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

This first sequel to Star Wars (“A New Hope” to you kids), begins with the Empire scouring the galaxy for the rebels' secret base. After their success in destroying the Death Star at the end of the first film, the rebel forces are now in hiding on a desolate snowbound planet in the Hoth system.

When the Empire discovers their hideout, it launches an attack on the rebel base and our heroes are forced to scatter. Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), the Wookie Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and droid C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) escape in Solo's ship the Millennium Falcon, eventually flying directly into an asteroid field to evade the pursuing Imperial ships. Meanwhile, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and his diminutive droid R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) head to the swamps of Dagobah, where a vision of Luke's mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) has told him he will be trained by the mysterious Jedi master, Yoda.

Eventually, Solo, Leia, Chewbacca and C-3PO manage to outwit the Imperial fleet and head for sanctuary on Cloud City, a floating gas mining platform run by a former associate of Solo's, Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams). But the Empire sees a Jedi-trained Luke Skywalker as a threat, and so a trap is set for him using his friends as bait.

Luke and Darth Vader's light sabre duel in The Empire Strikes Back
Luke and Darth Vader's light sabre duel

Star Wars was the unexpected box office smash of 1977, an unpromising-sounding sci-fi fantasy that became the biggest film of all time and turned into a cultural phenomenon. The 1970s was the era when sequelitis began to set into the film industry, so after the runaway success of Star Wars, it was inevitable that there would be pressure to produce a follow up. 

The film had also initiated a sci-fi boom, with other film makers scrambling onto the band wagon. 1979-1980 alone saw the release of Moonraker, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Starcrash, Alien, The Black Hole, Battle Beyond the StarsSaturn 3 and Flash Gordon. The appearance of the latter film was appropriate, as George Lucas had originally wanted to make a film based on the character, but couldn't afford to buy the rights.

Lucas's contract with Twentieth Century Fox granted him the rights to make a sequel to Star Wars, but only if production began within 2 years of the first film's release. After that, the sequel rights would belong to Twentieth Century Fox. 

Lucas briefly considered allowing the sequel rights to pass to Fox, but was feeling increasingly protective and proprietorial about Star Wars. He had handed over control on a Star Wars television special, the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special of 1978, that had turned into a fiasco. As a result, Lucas was reluctant to hand over such a valuable property to film makers he felt might not understand it and might ruin it, especially as his company Lucasfilm was now being supported by the revenue from Star Wars merchandise.

Lucas and his producer, Gary Kurtz, had thought about a possible Star Wars sequel relatively early on. Alan Dean Forster was asked to write a novel as the possible basis for a much lower budgeted follow up if the first film was only a modest success. 

The subsequent novel, Splinter of the Mind's Eye, published in 1978, was set mostly on a jungle planet and the story was designed to re-use props and costumes from Star Wars, with a slimmed down cast focusing on Luke, Leia and Darth Vader. But the extraordinary box office success of Star Wars meant that the Forster story was discarded, and something more ambitious could be attempted.

After the fraught experience of writing and directing Star Wars, Lucas decided to take a more hands-off approach on the sequel, hiring a new director and new writers. Lucas and Kurtz chose Irvin Kershner, Lucas's former tutor at UCLA Film School, to direct. 

Kershner had made several small scale dramas, including The Luck of Ginger Coffey (1964), A Fine Madness (1966) and the thriller Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) as well as the TV film Raid on Entebbe (1977). Lucas settled on Kershner partly because he had come into the industry from television and so, ironically, Lucas thought that he would be able to work quickly and economically. This turned out not to be the case.

Han Solo on Taunton on Hoth
Han Solo (Harrison Ford) surveys the frozen wastes of Hoth

For the screenplay, Lucas worked out some rough ideas and chose Leigh Brackett to develop a script. Based solely on her film work, Bracket would seem like an odd choice, being best known for her films for Howard Hawks, including The Big Sleep (1946) and Rio Bravo (1959). But she had also written many science fiction stories and novels, including stories for pulp sci-fi magazines. Lucas was unhappy with Brackett's first draft and so rang her a few weeks after the script had been delivered, only to find that she had been in hospital and had died of cancer.

