Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back Review
I was going to start this review with something like “What can I say, that has not already been, said about Star Wars?”. I'm not though (even though I just have). You see, there I was buying a leading SF magazine with “Star Wars” emblazoned across the cover, when a small child tugged my arm. This small child asked, and this is verbatim: “What's this Star Wars stuff all about, then; is it any good?”. So for the benefit of those of a younger inclination and anyone else who stopped having any truck with social trends since 1977, this is what Star Wars is all about.
All is not well in the galaxy. The old, peaceful, republic has been overthrown and from the ashes has risen an Empire, ruled by a figure called Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). Despite the Empires best efforts, some people will not accept this ruthless regime and instead fight for their freedom. The so called Rebel Alliance is an amalgam of races spread across the galaxy who remember the old times. Civilised and noble times. The times of the Jedi.
Pre-eminent among the Rebel Alliance is Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher). As Star Wars opens we see the capture of Leia by Darth Vader (David Prowse/James Earl Jones) in her ship orbiting a nearby desert planet. Vader suspects that Leia has stolen plans of a secret weapon the Empire is building. Leia manages to store the plans inside a small “droid” called R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) who escapes the ship and lands on the desert planet with compatriot C-3PO. Together they manage to avoid the chasing imperial forces and, with new partners Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), attempt to take the plans to the Rebel Alliance. During the journey, Obi-Wan senses that Luke is strong in the force: that he can manipulate the world around him and effect others by force of will. Such abilities are a trademark of the Jedi order, once peace keepers of the galaxy but since hunted to extinction by the Empire. Obi-Wan nurtures Luke's ability in an effort to re-kindle his latent Jedi abilities and bring about the fall of the Empire.
The original Star Wars trilogy is a seminal collection created by one of the, at that time, most demiurgic characters in Hollywood: George Lucas. The leaps of imagination and artistic form are stupendous. Look at the opening scene of Star Wars; it is one of the most memorable in cinema and the movie hasn't even started! Star Wars is full of bright, imaginative characters that exist in a believable milieu, drawing us into the fabricated universe. For example: Luke works for a living with his uncle, desperate to escape the mediocrity of his life; Han Solo (Harrison Ford) welding his ship; imperial Stormtroopers talk idly about their latest interests in a corridor and a keeper cries at the loss of his pet Rancor. It is this “dirty future”, that we take for granted now that Lucas envisioned it, which gives Star Wars a credibility lacking in previous efforts.
Critical analysis aside, the real reason why the original Star Wars trilogy is so endearing is because they are fun movies to watch. I defy anyone who has watched Star Wars with an open mind to not be swept along with the adventure. The hair still rises on the back of my neck during Empire's asteroid chase scene or Jedi's confrontational annulment between Luke and Vader.
Of course, this trilogy is different to the original movies. Lucas has tweaked them so that they more closely resemble his original vision. I am not going to list all the changes, but some are noteworthy. The dialogue scene between Vader and the Emperor in Empire Strikes Back is probably the most obvious, a change which makes the trilogy more fluid. Another big change is that Hayden Christensen is inserted at the end of the movie. This may be a reference to the forthcoming Episode III, but if not it will represent a curious continuity error. I must admit that most of the changes are for the good and make the trilogy a better watch. However, there are two things that still rankle. When Lucas released the 1997 special editions, he saw fit to have Greedo fire at Han Solo first in the Star Wars Cantina bar. I have never understood this move and the 2004 DVD's are barely better with both parties firing at the same time. Really, the first, original, version was the best. The other is the Emperor scenes in Jedi. For some reason Lucas saw fit not to remove the black smudge to the left of Ian McDiarmid's face, an opportunity lost I think.
Star Wars 9/10
Empire Strikes Back 10/10
Return of the Jedi 8/10