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

The Empire Strikes Back (short title), Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back

The Adventure Continues...

Rating: 10/10

Running Time: 124 minutes

US Certificate: PG UK Certificate: U


In the all-time list of sequels that are better than their predecessors, ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ would have to be pretty darn close to the summit. It’s a wondrous piece of cinema, much darker in tone than ‘Star Wars’, meatier in plot, and stronger in character. It’s arguably the most refined, thought-provoking and perhaps even grown-up of the series. It’s the cream of the crop, the icing on the cake, the pick of the litter. If the whole trilogy was an episode of ‘The Bill’, ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ would be Burnside. In a tube of Smarties, it’s the orange ones. It’s… it’s… well, you get the idea.

When we rejoin our heroes, they’ve become fully paid-up members of the Cockney Rebel alliance (the Cockney part might not be entirely true). On their hideout planet of Hoth, Luke (Mark Hamill) is having a spot of bother with a giant ice monster, Han and Leia (Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher) are continuing to make us all feel a little bit sick with their endless will-they-or-won’t-they flirtation shenanigans, and Chewbacca appears to be putting his HND in welding to good use. In other words, everyone’s being kept busy.

Before long, of course, it’s time for some plot to kick-in, and that nasty piece of work Darth Vader is back to his old ways. He’s still on the “Luke” out (arf!) for young Skywalker, and pretty soon the rebels are forced into saving their skins by doing a runner. So, while Han, Leia, Chewy and C3PO embark on an intergalactic game of cat-and-mouse, Luke goes into hiding on the swamp planet of Dagobah and kicks-off his Jedi training under the watchful eye of über-muppet Yoda.

Decorated with incredible sets and marvellous effects, it’s clearly apparent even post-digital remastering that George Lucas’ budget for this one was substantially up on that used for ‘Star Wars’ three years previously. But just as impressive as any of the special FX is Yoda himself, a puppet created in Jim Henson’s Creature Workshop and voiced by Frank Oz. He’s realer and edgier than the CGI Yoda used in the new ‘Star Wars’ movies, and makes a far bigger impression on the film.

An interesting aside is that, by the time this one was made, ‘Star Wars’ had already become the most successful movie of all time. With that in mind, it’s fair to assume the pressure on George Lucas not to let everyone down by producing a complete dud must have been immense – so to actually surpass the first film in terms of quality is an achievement not to be sneezed at. Unfortunately, it’s also the sort of achievement Lucas’ new trilogy – due to stumble to an end in 2005 with ‘Revenge of the Sith’ – could only dream of.

It's Got: Mr Bronson from ‘Grange Hill’ getting the Vader choke treatment.

It Needs: Chewbacca to pipe down a little – that moaning of his starts to grate after a little while.

DVD Extras Disc 2 has an audio commentary from cast and crew, but the rest of the trilogy goodies are on the extra bonus disc. On that one you get original trailers & TV spots, exclusive production stills, posters & print campaigns, a shameless amount of plugging for the forthcoming ‘Star Wars’ video games, and additional DVD-ROM content. The extensive array of documentaries and featurettes include ‘The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy’, ‘Episode III Behind the Scenes Preview’, ‘The Birth of the Lightsaber’ and ‘The Characters of Star Wars’. All good stuff. DVD Extras Rating: 10/10


The most exciting, entertaining, challenging and altogether satisfying of all the ‘Star Wars’ movies, ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ is an example of big-budget cinema at its very best.