Ian Hobbs’s review published on Letterboxd:
"Do... or do not. There is no try."
Opening on the cold and icy planet that is Hoth, and showing a more mature story, confirmed in just the first ten minutes of the film that this wouldn't be like the more kid-friendly original, and also showed us that Irwin Kershner is possibly the most underrated and undervalued director out of this entire saga. His more dark and emotionally driven film manages to not only prove itself as a worthy sequel, but solidifies itself as one of the greatest films to ever be made.
This is where we truly see what is happening in the galaxy and the shift of tone is down expertly well as it changes from a fun space adventure film to a more slow and more mature film. I think this is why it works so well; the ability to take what Lucas did in the first and completely do a 180 and change the feel and direction of it all. Kerahner does this so effortlessly and elegantly with his The Empire Strikes Back, building the lore, and expanding his universe to what it is today. Not only is it hard to do a great sequel but trying to improve on it is harder, yet Kershner manages to use the set up in the first to ultimately build fantastic character arcs between them all. Luke, Han, Leia, all have their respective arcs and is done perfectly; allowing them to build, not only by themselves, but with each other.
Mark Hamill really grew into the character of Luke in my opinion, because while in Star Wars he was somewhat childish, here he grew as an actor and therefore is more experienced and is suburb. Harrison Ford once again brings his charm and wit to the character of Han, and I love it. His banter with Carrie Fisher is simultaneously funny and showed their love they have for each other. Fisher in the original was fantastic, but here he just out does her self in most likely her best role. The introduction of Lando, played brilliantly by Billy Dee Williams, works so well for his arc and for what happens. He brings the same charm that Han has and their charism together is amazing to see in screen.
Like I said before, the ability for these characters to grow is done extremely well, and I think most of that is due to the scenes on Dagobah. The combination to Luke and, the ever so wonderful, Frank Oz as Yoda, bring for some really great and truly mesmerizing scenes. Their dialogue and their training make for franchise bests, and the conclusion to it is spectacular. I also love just how calm and mysterious that planet is. Despite the galactic war going on, it manages to be peacheful and it just works so well.
I think the main reason why Darth Vader was so menacing in the original was the fact we didn't know basically anything about him. The Empire Strikes Back brings this mysterious tone back and the combination of James Earl Jones' terrific voice work, he makes for one bad ass villain. But the one part where you see The Emperor stand over him I think is also done well, because it shows how human Vader is and he's just doing as his master orders. The Emperor is only in that one scene and it was the perfect scene for him to be introduced, and for him to show how powerful he is.
The final confrontation between Luke and Vader has to go down in history as one of the best sequences of film of all time, and I think it already did. Beginning with the dark background using only the light from their weapons, it really shows that Kershner knew what he was doing. Throughout that entire part I was in awe at just how cinematic it was. Throughout the entire film we waited for the fight and now that it's here, it's perfect. It works so well because of the emotional weight it has too It and the ending twist of "No Luke, I'm your father" is so well executed, it just amazes me, still after knowing about it my whole life.
Adding to an already technical masterpiece, John Williams score and music to the film is simply masterful. Weighing in with emotion and such power to each piece just adds to the emotional level of the film. His work no only on The Empire Strikes Back and every film in the saga thus far really brings joy and really makes for classic pieces of music. Trying to imagine these films without his music would break my heart, but the sounds and just the richness to it brings my joy back and his "The Imperial March" is simply magnificent.
Each and every part of The Empire Strikes Back works; it's characters, it's gorgeous battle sequences, it's ability to stay dark throughout, even with some jokes thrown in there once and a while. The ending makes me want more, it's done perfectly, and it truly shows that a film can be an experience unlike anything you've seen. It's truly a monument of science fiction, film, and everything in between, no film had done what this one has. For years on end people will see Irwin Kershner's masterpiece The Empire Strikes Back as *the* definite sequel, and one of the greatest films to ever grace the screen.