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Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back
1980 - PG - 124 Mins.
Director: Irvin Kirshner
Producer: George Lucas
Written By: George Lucas
Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones (voice of Darth Vader)
Review by: John Ulmer
(Note: This review contains some spoilers.)

Movie novelty quickly wears thin, which is why so many sequels pale in comparison to their originals. "Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back" is the best of the original "Star Wars" trilogy, darker and deeper and even more powerful than the first film. Granted, the original pioneered an endless saga of imitators and somewhat imaginative knock-offs, and is still one of the greatest films ever made, but "The Empire Strikes Back" is a tiny inch ahead in the race.

It is the dark middle chapter in an almost perfect trilogy, crammed full with imagination and special effects. It is simply one of the most visionary movies of all time, which is rare for a sequel -- any sequel -- especially in the case of a sci-fi film. Just take a look at "Predator 2" for an example of an idea running out of steam, or a director who cannot cope with his script.

The film generally picks up where the last left off: Luke (Mark Hamill) saved the day by blowing up the Death Star, the heroes were awarded with medals by the princess (Carrie Fisher), and peace was temporarily restored. But Darth Vader (voice of James Earl Jones) is still alive, and the Emperor's fury grows stronger as Luke begins his Jedi training under the help of Yoda. Meanwhile, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Leia flee to Cloud City to escape an attack from the empire, where they are taken under the wing of Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), an old pal of Han's who is secretly working for Vader, somewhat against his own will.

The movie is strong in its morals and Biblical metaphors, just as the original. Luke is the savior, Calrissian could be considered the equivalent of Judas, Han Solo is one of Luke's good disciples and Vader represents pure evil. And of course, there's the truly iconic line, "I am your father," that is relevant to the devil, who -- according to the scriptures -- was an angel before being cast into the bowels of hell and becoming Lucifer.

Lucas admittedly used these various metaphors to strike a nerve in the subconscious of his viewers. Like all good fables, of fantasy or reality, "Star Wars" is a trilogy that relates to just about everyone, in one form or another, and is -- at its roots -- a story we are all very familiar with. It is the ever-familiar notion of good-vs. -evil at its core that helps propel these movies into the hearts of many. Yes, "Star Wars" is the quintessential nerd's film, engulfed in an entirely different dimension, but the film's bad rap for this is undeserved -- it's still a wonderful story, and you don't have to be a die-hard fan to appreciate its fine points (and it has many).

One of the most popular legends (and misconceptions) regarding the "Star Wars" phenomenon is that George Lucas helmed the entire Star Wars trilogy, when in fact he only directed the first and wrote the screenplay for all three combined. "The Empire Strikes Back" is directed by Irvin Kirshner, who also delivered us the disappointing "RoboCop 2." How could one sequel be so great, and the other so bad? Simple: Kirshner's darkness in "The Empire Strikes Back" had a point, and a high value. In "RoboCop 2," it was just excessive and silly, not to mention totally unnecessary. What Paul Verhoeven was able to do with the original "RoboCop" was something not many films can accomplish, and Kirshner tried to add on to this with a darker narrative, which only ended in a frustratingly empty motion picture.

"The Empire Strikes Back" has a point amidst the action, and is the most important of all three "Star Wars" movies. It has the famous introduction of the creature Yoda, who sits tucked away in his hut on a swamp planet, at first startling Luke with his strange features, and then with his subtle wisdom. It is Yoda who trains Luke in the ways of the Jedi, and eventually leads him towards his destination: The showdown with Vader, when the infamous secret is finally revealed.

The movie is expertly crafted, both in terms of a a narrative and literal context. From beginning to end it is darker, fiercer and more powerful than the original film, which is not an easy feat. All trilogies have their dark areas, and this is usually the middle chapter ("Back to the Future Part II" is a good example), yet in "The Empire Strikes Back" the darkness seems very appropriate given the material. It is a film that dwells long and hard on betrayal, murder, revenge, and unrecoverable mistakes. By the end of the movie, we know what Luke is feeling: There is still much to be done, despite an overwhelming emotional downpour of attachment and confusion. For us, as an audience, we know everything must come to an end within the next installment. For Luke, it could be an eternity of struggle. But we all know there will be an end to the epic saga, and we have always known this, ever since we first caught a glimpse of a younger, more innocent Luke working for his uncle on that deserted planet, so many years ago, when he could only dream of having adventures in other galaxies far, far away...
Movie Guru Rating
A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic.
  5 out of 5 stars

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