The Empire Strikes Back has been considered the best Star Wars film of all time. It contends with A New Hope for that title. I sort of hold the two in equal standing but for different reasons. As for those reasons…
Unlike A New Hope, this one has more to inspect. The tone is certainly darker than the first film. It builds off of the first film like a good sequel should. But it introduces things that make it work as a movie in its own right.
The effects in this film have aged remarkably well. The Battle of Hoth still looks amazing. The stop-motion imperial walkers are intimidating. The asteroids look like they have weight and impact.
The actors have better performances this time around. Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher have grown since the first movie and they are better actors. Billy Dee Williams conveys all of the necessary conflictions that his part requires.
You can tell that this is the film that Lucas had the least involvement in. It was written by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, both of whom are professional writers. It was directed by Irvin Kershner, which may explain the better performances from the actors.
The romance between Han and Leia is decently written thing in the world. It’s certainly not cringe-inducing like the dialogue between Anakin and Padme. I can believe that there is tension between two people who are generally authoritative and are not used to doing what the other says. I still feel like there were some exchanges between the two that led up to the tension between them.
The film is probably the most visually distinctive of all of the Star Wars films. When I think of Empire Strikes back, I think of the white snowy Hoth sets, the dark dank Dagobah swamps, the dynamic asteroid field, and the pristine Cloud City.
I like the training scenes on Dagobah. Yoda monologue about the connection between the Force and everything else is chilling and mystic. In a way, this movie is more religious than a lot of movies specifically made to be religious.
Vader has a much more menacing presence in this film. In the first one, he took a backseat to Tarkin. In this one, he is a lot more in charge. He kills officers for incompetence, gets into fights, and generally gets it done.
Are there any flaws in the film? A few. I am torn on the big reveal about Vader being Luke’s father. It contradicts what Obi-Wan said in the first film. There is also no reason for Luke to believe Vader in the first place. Yes, I know that it has partially ret-conned in Return of the Jedi but it still comes across as sloppy writing.
C-3PO’s moaning and complaining is a little annoying at times but he’s fine for most of the film. I do like the running gag of him running off statistics to people who do not care.
Aside from those very minor gripes, this is still an amazing film. It ties with A New Hope as the best film of the franchise. A New Hope works better as a narrative but Empire is heavier and deeper. Sadly, I do not think Star Wars will ever be this capable again.