Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)    2 Stars

“The Star Wars saga continues”


Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Director: Irvin Kershner

Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher

Synopsis: After the rebels have been brutally overpowered by the Empire on their newly established base, Luke Skywalker takes advanced Jedi training with Master Yoda, while his friends are pursued by Darth Vader as part of his plan to capture Luke.

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Three years on from the phenomenal success of the original Star Wars movie, Hollywood veteran Irving Kershner took over the directorial reins from George Lucas and already there was a sense of that youthful, boyish exuberance of 1977 being overshadowed by the calculated strategies of the well-oiled film-making machine. The fun went out of the franchise just after our intrepid heroes stood on a podium after collecting their commendations and smiled a little inanely at one another for just a little too long. The budget for the second film was more than 50per cent greater than that for the first, and it shows – but a bigger budget is no substitute for that kind of heart-stopping excitement that transported all of us back to our childhood enthrallment at the Saturday matinees.The rebel’s success after destroying Darth Vader’s Death Star was apparently short-lived because at the beginning of the sequel they’re under attack from the Empire’s forces on a godforsaken arctic planet on which they’ve been hiding out.

I’ve never really understood how the rebels actually funded their resistance to the Empire. Like real life resistance outfits, they seem to skulk around alleyways – only of the intergalactic variety – so how do they manage to build or buy and maintain their ships? How do they recruit when they’re hopping from one remote planet to another? Who does the catering? Who knows? Not me, that’s for sure, but these are the kind of daft things I start thinking about when a movie’s grip on me wavers. The Empire Strikes Back did that a couple of times, but for the most part it’s pretty entertaining, even if that… polished professionalism had me wishing for the element of fun that contributed so much to the first movie.

Yoda makes his debut in this one. Yes – Star Wars meets the Muppets. Today, he would be played by Andy Serkis in a motion-capture suit. He’d look more realistic, but he wouldn’t be as memorable. He assumes the role of Skywalker’s mentor which was hurriedly vacated by Obi Wan in the first movie. Obi’s still around though; sometimes he’s a disembodied voice, and at other times he appears to be some kind of hologram. Is he dead? Who knows…

There would be a third movie three years later, and it would be even further removed from the heart and spirit of the original. Both of the sequels are very good movies in their own right – they’ll do. But they’re not the same.

(Reviewed 19th September 2012)