Review: The Empire Strikes Back

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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (and the end of The Skywalker Saga) arrives on December 20th, 2019. That’s Entertainment will be celebrating the next month, until the release of Episode 9. Check out yesterday’s coverage here and Garrett’s review of Star Wars here.


the empire strikes back poster imageDirector: Irvin Kershner
Writer: Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas
Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford

Editors note: Garrett originally watched Star Wars Episodes 1-6 in numbered order before seeing The Force Awakens. Theses reviews have been posted in release order.

I can now confirm, having watched all the films backs to back, that the original Star Wars is my favorite of the series, despite The Empire Strikes Back being arguably the best of the series. This improves on Star Wars in almost every way, emphasis on almost. The characters all crystallize into pitch perfect heroic archetypes with even faster, wittier banter to emphasize their bond and group dynamic. The sets are bigger, more artfully designed, and crafted with more interesting lighting and color schemes. The action and effects take a leap forward in scale, staging, and clarity. And the script puts our heroes through challenging moral dilemmas that result in one of the most memorable twists in cinema history as well as one of the great, dark endings in which our heroes lose on all fronts. The script also successfully delivers a complete, three act story that still leaves you on a big cliffhanger. It really is pretty incredible.


However, I also think there are two significant problems with The Empire Strikes Back—at least for me—that hold it back from being my favorite of the series, and they’re tied together. The Dagobah sequences are some of the sleepiest of the entire series. I understand the purpose of them, the kinds of scenes they’re meant to mimic from the larger hero’s journey mythos, but they really do break up and slow down the movie. And that’s not just due to the pace of those specific scenes, although that’s parts of it. It’s also because this movie breaks up the merry band of heroes the first movie was building towards bringing together. And the fact that it opens with them not just together, but exploring an exciting, fun, and funny dynamic together, makes it that much more difficult to enjoy a movie that almost immediately separates them. I’ve never liked that choice, even as a kid, and it feels even more problematic now, as an adult. Oh I also think it takes way too long to end. There’s a 10 minute escape from Bespin, AFTER they save Luke, which is AFTER we’ve already watched them escape Bespin once, and it’s not that exciting; it adds nothing to the movie.

That being said, The Empire Strikes Back rocks. It’s just great. I simply think the first movie is a tighter story. It’s actually quite a small, straight forward movie if you think about it, it just exists in a huge universe that implies a grand mythology. I think that’s why it works better for me.


One thing I wanted to note about watching it in context with the prequels is that this movie and Return of the Jedi actually make the Vader “Noooo!” at the end of Revenge of the Sith work a lot better, and vice versa I think. The whole idea is “there’s still good in him.” And as soon as Vader understands that Luke is his son and the Emperor wants him dead, he starts bargaining for Luke’s life. He requests that they try to turn him and make him an ally, and when he presents this to Luke he says they could rule the galaxy together as father and son. To me, this all ties in nicely with the broken monster we’re presented with at the end of Revenge of the Sith. And without spoiling anything, it ties in nicely with the new series that began this weekend as well. I think thematically the Vader “Nooo!” fits in the greater, cyclical nature of this story and works well within the series—fuck the haters.

The above was originally written in 2015, during Garrett’s rewatch of the series leading up to the release of The Force Awakens.

Score: ★★★★★

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