Lucas decided to work on the script himself and then looked for another writer to develop the finished screenplay. Fortunately, Lucasfilm had another project in the works at the time, an adventure movie inspired by the old Saturday morning serials. That film was to be directed by his friend Steven Spielberg and would become Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).

The young writer on that film was a former copywriter, Lawrence Kasdan, who had recently turned to screenwriting, although he had no film credits to his name at the time. Lucas was scrabbling around for a screenwriter for The Empire Strikes Back when Lawrence Kasdan delivered his script for Raiders. With no one else in the frame, Lucas asked Kasdan if he would work on the Star Wars sequel.

Kasdan would become a significant part of the Star Wars team, co-writing the second sequel Return of the Jedi (1983) with Lucas, and working on the Disney era Star Wars films The Force Awakens (2015) and Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018). Leigh Brackett was given the screenplay credit along with Kasdan, although very little of her script seems to have been used.

As with Star Wars, principal photography took place at Elstree Studios in England, where Lucasfilm also made Return of the Jedi and the three 1980s Indiana Jones films. Stanley Kubrick was making The Shining (1980) at Elstree at the same time as The Empire Strikes Back was filming there, and overruns and a set fire on the Kubrick film added to The Empire Strikes Back's production delays. The only significant location filming was in Norway on the Hardangerjøkulen Glacier in Finse, where the exteriors on Hoth were filmed.

Imperial AT-ATs attack Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back
Imperial forces attack Hoth in their impractical, but slightly awesome, AT-ATs

Although The Empire Strikes Back is recognisably a direct sequel to Star Wars, and stays true to the plot, characters and fictional universe of that film, it's much more than just a rehash of the original. And there's no question that simply repeating the Star Wars formula would have been the easier path to take. To its credit, though, The Empire Strikes Back refuses to do that and it avoids all the lazy, easy options that many of its successors fell victim to.

And while it still has its share of splendid battles, breakneck chases and light sabre duels, the film has a very different tone from Star Wars. It's darker and more introspective, the themes are a little weightier and the film has a great deal more emotional resonance. While I hesitate to say if it's a better film than Star Wars, it's a recognisably more adult one and is a much richer experience.

The film's action set pieces are still impressive, especially the full-scale Imperial land assault against the rebels on Hoth. The giant mechanical, elephant-style Imperial walkers are almost ludicrously impractical, but they do look great and the attack on the rebel base is The Empire Strikes Back's most memorable and distinctive action sequence. The other stand out action set piece is the pursuit of the Millennium Falcon by the Imperial fleet, especially the scene where the pursuit extends into an asteroid field.

But while The Empire Strikes Back is still a visually spectacular film, it replaces the giddy excitement of the original with a slower, more deliberate pace and a much more sombre tone. Where Star Wars generates excitement by adding one action scene after another and by building to a triumphant climax, The Empire Strikes Back puts its big battle scene at the beginning, and then gradually narrows its focus, from a great land battle to a spaceship chase to a simple one-on-one light sabre duel. The trick is that it builds emotional intensity and involvement as it progresses, so that the two man duel is, if anything, more exciting than the huge battle scene.

The film deals in a wider range of recognisably human emotions and instincts than its predecessor; love and hate, courage and fear, friendship and betrayal. Even the villains are allowed a little more shading and complexity this time. The greater emphasis on character and individual struggle, against a backdrop of warring armies and empires, gives the film a sense of almost operatic grandeur. The film is also much darker and more thematically complex than its predecessor.

There's little of the uplift or optimism of Star Wars and it's remarkable just how bad the film makes things for its heroes. It begins with the characters on the back foot and then sets about making their situation progressively worse. The aim in each sequence is never to win a victory against the Empire, but simply to escape, to evade and to survive. By the end, the heroes' defeat is almost total, with only a glimmer of hope for the audience in the final scenes.

