The Empire Strikes Back rates as one of my favourite films of all time. I am part of the Star Wars generation who grew up with the films and I was obsessed with all things related for years after, every birthday and Christmas I would receive nothing but Star Wars merchandise. I thought as a trilogy the films worked very well and they still have appeal for both children and adults, but for me The Empire Strikes Back stood out as the best.
Released in 1980 this film was hugely successful and virtually everyone must have seen it or at least heard of it at some point, if you haven´t don´t read on as I am bound to spoil the plot. The action in brief sees Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) on the rebel side fighting against Darth Vader (David Prowse/James Earl Jones) and the Empire. The film kicks off with an Imperial probe droid finding the Rebel base and the stormtroopers soon move in for the attack forcing the rebels to flee. Luke goes off to be taught by the small, green and overall wise Master Yoda (an ancient Jedi), meanwhile Han and Leia run into trouble at Cloud City. The action builds to one of the greatest revelations in cinema history.
George Lucas was the driving force behind the trilogy and he wrote the story and produced, with direction by Irvin Kershner, and an unforgettable musical score by John Williams. The main characters were all by played by virtual unknowns with Harrison Ford the only one to really go on to great success, although they are all excellent in their parts.
The trilogy stands out in the sci-fi genre for a number of reasons. The mythology built around it gives the Star Wars universe some real depth; the battle is basically between good and evil, the Rebels versus the Empire, the Light side of the Force against the Dark. The force is created by all living things with the light fed by love, compassion and all things positive while the dark is fed by anger and hate. The force is essentially a religion with the same basic message as all religions - that you should strive to be good. As in real life the odds are stacked firmly in favour of evil but they always underestimate their opponents.
The look of the films is superb and seems to be ageless. All of the settings look real and are full of little details, which allow you to suspend your disbelief. Although the effects are dated the films still somehow manage to look superior to most of the other sci-fi stuff on offer. In Empire the settings are especially good from the barren ice world of Hoth to the swamp of Yoda´s home in Dagobah and best of all the Cloud City suspended, as the name suggests, in the clouds. The technology manages to look both futuristic and dated at the same time and Lucas cleverly tells us at the start that this all happened a long time ago, it is not a story about the human race and this gave Lucas more freedom in creating his own fully-functioning universe.
The battle between good and evil is easy for everyone to relate to and there are many allegories, which represent and reflect the history of mankind. However the main attraction for me was always the Dark Lord of the Sith - Darth Vader. The greatest evil character ever invented, just the imagery of his helmet and dark flowing cape was enough to strike fear into me as a child. I remember visiting a department store when I was younger to meet Darth Vader, this was of course David Prowse who was also the Green Cross Code man for a while, the voice of Darth was done by James Earl Jones, and fantastically well I might add. Anyway there was a large crowd and my father held me up to shake Darth´s hand when he entered. Now I was old enough to think there was something a bit fishy about a dead, thoroughly evil Lord of Sith visiting a big shop in a foreign universe but when he emerged from the double doors and strode down the corridor towards us I froze. The huge figure was imposing and as he approached I could hear the trademark laboured and mechanical sounding breath. He stopped in front of me and shook the trembling hand I tentatively offered him. His grip was like iron and I wondered if he might crush me on the spot or strangle me by thinking about it, like the doubting Imperial commander in Star wars. I resolved not to make any wise cracks about the force. Darth moved on and I went home feeling elated as the fear subsided, I had met Darth Vader. I spent the next few weeks boring my friends silly talking about it.
The Empire Strikes Back is the darkest of the trilogy, Darth gets to win and the rebels are left in disarray. It used to annoy me that films would always end on a victorious note for the goodies and so I instantly loved this film and have found that repeated watching does not distract from it´s excellence. The end scene is fantastic, an epic light saber battle followed by mighty white Luke losing his hand and Darth revealing his true identity as Luke´s father. The only disappointment for me was that Luke jumped. If that had been me and Darth said "Together we will rule the universe as father and son" I would have said "ok dad".
The characters are developed further in Empire than they were in Star Wars. Luke is older, wiser and slightly grubbier (this denotes his internal battle with the good and dark sides of the force). Han develops more and more into the lovable rogue, all wise cracks and macho behaviour. Chewbacca serves again as the skilled humanoid dog who is fiercely loyal. Princess Leia gets to dress sensibly and order everyone around while continuing her love/hate relationship with Han, and still finding time for an incestuous kiss with Luke.
Watching the film again I would still say it is excellent, although I think much of the appeal for me is nostalgic, it reminds me of how I felt as kid when I had a really strong emotional attachment to the characters. The only sci-fi films that come close to competing with this are Bladerunner and the Alien trilogy (well the first two at least) but they both lose points for being adult films, the Star Wars trilogy is suitable for anyone. I know the film has been criticised for helping to spawn the now endless chain of blockbusters but I can´t bring myself to say a bad word about it.
The Star Wars trilogy was the one of the first to recognise the potential of merchandise, and I have a loft to prove it. You could buy anything from lunch boxes, bedspreads, and action figures to limited edition mugs, replica spaceships and plastic lightsabers. They must have made a fortune on it and in the days before soft toy deals and happy meals were already set up before the release of the film.
I intend to make my kids watch the trilogy and if they don´t like it I will probably briefly consider disowning them before realising things change and I´m old. Apologies for the waffling I better stop now. All I can say is if by some miracle you haven´t seen this then go and watch it and cheer on Darth. If you have seen it go and watch it again, an epic film by any standards.