The Empire Strikes Back, also known as Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, is a 1980 American epic space opera film directed by Irvin Kershner and written by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, based on a story by George Lucas. Produced by Lucasfilm, it is the second film in the Star Wars film series (and the fifth chronologically) and the sequel to Star Wars (1977). Set three years after the events of the first film, the plot sees the Galactic Empire hunting the scattered Rebel Alliance throughout the galaxy. While Darth Vader relentlessly pursues Luke Skywalker's friends—Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Chewbacca—Luke studies the Force under Jedi Master Yoda to prepare himself for his upcoming confrontation with Vader. The ensemble cast includes Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, and Frank Oz.

Plot

Three years after the destruction of the Death Star, the Rebel Alliance, led by Princess Leia, has set up a new base on the ice planet Hoth. The Imperial fleet, led by a merciless Darth Vader, hunts for the new Rebel base by dispatching probe droids across the galaxy. Luke Skywalker is captured by a wampa while investigating one such probe and dragged into the creature's cave, but manages to escape using the Force to retrieve his lightsaber. Before Luke succumbs to hypothermia, the Force spirit of his deceased mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi, instructs him to go to the swamp planet Dagobah to train under Jedi Master Yoda. Han Solo discovers Luke and manages to keep him alive by placing him inside the body of his dead Tauntaun mount, and the two are rescued by a search party the following morning.

The probe alerts the Imperial fleet to the Rebels' location. The Empire launches a large-scale attack using AT-AT walkers to capture the base, forcing the Rebels to evacuate. Han and Leia escape with C-3PO and Chewbacca on the Millennium Falcon, but the ship's hyperdrive malfunctions. They hide in an asteroid field, where Han and Leia become romantic amidst the tensions. Several bounty hunters, summoned by Vader, assist in searching for the Falcon. Meanwhile, Luke travels with R2-D2 in his X-wing fighter to Dagobah, where he crash-lands. He meets a diminutive creature who later reveals himself to be Yoda; the Jedi master reluctantly accepts Luke as his apprentice after conferring with Obi-Wan's spirit. Luke learns more about the Force from Yoda, who lifts his X-wing out of the swamp using the Force.

After evading the Imperial fleet, Han's group travels to the floating Cloud City on the planet Bespin, which is governed by Han's old friend Lando Calrissian. Bounty hunter Boba Fett tracks the Falcon and, with Vader, forces Lando to hand the group over to the Empire. Vader plans to use the group as bait to lure Luke, intending to capture him and turn him to the dark side of the Force. Luke experiences a premonition of Han and Leia in pain and, against the wishes of Yoda and Obi-Wan, abandons his training to rescue them.

Vader intends to hold Luke in suspended animation by imprisoning him in carbonite, selecting Han to be frozen as an experiment. Han survives the process and is given to Fett, who plans to collect a bounty on him from Jabba the Hutt. Lando, still loyal to Han, frees Leia and Chewbacca, but they are too late to stop Fett from departing with Solo. Under attack from stormtroopers, they fight their way back to the Falcon and flee the city. Meanwhile, Luke arrives and engages Vader in a lightsaber duel that leads them over the city's central air shaft. Vader severs Luke's right hand, disarming him, and tempts him to embrace his anger and join the dark side. Luke claims that Vader killed his father, but Vader reveals that he is Luke's biological father. Disbelieving the truth, Luke drops into the air shaft and is ejected beneath the floating city, where he grabs hold of an antenna. He reaches out telepathically to Leia, who senses him and persuades Lando and Chewie to turn back. After Luke is brought aboard, they are chased by TIE fighters towards Vader on his Star Destroyer and find that the Falcon's hyperdrive has been sabotaged, but R2-D2 reactivates it, allowing them to escape.

Luke rejoins the Rebel fleet and his severed hand is replaced with a robotic prosthesis. Lando and Chewbacca begin their quest to save Han, as the other rebels watch the Falcon depart.

