The Empire Strikes Back

The Empire Strikes Back ★★★★★

I was lucky enough to see the film projected in the Royal Albert Hall in London with a beautiful live orchestra. The soundtrack is my favourite thing about the movie so it was a stunning experience to see the work that goes behind such a vast ensemble of musicians all playing in perfect synchronisation with the film. It especially made me appreciate the compositions and how they perfectly encapsulate the themes and messages of the movie. It’s a fittingly simple but effective approach that boils down the bare essentials of each character into their most pure elements that packs an emotional punch. For example, Yodas theme is the epitome of everything good and peaceful, Han and Leias theme is love, Lukes music is hopeful and almost naive, and obviously the empire leitmotif is the intense concept of evil condensed into one of the most famous and intimidating pieces of music ever written. There is a reason people become so emotionally attached to star wars and I believe it’s almost entirely down to John Williams’ incredible music. You can listen to the soundtrack on its own and piece together it’s own unique story because of how expressive and unfiltered it is.

As for the movie, I swear I like it more every time I see it. It’s as simple, campy, pulpy, hilarious, soap opera-y and charming as ever. The world war 2, adventure serial, fantasy and western influence perfectly blends to create an interesting and strangely believable world despite the hilarious goofiness of it all. 

The sets and location variation captures the imagination and keeps things fresh, while also enforcing the mystery, scale and character conflicts. The standout being Degobah, where the best scene in the movie takes place (Yoda lifting the X-wing from the swamp). The lighting is particularly effective in the more moody scenes to emphasise the struggle of evil vs good in a literal way, with harsh contrasting colours that help visualise the central conflict. 

Aside from a couple of CGI bullshit moments that have been added in to the blu-ray versions, the special effects have aged wonderfully for the most part. Most notably aside from some pretty bad rear projection and shaky stop motion here and there (it doesn’t bug me because I like the artistry of it but I’d never blame anyone for thinking it looks aged and bad). The matte paintings will always be stunning to me though, great stuff.

I think the dialogue is surprisingly good for the most part, the film knows exactly what it is and it doubles down. Yoda has the most elegant and thoughtful lines but I especially appreciated how all of the military characters speak like they’ve been plucked straight out of the 40s with their awkward overly official and polite cadence. 

Honestly, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, C3PO might be my favourite character in the movie. Not because he has any real significance to the plot or to any of the main characters arcs, but more because they managed to strongly characterise what is effectively nothing more than a plot device. He acts as the main source of levity in what otherwise may be an overbearingly hopeless story, I especially like how none of the characters really like him and only keep him around because he’s occasionally useful to them. The humour is general is pretty great, it’s so much more subtle and character based than what we’ve seen in the modern day sequels (which is one of the worst aspects of them to me in retrospect). 

I could drone on about this movie for longer and all of this has been said countless times before, but it’s the first time I’ve sat down and actually tried to casually analyse what I like about the film. To me, nostalgic influences aside or not, I think it holds up and is a great simplistic timeless adventure.