Star Wars, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

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So it was impossible for me to resist watching the second film in the original Star Wars trilogy after being absolutely blown away with the first film. Approaching Star Wars, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back was even more daunting that the previous film, because it is well-documented that it is the best in the entire franchise, and I couldn’t quite see how it would be able to be better than Episode IV. To be perfectly honest, it isn’t better than the first film, but rather is equally as brilliant, and while I did prefer Episode IV, this film was absolutely wonderful in every regard.

The main difference between this film and the one before it was that Episode IV had a tremendous amount of heart that compensated for the sometimes laughable special effects (it goes without saying that at this point in cinematic, the special effects in the Star Wars films were far ahead of their time, and the epitome of revolutionary, and to laugh at the special effects in these films is slightly misguided, because what was achieved here does not have any modern-day comparisons, not even James Cameron’s problematic but visually stunning Avatar film. Episode V shows the Star Wars films reaching their technological apex, and for a film made decades ago, it is truly ahead of its time, even by modern standards. In that regard, Episode V blows Episode IV completely out of the water, because while Episode IV did have an impressive amount of special effects, it concentrated more on the story rather than the effects, which Episode V inverts, where it seemed that special focus was put on the way the film looked, rather than what the film was about.

This isn’t a complaint – but Episode V is lackluster in comparison to its predecessor as the story doesn’t have the emotion heft as the first. However, this can be attributed to sophmore syndrome, where in nearly all franchises, especially trilogies, the second film is used less as a film and more as a tool to continue the story from the first film, and set up all the important plot elements for the third film. There was a vast amount of plot being thrown at us in this film, and while they weren’t all fully explored, it was less an element of bad writing, and more as a way of preparing the audience for an intense final film. It can be a bit daunting to take in the immense amount of plot that this film throws at you, and considering the first film followed a single logical plot, the parallel stories here can throw audiences off somewhat, which may seem like a complaint, but it is one that is relatively easy to let go of, because it doesn’t distract from the fact that this is a tremendously great film in itself, and we are led to believe that the multiple storylines that are presented throughout will have a monumental pay-off in the final film.

Harrison Ford was definitely the best in the cast for Episode IV, and he was equally as fantastic here. However, he didn’t command the screen quite as much here as he did in the previous film, and while he does play the same wisecracking, charismatic Han Solo that made the first film so wonderfully unique, he takes a bit of a backseat here. Mark Hamill probably gives the best performance of the film, as Luke Skywalker goes through a fantastic journey of self-discovery. Carrie Fisher is also fantastic, but she also has ample room to grow, and hopefully the final film gives her the same opportunity to showcase her talents as this film did for Hamill. I was slightly disappointed to see Alec Guinness’ great performance from the previous film relegated to two small scenes, because I think his role was one of the best of the previous film. I can’t say too much about the rest of the performances, but I will say that James Earl Jones makes a brilliant villain, and contrasted with David Prowse’s memorable physical performance, Darth Vader becomes a brilliant villain and hopefully his evil is amplified in the final film, because to be perfectly honest, I was slightly disappointed with the lack of memorable villain scenes throughout this film, however brilliant the final battle and the big revelation was (about that huge moment – just because everyone and their neighbor knows the huge twist does not make it any less impactful, and it can be said that what makes that moment so iconic is not the revelation itself, but the tone it sets and the reaction Hamill has to the realization that Darth Vader is his father).

The cinematography and production design for this film was absolutely otherworldly (excuse the pun), and every frame in this film was an absolute visual delight. From the snowy locale that the film starts with, through the humid jungle that Yoda inhabits, to the majestic eternity of space that the finale takes place in, this film is absolutely delightful in regards to visuals. The epic fight scene between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader contained some of the greatest cinematography ever captured on film, and the tense atmosphere was created beautifully through the simplicity of editing and the grandiose photography that made this film as heart-pounding and brilliant as it is.

One part of Star Wars that is very rarely ever concentrated on is the music. John Williams has created a score that is not only fitting for the film, but has evolved into an iconic part of cinema history. There is nothing quite as exciting as the main titles, all because of the memorable and rousing opening title music. Darth Vader is an iconic villain, and is highly recognizable, not only for the costume and the voice, but also because of the menacing music that serves as his theme music. Williams crafts a magnificent score, and while it was fantastic in Episode IV, the music in Episode V blends masterfully with the visuals, and it may seem reductive, I truly believe that the music of Star Wars is one of its very best elements. Other films wish they had this score.

I thought that Episode V was a fantastic film. However, while it was as brilliant as the previous film, I wouldn’t dare call it a masterpiece right now, not because it wasn’t great, but I first need to see how this film served as a device to frame the final film, because while Episode V stands as a tremendous film on its own, it also needs to help set up the final film. It is a fantastic film, with great performances, and a great addition to an iconic trilogy. I felt a lot more could’ve been done to make it as magically special as the first film, but it is a satisfying film nonetheless. Luckily, this film does avoid the entire trap of sequel syndrome, and is an equally strong film as its predecessor, and hopefully its successor will continue this trend.

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