Cast

  • Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker: A pilot in the Rebel Alliance and Jedi in training
  • Harrison Ford as Han Solo: A smuggler and captain of the Millennium Falcon
  • Carrie Fisher as Leia Organa: A leader in the Rebel Alliance
  • Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian: The administrator of Cloud City
  • Anthony Daniels as C-3PO: A humanoid protocol droid in the Alliance
  • David Prowse (body) and James Earl Jones (voice) as Darth Vader: A powerful Sith Lord in service to the Emperor of the Galactic Empire
  • Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca: Han's loyal Wookiee friend and copilot
  • Kenny Baker as R2-D2: An astromech droid in the Rebellion and C-3PO's counterpart
  • Frank Oz as Yoda: A diminutive, centuries-old Jedi Master living in self-imposed exile

Production

George Lucas's Star Wars, released in May 1977, was an unexpected box office success and quickly became a pop-culture phenomenon. Lucas, who did not expect the success, stopped doing publicity after a while because it became too overwhelming, and had flown to Hawaii with friend Steven Spielberg to begin conceptualising their next blockbuster franchise, Indiana Jones. The success of Star Wars and its licensing opportunities meant that a sequel was inevitable. Sequels were generally not well regarded at the time and Lucas was not ready to commit, as the production of the original film "had been a four-year horrific seat-of-the-pants experience"—one that Lucas never wanted to experience again. However, the film did not represent what he had envisioned, and he knew that a sequel would allow him to finish the story. Additionally, Lucas had already established the Star Wars universe, so he figured a sequel would provide an opportunity to introduce more ideas and adventures. "I always felt if I could go back to those environments using the same characters, I could make a helluva better movie," he said. Lucas hired Alan Dean Foster, the ghostwriter of the Star Wars novelization, to write the sequel novel Splinter of the Mind's Eye so it could be adapted as a low-budget film if Star Wars was a box-office failure, but by August 1977 Star Wars was still the number-one film in cinemas, motivating Lucas to continue the saga.

Soundtrack

Main article: The Empire Strikes Back (soundtrack)

Release

The world premiere of The Empire Strikes Back was held on May 17, 1980, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. (as a special Children's World Premiere event). The film had a Royal Charity Premiere in London at the Odeon Cinema in Leicester Square on May 20. The special event was dubbed "Empire Day", a playful take on the British Commonwealth Day holiday (known as Empire Day prior to 1958), where legions of stormtroopers were unleashed across the city. A series of other charity benefit premieres were held in numerous locations on May 19 and 20. The film went on to official general release in North America and the U.K. on May 21, 1980. The first wave of release included 126 70 mm prints, before a wider release in June 1980 (which were mostly 35 mm prints). Lucas added three shots to the film's ending before the latter release. During the initial theatrical run in Europe and Australia, the short film Black Angel by Star Wars art director Roger Christian was shown before the feature.

Prior to its opening crawl, the film began in a similar way to the original Star Wars film with a presentation of both the "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...." text and with the Star Wars logo receding into a starscape background. The crawl then appeared with the plain text headings "Episode V" and "The Empire Strikes Back". Trailer and poster promotions for the film generally read "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back" without the episode number. Like A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back was rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America, and certificate U in the United Kingdom.

Critical response

Initial critical reception of The Empire Strikes Back was divided, with some critics dismissing the film and others celebrating it. For example, Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote a largely dismissive review of the film, saying "it is nice and inoffensive and, in a way that no one associated with it need be ashamed of, it's also silly. Attending to it is a lot like reading the middle of a comic book." David Denby of New York magazine called the film "a Wagnerian pop movie—grandiose, thrilling, imperiously generous in scale, and also a bit ponderous". Judith Martin of The Washington Post criticized the film's "middle-of-the-story" plot, which she claimed had no particular beginning or end. However, this was a concept that Lucas had intended. James Harwood of Variety wrote, "'The Empire Strikes Back' is a worthy sequel to 'Star Wars,' equal in both technical mastery and characterization, suffering only from the familiarity with the effects generated in the original and imitated too much by others." Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four and stated that although the film "has some poor special effects" and that Lando Calrissian "isn't given enough screen time to develop into anyone special," he found these weaknesses "trivial compared to the strengths of the film, which are considerable and sometimes even majestic.

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