Luke Skywalker and R2-D2 on Cloud City
Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) with R2-D2, after a close encounter in Cloud City

The script develops the existing characters and relationships and allows them to grow and mature. Mark Hamill gives a more nuanced performance than before, no longer the callow youth of Star Wars, but a would-be hero on a journey that will be much more fraught and dangerous than even he realises.

The film also separates some of its main characters, allowing new dramatic possibilities to emerge. Luke and R2-D2 are split up from the other characters early on and are not reunited with any of the others until the very end. This is appropriate, because Luke's is the most personal, individual and introspective journey of any of the principal characters. Han Solo and Princess Leia, meanwhile, are allowed to develop a tentative romance, and the inclusion of C-3PO with the Millennium Falcon crew allows some comic possibilities to develop in his interactions with Solo that were only briefly hinted at in Star Wars.

The film continues to suggest a possible Luke-Leia-Han love triangle in its early scenes in a way that's a little awkward in the light of subsequent films, but by the end it's clear that Luke's emotional journey lies on a different and darker path and that the romance in the film, such as it is, will be left to Han and Leia.

While their early scenes are a little broad, the later scenes, where Han and Leia are alone together on the Millennium Falcon, work very well. The banter and bickering between a man and a woman who are secretly attracted to each other harks back to the old days of Hollywood, but it's also reminiscent of some of the scenes between Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford, again) and Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) in the Lawrence Kasdan-scripted Raiders of the Lost Ark.

A small number of significant new characters are introduced in the film. The most important is the Jedi master Yoda, who takes over the role of mentor from Obi-Wan Kenobi, although he is not the paternal figure that Kenobi is.

When Luke is first looking for Yoda on Dagobah he refers to him as “a great warrior” thinking that he's going to be taught by a conventionally heroic figure. But instead he's confronted by a diminutive, eccentric little green creature who is no taller than knee height. Yoda is not a warrior but a guru figure, a spiritual teacher and mentor. So you will never see him wielding a light sabre or leaping around, bouncing off the walls in a fight scene, because that would just be stupid. *

At first it wasn't clear how Yoda was going to be realised. Some tests were made using a monkey in a mask, but these didn't look very convincing and, unsurprisingly, the monkey couldn't sit still for very long. But when Lucas was making Star Wars at Elstree, Jim Henson had been filming The Muppet Show in the TV facilities at the same studio. The two men had got along and both were trying to build their companies away from the Hollywood system, with Henson's sponsor at that time being the British film and TV mogul Lew Grade. So Yoda was built as a puppet, using the latest gadgetry, including motors to control the eyes, ears and mouth. Henson recommended his colleague Frank Oz as chief puppeteer.

Jedi master Yoda in contemplative pose
Jedi master Yoda in contemplative pose

If Yoda didn't work then the film had a serious problem but, fortunately, in Oz's hands the puppet is remarkably expressive and convincing. In the later Star Wars prequel trilogy Yoda, with his increasingly mangled syntax, is turned into a bit of a joke character, but here he is quite plausible as a mostly genial guru. Yoda segues from being comical and eccentric to serious and thoughtful and even to sinister and intimidating.

As with Darth Vader and C-3PO, Lucas wanted a different actor to provide the character's voice but, as with C-3PO, he eventually relented and decided that the actor performing the character was the best choice to provide the voice-over, and so it was Frank Oz's voice that was used.

Since Lucas was unsure if Alec Guinness would sign up for the sequel, early scripts toyed with having the co-ordinates to Dagobah hidden in a talisman or inside a light sabre. But these ideas were replaced by a vision of Obi-Wan Kenobi in the snow after Guinness agreed to reprise his role, not a difficult decision as it required only a day's filming at Elstree in return for half a percentage point of the film's profits.

The other new main character is Lando Calrissian, an old associate of Han Solo's whose exact motives and allegiances are ambiguous. The casting of Billy Dee Williams was driven partly by complaints that there were no black characters in Star Wars although, according to Lucas, he had originally considered a black Han Solo. Lando is a potentially interesting character who isn't quite given his due, mainly because his change of allegiances comes too quickly and too easily to be plausible. It might have been better if he had been allowed to remain a character who is just trying to live his life as he wants, without taking sides between the rebels and the Empire, just as Han Solo initially is in Star Wars.

