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Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

July 30, 2010

10/10 Parent Traps

Yup, it’s the best of the bunch.

The Empire Strikes Back picks up with Darth and his endless supply of incompetent Admirals combing the galaxy for Luke Skywalker and his Rebel Alliance buddies after some wizard architect thought the Death Star just had to have an exhaust port (I imagine the boss was pretty pissed about giving that one the go-ahead). Soon enough, Vader smokes ’em out of their ice cave, so Han, Leia, Chewie and the droids get the eff outta’ there and look for a place to lay low while Luke peaces out to go train with a Jedi Master on a glorified swamp.

Alright, after recently revisiting A New Hope (or Star Wars for all you fogies out there) and immediately remembering how phenomenal it’s always been, I gotta say, I was a bit skeptical about how this one would measure up. I’ve always said Empire was the best of the series, and while it’s not quite the mindblowing spectacle of sorts that the trilogy started out with, turns out I was right all along.

The thing is, A New Hope is the best introduction to this far, far away galaxy that anyone could have possibly asked for and if you’re gonna start anywhere with these movies, that’s the place. On the other hand, it’s an introduction that’s first and foremost about the Rebel movement and secondly about the memorable characters. What Empire does is turn that formula on its head and makes it all about the characters, The Force, and the sad truth that smoking the Death Star wasn’t exactly the crushing blow we all thought it was.

Folks, this is when shit gets real, and by the time it all wraps up, things aren’t exactly turning up Rebels. Luke is half-machine after finding out the hard way that his family sucks way harder than he could have ever imagined, he still hasn’t finished his training, Han’s getting shipped off to IKEA which means that Leia and Chewie are all heartbroken, in a nutshell, the Empire is running train.

But like I said, this one’s about the characters.

The first thing worth mentioning is how awesome it is to have Han at the forefront this time around. During that opening scene where Luke’s getting a facelift from a Wampa, I couldn’t help but wonder why Han wasn’t the one heading things up in this trilogy. Nothing against Luke, but what’s not to love about Han? What a wiseass, what a badass, he’s cooler than cool, he’s ice cold, and whenever he’s not on-screen, you really wish he was.

And in comparison to the atrocity that was Anakin and Padme’s “romance” in the new trilogy, the dynamic between Han and Leia is just awesome. The whole cat-and-mouse thing is endlessly entertaining from the moment she says, “I’d just as soon kiss a Wookie,” and he yells back, “I could arrange that. You could use a good kiss!” And by the time she finally wises up to the fact that she actually is crazy for him, he drops the two impossibly irresistable words that would make any woman in her position melt like butter for this scruffy-lookin’ scoundrel.

Leia: “I love you.”
Han: “I know.”

Dude, what a freakin’ stud. That’s why we love Han.

But the big addition to the old gang here is Yoda, and make no mistake, Yoda is THE MAN. I am just crazy about his whole ridiculous intro where he’s rooting through Luke’s supplies and slapping around R2 with his cane because you can’t help but treat him as a joke. It’s one of those moments where you go, “Well, Lucas is officially losing it,” but then you realize that this Gremlins reject is actually the Jedi Master that Luke’s been looking for, the tone of the situation does a complete 180 and you revel in the epic wisdom and power of this half-pint who can lift X-Wings with his mind like it’s no big thing. And then he puts on his serious voice and starts laying down the law:

Luke: “Alright, I’ll give it a try.”
Yoda: “No. Try not. Do…or do not. There is no try.”

Luke: “I don’t, I don’t believe it.”
The Yodester: “That is why you fail.”

Luke: “I won’t fail you. I’m not afraid.”
El Yoderino: “You will be. You…will…be.”

Good lord, I really have no idea how Yoda lost that “Best Jedi” poll to Qui-Gon. Dude never dropped that kind of knowledge on Obi-Wan.

But the one thing that still throws me for a loop and must have made everyone flat-out mess themselves when they first saw this in theaters goes right back to Luke and Darth. Strangely enough, I really can’t bring myself to talk specifically about the said bomb-dropper for fear of any well-read toddlers who might stumble across this highly innappropriate blog that their parents surely wouldn’t approve of, but I don’t think I’m over-stepping any bounds when I say that it may very well be the biggest shocker in movie history. Lucas really deserves a high-five or something for doing such a kickass job of misleading the hell out of his audience so that they wouldn’t see it coming by a long shot and no wonder why it’s become such a iconic moment in movie history. Well played, good sir.

Also really dug their lightsaber duel in Cloud City. It wasn’t until now that I realized what’s so great about the fights in this trilogy: they actually look like Jedi Knights instead of Jedi Parkour Acrobats. Less flipping, less choreography, just serious guys duking it out and you can really feel the power and rage that goes along with it. Yes, Luke did look ridiculous swatting at all the debris that Vader was throwing his way, but other than that, pretty solid stuff that seemed to be abandoned entirely in the new trilogy.

