After the visionary movie that was the first Star Wars, here we have The Empire Strikes Back, a possibly more impressive movie on a technical level but not one that immersed me like its predecessor. See, even though most of the main characters return from the last film, aided by some colorful supporting work, I just had trouble finding myself getting lost in the universe this time around. By the time Yoda (a puppet voiced by Frank Oz) showed up, I realized that we hadn’t even gotten to any plot yet, and the movie was almost halfway over.
In this first half of the film, we’re reintroduced to most of the characters from the first film, now full-time members of the Revel Alliance, currently at war with the Empire. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is the main character, having become important in the early stages of the last film. Along with Han Salo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), they seem to be the most prolific people in this army. They’re aided by two droids, C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2, and a sasquatch-like character, Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). We begin the film on an icy planet, and the Empire is ready to strike.
All that happens in the first 50 minutes or so of the film is the escape from this planet. Darth Vader (portrayed by David Prowse and voiced by James Earl Jones) is now our main villain, having survived until the end of the first movie, and is now determined to kill or turn Luke, because he can use the Force, which is a major threat to him and his plans for total domination.
This first battle scene is impressive. Mini fighter ships fly around the snowy climate, huge four-legged walkers try to invade, and there’s a real sense of danger to the proceedings. I won’t tell you who survived and who didn’t. It feels like anyone could get gunned down at any point. This is a very long sequence, and allows us to reacquaint ourselves with the lead characters. Doing this under the guise of a huge action scene is brilliant. The action continues pretty much for the rest of the film, with little time for breaks.
Despite this, there’s more development to these characters in The Empire Strikes Back. In the first Star Wars, these were characters we got to know quite well, but many of them were the same at the end as they were at the beginning. That doesn’t get to happen this time around. Characters definitely develop. The tone is also darker this time around. Most of the violence is still cheesy and bloodless, but there are some points that might surprise you. And considering that it’s mostly about a retaliation on the part of the Empire, you can kind of see why it’s not as light a film.
Obi-Won Kenobi (Alex Guiness) shows up as a ghost from time to time, usually to progress the plot and tell Luke what to do next. It’s his character that kick starts things by informing Luke that it might be in his best interest to seek out Yoda and become a real Jedi. That would allow him to use the Force — telekinesis, to simplify things — and defeat the bad guys. And the bad guys are really worth defeating, for some reason.
That’s one of the problems with this film. I’m still not entirely sure why everyone’s fighting this global war, and why I’m supposed to hate Darth Vader so much. His obsession with Luke is a little creepy, sure, but he doesn’t truly seem evil. You know how there are those villains you almost want to root for because they’ve got something about them that’s infinitely more interesting than the hero? That’s how I feel about Vader. The way he commands his army and the mystery behind what’s behind his mask makes him a more intriguing character than Luke.
It’s not even that he’s better written or better developed or anything; the two “main” entities on either side are both some of the blandest people. I would just rather watch Darth Vader go about his business than I would Luke. Of course, I would prefer tp follow Han Solo on a completely unrelated adventure than I would anything involving this war, but maybe that’s just me. Perhaps the war will actually matter in a future installment, and it will become more interesting. Right now it’s a backdrop and nothing more.
This film looks every bit as good, maybe even better, than the first Star Wars did. The special effects are more mature, and the film had a larger budget. It’s not as fresh, I suppose, but sequels, by nature, pretty much can’t be. All I know is that on a purely technical level, this is a fabulous film and even if the rest of it sucked — it doesn’t; it’s just not quite as interesting as it was the last time around — it would still be worth seeing for the visuals alone.
Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back is a darker, more serious Star Wars than its predecessor, but also a less immersive one. Is it still good? Absolutely and without question. But I couldn’t get lost in its events, try as I might. The two main characters on both sides are too dull. This film is almost non-stop action, and most of the characters are allowed to develop, which is an improvement over the last film, but I found it hard to care about Luke in particular. It’s a great looking film and absolutely worth seeing for that reason — as well as it still being a good movie — but I can’t claim it lives up to the first film’s reputation.