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The Empire Strikes Back

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Empire Strikes Back

Starring: Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher
Director: Irvin Kershner
Rated: PG
RunTime: 124 Minutes
Release Date: May 1980
Genres: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action, Classic

*Also starring: Mark Hamill, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Peter Mayhew, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz, Alec Guinness

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Review by Steve Rhodes
4 stars out of 4

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is the first sequel to STAR WARS, but using a bit of revisionist history, George Lucas renumbered it to be the fifth in the series and STAR WARS to be the fourth. A more intriguing marketing gimmick I have never seen. For my money, nothing like STAR WARS could be as good, but THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is certainly excellent with some characters stronger and one weaker than the first, but the script is as impressive and innovative as ever. Over 15 years after THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK was released, I got to see it anew with my seven year old son Jeffrey.

Basically the plot of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is that the rebels are continuing to fight the Empire. Darth Vader (David Prowse acting with voice by James Earl Jones) leads a mission to destroy the rebels' base on Hoth where our old rebel friends Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Chewbacca "Chewy" (Peter Mayhew), C3PO (Anthony Daniels), and R2D2 (Kenny Baker) are. In a vision Obi-Wan (Alec Guinness) tells Luke to go to Dagobah to train under the Jedi master Yoda (Frank Oz).

The movie is an adventure and a comedy like STAR WARS, but THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK's main theme is the duality of The Force and the struggle between good and evil as manifested in Luke and Darth Vader. Vader reveals a big secret in the show, which was a shock back then. Although everyone probably knows it by now, I will not repeat it lest one of the few people to have never seen the movie may be reading this review.

One of the parts of this episode that I was particularly fond of the way is that the romantic aspect is more fully developed. There is a genuine chemistry between Han and Leia that starts off as verbal sparring, such as when Han sarcastically says, "Fraid I'd leave without giving you a good-bye kiss?" Leia turns up her nose and says, "I just as soon kiss a Wooky!" Eventually the ripostes stop, and their relationship evolves into genuine and explicitly proclaimed love. My god, they even have three brief mouth-to-mouth kisses!

Ford was immature, but hilarious in the original. In this episode he isn't quite as funny, but his character is much more central to the plot. To me this was Ford's movie even if it appeared to be Luke's story. Overall, I liked Ford just as much as before, but Fisher better. She warmed up to the part more and was given a more substantial role.

Whereas George Lucas was STAR WARS, having directed and wrote it, in this episode he was only listed as the executive producer and was credited with the story idea, but not the script itself. The director this time was Irvin Kershner and the script was by Leigh Brackett and the great screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (WYATT EARP, THE BODYGUARD, GRAND CANYON, THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST, THE BIG CHILL, BODY HEAT, and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK).

The script again is imaginative and full of laughs. Poor Chewy remains the brunt of the many of the jokes. When Chewy starts guffawing, Han tells him, "Laugh it up fuzzball!"

Yoda provided the figure that was the fountainhead of wisdom much as Obi-Wan did in the original. Yoda plays his role like some good old boy Ph. D. from the south. He looks and sounds like a yokel who knows nothing, but actually possesses almost infinite knowledge. He tells Luke, who doesn't know he is Yoda, "Looking for someone? Found someone I'd say." When Luke is having trouble moving rocks by using The Force, Yoda tells him, he can do it. Luke responds, "Okay, I'll try." Yoda gets angry with his pupil and admonishes him, "No, try not. Do or do not. There is no try."

C3PO still gets some of the best lines. When the going gets tough, C3 would just as soon give up. When in a jam, he suggests to his companions, "Surrender is a perfectly acceptable alternative in such situations." He tells R2D2 what computer veterans know, "R2D2 you know better than to trust a strange computer."

The visual special effects (Richard Edlund and Brian Johnson) are even more imaginative than last time. As just an example, consider the Imperial Walkers. They are essentially 10 story tall, mechanical, four legged dinosaurs with human operators and laser cannons in the head portion. The design makes absolutely no sense, but creates a great visual. The way they lumber along is the piece de resistance. Watching them was actually my favorite part of the film. My son, I should point out, does a great Imperial Walker imitation.

The kids learn creativity when they watch any of the STAR WARS episodes. Consider in this one the dilemma of how to stop these huge Imperial Walkers. The answer? Why spin a web like a spider from the fighters and lasso their legs cowboy style of course! Actually, there are a lot of parallels with cowboy shows and the STAR WARS movies.

I have a single, but significant criticism of this episode. Although I know they had to do it, I did not like the casting of Mark Hamill to play Luke Skywalker again. The other actors had matured and improved, whereas Hamill seems to have gone downhill. Missing was his enthusiastic and fresh outlook. In its place was someone who looked constantly haggard as if he were out drinking late every night before the morning shooting. He was boyishly handsome in STAR WARS, but in this episode, he had curiously seemed to have lost all of his good looks, and his energy level was too low.

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK runs 2:04, and I think Paul Hirsch's editing needed the tighter focus that STAR WARS had. The film is rated PG. Again, the film is beautifully devoid of foul language. Would that modern screenwriters would realize that bad language should generally be saved for R rated films and above. The story has cartoon level violence although there is one realistic, but not graphic picture of a hand being cut off. There is no sex, nudity, smoking or drug use. I think it would be fine for most kids over 4. My son Jeffrey (age 7) loved it as did his Dad. Even with my above noted one major reservation, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK still gets my top recommendation and rating of ****.

Copyright 1996 Steve Rhodes

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