#11: Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

When Episode V comes to an abrupt end with Luke and Leia looking wistfully out into space, aware of an impending full-scale war, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind of another sequel. This makes the central issue here the question of what Episode V brings to the table besides setting up Episode VI. Most critics consider Episode V the best movie of the original trilogy, and it’s often the most popular with fans too, as its ranking on this list suggests. I’ve decided to attribute this to all the various new ideas and expansions that Episode V introduces into Lucas’ distant galaxy, which I shall now outline for you lucky people.
First off, we visit new (solar) systems, planets and moons, beginning with the ice planet Hoth where we join the Rebel Alliance, 3 years after the events of Episode IV. The film features chases through asteroid fields, crashes in a misty, murky swamp on Dagobah, battles on the ice fields of Hoth and of course epic space warfare. Our knowledge of this galaxy and its ways expand, and the film overall becomes more comfortable in its fictional world. What’s more, we meet the evil Emperor (albeit in hologram form), we see definitive proof that Darth Vader is human, and we learn much about the history of all the characters, which brings me to my second point, the development of characterisations. 
Luke (Mark Hamill), travels to Dagobah to seek out legendary Jedi Master Yoda (Frank Oz) and reach his full Force-fuelled potential. Meanwhile, Leia (Carrie Fischer), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and the droids R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) are all thrown together in the increasingly cramped Millennium Falcon as they flee the relentless pursuit of Darth Vader (David Prowse/ James Earl Jones) and his Imperial fleet of star cruisers. The fact that I felt obliged to name even those performers in animal/robot suits shows the level of characterisation in Star Wars generally; it would do a disservice to the genius of R2-D2 to not name the man animating him from within. Sexual tension between Leia and Han reaches new peaks, C-3PO is superlatively irritating, and Darth Vader is more ominous than ever before, especially with his huge reveal near the end of the film.
So, we have more world-building and some mild character development, but there is still more going on. Episode V is often considered the darkest of the original trilogy, and certainly it underlines the threat of the “dark side” of the force more. As Luke explores his abilities as a Jedi, the temptations of the dark side become more and more attractive, and the nefarious plans of Darth Vader and the Emperor become greatly worrying indeed. All this introduces news ideas of good and evil, plus what creates and powers these forces in people. Hate is set in opposition to peace, and passivity is labelled a form of great strength.

Finally, Episode V  gave Lucas’ special effects company ILM a chance to outdo itself. Critically acclaimed for its technical achievements, Episode V is good fun to watch no matter your lack of knowledge of such things. I don’t know the first thing about special effects techniques, but I know that I lost myself in the action enough to forget about ‘how they did it’ and just got on with remembering to breathe between each exclamation of ‘coool’. And that is precisely what you want in a science fiction movie.

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