[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B005HNV2OS][/pullquote] Following on from the staggering success of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, George Lucas released the sequel Star Wars: Episode IV – The Empire Strikes Back in 1980. Aware that the previous film had created a galaxy of characters that had been embraced the world over, there was a lot of pressure on him to follow up this massive hit with a film of equal quality or face the wrath of the growing fan-base. For Empire (as it’s more commonly known) Lucas handed over directorial reigns to Irvin Kirshner.
After the destruction of the Death Star in Episode IV, Luke (Mark Hamill), Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han (Harrison Ford) are based on the ice planet of Hoth. The Empire find the location of the planet and launch a full-scale assault. The trio must go their separate ways as they desperately try to outrun the evil Darth Vader (James Earl Jones). Luke continues his training with Jedi Master Yoda, whilst learning more about his past and more importantly the fate of his father Anakin Skywalker.
The Empire Strikes Back takes the Star Wars franchise in a new direction. After the fist-pumping success of the rebels in the previous film, as the title suggests it is the Galactic Empire who get a lot of the success in this. It is a great deal darker and more bleak than A New Hope, which makes for some incredible moments of operatic drama. From the showdown between Luke and Vader, to the capture and imprisonment of Han Solo by the bounty hunter Boba Fett. The rebels feel the full force of the Empire in this film.
The scenery is just as impressive and memorable in The Empire Strikes Back as before, with Hoth especially being the first science fiction location on film to stage a battle in a snowy landscape. It proved difficult special effects-wise, but the results are sumptuous and epic. Kershner does a fantastic job of encapsulating the tension and drama of the ‘bad guys’ fighting back and Lucas’ influence is plain to see as the script and pacing fires along, leaving no moments of tedium or boredom. Even the more exposition-heavy scenes are dealt with beautifully and the introduction of characters like Yoda the evil Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) help to raise the stakes, so by the final act you have no idea where the story is going to take you.
Epic storytelling of the highest class, with risks taken and one of the most somber, down-beat endings in film history firmly establish Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back as the finest film in the franchise and the best sequel in film history. Whislt others will argue for films like The Godfather Part 2 and Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, it is only Empire that manages to tell it’s epic middle-portion of a trilogy with no rest bit and no compromises.