The Empire Strikes Back

The Empire Strikes Back ★★★★★

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The burden of the middle chapter, to continue on the foundations of its preceding entry whilst simultaneously constructing the elements for its grand finale. Its intentions, pressed depth found in its characterisations and furthering visual innovation from the former, a script by Lawrence Kasdan and helmed with new direction from Irvin Kershner, deviating from the sensationalism spirit of the series’ opener, an attribute strengthen in its ability to instil and maintain immersion, a trilogy at its peak, cinema at its most compelling.

It begins familiarly as its predecessor, a first act conveying the rebellion once again in pursuit by the Empire, grounded in the hostile temperatures and haze of Hoth, a chance of misfortune places them close within Vader’s grips, a puppet now turned an insidious leader, assured in his control and expressive in his power, acting upon with hatred at the first sign of disappointment. It thrusts us in, much like the original, with its climbing title cards acting as expansive exposition that places our minds in comforting focus, convinced of the wear and tear qualities that now defines our characters, now distant from the idealistic symbolisms that previously defined them.

Kershner immediately immerses us, with its shifted tone, neither jarring or shocking, subduing his frames with suffocating shadows, honing its drama and striking deeper at its strings of tension, subtly assembling our minds for the harsher road that lies ahead, a sense of danger that is persistent in its tracking, much like the overseeing Sith Lord, understanding that relief pit stops ahead would only be present briefly and its pacing more demanding. From its opening frame to the last, rarely do we feel a sense of comfort that was profusely bled in A New Hope, a film now determined to add formidable substance to its narrative, the souls and arcs of its characters more palpable in their presentation, finally worthy of our deepest empathies and sympathies, a validation that seemed to deteriorate in the original upon excessive revisits.

It dwells upon a second act that anchors its pacing, patient in its exposition and ambitiously penetrating its characters as their later fates begin to take form, banter between Han Solo and Leia crackles and does so without the campy wit and cheeky charm that they were previously defined with, a woman notably viewed as more of a victim and prize, despite acts of assertive leadership, now transformed as a figure filled with thought and suspicion, analytic in their next move whilst wrestling the aches of her heart, stubborn in her expression but passionate within, she attempts to come to acceptance of her emotions, knowing that this scoundrel that stands before her demonstrates more affection towards her than any other; a romantic arc that could be similarly said for Solo, whilst pressing on the debts of his past, initially conflicted by his dual responsibilities, slowly earning himself redemption upon Leia’s eyes, a transformation that us, the audience, could get on board with.

Certainly the scenes within Dagobah stretches itself beyond comfort, a road of exposition and exploration that is necessary in delivering stable context to the events that would proceed, but its pace enduring reduction and its excitement dormant; of course, such intentions were not the case for Kershner and Lucas, a pivotal point that emphases the journey of its once humble protagonist, an encounter with a mentor that would further his education and faith, to fuel towards his potential, to reach self-actualisation that meets the alignments of the prophecy. Exposing a character’s flaw in his lack of composure, wildly driven by his impulsive emotions, releasing his inner fears and frustrations that are in need of dissection and relief. Yoda, the Jedi master, is present to guide him, to show him the error of his ways, to further strengthen his connection with the powerful Force. These are scenes that I personally feel that should have been executed with a greater flourish, somehow less conflicting in its contrast with its bookends, somehow still maintaining my demanding expectations; however to deem the film’s chapter as a complete flaw, a fragment that would decay my perception of the film is far from the truth, as indeed, such scenes are critical to my deep adoration for its impressive opening and breathtaking finale. Therefore when viewed upon with a bird’s eye outlook, I cannot help but remain ecstatic with the result.

Speaking of that finale, The Empire Strikes Back is certainly a perfect piece of cinematic construction, naturally flowing from the emotional beats and depth from its preceding developing scenes, it climaxes with a substantial sense of shock and awe, as we witness the saddening fate of our redeemed scoundrel hero, the confronting duel between Skywalker and Vader, a cliffhanging note that further adds to our perspective of Skywalker’s journey, a melodramatic punch that remains piercing to this day. Along with this, is the overwhelming improvement of its lightsaber duel, still composed in its construction but wilder in its execution, conveying the inner passions that run deep within its characters, adding further to the emotional weight that it already carries, drenching us within and does so with glorious efficiency, influential in its resonance, leaving many of its inspired eyes with motivated carbon copies that lack the power that Kershner, Kasdan, and Lucas were able to deliver.

Beautiful, haunting, and spectacular, a piece in the trilogy that supplements the energy of its initial and final films, a departure from the initial atmosphere and finds greater footing in the darker shadings of its universe and mythology, a progression in characterisation that finally earns our deepest of respects, elevating itself from the superficialities that overwhelmed the trilogy opener. The Empire Strikes Back is the core rationale for my idolisation towards the space operatic saga.

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