SUB-GENRES: Action / Adventure
DIRECTED BY: Irvin Kershner
WRITTEN BY: Leigh Brackett & Lawrence Kasdan (screenplay); George Lucas (story)
PEW PEW: Empire pairs the tense cat and mouse chases and swashbuckling action of Star Wars with a compelling drama that does a little more to underscore the severity of the situations. The series positively glows with, and is perhaps the greatest example of pure ‘pew pew!’
CAT FOOD: Again, while Empire does a lot more to explore and deepen the series’ simplistic morality, there’s not a terrible amount of social commentary in this picture. There are a few more grey areas revealed, however, when officers are motivated to do evil out of fear, and hunters and commercialists do the same out of greed and self-preservation.
If I haven’t totally offended fans of the series with my bit about the original Star Wars, I hope you’ll stick around for what I think of its sequel. Although Star Wars was, as cinema, severely flawed, it was nonetheless a bit of magic that kick-started a brilliantly entertaining franchise. The direct sequels to the film are by all means the meat of the saga.
Enter the second film (fifth in the continuity of the entire saga), The Empire Strikes Back. There are many claims made that Empire is the best picture in the series. I, and not just to be difficult, tend to disagree. While Empire is a mostly amazing film, I can’t say it’s my favourite in the series, or even in the original trilogy, for a few reasons.
We pick up a while after the first film. The Rebel Alliance has won some significant battles against the Galactic Empire, but the baddies ain’t havin’ none of it. Even more awesome than before (complete with iconicly bitchin’ theme music and a new ship so G.D. big, you’ll be wondering how small his unit is under all that), Darth Vader is, for reasons unknown to us at this point, hell bent on tracking down this Luke Skywalker who was hanging around with his old master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, in the last film.
The Rebel Alliance, we soon learn, has had to hop around from hidden base to hidden base in order to shield itself from direct assault from the Empire. After narrowly escaping utter annihilation on the frosty planet Hoth, most of our heroes find themselves whipping through forbidding space with the worst of the Empire hot on their tails. Separated from his friends, Luke Skywalker, has been visited by the ghost of Ben Kenobi and is on his way to another planet, seeking the old warrior Yoda, who will complete his Jedi training.
The sounds and imagery that were so captivating in the original film are multiplied five-fold in The Empire Strikes Back. While the plot as grown significantly heavier since we left our heroes, and the sense of fun is a little less this time round, there is still that wonderful magic that draws you in and leaves you hooked.
Multiplied ten-fold is the drama. Although quite bleak most of the time, The Empire Strikes Back allows us to explore the characters we know and love and grow with them as they evolve and mature as the stark situation necessitates. We learn a lot more about the enigmatic Darth Vader, accounting for the bombshell that drops toward the end of the picture. The latest film in the franchise, The Force Awakens, recently granted my desire to experience a mystery of at least part of this magnitude, but I still wish I hadn’t been pretty much born with knowledge of the secret that this movie reveals.
Still hanging in there is the humour that my man Threepio provides, and the narrative is extremely compelling at every single turn — a marked improvement over the original film. There’s even a little bit of romance, which brings me to the beefs I have with this picture.
It may very well be a fan favourite because everyone seems so damned enamoured with Han Solo. I, for one, find the character to be mostly abraisive and quite douchey. This may very well be the point of his character’s evolution, but I don’t revere the character because of it. The worst offender is his supposedly uber-romantic line near the end of the film — as the man is about to be frozen in carbonite, a process we find out could very well kill him, his chief love interest in the film finally breaks down and confesses her love for him with a desperately grief-stricken “I love you” … and all he can muster is “I know.” — ??!??!! — What a tool… Seriously! Then, the slab containing his carbonite-frozen ass slams to the ground with a loud thud that presents ‘Han Solo: Douche.’
But I guess I’m old fashioned.
The film is also a little slow and plodding when compared to others in the series. It actually needs to be, because it is designed to be a middle-man that sets us up for the third, but this does hurt it as a standalone picture. For instance, it really should have ended with a bit more resolve.
Empire is also decidedly bleak. From inhospitable landscapes like frigid wastes, asteroid fields, and forbidding swamps, our heroes get their asses handed to them time and time again. It’s an aggravating exercise for those of us who love to love triumph. I will acknowledge that this makes the next film all the more enjoyable for me, but again, I’m judging this as a standalone film.
Among the most incredible things about Empire, however, are the new additions to the cast. While I’m not terribly fond of his character, Billy Dee Williams himself is always welcome on screen. The Henson puppet Yoda, voiced by the great Frank Oz, steals the bloody show. Not only will you be entertained by the jubilant fucking-with he gives Luke, you’ll also buy him as a wise sage, in spite of his appearance. The fight he gives R2-D2 is also one of the best puppet battles ever. The fan favourite Boba Fett also appears in all his badassery. Yes, I am one of these who believes Fett is one of the coolest ever, in spite of the fact that he never really does anything.
The last thing I’ll mention is the lightsaber battle between Luke and Vader. It’s a lot cooler than the one we saw in the first picture. While Luke still has a long way to go, he does some really cool things that give us a pretty good hint that he’s going to become some kind of force to be reckoned with… until he’s pretty much physically and emotionally destroyed, that is.
Final verdict: The Empire Strikes back is a great follow-up to Star Wars, and a great lead-in for Return of the Jedi, but on its own is little more than very compelling connective tissue. While it is certainly the deepest of the three original films, it is also the least fun.