Empire Strikes Back, The (1980)

The Empire Strikes Back (1980), directed by Irvin Kershner.

I have never seen a movie audience so hysterically excited as when the STAR WARS logo appeared and the main fanfare played at the beginning of this film. It was an opening night happiness riot: people wanted more Star Wars (1977), let's just do it again, and that's what they got.

I'm sure everyone understands this is the best of the whole series, finally achieving the serial adventure tone they claimed to be striving for, and even elevating it to geeky tragic opera proportions. With the Dark Side triumphant and all our non-droid characters growing deeper, making sacrifices and in pain, it was probably the first time young SF viewers considered that this fun stuff might rise to a new level of art.

That's true even though the first 20 minutes on the ice planet is pretty much of a waste, with particularly clunky dialogue. I don't know the behind-the-scenes history, but it's hard to believe the same people wrote this part at the same time as the rest of the film.

Everything picks up when Vader appears and the ground assault begins. It's off to the races with amazing plot developments and action scenes. Han and Leia get some quiet time and Luke has to reflect on the Force, but otherwise it's non-stop one damn thing after another, seeming a bit rushed in retrospect.

The space scenes, clouds and landscapes are particularly lovely this time. The cloud city has a nice 1940s SF look, which is just right as this is the sequel to a 1930s space opera.

The Lucas re-edits are less intrusive this time, although I was happy with the original cloud city towers. I liked the original glimpse of the Emperor better: evil, to be effective, must be appealing. The original character had a hint of majesty, but the one used for the rest of the series is just reptilian.

Misc notes:

Available on Blu-ray.