Empire Strikes Back is probably one of the densest genre movies I have ever seen. Because it embraces its role as sequel fully, the story dives right in and doesn’t need to spend more time on character development. Even when it adds new characters (like Yoda, more on him in a minute) there’s not a ton of backstory, and yet, they seem to fit perfectly well into the world for their own purpose. Besides, Empire seems to know now with gusto that there will be a follow-up, and the layers don’t all have to fit into a single feature. Hit the jump for my take on Empire.
On its own, Empire could be viewed reasonably as a stand-alone film, but not as well as A New Hope. Its narrative density, multiple story-lines and avoidance of cliche (in fact, it became a creator of cliche) makes it an engaging experience even for veteran movie watchers. The “Episode” title never felt more true — these were just a few more chapters in the lives of the characters, and there’s clearly more to come (or one would hope, anyway. Otherwise the ending is rather unfortunate given Han’s circumstances).
One of the two major reveals I already know relates to Luke and Leia, but had I not known that I still would have respected the decision to pair Leia and Han rather than the more obvious Luke. Harrison Ford also gave Han a lot more personality this time around, which matched Chewie’s sudden change from his surly and indifferent portrayal in A New Hope to one where he’s crying over Han and dolling out hugs to Luke (I prefer Chewie 2.0, of course, but his now constant growly chatter grew a little old as the movie wore on).
Keeping the comic relief around both crews even when they split up (R2 with Luke and 3PO with the others) was a nice way to unite the two stories and create a small lovely little homecoming when the droids were reunited. One of the best aspects of Star Wars, which I wasn’t exactly expecting, is how humor is never far. Some of it is unintentional, sure (like Mark Hamill‘s “damnit I do not want you as a dad!” face), but Yoda hanging off of Luke during his training or fighting R2 (possibly my favorite of all), or 3PO complaining more or less constantly when strapped to Chewbacca are great mood lighteners.
Yoda is obviously the standout character (with his special and oft-imitated diction, and from the first moment he spoke and I shouted “Fozzie Bear!” I knew I was in the presence of Frank Oz), and he reminded me of a cross between Karate Kid‘s Mr Miyagi and Mammy from Gone with the Wind. But I liked all of the new additions, including the Imperial Walkers (which I found kinda terrifying) and Lando, who I was convinced was Lionel Ritchie for most of the movie. Also, the animatronic work on the Tauntauns, Yoda and the other critters as well as the graphics for the Walkers was fantastic (though maybe that’s just my nostalgia as a Muppets, Fraggle Rock and Neverending Story fan. Kids these days don’t know from what …)
I’m already doubling my word count from my comments on A New Hope, and I could easily fill up a Musings and Miscellanea section with plenty of other bits (such as, I want to know more about Chewbacca and Vader and why Imperial troops look like something from the Third Reich), but suffice to say, Empire was dense and it was fun. Onward …
Bottom line: Vastly more complex than Episode IV, with more action than character building, which, whether that’s good or bad depends on your tastes. But as a sequel, really fantastic.
Episode V Roundup:
Favorite Character(s): R2D2, C-3PO, Darth Vader, Leia, Luke. Han and Chewie bother grew on me immensely. Lando is like another Han and came around in the end, I liked that.
Least Favorite Character(s): Again, everyone is generally fine by me.
A-ha! Moment: Yes, I already knew that Vader was really Anakin and therefore Luke’s father, but I still think he does too many of his own errands even if he is following his son to recruit him. And speaking of which, why does Luke not even entertain the notion of co-ruling the galaxy? Can’t he at least sit down and hear Vader out?
Pop Culture Moments: George R. R. Martin totally stole Jaime and Cersei’s story from Luke and Leia, didn’t he? At least in part. Also that bounty hunter looked like a Battlestar Galactica cylon. The music is another thing, it’s so well-worn into the fabric of satirical work now that hearing and realizing it’s not a joke but the original is strangely difficult.
What worked best: Leia is a really well-written badass female, and I respect that greatly. Also, I’m not a huge fan of fight scenes, but I really liked the astroid maneuvers and discovering they had landed inside what looked like the alien hatchling from, well, Alien. Oh, and the device of us not being able to understand R2 and Chewie but everyone else being able to is fun, but it doesn’t work as well with Vader’s expressionless mask.
What didn’t work: How did Luke sneak into Lando’s floating fortress without anyone intercepting him? They all knew he was coming, and there were plenty of escort planes to apprehend him for Vader.
Best Quotes: “I’ll see you in hell then” // “There is no try” // “I’m standing here in pieces and you’re having delusions of grandeur and … eeeep! you did it!”