Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back – Review

On to Episode V – widely regarded as the best Star Wars film. Once again, the aim of this post is not to examine every facet of the story, and explain why it works – the aim is just to make some observations.

Firstly: world-building (probably my favourite aspect of fiction). The world-building in this film is excellent. This is something that I’ve said of every film so far in these reviews – and one of the things that I’m re-realising through doing these reviews – the world-building in George Lucas’ Star Wars is extraordinary. The real stand-out in this film is Cloud City – what an extraordinary environment – a city that floats in the atmosphere of a gas giant. It’s completely unlike anything we saw in Episode IV. It’s amazing that we don’t see this sort of environment more in science fiction.

Hoth is also an example of good world-building. That particular climate hadn’t been used in the previous film; we saw two unique species that live on the planet (the tauntauns and the wampa – and they weren’t just background filler or accessories – they were actually involved in the plot); we also saw several new pieces of technology used while on the planet – notably the ATATs and the ion cannon.

Han, Chewbacca, and Leia’s storyline in this film is an excellent example of realism and how to build tension. At the start of the film, Han and Chewbacca are trying to repair the Millennium Falcon. We see many shots of this and we get the sense that it is complex and takes a long time. This is realism. In the Disney films, when the Falcon gets damaged, repairing it doesn’t seem to be a difficult thing (which means that it getting damaged at all doesn’t add to the tension – it’ll just be repaired quite easily and quickly). Indeed, in this film, a big part of Han, Chewbacca, and Leia’s storyline revolves around trying to fix the Falcon’s hyperdrive, and trying to escape the Empire without being able to jump to hyperspace.

Vader gets tonnes of great stuff in this film. Even the details are great. I love the way we get a glimpse of what Vader looks like under the helmet – just a fraction of a second as his helmet is being put on. The first film sets up the mystery of what he looks like under the helmet, and this film gives us a glimpse, but no more. I also really like how Vader tells the admiral to take the ship out of the asteroid field so that they can send a clear signal to the emperor. This tells us that Vader doesn’t want to annoy the emperor – he doesn’t want the emperor to see any imperfection – he wants to show deference. This is a great way of signalling that the emperor is at the top of the hierarchy.

Also, Vader altering the deal with Lando Calrissian several times shows how the empire is used to getting its way – even when they make an agreement, they don’t have to keep it – they can just do what they want, and whoever they made the agreement with just has to go along with it. This is a great way of showing the power of the empire.

Everything with Yoda in this film is fantastic. The puppetry by Frank Oz is just outstanding – every time I watch this film I am amazed by just how much expression it is possible to put into the movement of the puppet. Despite it quite obviously being a puppet, it doesn’t break the illusion of the film. (This is quite amazing considering that in the Disney films, sometimes very detailed CGI does break the illusion.)

The opening sequence with Yoda I think is my favourite of the scenes we get with Yoda. That particular kind of whimsy – being willing to make himself look daft, quite the opposite of what a Jedi master is supposed to look like, in order to test Luke – is not something we seem to get from any of the other films.

Just like with the previous four films, some of the dialogue in this film is a bit strange. The entire conversation between Han and Lando when Han, Chewbacca, and Leia first land on Cloud City is very odd. The whole thing is stilted – as though when they were filming it, they didn’t have the other actor say their lines when one actor was doing their takes.

The interaction between Han and Leia is weird for a lot of this film too. A lot of their dialogue is quite cheesy – to some extent that’s fine – it was the eighties – they didn’t intonate words with as much precision back then. But also, Han is quite creepy in the first part of the film. Leia makes it very clear, multiple times, that she’s not interested in him, but he keeps leering over her. They get together in the end, of course, which makes it seem like Han was right to persist, but several times Leia makes it incredibly clear that she’s not interested in him – in a way that seems not at all ambiguous.

There is also one plot oddity that I was reminded about on this rewatch. Before Luke goes to Cloud City to try to rescue the others, Obi-wan and Yoda tell Luke that it’s a trap. This doesn’t seem to change Luke’s plan, nor does it change his mind about whether to go to Cloud City at all. This strikes me as odd – if I were told that something were a trap, I would very quickly change my mind about what I wanted to do. We see a similar problem to this in Episode III – when Anakin and Obi-wan get into Grievous’ ship over Coruscant, they realise that they’ve walked into a trap, but this does not change what they plan to do – they just decide to spring the trap. I dislike this in stories – when characters realise that something’s a trap, but it doesn’t change what they intend to do.

And finally another small detail I like is Admiral Ozzel taking the fleet out of hyperspace too close to the Hoth system. This allows the rebels to raise their energy shield in time. I like this because it hints that perhaps Ozzel was secretly on the side of the rebels. Perhaps he was deliberately doing things in such a way that gave the rebels the advantage in battles. This is supported by Vader saying ‘You have failed me for the last time, Admiral.’ – Ozzel has failed many times before, perhaps because he is trying to help the rebels. (Of course, he could instead just be incompetent.)

And that’s it for this film. I never got the Big Reveal moment (‘I am your father.’) when I first watched this film, because when I first watched this film I must have been twelve or something, and had seen various fragments of the Star Wars films out of order already. But this is an excellent film overall, with great world-building, some great character moments, and great details.