Rarely does the second movie in a series surpass — regarding quality — the first movie.  “The Empire Strikes Back” (the original and the Special Edition) is one of those rare movies that does so.  And of all the “Star Wars” movies, this is my favorite.

“Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back” brings back all our loved heroes and hated villain from Episode IV: Mark Hamill as Luke, Harrison Ford as Han, Carrie Fisher as Leia, Alec Guiness as Ben Kenobi, Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca, and James Earl Jones/David Prowse as Darth Vader.  Three important characters are introduced as well: Yoda, the Emperor, and Lando (played by Billy Dee Williams, Mr. Colt .45 himself, oh yeah!).

To paraphrase the prologue, since the rebellion’s victory over the Empire in the previous movie, the Empire has mounted a major offensive and has been kicking the rebels’ butts all over the galaxy.  The rebels have regrouped and found shelter on a remote, ice planet called Hoth, but Vader’s obsession with Hamill has Vader sending probes everywhere, and it’s only a matter of time before Vader finds what he’s looking for.

Hoth is assaulted by the Empire, forcing the rebels to scatter as their defenses are shattered by Vader’s forces.  Hamill escapes and sets out on a quest to find the Jedi master, Yoda, to continue his training to be a Jedi knight.  Ford, Fisher, Mayhew and C-3PO (played by Anthony Daniels) are in the Millennium Falcon, constantly pursued by TIE fighters and Star Destroyers.  And Vader, not able to find Hamill, will settle for capturing Hamill’s friends in order to force Hamill out of hiding.

Oooooh, there are sooooo many good things to talk about this movie!  First, “The Empire Strikes Back” is not directed by George Lucas; that credit belongs to Irvin Kershner.  Also, the screenplay was written by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan — story by Lucas, of course.  I believe the two main reasons why “Empire…” is such a great movie are that the screenwriting and directing are excellent.  Lucas did his story a great service by relinquishing his directing and screenwriting roles to others.  Hey, let’s face it, Lucas’ talents as a director and screenwriter are hit and miss.   One day he gives us the awesome “American Graffiti,” and the next day he gives us “Red Tails,” a movie that I’m still waiting for Lucas to pay me restitution for having wasted my time on that piece of mediocrity.  Moving on!

There are many new things in this movie that were not in Episode IV.  AT-ATs (All Terrain Armored Transports); AT-ST (All Terrain Scout Transport, you know, the one that looks like a mechanical chicken); Snowspeeders; Twin Pod Cloud Cars; TIE Bombers; Imperial Probe Droids; Super Star Destroyer; Tauntauns; Wampa Ice Monster; multiple wardrobe changes for Hamill, Ford, and Fisher.  What else…?  Vader has become more fearsome, killing his officers who disappoint him, prompting fearful looks from his Star Destroyer crew anytime he walks by.  We get a much improved, lightsaber duel thanks to Lucas hiring an expert swordsman to handle the choreography.  Ford shows what a badass pilot he really is.  Mayhew’s Chewbacca is shown to be more than Ford’s co-pilot, he is also a mechanic and great friend who shows sorrow and anger when Ford’s life is in peril.  Hamill is now part of a love triangle with Fisher and Ford — shocking, disgusting, and possibly titillating (depending on what floats your boat)…you know what I mean if you’ve seen Episode VI.

Now I will list the most interesting, new additions to this Special Edition version.  More shots of the Wampa Ice Monster, new shots of the Millennium Falcon flying through Bespin Cloud City, Hamill screaming as he falls after his fight with Vader, and a few shots of Vader preparing to go back to his Super Star Destroyer after his fight with Hamill.  Yeah, no major changes here; but then again, when you have a near perfect movie to begin with, why mess with it?   Sadly, Lucas messed with “Empire…” again years later.   By the time the Lucas dies, there may be a dozen versions of “Empire…”

Okay, time for some trivia.  Remember the scene when Hamill was in Bespin, and he was tailing the guard detail that was escorting Fisher to Vader’s ship?  Remember the Imperial officer who used Fisher as a shield from Hamill’s possible attack?  That officer is the same guy who played Boba Fett!  Also, Hamill had a car accident prior to the filming of “Empire…”  When I was a kid, I always wondered why Hamill’s face changed considerably from Episode IV to Episode V.  I didn’t know back then that Hamill was in an accident that damaged his face.   Having his character’s face mauled by the Wampa monster was a good cover to explain Hamill’s altered features.   Oh!  Oh!  You’re going to like this one: remember when Ford had the Falcon attached to one of the Star Destroyers as a way to hide from his pursuers?  Ford was watching the fleet break up, and he said something to Fisher like “if they follow standard Imperial protocol, they’ll dump their garbage before jumping to hyperspace.”  How did Ford know all this?  Well, I read somewhere a long time ago that Ford (Han Solo) used to be a soldier of the Empire, but was booted out when he fought another Imperial soldier who was maltreating a Wookie named Chewbacca.

As great a movie as “Empire…” is, it’s not without shenanigans.  When the Millennium Falcon is shadowed by Boba Fett’s ship after the garbage purge of the Star Destroyers, Ford had no clue that he was being followed.  Are you kidding?  Take a look at how close Fett’s ship was to the Falcon!  Hey, I love this movie, so it gets a pass.

Fourth place in my most memorable moments of this movie is the scene when Ford is about to be lowered to test out a carbon freezing process that may kill him.  Fisher says “I love you” to Ford, and Ford answers back with “I know.”  Ha ha!  What a cocky bastard!   That reply worked on so many levels.  By the way, I read that “I know” was not ad-libbed.  Ford was supposed to say something like “I’ll be back,” but Ford wasn’t sure he wanted to come back for  Episode VI, so they changed the line.

Third place in my memorable moments of “Empire…” is the scene when Yoda is telling Hamill about the Force.  How it surrounds us, and binds us.  That living things are luminous beings, not the “crude matter” that our bodies are made of.   These few words of Yoda packs a huge punch, because he touches on religion, the afterlife, and the need for being connected to the world around us.  The thought that our spirits, our minds, go on long after our bodies are gone is a great comfort to many people.

Taking the runner-up spot for my memorable moments of this movie: the scene when Hamill leaves Yoda and forsakes his training to look for and save his friends who are being tortured by Vader.  As Hamill’s X-Wing fighter ascends, Guiness says “that boy is our last hope,” followed by Yoda replying “No, there is another.”   Ooooh, that’s a big one there!   Episode VI reveals who this other hope is.

 

And finally…my most memorable movie moment of “Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back”…most of you “Star Wars” fans would have to agree that it is the scene when Vader revealed to Hamill what happened to Hamill’s father.  I don’t know about you, but I get the chills every time Vader utters those lines.

May The Force be with you.  Unless you’re a d*@k, in which case may you always have sand in your shoes that you can never fully get rid of.

— M

This is me a few years ago geeking out with my Force FX Lightsabers.

This is me a few years ago geeking out with my Force FX Lightsabers.

This is my most prized, "Star Wars" toy, because it has a lot of sentimental value to me.  It is a 1977 Darth Vader action figure that is in near mint condition, with an intact lightsaber that is still tight.

This is my most prized, “Star Wars” toy, because it has a lot of sentimental value to me. It is a 1977 Darth Vader action figure that is in near mint condition, with an intact lightsaber that is still tight.

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