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The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Adam Lenhardt

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Title: The Empire Strikes Back

Tagline: The Adventure Continues...

Genre: Adventure, Action, Science Fiction

Director: Irvin Kershner

Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, James Earl Jones, Peter Mayhew, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz, Alec Guinness, Jeremy Bulloch, Jason Wingreen, John Hollis, Jack Purvis, Des Webb, Kathryn Mullen, Marjorie Eaton, Clive Revill, Kenneth Colley, Julian Glover, Michael Sheard, Michael Culver, John Dicks, Milton Johns, Mark Jones, Oliver Maguire, Robin Scobey, Bruce Boa, Christopher Malcolm, Denis Lawson, Richard Oldfield, John Morton, Ian Liston, John Ratzenberger, Jack McKenzie, Jerry Harte, Norman Chancer, Norwich Duff, Ray Hassett, Brigitte Kahn, Burnell Tucker, Wendy Froud, Bob Anderson, Lightning Bear, Richard Bonehill, John Cannon, Mark Capri, Martin Dew, Peter Diamond, Stuart Fell, Doug Robinson, Tony Smart, Alan Harris, Tiffany L. Kurtz, Mac McDonald, Ralph McQuarrie, Ralph Morse, Terry Richards, Michael Santiago, Treat Williams, Shaun Curry, Alan Austen, Jim Dowdall, Ian Durrant, Tom Egeland, Alan Flyng, Chris Parsons, Trevor Butterfield, Christopher Bunn, Quentin Pierre, Keith Swaden, Howie Weed, Morris Bush

Release: 1980-05-20

Runtime: 124

Plot: The epic saga continues as Luke Skywalker, in hopes of defeating the evil Galactic Empire, learns the ways of the Jedi from aging master Yoda. But Darth Vader is more determined than ever to capture Luke. Meanwhile, rebel leader Princess Leia, cocky Han Solo, Chewbacca, and droids C-3PO and R2-D2 are thrown into various stages of capture, betrayal and despair.

 

Adam Lenhardt

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Ahead of The Rise of Skywalker on Thursday, I'm attempting to re-watch all of the previous live action Star Wars movies in chronological order.
The most striking thing about the opening sequence on Hoth is what a technical step forward it is from the original Star Wars. The visual effects are both more ambitious than the previous movie and more successfully executed. The cinematography doesn't suffer from the same variability in grain and lighting design. It had over three times the budget of the previous film, and George Lucas had full control of the production. The extra dollars are visible on screen.

So many of the choices in the movie seem obvious in retrospect, but that's only because they worked. A movie where the villains are really successful and our heroes spend the entire running time on the run? A movie that opens with a strategic defeat and closes with an emotional defeat? Those are some pretty risky swings, but they provide a strong spine to the trilogy.

I thought about Attack of the Clones and The Last Jedi a lot while watching the movie this time around, and what makes a middle chapter of a Star Wars trilogy. One thing that all three of them have in common is an extremely condensed time frame. Attack of the Clones takes place over the course of one investigation of an assassination attempt. The Empire Strikes Back and The Last Jedi both take place over the course of a strategic retreat in the aftermath of a major defeat. In this case, it's a bit hard to pin down, because we don't know how long it took the Falcon to limp its way to Bespin without being able to jump to hyperspace. We know Bespin was within reachable sublight distance, but we also know that it was near the outer reaches of sublight distance. What defines that distance probably depends on how much fuel the Falcon had and how much provisions -- food, water, etc. Long enough that Luke had time to make progress with Yoda on Dagobah, short enough that Boba Fett was willing to track patiently without confronting beforehand. Maybe a month?

Yoda is, for my month, still the greatest creature effects creation in the history of cinema. Stuart Freeborn's character design is a masterpiece, as are the puppets used in the movie. Not every shot is perfect, but the ones that are work more effectively than any of the CG Yoda scenes from the prequels. You completely believe that this little green alien exists, and it achieves what the best actors can achieve -- it makes you feel what the character is feeling.

Frank Oz had been performing Sesame Street characters and Muppets characters for a decade when he took on the challenge of Yoda. He brought his technical acumen to performing Yoda, but he also brought the skills he used to keep the attention of young children. The obvious choice would have been to make Yoda, the great Jedi Master, solemn and somber and serious. Instead he is playful and ornery and funny. The scenes before he reveals his identity to Luke instantly endear him to the audience. And then they make the later scenes, where he has to be solemn and somber and wise carry more weight because they stand in contrast to his earlier behavior. Yoda is the first alien permitted to be truly three-dimensional. He's one of the more complex characterizations in the saga, period. My spirit brightens a little every time he's on screen.

