We want more. More beep-booping R2-D2, more of Han the sarcastic scoundrel, more magnified heavy breathing, more “piew piew” sounds, more, more, more. Thankfully Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back is happy to deliver. While the relationship between Leia (Carrie Fisher) and her two flyboys, Han (Harrison Ford) and Luke (Mark Hamill), was a little foggy in Star Wars IV: A New Hope, there is no doubt in The Empire Strikes Back that Leia and Han are shooting for the next Hollywood dream couple. Leia sneaks sideways glances while Han tugs on her pigtails, and Luke, overwhelmed by the sexual tension in the room, takes the first chance he can get to escape to the edge of the galaxy. As excuses go, you can’t say that obeying the orders of a hallucination-induced ghost lacks points for creativity; “He told me I need to go. Far away. For a while. I’ll catch up with you two… later.”
Luke’s galactic search for a legendary Jedi master, however, ends in somewhat of a surprise. Who does he dig up on that uncultivated swamp planet? Heyo! Kermit de frog here! Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz – unlike R2-D2 there is no man inside this robot) tries his very best to find balance between teaching Luke gymnastics and acting like a crazy old weirdo. Meanwhile, Leia and Han spend their romantic getaway tinkering with the ship’s hyperdrive and trying to shake the imperial scouts on their tail. They are being chased by agents sent by the evil Lord Vader (played by David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones) who is obsessed with finding Luke and luring him over to the dark side. Vader figures that his best chance of getting Luke is by capturing his friends, setting a trap, and hoping that Luke is reckless enough to fall for it.
Obviously Luke falls for it. Who could ignore a vision of their friends partying in a cloud city without them? The climax builds to a tense, sweaty, emotionally charged game of hide-and-seek with Lord Vader himself. Not saying that the ventilator makes for a very one-sided game but…
The Empire Strikes Back brings a whole new chapter of light-up-buttons and giant stop-motion toys. A note: I did watch the original, fancy, VHS version (the one where Han shot first) meaning the quality of the “special effects” leaves something to be desired. But for 1980 I’m relatively impressed at the way
some rubber, a few wires, and a bit of duct tape successfully tie this movie together.
Through Luke’s training we also get to learn more about the ways of the Jedi and their almighty Force. It really is a beautiful philosophy: energy surrounds every living thing and there is peace, power, and longevity in yoga- I mean, Yoda’s preaching. Compare Yoda’s method of balance to Vader’s habit of shutting himself away in a giant, metal egg and you’ll find a fairly large, black-and-white difference. While Yoda lives a peaceful life alone in his swamp, reaching out to the galaxy through thoughts and feelings, Vader prefers to sweep his cape across spaceship floors and video-conference-choke-hold his staff.
Vader goes through admirals like I go through clean socks. “I will apologize to Vader.” …Good luck. With that. Whereas in A New Hope we saw the empire as an administration, with one dutiful commander ordering another dutiful commander to sacrifice a less-dutiful commander, The Empire Strikes Back puts Vader on top in a big, fancy chair. We find out that, surprise, he really is a bad dude who spends as much time murdering his underlings as he does waxing his helmet.
The Empire Strikes Back has less action than A New Hope but much more flow. It builds towards an inevitable end, with ruthless foreshadowing and heavy character development. It’s a certainty that the characters we will see again in The Return of the Jedi will not be the same green youngsters we stumbled upon in A New Hope. The Empire Strikes Back is a fantastic middle-movie that builds upon the (then-) first installment while setting up for the (then-) finale. With so much time spent training and flirting we trade action for more character growth: a happy trade-off. It settles in at a 7.5/10.