Also seen for the first time is the Emperor. Like Darth Vader (played by Dave Prowse with the voice of James Earl Jones), the Emperor is not played by just one person. In the original pre-Special Edition version, the Emperor is voiced by Clive Revill and his hologram was created by superimposing the eyes of a chimpanzee onto the face of an actress.

Lando Calrissian and Boba Fett
I think I like your costume better: Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) and Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch)

One other new character is the bounty hunter Boba Fett. He was introduced partly due to pressure from toy companies to produce new characters, so it's no surprise that Boba Fett, with his colourful armour and cool weaponry, looks exactly like a character first conceived as an action figure.

Boba Fett would become the Darth Maul of the original Star Wars trilogy, a cool costume in search of a character, and he would have an impact on Star Wars fandom far greater than his actual role in the films. He would reappear in Return of the Jedi and was placed awkwardly into the Special Edition version of Star Wars, in the unnecessary Jabba the Hutt scene, in an obvious piece of fan service. He was also used again in the prequel trilogy, this time as the young clone of bounty hunter Jango Fett (who conveniently had the same kind of costume). 

Boba Fett was played by Jeremy Bulloch, who also appeared as Q Branch assistant Smithers in the contemporary Bond films For Your Eyes Only (1981) and Octopussy (1983), and was voiced in the original version by Jason Wingreen.

The film also introduces some new planets and environments for its action. The most memorable of these is the ice planet Hoth, perhaps an obvious choice after the desert planet in Star Wars, but still a perfectly good one. There is also the swampy Dagobah, home of Yoda, and the mining platform of Cloud City, an artificial environment, although a distinctively different one from the Death Star in Star Wars.

It does seem as if there's some significance in the choice of environments in The Empire Strikes Back. Throughout the film, the physical locations reflect the emotional states of the characters and the journeys they are undertaking. Hoth is just the kind of desolate, arse-end of the galaxy place that the rebels would have to retreat to, to avoid being discovered by the Empire. But it also represents a kind of frozen purgatory for the rebels, no longer able to take the fight to the Empire, but forced instead into hiding. Similarly, the primeval swamp of Dagobah, with its foggy atmospherics and reptilian wildlife, seems as much a metaphor as an actual place, somewhere that represents the darker recesses of the subconscious.

The Empire Strikes Back, in fact, has an oddly dream-like quality in places, something that is absent from the other Star Wars films. This is even made explicit when Luke first arrives on Dagobah and he tells R2-D2 that “It's like something out of a dream”. Similarly, when Luke enters the cave that Yoda tells him is strong with the dark side of the Force, he encounters a vision of what looks like Darth Vader. The sequence then unfolds in slow motion, in what seems like a dream and ends like a bad trip.

Luke Skywalker dressed as an X wing pilot on Dagobah
"Like something out of a dream". Luke arrives on Dagobah

The cave on the asteroid that the Millennium Falcon retreats to has a similar feel to Dagobah; a dark, clammy, foggy, subterranean world infested with giant bat-like creatures. The truth about the cave is outlandish even for a space fantasy like Star Wars, it's more like something from a bizarre nightmare.

And what could be more beautiful, more fantastical, than a city floating in the clouds, surely something from a dream? The external beauty of Cloud City, though, hides a dark secret. Its peaceful existence is only possible due to a deal Lando has made with the Empire. And lurking in the depths of the city is its dark heart, the carbon freezing chamber, where Darth Vader lures Luke Skywalker for a final confrontation, and then tempts him with the possibility of unmatchable power.

The mystical elements are much stronger in The Empire Strikes Back than in any other film in either the original Star Wars trilogy or in the later prequel trilogy. One of the reasons for the success of Star Wars was that it took what were essentially pulp fiction tropes, but wrapped them in a relatively realistic (give or take the physics of its space sequences) mise-en-scene. Audiences returned to watch the film again and again because it offered them excitement and escapism, but it also felt weirdly believable for a space fantasy film.

