in the Millennium Falcon. The team now makes its way away from the Empire after the Millennium Falcon is finally fixed by R2D2. Now Luke’s character has learned of his true roots and is much stronger both physically and mentally. However they have lost their friend Solo who is now with Jaba The Hutt and the Empire is also stronger than ever as they have the rebels on the run.
Can you imagine this being the point where this film leaves off? Thank God I am from this era and have the luxury of just popping in the next DVD and enjoy the next installment but people in that year had to wait for another three years to see what happened to the characters. Now that’s what I call torture. However, this was one of the most intense and fast paced Star Wars films ever. The action unfolds at an unimaginable pace and every scene takes the story forward. The character arc that I had dwelled upon for Luke in my previous review of Episode IV becomes real here. He has come a long way from being a confused youngster and is able to hold his own against the marauding Vader. There also seems to be a new found calm in his character. Solo on the other hand is jittery for the simple reason that Leia doesn’t understand his feelings and by the time this film ends they profess their love for each other.
The Empire Strikes Back is a superbly shot and terrifically crafted film. The visual effects are so well done that they easily belittle the first installment. The scale gets bigger here and everything including the one to one fights are amped up giving you the feeling that you are actually watching a bigger and better film. The story moves forward and takes you to a point which is quite a distance from the first installment. While the first installment sets up the basic premise and introduced the major players, this one is about dwelling into their lives a lot more and giving us some much needed expositions. Now we know who Luke is and what’s his lineage and his source of powers. Similarly Vader’s insatiable desire to capture Luke and the reasons behind it is revealed. This film is more about the might of the Empire and how it almost crushes the rebellion and thus beautifully sets up the third installment which will give us the David Vs. Goliath standoff.
Like everything else the score of the film has also undergone a sea change. Now the Empire has its unique signature tune which we will associate with them for years to come. The music really pumps up the already towering presence of Vader and his commanders. The Rebels have their own score and the two goes hand in hand. The battle sequence at Hoth is superbly choreographed. I just loved the whole sequence. It’s a seamless merger of visual effects and real life cinematography. It’s edited perfectly showing involvement of all the characters in a manner that is easy to follow. The sequence where the Millennium Falcon is driven by Solo through an asteroid field is another noteworthy sequence in terms of visual effects and also sheer performance from the cast members who really look scared out of their minds.
This film belongs to Vader but Ford as Solo, Fisher as Leia and Hamill as Luke do a great job too. Ford is the cocky cowboy that he was from the previous film but is a tad bit more attached to the cause and Leia in particular here. Hamill is seasoning into becoming the ultimate Jedi who will go on to beat Vader. Fisher is completely believable as Leia and her conflicts show on her face. Billy Dee Williams has a substantial role as Lando and he does a good job. He practically saves the rebels from Vader when he escapes in the Millennium Falcon with Leia and Luke. James Earl Jones voices Vader with authority. With this film he gets better in his act. Scary would be an understatement for his character.
The Empire Strikes Back is the most highly rated and truly awe-inspiring Star War Films till date. Everything in the film falls in place. Be it the cinematography, the performances, the visual effects or for that matter the story, this film works wonder in every level. This is truly a film worth fan-boy-ing about and I have become a huge fanboy of this film over the years. Another enduring classic.