Skywalker Countdown | ‘Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back’

Skywalker Countdown | ‘Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back’

Each week leading up to The Rise of Skywalker, we will be asking certain team members for their takes on every Star Wars film in chronological order. Last week, we discussed–of course–Episode IV: A New Hope.

This week, we will unfold our thoughts on The Empire Strikes Back.

Although widely regarded as not only the best in the franchise, but also one of the greatest sequels of all time, the film didn’t release with such praise. Like The Last Jedi and the prequels that came before, Empire opened to criticism and hatred. It wasn’t until Return of the Jedi did all of that hatred turn to universal love.

The Empire Strikes Back follows the original trio, now split up and on separate paths fleeing the Empire. There’s so much to talk about in this film, so let’s see what our members at MoviesMatrix have to say…

Q1. General Thoughts?

Marsellus Durden: While the first Star Wars was absolutely groundbreaking, The Empire Strikes Back is downright unforgettable. Filled with gorgeous cinematography, incredible action, and wondrous new planets to explore, this film literally perfected everything we all loved from the original.

What I adore most about Empire is its fearlessness in leaving the audience in despair. Not only do we lose one of our favorite heroes in Han Solo, but bad guys actually emerge victorious. As the final shot ominously pulls away from our defeated heroes, the audience is left devastated, yet yearning for more.

Logan Slavin: I love this movie. It’s one of the best Star Wars movies! I mean, what’s not to love? The lightsaber fights are improved from the first film, the acting is pretty good, the story is great, the cinematography is great, and the effects hold up very well! Overall, it’s a great movie!

Owen: When I was a little kid, this was my favorite Star Wars movie. While The Force Awakens might come close to topping it today, my love for this film has only grown. There’s so much here for kids and adults to enjoy. As a kid, I was in love with the fast paced action, but as a young adult, I fell in love with Empire again because of its incredible storytelling. This movie might be one of the few I would feel comfortable in calling a masterpiece.

Michael Colan: Like so many others, I do believe this to be the best Star Wars film. Not because it’s the darker one or because it has a cliffhanger, rather the way it enriches the characters, pushes the story and narrative beyond their foundation. It challenges you with a stunning film-making craft on display. This film doesn’t repeat itself. A well-written movie with Incredible action and amazing character moments.

WriteOnGeek: From the opening moments of the Star Destroyer shooting its messenger droids to Hoth and Luke getting smacked by a Wampa, you knew this was going to be different. Candidly, it’s a formula Lucasfilm hasn’t duplicated since. Lawrence Kasdan’s screenwriting was perfect. He seats the audience comfortably in what feels like the middle of a movie and it only reached its zenith time and time again. Truly, the perfect Star Wars story.  

Q2. Favorite Scene?

Marsellus Durden: Definitely Luke and Vader’s climatic battle. Not only was it more exciting and effective than the New Hope lightsaber duel, it also included the legendary surprise twist that changed the Star Wars universe forever.

Logan Slavin: This is not an easy question to answer because there are so many good scenes, but my favorite would have to be the fight between Luke and Vader leading up to the big reveal! It’s an obvious choice, but for good reason. It’s just so iconic.

Owen: There are so many amazing scenes that I’d love to choose, but I have to choose the asteroid field. The tension is built wonderfully, the dialogue is perfect, the effects are astounding, and the music is downright legendary. Every time I watch that scene I am in aw for a different reason.

Michael Colan: For my previous choices, I’ve chosen a lot of quieter moments in the series, and Empire has a lot of them. Many to choose from and it’s really hard to pick one specific scene. If I was forced to pick it’s probably Yoda’s raising the X-Wing out of the swamp. But then again I also love the Battle of Hoth, “I Know”, the final lightsaber duel, and the Wampa cave. Amazing stuff throughout.

WriteOnGeek: Again, Kasdan’s stellar screenplay took us through our own Kessel Run (in 12 parsecs). Carbonite Han? No one saw that coming. Reunion in Cloud City? Nope. The best lightsaber duel in the saga’s history because the audience was so tense (and I am a self-admitted Darth Maul/Ray Park homer). And then, that twist. Can you imagine if social media was around?! Thank God it wasn’t because that is still up there the great cliffhanger twists in cinematic history. 

Q3. Memories of the “Big Twist?”

Marsellus Durden: Unfortunately the big reveal was spoiled for me long before I actually saw the entire film. However, as a confessed film nerd and analyst, I can still appreciate the risk and sheer boldness of such a surprising revelation. Truly unprecedented in cinematic storytelling.

Logan Slavin: I don’t have any special memory of watching the big reveal for the first time. By the time I saw the movie, I already knew the big twist. It was fun to see it, but it wasn’t a surprise for me.

Owen: I watched this movie for the first time when I was way too young to remember it. To me, it was always just a known thing, but I certainly appreciate the risk it was.

Michael Colan: I don’t recall. The entire original trilogy is a blur in terms of seeing it for the first time. For me, it’s always been around.

WriteOnGeek: My butt puckered and my mouth was wide open, catching flies and everything. And that was just watching it on VHS! Fortunately, I hung out with a bunch of broke kids (like I was) so no spoilers. There was a line around the Blockbuster Video to see it at home. I did and never forgot how I felt. Bananas! 

Q4. Do the Special Effects Hold Up?

Marsellus Durden: The special effects definitely still hold up, especially considering it has been about 40 years since its premiere. In particular the stop motion effects of the AT-AT’s and the practical effects during Luke & Vader’s duel are excellent.

Logan Slavin: As I stated previously, I think the effects hold up well. While they are not as good as what we’re used to now, they’re still great. I love how much of the film is practical, especially the space ships.

Owen: Even better than the first! I don’t understand how they made everything look so believable, but watching it in 2019 feels just as real as ever.

Michael Colan: Visually, this movie holds up better than any other in the saga so far. I think that’s part of the reason Lucas didn’t mess with this one too much in the special editions (then again he also had a tremendous amount of respect for Irvin Kershner ). I love the go-motion of the AT-ATs and ILM was far better prepared than they were the first go around.

WriteOnGeek: Admittedly, there are a couple of scenes that comes across as schmaltzy as Perseus cutting Medusa’s head in the original Clash of the Titans (i.e., Tauntaun running across Hoth, Luke falling through Cloud City), but most of it was so forward-thinking, it’s like technology has caught up now. And that was 1980. 

Q5. Favorite Piece of Music?

Marsellus Durden: “Han & the Princess” is one of those iconic and memorable pieces that can stick with you forever. Its a melody that I hum randomly for no reason and moves me just as much now as it did when I first heard it. John Williams is truly a musical genius.

Logan Slavin: “Imperial March” is the best song in the movie in my opinion. It’s one of the most iconic songs in all of cinema. It’s the perfect score for Vader and it gets you hyped every time you hear it!

Owen: Everyone including me loves the “Imperial March”, but going from the quiet and fast-paced of “The Asteroid Field” to its grand swells is the most memorable piece of music in my opinion.

Michael Colan: I love a lot of the love themes and music on Bespin but the “Imperial March” is iconic for a reason.

WriteOnGeek: The Empire Strikes Back offers some of John Williams’ best, but very few in the history of cinema are as well known and highly regarded as “Imperial March.” Only a true villain could walk out to that music, and one of the best is what we get. 

Make sure to read last week’s article on  Episode IV: A New Hope  and check back to MoviesMatrix next week for a similar breakdown of Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.

All images courtesy of Disney/Lucasfilm LTD.

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