But Star Wars also had an unexpected secret weapon, offering western audiences something that was increasingly lacking in many people's lives; spirituality. There was clearly a desire for this kind of material in the late 1970s, and themes of God, the afterlife and spirituality appeared in many unusual places in film and TV in this era. 1977-78, the year Star Wars was released, also saw comedies like Oh, God! (1977) and Heaven Can Wait (1978), a version of Superman (1978) with overtones of Christ allegory, and the sci-fi epic Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) that portrayed contact with aliens as a quasi-religious experience, as well as the occasional more traditional religious narrative, like the blockbuster TV mini-series Jesus of Nazareth (1977).

The concept of the Force was first introduced in Star Wars, but in that film it mostly existed to allow Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader to do some magical-mystical stuff (“These aren't the droids you're looking for”). Kenobi is even referred to as a “wizard” by Luke's uncle in that film.

Luke slowly develops his connectedness and intuition for the Force during the course of the first film, culminating in the finale, when he rejects the technology at his disposal and relies instead on his senses, and his faith in the Force, to destroy the Death Star.

Lucas's vision of the Force, a mystical energy field that binds together all things in the galaxy, was inspired by his readings on religion and mythology. What makes the Force particularly effective is that it's a very simple but vague concept that anyone can understand, but one that suggests greater depth and meaning. That meaning is never fully explored in the Star Wars films, but only hinted at.

Darth Vader in the carbon freezing chamber
Welcome to the dark side: Darth Vader awaits Luke's arrival in the carbon freezing chamber

The Empire Strikes Back develops the concept a little and introduces the “dark side” of the Force, the energy that Darth Vader and his master the Emperor draw on. Yoda tells us that the dark side of the Force is not stronger, but it is quicker, easier and more seductive. This is how Darth Vader became corrupted, and the film hints for the first time that he may not always have been evil, but was instead seduced by the dark side.

Yoda explains that achieving a thing is as important as the way in which it's achieved. In other words, the end does not justify the means. It's necessary not only to do the right thing but to do it in the right way and for the right reasons. Vader was therefore someone who took the quicker route, the easy way, and became corrupted as a result.

With The Empire Strikes Back then, Star Wars becomes a moral parable, about the need to do right, and not to be seduced or led astray by temptation. Difficulty and struggle, as Luke is shown enduring in his Jedi training on Dagobah, in his fight with the snow creature, in his attack on the Imperial walkers and in his duel with Darth Vader, are essential to achieving one's aims. The corollary is that avoiding struggle, and choosing ease or comfort instead, can be morally dangerous, if not corrupting.

The film personalises Luke's confrontation with Vader and the Empire, steadily retreating from the space battles and martial heroics of Star Wars into more individual and emotional struggles. When Luke travels to Cloud City, it's not to defeat Darth Vader or the Emperor, but to save his friends.

The climactic light sabre duel between Luke and Vader on Cloud City is one of the film's highlights, not so much for the action but, unexpectedly, for the emotion and the personal revelations that transpire during it. At the time, it was this scene that most surprised audiences, concluding with a revelation that few would have guessed from watching the first Star Wars. This scene, in fact, dramatically changed Star Wars and what it represented, sending the story into a new and unexpected direction.

But the scene is great for other reasons too, and there's something remarkable about a film that has its hero journey to confront the villain, only to find that he is not only physically unready to do so, but that he is not emotionally or mentally ready either. Luke's defeat at Vader's hands is almost total, and his escaping death is mostly down to chance. It's not only a physical defeat in a duel, but the destruction of Luke's identity and sense of self. Ultimately cornered by Vader, Luke must choose between making a pact with the dark side or falling to what he must presume will be his death. A choice between a metaphorical fall and a literal one.