And as much as I’d like to agree that Luke is kind of a whiny bitch here, I gotta say, I feel for the kid. I mean, damn, I’d be anxious, too. Probably wouldn’t pull the whole “You ask the impossible,” shtick on my teacher and mope off into the woods, but if my friends’ lives were in danger, if I was being hunted by the Empire like Dog the Bounty Hunter was behind the wheel, if the fate of the galaxy was resting on my shoulders and I could barely use The Force to stack rocks, hell yeah I’d be frustrated. I don’t know, I think we could afford to cut him a break. At least he’s not crying about sand and shit like Anakin.

And how about Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian, the biggest space pimp around? Man, I’d buy whatever that guy was selling. I’d ditch Han and let him woo my ass ’til kingdom come without thinking twice. Something about that mustache/cape combo…truly pimptacular.

So even though watching The Empire Strikes Back again didn’t quite have the same magically nostalgic effect on me that re-visiting A New Hope did, this is still very much one of the all-time great sequels and it was the perfect direction to take the story and characters in. Just one more glowing and terribly bittersweet example of the kind of quality that Lucas was capable of.

Now can anyone enlighten me on the symbolism behind everyone getting their arms lopped off?

31 Comments leave one →
  1. July 30, 2010 2:58 am

    Great film! Easily the best of the series!

    And, yeah, Han is total stud! Only the studdiest of studs could pull off a line like that.

    It is disappointing though. All the characters in here were so fleshed out, that the lack of character in RETURN OF THE JEDI, Luke going psycho on Vader notwithstanding, was distressing.

    Good review!

    • July 30, 2010 7:51 am

      It’s funny, the only thing I remember from Jedi are Ackbar, the last lightsaber battle and the Ewoks, totally forgot about the character development (or lack thereof) and whatnot. Will get back to you on that though.

      Such a stud though.

  2. July 30, 2010 4:23 am

    yeah, Yoda is pretty much a dick. As much as I loved Han Solo when i was ten, im slowly coming round to the fact that he is a complete dick. He’s pretty much Ferris Bueller In Space.

    • July 30, 2010 7:49 am

      Whoa whoa whoa. Is Yoda or Han the dick? Thinking Han falls more along the lines of Ferris. Either way, you are NUTS!

      • August 1, 2010 11:26 am

        Who’s scruffy lookin’?
        let’s look at the evidence…
        – he shoots a guy for no reason in a bar
        – he steals stuff from a nice guy who happens to have a weight problem
        – he turns his back on his friends
        – he comes back in the nick of time just to claim the glory
        – he sexually harrasses a princess
        – he gets jealous of a guy who’s close to his sister

        if this guy isnt a dick i dont know who is

      • August 2, 2010 8:36 am


        – fuck Greedo.
        – fuck Jabba.
        – he comes around, nobody’s perfect.
        – if it weren’t for Han, there wouldn’t have been a part V or VI.
        – i don’t know about sexually harrasses, he’s just insistent, and it pays off anyway.
        – he’s jealous before he realizes the blood relation, then it’s no big thing.

        you crazy, homey.

  3. July 30, 2010 5:51 am

    The Empire Strikes Back has to be my fave out of the lot. And love some of the stuff that Yoda comes up with like; You must unlearn what you have learned. Easier said than done I would imagine.

    • July 30, 2010 7:57 am

      GOD, do I love Yoda. Such a badass. Frank Oz was such a choice pick for the voice. Coolest. Muppet. Ever.

  4. nothatwasacompliment permalink
    July 30, 2010 8:36 am

    i think Leia deserves some props here too. we get to see her leading the rebels, delivering more amusing lines (“would it help if i got out and pushed!?”), blasting storm troopers, displaying force ability, and even flying the MF at one point.

    speaking of which, the chase through the asteroid field is one of my favorites in the entire star wars saga. love the john williams music in that scene.

    and i will also agree about yoda. i love that first scene where he’s trying to take the lamp from R2. i love R2’s little fed up beeps and bloops. they somehow managed to have R2D2 deliver funny “lines”, yet in the new movies NOBODY manages to deliver a funny line…

    • July 30, 2010 8:43 am

      Dude! You’re so right about R2! Forgot to add that, but it’s awesome how in this one we can actually kind of understand what he’s saying through the different beeps and such. LOVED that!

      It wasn’t until seeing this again that I realized Lucas totally recycled the asteroid chase scene in Episode II with Obi-Wan and Jango, which is super lame yet again, but that was a kickass scene.

      And as for Leia, forgive me for not giving her a proper shout-out. She is awesome here, and even though she was awesome in A New Hope too, it’s great that she continues to kick ass. Forgot about the force ability with Luke and that she pilots the Falcon for a brief stint. Man, she’s not joke actually. She really hasn’t gotten the Tough Chick credit over the years that she totally earned here. Thanks for setting that straight, man.

  5. Ryan permalink
    July 30, 2010 9:13 am

    The battle at Hoth was always my favorite growing up. I mean obviously tying the legs of the giant walkers is the only way to take them down. Of course their armor is too strong for the plane’s big ass blasters.
    I always remember having trouble doing that on the star wars game for N64. Can’t remember if it was Rogue Squadron or what.

