Wookiee Hut Movie Reviews presents:
Star Wars DVD, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Review by MaceVindaloo

Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Billy Dee Williams, Alec Guinness, (the voice of) James Earl Jones, Frank Oz, Ian MacDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, David Prowse, Peter Mayhew

Creator / Producer: George Lucas

Writer / Screenplay: George Lucas, Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasdan

Director: Irvin Kershner

Rating: Death Star

A lot of Star Wars fans — both old and new — will tell you that Empire Strikes Back (ESB) is the best movie of the original trilogy. I find it hard to argue that point for several key reasons: For starters there were fundamental differences to the follow up to the original Star Wars, like, this time they had a budget that would not handcuff them. And two, George was not the director. He had hired Irvin Kershner to direct, and Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan to write, realizing that the work he was doing was more that of an independent producer, and he didn't think he could direct at the same time this time around. It was the first sequel of the franchise, and he wanted to do it the way he envisioned being a moviemaker. (Unfortunately, we know he reversed his position for the prequels, but at that point in time, it was a great decision, one he should have stuck to!)

The second movie has an ominous title and shows the repercussions to the Rebellion resulting from their success at Yavin IV. The Empire would no longer look at the rebellion as a poorly led group which wouldn't amount to much. The Imperials got serious about finding and exterminating this threat ... well, wiping them all out except the one who pulled the trigger on the Death Star.

This movie is much more emotional than A New Hope, since we know and love or hate the characters we'd met in the earlier movie. Thus this movie is more poignant, with more comical touches, but also many more dark and serious motifs. The music is more character-based in terms of themes — for instance, "Darth Vader's Theme" also called "The Imperial March" is a readily recognized piece of movie music, but there were other themes which were also used to tell the story in music. "Yoda's Theme" is light, dexterous, and comical, but with serious underpinnings when combined with the words the silly looking puppet intoned. "Obiwan's Theme" has firmly become "The Force Theme" — the music played at many ceremonies in and out of Star Wars, and "Han Solo and the Princess" is one of the great romantic pieces ever written for movies, even rivaling "Across the Stars" which John William's wrote for Episode II.

Small changes were made to this movie which impact the story in a whole new way. In the original ESB, Vader had learned of the identity of Luke Skywalker in the Alan Dean Foster novelization Splinter of the Mind's Eye, the first "expanded universe" plot. Vader had recognized the spirit of Obiwan Kenobi in this young boy and had been beaten in a lightsabre confrontation, thus was actively seeking him out. In this revised version, although Vader had sensed Luke's Force strength during the Battle of Yavin, it was Palpatine who confirmed the identity of this young man in the holotransmission scene which was modified with new graphics and brand new lines — the Emperor identifies Anakin Skywalker by name, lining up ESB with the Darkhorse comic Vader's Quest.

Although Vader kept doing Vader-type things and no other lines were changed in this movie, the news seems to have staggered the Dark Lord of the Sith, who appeared to not even have guessed at the presence of a child. Now it sppeared that he realized he'd been "mistaken about a great many things." Though it can be argued that he wanted Luke as an apprentice to help him destroy Palpatine (for there can only ever be two Sith), his thoughts can be construed to take on other shadings. Perhaps some of those hatreds he had held as true for so many years were not true after all? And if that was true, what other things may he have been mistaken about? I feel that by just changing this small part of the movie, suddenly Vader had a concrete turning point towards his redemption. He suddenly became human again, instead of a machine or a monster.

Technically, the main change for the new release on DVD of the Empire Strikes Back is the improved quality of sounds and images. The movie reads much more crisply, with more detail standing out in both.

In the ESB, we are introduced to Yoda, a central character being performed with a puppet. This was a risky move on their part. The success or failure of the movie depended on the believability of Frank Oz's muppet portrayal of Yoda. This type of risk-taking has become a hallmark of Lucasfilms. (Lucas reportedly tried to get an Oscar nomination for Frank Oz's performance, but was told, "We don't give awards to puppets.") History, of course, shows how successful using a puppet or a digital character is for movies! Another big risk was to have the major battle sequence at the beginning of the movie rather than at the end, when it was traditional. You can hear the critics, "Jeesh!! What were they thinking!!" This is why I hate critics. "They" said you can't put credits at the end. "They" said you can't use puppets. "They" said SciFi was not a decent genre for movie story-telling. We're glad George didn't listen to "them," even if we wish he'd look at the success of ESB and leave his prequels to others.

I think the feeling you have leaving this movie was the same but different than ANH. With ANH you felt a "WOW," with awe ... but with ESB, it was "WOW!!!" with amazement in how the story had twisted and turned. In the tradition of the best serials, it left people with a desperate need to see the next installment. And a show of hands, how many people worried about Han in carbonite for the duration?

I loved this movie. even though they screwed up the galaxy shot in the final scene ... it was the only thing that ruined it for me — that shot of Leia and Luke looking out the window of the Redemption, the medical frigate. Ever think about what a galaxy is and why you can't see it like that???

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