The way that Luke and Vader fight is also interesting, with their actions revealing their very different aims and abilities. To begin with, for example, it's quite clear that Vader is simply toying with Luke, finding weaknesses and testing his strength, while Luke has to be at his most acrobatic simply to keep up with his opponent.

If we assume that there's some significance in the colours of Luke and Vader's light sabres, and I think it's reasonable to assume that there is, then the blue of Luke's light sabre (the same colour as Obi-Wan Kenobi's) represents the cool, calm serenity of the light side of the force. The red of Vader's light sabre therefore represents the anger and emotion of the dark side. It's appropriate then that Luke's duel with Vader takes place against a backdrop of blue and orangey red, as Luke is torn between the light and dark sides of the Force.

Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in the carbon freeze chamber
Blue and red, light and dark: Luke confronts Vader 

While many of the crew from Star Wars returned for the sequel, there were some significant changes in personnel. Lucas and his cinematographer on Star Wars, Gilbert Taylor, had not got along and so Peter Suschitzky, who had worked on many British films, from the alternative history WWII drama It Happened Here (1965) to the camp of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), was recruited for The Empire Strikes Back. The film is the best photographed in the Star Wars trilogy, and Suschitzky would later become David Cronenberg's cinematographer of choice, working on Dead Ringers (1988), The Naked Lunch (1991) and eXistenZ (1999), among others.

The production designer on Star Wars, John Barry, was replaced by Norman Reynolds, an art director on the first film. Barry had left to direct the sci-fi film Saturn 3 (1980) but had been replaced on that film by Stanley Donen. He returned to the Star Wars crew as a second unit director on The Empire Strikes Back, but died suddenly of meningitis at 43, something that shocked the rest of the crew and cast a pall over the film, adding to its production problems.

One important contributor to the success of Star Wars who did return was John Williams, whose Star Wars soundtrack had become a best seller. His score for The Empire Strikes Back is certainly the equal of his excellent work on Star Wars, and he introduces some significant new themes. The best known of these is the epic and ominous “Imperial March”, sometimes known as “Darth Vader's Theme”. But there is also the more gentle and uplifting “Yoda's Theme”, an excellent action cue in the asteroid field sequence, and a sweeping new love theme for Han Solo and Princess Leia.

The film was edited by Paul Hirsch, the only one of the three editors on Star Wars to return for the sequel. Lucas was initially unhappy with Hirsch's cut of the film and re-edited it himself in line with his own tastes, to give it more pace and punchiness. Irvin Kershner and Gary Kurtz, however, preferred the original cut, and prevailed on Lucas to abandon his edit and use the slower, more deliberately paced Hirsch version instead.

The Empire Strikes Back would be the most problematic production of the original Star Wars trilogy, running enormously over budget and over schedule. Lucas became increasingly frustrated with Kershner's slow pace. Instead of working quickly, as Lucas had hoped, Kershner took more time to work with the actors and encouraged them to give their own input into scenes.

Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back
A long way to fall: Luke is offered a pact with Vader and the dark side

While there was never any doubt that The Empire Strikes Back would be a hit, Lucas was relying on it not simply to make a profit, but to bankroll his dream of becoming a mini-mogul through his company Lucasfilm. The film's production was complicated by the fact that Lucas was determined to make it outside the Hollywood system, partly because he resented the share of the film's profits that the studios would take just for releasing the film.

Unlike Star Wars, which was financed by Twentieth Century Fox, The Empire Strikes Back would be funded by Lucas's profits from the previous film and its merchandising. But as the costs and overruns mounted, Lucas turned to Bank of America for a loan and eventually had to ask Fox to act as guarantor on another loan from the First National Bank of Boston. Fox agreed to step in, as it wasn't at all clear if The Empire Strikes Back would ever get finished otherwise.

The Empire Strikes Back was released in May 1980 and, to no one's surprise, was an enormous hit. The reviews were generally positive, with a few exceptions. Some critics complained that this dark, downbeat sequel was less fun than Star Wars. Several picked up on the film's allusions to classical myth. Many more wanted to laud the special effects, including Yoda, with some critics unsure as to how he had been brought to life. Some original reviewers tried hard to be dismissive, as if to make up for getting caught up in the excitement for the original Star Wars, and the film's lack of a conclusive ending was counted against it. It was only later on that many critics began to argue that it was the best film in the series.

