The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

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Darth Vader (James Earl Jones, David Prowse) is about to say those famous words…

I watched this at the ideal time – I saw the start just before the new Star Wars film (review coming soon!) and the end a day or so later. So perfect to compare. This has always been my favourite Star Wars film. But how does it stand up in 2016?

Well the iconic AT-AT attack on the rebel base still looks impressive but I found the actual attack a bit boring this time round. I enjoyed the build up to it though. Action sequences do feel like they have moved in both drama and spectacle in the 30 or so years since this came out.

The acting compared to modern standards now feels a bit Saturday-afternoon-matinee and is clunky at times. If I was being uncharitable, a parallel could easily be drawn between Mark Hamill’s doe-eyed Jedi novice (Luke Skywalker) and his ability as an actor. Where this film shines though, is it’s story. It’s not predictable and it doesn’t have the traditional happy ending. Luke starts his Jedi training properly with Yoda, but then makes a heartfelt yet unwise decision to abandon it which means that by the end of the film he has 1. Been given the crushing news that one of the most evil men in the galaxy is his father 2. Had his hand painfully cut off. 3. Is slowly falling in love with a woman who he doesn’t yet realise is his sister. That’s not even factoring in his best friend being frozen in carbonite and the Empire gaining the upper hand. There’s also the memory of that first night on Hoth – which he spent unconscious inside a Tauntaun’s rancid gut cavity….

Where this film has the advantage over the others is in the much deeper exploration and explanation of the Force during Yoda’s training and in the moral choices Luke has to make. Luke has to decide whether to commit fully to the way of the Jedi, and later try to resist Vader’s attempted ‘seduction’ to the Dark Side. Of course it’s not shocking now but the famous “Luke, I am your father” scene made this an even greater film at the time

Which Order Would You Rate the Star Wars Films in Rich?

1. The Empire Strikes Back 2. Star Wars 3. The Phantom Menace 4. Return of the Jedi,  the other 2 prequels were both terrible but maybe Revenge of the Sith was slightly better.

And with the latest film?

It’s too soon to say but on one viewing I’d put The Force Awakens at number 3. However overall better acting, jokes that are actually funny, and superior special effects means it has a more instant and enjoyable appeal than any of the films except perhaps the original Star Wars.

Anyway… back to The Empire Strikes Back. While I enjoyed it, it feels dated overall and can be annoying at times. I actually found the whole Millennium Falcon hyperdrive-not-working-and-C3PO-or-another-character-being-ignored-when-they-try-to-tell-Solo-or-Leia irritating *at the time*. Now it’s even more so and while all three original Star Wars films have a jokey and upbeat atmosphere, the truth is they were never actually funny. The special effects are still surprising good, some of which is down to the 90s remastering. However this turns out to be a double-edged sword because while some of the 90s effects improve on the originals some now look dated themselves.

Interesting and enjoyable and easily the best Star Wars film in terms of both story and depth but dated acting and action sequences hurt it a little today.

7/10

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