I actually like most of the revisions made to this movie 1997 to present. The most effective change dates back to the 2004 DVDs, with the Emperor's brief appearance reshot with Ian McDiarmid. It's nice to have that bit of continuity, and it's a better performance than the original version. The scenes with Luke being attacked on Hoth and the aftermath are more effective, some of the compositing work is improved, the stuff with the ships approaching and leaving Bespin (and the background plates in Cloud City) all plays more effectively. On Dagobah, I always expect Luke to joke with R2D2 about not tasting good after the swamp monster spits him out, and find myself momentarily thrown when he doesn't. But the only change that really negatively impacts the movie is "Alert my Star Destroyer to prepare for my arrival." James Earl Jones's delivery of the original line, "Bring me shuttle", really captured Vader's rage at having lost both Luke and the Falcon. The new line, and the alternate take from Return of the Jedi of Vader's subsequent arrival, feel detached and removed in a way that doesn't play emotional reaction the major events that have just transpired.

I really appreciate the way the prequels mirror Anakin's journey with Luke. When Luke loses his hand in this movie, I thought back to how Anakin had limbs sliced away, and it reinforces how Luke's fate could go either way.
 

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But the only change that really negatively impacts the movie is "Alert my Star Destroyer to prepare for my arrival." James Earl Jones's delivery of the original line, "Bring me shuttle", really captured Vader's rage at having lost both Luke and the Falcon.
I think that another thing that hurts the line is that James Earl Jones was 17 years older than he was when he originally recorded the dialogue for The Empire Strikes Back so his voice sounds 'weaker' than it did in 1980. Not knocking the guy because it happens to everyone but just like in Rogue One, Vader sounds slightly different than he did in the OT.
 

Robert Crawford

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Perhaps I'm getting mellow in my old age, but I only an issue with a couple of changes with the original trilogy. I spent my weekend watching all three films after watching the three prequels earlier last week. I'm going to try to watch Rogue One today and then finish off the last two films by Wednesday prior to my Thursday night screenings.

Edit: Two changes in Return of the Jedi that really bothered me was the "No" with Darth Vader during the final battle involving the Emperor and the switching of the faces for Anakin Skywalker at the end of the film with Yoda and Obi Wan.
 
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Robert Crawford

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Perhaps I'm getting mellow in my old age, but I only an issue with a couple of changes with the original trilogy. I spent my weekend watching all three films after watching the three prequels earlier last week. I'm going to try to watch Rogue One today and then finish off the last two films by Wednesday prior to my Thursday night screenings.

Edit: Two changes in Return of the Jedi that really bothered me was the "No" with Darth Vader during the final battle involving the Emperor and the switching of the faces for Anakin Skywalker at the end of the film with Yoda and Obi Wan.
Damn, "Rogue One" keeps getting better to me with each viewing. An underrated Star Wars movie in my opinion. I'm now watching "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" in 4K/DV/Atmos on Disney+.
 
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The first minutes of this movie jarred me when I first saw it during the summer of 1980. "Hey, wait a minute! Why are these guys on the run! Didn't they kill the Death Star and save the universe???"

Then I fell in to the story and was swept along with it just like everyone else. TESB has never felt like a "middle act" to me, it has always seemed like a fully-realized concept and story. Always watch it any chance I get.

A
 

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Damn, "Rogue One" keeps getting better to me with each viewing. An underrated Star Wars movie in my opinion. .
I've thought R1 was great from the moment I saw it in the theater. To me, the reason it did $540m DOM and over a $1B domestic is because it is such a good movie, as it didn't have main original cast members to draw everyone in.

The best of the Disney films and better than all but the original trilogy IMO.

A-
 
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This used to be my favorite SW film and one of my favorite all time movies. But I watch it now, and... it just doesn't hold up like it used to. The stop motion is really dated looking. I never really liked Yoda all that much (it looked like a muppet and sounded like Miss Piggy) and it's even more muppet looking now. But there's a lot of cool stuff here. Harrison Ford was always the best actor in the entire trilogy, Bespin is cool, the bounty hunters were cool, the snow speeder/ATAT battle is cool (even with the stop motion). Han being frozen in carbonite never to be seen again in the movie absolutely shocked me. And the Darth Vader reveal... mind blowing. But it's still a dumb movie at its core, and once I move past nostalgia, it loses a lot of its glow.
 

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Empire is definitively my favorite SW film. It’s just got EVERYTHING and it’s all done so well. And more so than any other SW movie, it’s got this vibe, almost dream like. Maybe it’s the music, which is the best John Williams SW score. I never tire of watching this.
 

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It has been a long time since I watched this film. I had forgotten how the introduction of Yoda made him look like a village idiot and the romance in these films always feels forced and fake; although, the interaction between Solo and Leia certainly was not at the level of terrible like it was between Anakin and Padme.

Overall, the film was good; although, I still like the first film in the OOT the best.
 

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At the time, I remember the film not generating anywhere near the same level of awe and obsession among fans/moviegoers.
It was a solid hit, and better than average quality, sure. At the end of the day though, just another sequel.

Some of the things that capture my imagination, and why I honestly felt it was probably better than the first after an initial viewing.