The film won the Academy Awards for best visual effects and best sound, and was nominated for best art direction and for John Williams's score. Williams also won the BAFTA award for his music, his second BAFTA for a Star Wars film.

As with the other films in the original Star Wars trilogy, a “Special Edition” version of The Empire Strikes Back was released into cinemas in 1997. New digital backgrounds were added to Cloud City and extra shots of the yeti-like wampa creature were also added. Scenes of several wampas attacking the rebel base were actually filmed for the original version, but were never used because the creatures were not thought to look convincing enough, which is why the creature was only seen briefly in 1980.

As had become Lucas's habit, more changes were made for the DVD release. Ian McDiarmid, who played the Emperor in Return of the Jedi, replaced the hologram Emperor in The Empire Strikes Back, and the dialogue between the Emperor and Darth Vader was changed. Jason Wingreen was replaced as the voice of Boba Fett by Temuera Morrison, who played Jango Fett in the prequel trilogy, but Morrison's Kiwi accent and laid back delivery make him sound less like a sinister bounty hunter and more like an amiable beach bum. 

Of the three films in the original trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back suffered the least in its Special Edition version, almost certainly because the director Irvin Kershner was still alive, unlike Richard Marquand, director of the third film, Return of the Jedi.

The Empire Strikes Back is a more than worthy follow up to Star Wars and has a strong claim to be one of the best sequels ever made. But while it deepened the Star Wars mythology and introduced more emotional resonance, it also set the series onto a very different course. The films were now not only about the heroic rise of Luke Skywalker, but also about its parallel, the story of the fall of Darth Vader. That was a story that none of the sequels and prequels seemed equipped to tell. The new story elements also threatened to turn Star Wars from heroic space fantasy into an intergalactic soap opera. And more than that, ultimately The Empire Strikes Back had set the bar so high that its successors would struggle to live up to it.

Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back 

Year: 1980
Genre: Sci-fi / Fantasy / Adventure
Country: USA
Director: Irvin Kershner

Cast  Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian), Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan Kenobi), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), David Prowse (Darth Vader), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Kenny Baker (R2-D2), Frank Oz (voice of Yoda), Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett), Kenneth Colley (Admiral Piett), Julian Glover (General Veers), Michael Sheard (Admiral Ozzel), Michael Culver (Captain Needa), John Hollis (Lando's aide), Clive Revill (voice of the Emperor), Dennis Lawson (Wedge), James Earl Jones (voice of Darth Vader), Bruce Boa (General Rieekan)

Screenplay Lawrence Kasdan, Leigh Brackett, story George Lucas  Producer Gary Kurtz  Cinematography Peter Suschitzky  Production designer Norman Reynolds  Editor Paul Hirsch  Music John Williams  Costume designer John Mollo  Special visual effects Industrial Light and Magic

Running time 124 mins (127 mins Special Edition)  Colour  Widescreen  Panavision

Production company Lucasfilm  Distributor Twentieth Century Fox

* This is a dig at the Star Wars prequels. You have to expect this kind of thing in anything I write about Star Wars.

For more information on the making of The Empire Strikes Back than you could ever possibly need, see J. W. Rinzler's exhaustive book The Making of The Empire Strikes Back. For background information on the film's production, I also drew on the book George Lucas: A Life by Brian Jay Jones.

See also:

Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)
Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983)


  1. Absolutely fabulous and detailed review of the film. I really didn't know much about the backstory of the films. There is so much going on in this movie that the audience doesn't even pick up on when we just watch it once.

    I can't say I'm a big fan of the prequels and the "new New Star Wars" I won't even go near.

    1. Thanks. I completely agree about the prequels. They must be the biggest disappointment in film history!

  2. Well detailed an informative article! Thanks you!


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