    • July 30, 2010 9:15 am

      Dude, you made my day. It was Shadows of the Empire and I was hoping someone would bring that up. Took me forever to catch on that you had to do that to beat the level, so awesome though. DAMMIT I need hook up my N64 and find a way to get that game.

  6. July 30, 2010 9:22 am

    “Luke, I am your father…now tell me, have you had sexual urges towards your sister?”

    • July 30, 2010 9:24 am

      Damn, dude. What a buzzkill that must have been. Thank God for Han not taking “No” for an answer.

  7. July 30, 2010 12:02 pm

    I love love love Han’s “I know” line. So tight.

    Don’t get me wrong, Empire Strikes back is a kick-A film, but I’m legitimately upset that so many people find it the best of the series. A New Hope is it for me.

    Kinda want to do a debate style article with someone, I’m getting fired up over here…

    • July 30, 2010 12:06 pm

      It’s so close between the two, they’re both easy 10s. To be honest, I think what pushes this one over the edge for me is Yoda. We finally get to see what the real power of The Force and he’s arguably the biggest badass in the whole trilogy, but there are other factors as well. Would love to be that guy on the other end of the debate, this is a kickass conversation worth having.

  8. July 31, 2010 1:42 am

    Fucking great write-up, Aiden. My favorite line: “if I was being hunted by the Empire like Dog the Bounty Hunter was behind the wheel.” Nice.

    “It wasn’t until now that I realized what’s so great about the fights in this trilogy: they actually look like Jedi Knights instead of Jedi Parkour Acrobats. Less flipping, less choreography, just serious guys duking it out and you can really feel the power and rage that goes along with it.”

    Amen. Pretty sure I made this point in a previous SW post, but you made the point by emphasizing Knights – these guys weren’t supposed to be martial artists but a space age version of the guys with swords. Why Lucas felt the need to flip the script and make them ninjas (like every single other action movie these days) has always bothered me. But that’s probably moreso a sign that I’m just getting old and like stuff “the way it used to be.”

    • August 2, 2010 8:02 am

      Yeah, it’s weird how much more I’m liking these straightforward, un-flashy fights and how much lamer it’s making the uber-choreographed fights in the prequels look. I’m with ya’, man. Lucas really drank the Kool-Aid on that one

  9. July 31, 2010 7:02 pm

    A film that inspires me to get a Yoda piggyback backpack? It has to be a favourite!

    I’d definitely agree with the word “atrocity” to describe the dynamic between Anakin and Padme. “Stomach-churning” would also suffice.

    • August 2, 2010 8:24 am

      hahaha. truly awful in so many ways. but the yoda piggyback totally kicks ass. i actually saw online somewhere that they make backpacks that look like a dismanted C-3PO (a la Chewbacca in Cloud City), dont know why they haven’t gotten on the Yoda bandwagon in this regard. would totally buy that.

      • August 2, 2010 3:24 pm

        One of Thinkgeek’s many delights:

        I just googled the C-3PO one.

        I want it.


      • August 2, 2010 3:30 pm

        hahaha. awesome, right? would love to wear that around NYC just for the comments.

      • August 3, 2010 9:24 am

        I can imagine the comments in Cork City. Namely, confusion and “langer”.

        I’m visiting NYC in September – It’d be so brilliant if the flight landed and the Control was being guarded by Stormtroopers.
        I remember seeing Jabba the Hut costumes before. If I wore that on the flight, I’d probably have to pay for two seats 😦

      • August 4, 2010 8:13 am

        Hahaha, i don’t think the pleasant folks at the new york airports would find jabber all that humorous, but hey, you only live once. Do it!

      • August 4, 2010 8:34 am

        Tempting…but maybe I’ll just opt for a Leia “A New Hope” hairdo. Then I’d probably just be questioned by the fashion police 😀

        I’m not too keen on the female incarnation of Jabba – “Slobba the Slut”.

      • August 6, 2010 7:57 am

        lol, maybe if you were going to Amsterdam or Vegas, you’d probably fit right in with the Slobba getup. I think it’s about time that Leia’s hair buns made it to the mainstream. You just wait, it’s gonna be HUGE!

  10. Aimée V. permalink
    July 31, 2010 9:16 pm

    I think the Star Wars trilogy and Leia pretty much defined the way I behave towards men. 😉

    • August 2, 2010 8:31 am

      Hahaha, nothing wrong with that.

      Digging your Bowie email address btw. Most excellent.

      • Aimée V. permalink
        August 2, 2010 6:20 pm

        Thanks. I think Bowie was my first crush when I was 6 (Labyrinth, anyone?). 🙂
        I just started reading your entries, I like that you write about all sorts of movies. Keep up the good work!

  11. August 14, 2010 8:13 pm

    Haha, I’m watching this right now on Spike TV, and the line “I love you… I know” just happened and it reminded me of your post… get out of my head!

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