Action Movie Friday: Star Wars, Episode 5, The Empire Strikes Back

It is time for Action Movie Friday, where I treat an action movie like an action movie and not like a drama and stuff. All movie reviews are subjective and while I may like something, you might think it’s shit, and vice versa!

Title: Star Wars, Episode 5, The Empire Strikes Back
MPAA Rating: PG
Release: 1980
Genre: science fiction, fantasy
Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fischer, Frank Oz, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse, James Earl Jones, Alec Guinness, Billy Dee Williams
Director: Irvin Kershner
Writer: Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas
Distributor: Fox
Budget: $18 Million
Box Office: N/A

trailers have come a long way, I must say…

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: N/A

Gingersnaps Rating: Four Cookies!

Summary:

Despite their decisive victory at Yavin IV, the Empire has pushed the Rebel Alliance into mere threads of what it was. Darth Vader has relentlessly pursued them across the galaxy to a small ice world called Hoth. Determined to catch them, Vader has sent thousands of Imperial Probe droids across the galaxy. His goal, to crush the Rebel Alliance and capture Luke Skywalker. The Rebels barely escape his attack on their base and following a vision, Luke goes to Dagobah to receive Jedi training from Yoda. Han and Leia are vexed at every turn by a malfunctioning hyperdrive and Imperial pursuit. They seek refuge at the Cloud City on Bespin where Han’s old friend Lando Calrissian is in charge. With no place to go, they have to trust Lando not to betray them or they’ll become bait for the trap to lure Luke away from his training.

Review:

The Empire Strikes Back, or as xkcd put it recently, the Government Wins this One, is considered by most Star Wars fans to be the best movie of the entire (now) series. It introduces some of the favorite characters of the series (Lando and Boba Fett, though Boba Fett has less than 20 lines.) The movie wasn’t directed by, produced, or written by George Lucas. Though he had a hand in the story. Fancy that. We’ll see how it measures up.

The story begins with our heroes in peril and it actually never takes them out of conflict the entire movie. They are in conflict with the elements, each other, and of course, the villains, the Empire. At this point, Darth Vader has made this personal. He wants Luke, alive if he can turn him to the dark side and his head on a platter if he can’t. The Empire is always a step ahead of the heroes at every turn. They have more power and more resources than the Rebel Alliance and Han isn’t as smart as he thinks he is.

Luke has his own personal conflicts. Luke’s clear flaw of recklessness is both stated and shown in the movie. He refuses to listen to sound advice and runs off, thus proving Yoda right about his character or lack thereof. And at the end, Luke even has a crisis of faith in his friend Ben Kenobi. (Though given how little Ben was around this seems to be a bit misplaced, but that is only my opinion.)

The peril feels real without the characters having to die to make it so. Han is tortured and put into carbonite (another type of torture.) Luke gets hit by a wampa, almost freezes to death, and later loses a hand. C-3PO is blasted into pieces.

The dialogue occasionally suffers from the movie ‘we must tell you what is going on here’ syndrome. Yes, I can hear that the floor of the asteroid cave is squishy and the fogs gives away that it is damp. I suppose they feel that the characters have to say something even if it is “the ground feels squishy” instead of “this doesn’t seem like a normal asteroid cave to me, does it to you?” Most of these bits make Leia seem sheltered or stupid or both. (Take your pick.) Irregardless of these few weak spots, the dialogue is generally a cross between military speak and something that teeters on normal. Tense situations are interspersed with funny lines as is the action. (I still advocate we need an R2-D2 movie.) Some scenes are unintentionally funny as they provided the template for many other scenes of movies made after these. (It’s a trap! And “Noooo!” Come to mind.)

Overall, this movie is extremely engaging. One cookie.

There are plenty of explosions in this movie, and I’m going to count the entry into the asteroid field as totally unnecessary. They have to come out. As Yoda says, patience! One cookie)

They really increased the proficiency of both the light saber duels and the capabilities of the Millennium Falcon. It’s clear that Luke is still a novice to light saber fighting, using two hands to Vader’s one. Though, I suppose Luke could be treating it as a long sword as opposed to Vader treating it as a sabre. Objects fly around, Luke flies through a window and the plot advances, always good. The Millennium Falcon finally provides us with some twists and turns as they try to evade Imperial TIE fighters instead of flying in a static straight line. There is even a time when you’re afraid that two Star Destroyers are actually going to collide. (They scrape by each other.) So, One cookie.

It is very unclear in the movies itself what Leia’s actually position in the Rebel Alliance is. She doesn’t seem to be part of the military hierarchy, yet she at times does dictate military strategy. Mostly we know from before that she was an Imperial Senator and thus a stateswoman. Her role in the Alliance is almost one of ‘waiting.’ Until there is a Republic again in truth, Leia is more of a beacon of hope and a symbol of morale to the fighters. That is, when Han and Luke aren’t bickering over her. Leia and Han spend most the movie bickering over what they mean to each other and why Han is leaving, but never really resolving it. Mostly, the viewer can see that something had to have happened over the past three years that made the three of them quite close. (The EU sadly didn’t develop this one too well.) So, Leia gets dragged along from situation to situation bickering with Han (who treats her like his wife most the time) and being used to bait the trap to get Luke. Leia as a character is sort of just there, waiting for something to happen and then mostly helpless when it does. (Fighting her way out of Bespin notwithstanding.) I have to eat this cookie.

What really impressed me was the sheer sense of scale that this movie provides. The Imperial Star Destroyers that were favored in the first movie according to EU canon sources were approximately one mile long. (The Empire uses meters, but meters make no sense to me.) Now, Super Star Destroyer shown as Darth Vader’s flagship has a bay that can swallow one of the Imperial Star Destroyers by itself. The Super Star Destroyers is roughly twelve miles long. That is the size of a good midsized city. Note I said long, not width. That’s not given. It’s impressive, both in sheer size and in the sheer waste that goes into making them given the Rebellion had nothing similar to that size. Oh right, there was an asteroid field, a big space slug and a pretty city in the clouds and I get impressed by the capital ships.

I think the only thing that really pulled me out of the movie and this is so nitpicky that it won’t count, is that on Dagoboh, the reptiles are clearly Earth origin reptiles. This didn’t pull me out of the movie back when I first watched it, mainly because I wasn’t paying that close attention, but it does now. Earth reptiles or not, the world building gets to keep its cookie.

The Empire Strikes Back is a conflict fueled movie where the characters are put into real peril. With her role in the Rebel Alliance unclear, Princess Leia was mostly a pretty face that bickered with Han and wavered between choosing him or Luke. Four Gingersnaps. (Best thus far!)

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