What I liked/loved:
The Story – The Force, Romance, The Reveal, and Cliffhangers
The ante is upped in every way with this film. The stakes are higher, the action is grander, and the narrative delves deeper into the mythos of that galaxy far, far away. Not only do we see each of the primary characters get their moments to shine, but we’re introduced to a new character, Yoda, who is key to developing how the force actually works. It’s something that was merely hinted at in Hope, but is brought to the forefront in this film. Also, we’re introduced briefly to the emperor, and we get a glimpse of the sway he holds over Vader. Also, Vader’s “egg” or whatever where he takes off his helmet is an incredible tease. Yoda gives the first cliffhanger in the form of “another.” Then when Luke finally faces off with Vader, the bomb is dropped. Probably the biggest reveal in cinema. Still awe-inspiring, and perfectly delivered by James Earl Jones. By the end, we’re not a whole lot apart from where we started, with two exceptions – Luke’s newfound knowledge of his lineage and Han’s missing in action. Speaking of Han, the love story here is one for the ages. A “scoundrel” and a princess. On the surface, it’s cliché. But when it plays out in the capable hands of Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, it’s brilliant. So much tension between the two. And so iconic in almost every conceivable way.
So much more depth is given to all the returning characters.
Vader is back and better than ever. We last saw him hurtled into space on a tiny TIE fighter. Now he’s back, and he’s on a mission. The entire Imperial fleet is at his disposal, and he’ll stop at nothing to find the Rebels and Skywalker. And even Imperial officers aren’t safe from his determination. Ineptitude is unacceptable to him, and the bodies seem to pile up. When he finally catches his prize, as it were, Luke is no match. It’s as if Vader just toys with him before schooling him. When you last catch a glimpse of Vader after he watches the Millenium Falcon make the jump to hyperspace, you’re wondering just how many bodies are going to hit the floor. But ultimately he’s the winner here. Blindsiding Luke, and sending the rebels on the run. Again.
Luke is, well, Luke. The primary protagonist, the wunderkind, the arrogant twerp who just about got offed by a Wampa. He’s not all bad. He’s not as whiny – well, not in the same way – as he was in the first film, but he’s still too self-assured to really be an effective leader. Still, that’s part of the character arc. By the end, his whole universe comes crashing down. Talk about unlearning what he has learned.
Han is the best. Period. And Leia brings it out in him. The two are so wonderful when they banter back and forth, and you just want them to smooch already. Star-crossed lovers, if there ever were any, it just makes you smile any time they fight because you know they’ll be together in the end. This film features the best dialogue of the saga, and these two deliver the majority of it. Whether it’s Leia explaining that she’s “not a committee!” or if it’s Han utterly defying convention by responding with a simple “I know”; these two are at the top of the dialogue food chain. And Leia gives the best non-verbal communication with her expressions. Absolutely priceless. Plus, Han’s ongoing performance issues with the Falcon is the story of any would-be mechanic’s life. Hit it to make it work, beat your head against the controllers when you think you’ve fixed it only to have it stall out when trying to jump to hyperspace, etc. So with Han being incapacitated in the end and separated from his lady, it’s another cliffhanger that ramps up excitement for the next chapter.
And you’ve pretty much got to love the droids. They’re separate for most of the film, but each delivers a memorable “performance”. C-3PO is hilarious in his lack of tact, his constant spouting of odds, and his general amiability amidst aloofness. R2-D2 gets more character moments, and his “relationship” with Luke is deepened though this film. Plus, he’s able to help save the day; which is more than you can say for his babbling, eventually legless counterpart.
So much of this film falls on the shoulders of the first of two new characters, Yoda. More on Lando later. Almost the entirety of what audiences knew about the force before the prequels came from this little green character voiced by Frank Oz, whose sentence structure is marvelously reorganized. He trains Luke the best way he knows how, but it’s clear he sees the dangers in doing so. However, no one ever expected such poignant moments in film from a green puppet with big ears. Unforgettable.
John Williams – boss. Still.
Rapid-Fire Miscellaneous Items
- Vader’s flagship. I must have one.
- AT-ATs. So illogical and impractical, really; yet so effective.
- Boba Fett and the bounty hunters. So little time on screen, so much presence.
- The space worm. Totally illogical, but amazing nonetheless.
- The return of Ian McDiarmid as Sidious/the emperor. Yeah, it was added just for the Blu-ray, but I loved it as continuity.
“Questions That Need Answering”
Why set up a rebel base on Hoth? Why not somewhere like Dagobah? Or somewhere that isn’t frozen?
Why not just send in TIE fighters under the shield on Hoth? Why the AT-ATs, etc?
Why are the snakes everywhere on Dagobah? I guess they could’ve been spiders.
Someone please explain in great detail the cave scene. Please.
What I loathed:
Luke’s Genetic Flaws
I guess if there’s some continuity with the Skywalker family, it’s the like father, like son cliché. Luke is kind of annoyingly arrogant, but not in an “in some ways – a lot of ways – I’m ahead of him” kind of way, like his father. However, he’s still cocky – despite Han’s warnings against – and whiny when he’s on Dagobah. I guess it works for the story, but Luke has never been my favorite character. It’s a Skywalker trait. Ugh. And then after “the reveal”, how he’s so utterly shocked and cries out in agony – and not just over his lost hand. “That’s impossible!” And I don’t understand how he can go from zero to hero in an hour. Though, at least Vader schooled him. At least papa knows best.
It’s less about the character, and more about his actions. It’s little things that add up. First of all, his psych meeting with Han on the platform has never set well with me. And he’s just such a schmoozer – which is kind of the point. But he’s got nothing on charm when standing next to Han. And I think my biggest gripe is how he’s just the double agent that sells out his friend and then turns around and helps save the day. Yes, I know. I’d do the same thing were I faced with Vader. I think Billy Dee Williams plays the character well, but he’s my least favorite of the primaries – and that includes Luke.
Rapid-Fire Miscellaneous Items
- Tautauns. They’re just overgrown ferrets that you ride. In the snow. And ultimately, just Wampa bait.
- Luke’s lightsaber in the Wampa cave. Strategic.
- Chewie and Han welding. Look, I know it’s my upbringing, but it didn’t look convincing at all.
- Luke crashing on Dagobah? Some pilot he is.
- Passive – I don’t consider that a noble trait for a Jedi.
- The galaxy shot at the end. Illogical.
It’s not really hard to believe that George Lucas didn’t direct this thing. In fact, he didn’t even write the screenplay. He was just credited with the story. Sure, he came up with a good story, but can you imagine how it would’ve turned out had he been calling all the shots? Though he’s not a household name, I give the majority of the credit for the success of this film to director Irvin Kershner. It’s as if every single element from the first film was improved upon – a feat nigh impossible in filmmaking these days. It’s hands-down the best of the franchise. I highly doubt any film in the future of the saga will reach such heights.
Here’s where it falls – unsurprisingly – in my rankings (best to worst):
- Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
- Episode IV: A New Hope
- Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
- Episode I: The Phantom Menace
- Episode II: Attack of the Clones