Star Wars: Episode IV – The Empire Strikes Back (1980) is the second film in the Star Wars saga, expanding on the universe set up in A New Hope. Directed by Irvin Kershner, this film continues its cast list of Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford. In this sequel, the team must fend off the Imperial Fleet whilst Luke Skywalker (Hamill) is trained to be a Jedi Knight in order to defend himself against Darth Vader (played by David Prowse and voiced by James Earl Jones), who is determined to turn Luke to the dark side.
What can I say about this film that has not been repeated numerous times? The scale on this film is truly epic, going way beyond what was shown in A New Hope. Not only was the scale increased physically here, but also the drama was heavily increased. The stakes were higher than before, the emotion was larger than before and this film is the perfect example of taking everything that worked in an original property, and increasing the quality of all of that in the sequel without making it feel repetitive.
Despite already feeling rounded and fleshed out in A New Hope, this film goes further into exploring the main characters’ backgrounds, particularly of Luke Skywalker. There is obviously that iconic battle near the end of this film between him and Darth Vader, which not only adds conflict to the battle but major character development for both characters. It is nice to see the villain here get a full storyline and have a background, and it is also an interesting storyline to explore in a series like this.
Whilst there are obviously still elements which clearly looks like practical effects and models on a level which is unlike today’s standards, the budget feels way higher on this film due to how stunning every shot looks. In particular, the AT-AT walkers not only look fantastic as a concept idea, but are incredibly well realised and effective both as a plot point and a visual representation of the world. It is designs like these that really suck you into the entire universe overall.
Due to not being limited to a single film, this sequel had the chance to be bolder in its storytelling, which I appreciated here. Unlike A New Hope, which had to end on a solid conclusion in case of a box office failure, the studio was more than happy to risk this one ending on a cliffhanger and reliant on there being another film in this particular trilogy. Whilst this film nicely wraps up the particular storyline told in this film, it also sets up another storyline which would be a hook going into Return of the Jedi.
One aspect that is introduced in this film is the idea of love and a relationship slowly starts to develop between Han and Leia. This is very much a secondary part of the plot, which is nice to see for a film like this not to push it heavily on the audience. The Star Wars franchise has overall been great at this, making the focus on the individual characters and their stories, rather than focus on the love aspects which can be seen anywhere else. What is also nice about this relationship is how natural it feels, showing a true version of how romance comes about slowly rather than loud and forcefully. It is a nice little layer to this huge story and grounds the fantasy just that little bit.
To some people, this is the best movie to ever be made, and you can see why it is beloved by so many and is known as the best film in the entire franchise. It is thrilling, it heavily expands on the universe set up in the first film and also adds layers and character development to several characters, including the villain. For a sci-fi epic, it is hard to argue that any film can do it better.
What are your thoughts of The Empire Strikes Back? Is it your favourite film in the franchise, or is it even your favourite film of all time? Let me know in the comments section and let’s have a discussion.