By: Samar Khan
THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS!
There comes a time in every child’s life where they must go through a rite of passage of some sort. For those born before the turn of the century, after 1977 and with access to their local Blockbuster, this process consisted of one thing: watching Star Wars and falling in love with what made sci-fi great. I can already see the furious readers commenting “Why didn’t you say this in the review for the first film?” There is a reason why I saved this line for this review. You see, as good as A New Hope was (and it was pretty good), Empire Strikes Back is the film that departs from the soapy nature of the first film and enters a drearier universe. In doing so, it complements the tonal change with a drastically superior film compared to its predecessor, earning itself the moniker of “Best Star Wars film of all time.” (NOTE: The Force Awakens has not released yet so this opinion may change).
From the get go, it’s noticeable just how much the success of the original film served to elevate this sequel; it’s clear that the practical and CG effects are considerably improved and leaves the viewer breath taken by just how visually succulent the universe shown within the film is. Seriously, take a gander at those Imperial Walkers or just how well animated Yoda was; the improvements after just three years on A New Hope are that drastic and noticeable.
Enough praise about the film’s visuals, I’ll get back to those further down. Let’s start with the plot. As all fans of the series know, Empire picks up after the conclusion of A New Hope which witnessed the Death Star being destroyed but –duh- Vader escaping and regrouping by leading the forces of the Empire. After an Empire attack on Hoth (it says something about the series pop culture prowess that I fondly recall the names and locations from all of the films despite admittedly not classifying myself as a fan of the series), everyone splits up and we get pretty snazzy scenes with almost everyone. Yoda’s mentorship of Luke, the adventures of Leia, Han, Chewbacca and C-3PO that results in the introduction of Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams was a STAR with how fun he made the character) are all stories we see, before the climactic sequence. I’m going to go out on a limb here and state that the following is not a spoiler for two reasons: 1) The film came out 35 years ago and 2) No one that reads this review site lives under a rock. Based on my criteria, I’m sure you are all certain as to what I refer to and you would be correct: that shocking (SHOCKING, I tell ya!) revelation that Darth Vader is *gasp*, the father of our loveable Luke. There is more that happens after that, where Luke kinda-sorta dies but then does not die but seeing as this is the review for the second movie and there have been 6 thus far, it should be fairly obvious what his ultimate fate in the film ended up being.
Anyway, as cluttered as I made the plot sound above, it was anything but. It was a pure joy to see all of the fan favourites on screen, see new characters show up and witness that iconic twist without any of the ham-fisted and atrocious dialogue that came to plague the Prequels. Seriously, George Lucas, how does one go from the near-masterpiece that was this to Phant-… I digress. I’ll leave that rant for another day, but rest assured, there will be a rant.
As for the direction, once again, I thank the film Gods that Lucas was not at the helm as he ended up being for the Prequels. Irvin Kershner does a fine job bringing to life all the aforementioned plot threads, and his decision to present the world in a nature that was as seamless as possible. The easiest way to summarize that description would be that the world has such intricate attention to detail, from shrapnel falling in the snow to Yoda’s constant change of expression when he realizes what a dangerous journey he has just sent Luke on about a quarter of the way through the film. It just goes to show how integral a creative partner can be for certain people as Kershner undoubtedly saved us from questionable Lucas-isms had the creator of the franchise opted to helm the flick himself. The visuals, again, were breathtaking. Space battles look just as good –if not a little better- than the original film, although lacking that extra “wow” factor due to the lack of originality. They are complemented by the outrageously beautiful presentation of Cloud City, which was in THE SKY. For a film in 1980 to present it as well as Empire did, it shows just how special the film was.
The soundtrack. The soundtrack. The soundtrack. There is a reason why John Williams is so beloved to this day and Empire exemplifies why: when the opening title crawl is accompanied by his powerfully majestic score, the viewer just knows that they are in for an epic and special treat. Throughout the film, whenever it kicks in, it is something special to behold. Suffice it to say, Vader’s entrances and scenes throughout the series would lack that sense of grandeur had Williams not complemented them with an appropriately monumental score. Even if the Star Wars story or characters do not appeal to you (how could they not, Jar Jar Binks excluded?), watching at least, the original trilogy for Williams soundtrack will make it worth the investment.
If I can find a flaw with the film outside of occasionally stilted dialogue, it would have to concern the ending and its blatant attempt to set up a sequel rather than leave the film worthy of standing on its own. The fact that the ending comes after a pretty boring final battle between Mark Hammill’s Luke and Vader serves to slightly lessen the impact of the preceding 115-ish minutes but not enough to alter the statement about the film being the best of the 6 released thus far.
Would I recommend the film to someone that has not seen the first and has no intention of seeing at least the sequel? No, there is just too much that would be lost from not seeing the destruction of the Death Star to the buildup to THAT iconic reveal in this film. For anyone that considers themselves a sci-fi fan that has not seen the film, I strongly urge them to watch the original trilogy. From the Williams soundtrack to Lucas/Kershner making a great story and visual decisions to a cast that is just too loveable to find any fault with, Empire has enough going for it to earn a glowing review from us here at The Film Lawyers.
After careful consideration, the team here at The Film Lawyers has decided to grace Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back with a glowing score of A-.