• it was in no way a rehash of the first film. Story beats were radically different, with the big spfx battles and scenes coming at the end of the first act or beginning of the second, leaving a more intimate, human-sized conflicts to play out in last act.

• Befitting the differences in structure, the color scheme(s) in the film were radically different. The bright earth tones of Tatooine and Yavin and the blacks and industrial grays of the Death Star, were replaced with cold and sterile stark whites/blues of Hoth and whites and beiges predominating on Could City.
Even the earthier colors on Dagobah were skewing to hues and shades we didn't see previously. It was a completely different looking film. That alien feel didn't make it "comfortable", but it did make it feel distinctly separate and unique which is something that served it better with rewatching for years afterward.

• Staying on the visual look of the film- the lighting was much more adventurous. For the most part, SW was fairly flatly lit. Things were either in shadow (the cockpit of a TIE fighter, the droids in the bowels of the sandcrawler) or else they were fully lit (the cockpit of the Falcon, Death Star bridge, Vader Kenobi duel.
Right off the bat in ESB we are into the rebel command complex and there are all kinds of moody lighting, figures conversing half in shadow or lit by banks of console control lighting. Very chiaroscuro. Even the Falcon cockpit scenes are frequently darker, with figures often in partial shadow. The carbon freezing chamber...'nuf said. When Vader makes his appearance for his duel with Luke, he is very effectively cast in silhouette.
Given the expanse of primarily simplistic white/off-white backdrops throughout, the film still maintains a high visual interest.

• While the spfx eye candy is what got my blood pumping, at the end of the day it's all about the characters. They are the reason I loved the first film and the big reason I'd be invested and excited to see follow up adventures. This movie provided some great spfx set pieces, but they didn't seem anywhere near as huge (in terms of stakes) as the first film. Instead the movie gave me plenty of character development- new facets revealed to all the character morphing them from simply entertaining archetypes to real flesh and blood people. By the end of the film I was deeply invested in finding out how Leia would act when the time came to spurn Luke's advances- or how Luke would interact with his best friend after that friend had managed to woo away from him his romantic ideal.
Or how Luke would react to Ben and Yoda the next time he saw them and demanded the truth.
Or how, if Vader really was his father, that whole final conflict would play out.

• At the time, I loved the deeper dive into spirituality. At that age, I was craving some mentorial wisdom of the sort I didn't have access to IRL. Yoda's simple lessons seemed true and profound. It was also fun, as part of the world-building, to get more concrete information on what rules were governing this fantasy universe, so that in the future events or behaviors couldn't just change because the plot needed them to- that, just like coming of age and leaving behind the free pass for childhood behavior, there were hard and fast rules these characters would have to navigate.
Also, opening up the Jedi powers seemed to offer the opportunity for even more spectacular super-hero type stuff in the future.
As long as there were going to be rules governing them, those powers going to be exciting to see.

Unfortunately, while I didn't realize it at the time, or even till a good piece later, the Jedi and their powers is what lead to my disenchantment with this material for decades.
 

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Unfortunately, while I didn't realize it at the time, or even till a good piece later, the Jedi and their powers is what lead to my disenchantment with this material for decades.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the past couple of days and I think you’re somewhat right about this. I’m starting to realize that after the OT the overall direction became too much about the force. In the OT, the force was there, we saw some characters use it, we saw Luke learn about it some more and use it on his own, but it was never the biggest thing in those movies. After that it did kind of become The Force, the Force, the force, jedis, the force, midichorians, the force, new force Powers, the force, dead Sith, dead jedis, the force.
 

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One of the big reasons I love Rogue One is because it keeps "the force" nebulous and vague. Even the one character that thinks he is tuned into it, is kind of going off of his own script from what he's gleaned. He's like a native who has been converted by missionaries, who taken the basics of the belief system and embroidered his own more elaborate set of rituals around it.

Also in the first film, the force was really little more than some (relatively) simple displays of telekinesis combined with heightened intuition. ESP and telekinesis were both mild fads in the mid Seventies, so that concept was far from uncommon to viewers at the time.
Ben disappearing when he is slain was a curiosity. But in that fantasy universe we were seeing for the first time, who was to say if it was really that extraordinary?

In any case, the Force was something nebulous and mysterious and nowhere close to being the deus ex machina that it would eventually become. And the infrastructure for that was really laid in ESB.
 

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Empire is definitively my favorite SW film. It’s just got EVERYTHING and it’s all done so well. And more so than any other SW movie, it’s got this vibe, almost dream like. Maybe it’s the music, which is the best John Williams SW score. I never tire of watching this.
This movie is still my favorite movie of the original three films. However, it's been replaced as my favorite all-time Star Wars film by "Rogue One" and "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker".
 
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Nelson Au

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Hey guys, I came across this video from my youtube suggestions; Empire at 40. In case you guys didn’t know about this.

Bill George hosts a Live stream discussion with Joe Johnston, Dennis Muren, Phil Tibet, and Lorne Peterson discussing the effects work and developing The Empire Strikes Back.

 
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