The Empire Strikes Back
|Title:||The Empire Strikes Back|
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.
The Empire Strikes Back is the second film in the original Star Wars trilogy.
It was a film that had a rocky start with fans due to its different tone, its revelations, and its cliffhanger ending. When it first came out, many fans were lukewarm to hostile in their reviews. However, this film is now generally considered to be the best of the three.
Some Early Reviews
: This, to me, was perhaps the most overrated and meretricious film of the year. To put it bluntly (to save space), it was poorly acted (with the exception of Mark Hamill who was the only one who seemed to really live his part and to even show any emotion); flat, shallow, with nothing to get one's teeth into since it was all just a lot of running around, leading nowhere, with no dramatic structure, no central purpose to the film, uninvolving, even downright boring in parts because of the overuse of too many laser-zap battles and chases through space which were not really necessary nor related to anything; it was overdone as far as false dilemnas and false suspense went (so many accidents and disasters piled up on top of one another); the humour was heavy-handed and childish, lacking the impish wit of SW; the music was an equally heavy-handed pastiche of every other Williams score plus rip-offs of Tchaikovsky and others; the script was puerile in the extreme - are these supposed to be sophisticated, mature people talking?- particularly the dialogue between Fisher and Ford, which was embarrassingly inept; the SPFX were definitely below standard; never have I seen so many matt lines and such obvious matt paintings; it lacked any plot whatsoever, any meaning- it was more like a trailer for a much longer film or a Super 8 short; it was choppily directed and served only to reduce the heroic epic sweep of SW to pure soap opera hinging on such earth shattering questions as, "is Vader Luke's father?" "Will Han be thawed out?"; what plot it did have was illogical and made no sense with the first film, and even within itself it had holes the size of the Death Star; it had no proper ending- just because it is part of a series, this is no excuse. After all, the PLANET OF THE APES films were all self contained and complete dramatically. The continuity within scenes cinematically, was bad. All in all, it was a shoddy piece of exploitation to try to bring people back for the third film. It was not well made as a film and it nonsense as a piece of SW. The doubts I felt when I heard there was to be a series of sequels have been amply confirmed. ST:TMP may have been boring and nearly as plotless but at least the characters were true to their TV selves. The same cannot be said of TESB. They seem to be a set of different people (except Luke) in an alternate universe, to me. 
In the sea of praise to TESB, may one small, battered sailor add a word of dis sent? Folks who know me know I have been a SW fan from the word go. I love it, adore it, revel it each new viewing of it, spent my hard-earned money more times than I want to think about to see it. The three years' wait between movies was al most intolerable. When the day finally came that TESB arrived in Kazoo, I was in front of the theatre three hours early to make sure I could get a good seat. Some four hours later (unless the movie really sucks or I'm badly pressed for time I al ways stay twice) a lot of the elation was gone and had been replaced by a mild sense of loss and depression.
Unlike some folks in fandom, I do not subscribe to the opinion that Lucas can do no wrong. He proved he was as human as the rest of us with TESB. I lay a lot of the blame at his door—as original creator and executive producer he had a good deal of say-so over what went on the screen. The plot (what plot?) was a mishmash of inconsistencies; events seemed to be strung together with very little thought as to whys and wherefores. Many times they didn't even jive with things that were established the first time around. We were given to understand that, in SW, the rebel operation is a pretty tightly disciplined one. Why, then, was Luke allowed to leave in the midst of evacuation to go off on some wild Yoda chase? And why wasn't his ass grass when he came back? In any air force worth its salt, such an action is tantamount to desertion under fire, a court-martial of defense. But nothing is done to our golden-haired boy. And why did Obi-Wan apparently lie to Luke about his father? Or is Vader just the big windbag I think he is?
I was ignoring the glitches with reasonable calm (I mean, considering the sea of them in SW who couldn't?). Then came the last few minutes; the fight with Vader, Luke losing a hand (aside from shock value and the fact that Mark fractured his hand during the filming, I've been told, what was the sense of that?), the falling (or throwing himself, which ever theory you subscribe to) down the chute, the incredible (in the dictionary sense of the word) rescue of Luke by the Falcon (I still contend he would be a Tatooine shishkabob — there are an awful lot of protrusions on the hull of that ship!), his new bionic hand (come on, folks!), and the totally let-down feeling of the last moments. "Oh, well, we'll catch up to ya when we get around to it." That was the .impression it left me with.
Luke playing with his pretty new hand (may be turning it up to "grope" and going after Leia ... ) and basically kissing Han off. In SW there was a "punch" to the ending that was lacking sadly here. And there so easily could have been one! With very little change from what was already there, they could have had a good upbeat ending. I've heard Lucas has been criticized by pros for the ending so my voice isn't the only one raised in protest against it.
The writing by and large was only so- so—I realize Leigh Brackett was mortally ill at the time, but Larry Kasden could have done better, and has done so on the script of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. TESB has a couple of gems in places but much of the dialogue was fool's gold (look at it, test it out and it turns false). I've seen much better writing in fanfic. But then no one pays any of us for it—we're in it for the fun.
The score didn't impress me a lot was rehash from the first film, and the rest was fit either for the Saturday afternoon tea-time movie (Han and Leia's theme was much too syrupy for them) or the kazoo band (the Imperial March).
I'm not saying categorically that the entire film was bad, because it wasn't. Irv Kirschner did a marvelous job of direction, and a bow to the actors all— everyone did their best, and at times their best was damn fine stuff. And the techie aspects, of course, were the best that money and skill could produce. I think everyone in fandom wants a tauntaun.
It is definitely a film of parts, but the parts do not equal a good whole. I realized that it was easy to second-guess someone else when I sat down to write this, to sit back and pick apart faults after someone else has made the mistakes. But if TESB is as terrific as everyone says it is, why can I find so much wrong with it? I haven't included several due tospace and time. I can only hope that things will get straightened out with the next film, but I won't hold my breath. It's already a stated policy of our 'zine (FACETS) that what occurred in this film need not necessarily be reflected in fan writing directed to our 'zine, and we intend to stick by that. Maybe it's true what they say, that you can only lose your innocence once. SW took mine gently, like a lover, and it was very nice. Attempted rape, however, is not my bag. 
Some Later Reviews
Watching The Empire Strikes Back that first time was such an intense experience, it was like okay, the gloves are off. The colours and textures in Empire are so rich and varied. The imagery is so strong, the AT- AT's, Cloud City, Dagobah etc. As the film progresses the large war recedes and it becomes more intimate and it's driven by the emotions of the major characters. The sense of adventure and fun is slowly replaced by mysterious omens hinting at what is to come. John Williams' music perfectly expresses the relentless approach of Vader and his darkness.
The last half-hour of Empire is the most powerful piece of drama I've ever seen, all the cinematic elements of art direction, action, photography, editing etc. support the characters and what they're feeling. It's the characters that are the most important and Empire really makes you care about them. The whole movie seems to build to that duel. I was so utterly engrossed in it, I could feel every slash and blow of these lightsabres.
When Vader cut off Luke's hand it was such em incredible shock, I just couldn't believe it. It was like falling through ice. I was genuinely terrified that Luke was going to die. But he's just a fictional character. I know but I was still terrified. That is why I rate The Empire Strikes Back so highly. After all, how often do you really care about a character in fiction? And when Vader revealed that he's Luke's father, I just went numb.
An important point to remember is that all through the 1970's it was common for a film to have a bleak ending and consequently audiences were never quite sure of the outcome of a film. In a way that sense of unease helped Empire.Star Wars was the first, it's the original and it's a more complete film than Empire, but Empire is something special. Something really special.