Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

The Empire Strikes Back (1980) ★★★★★ 5/5

This is a special movie for me. It brings back amazing memories as the first movie I really, clearly recall seeing in the theater. I was six years old and my Dad took me to see this on a snowy night. It was playing in one of those old theaters with the balconies on either side of the screen, the red velvet curtains draping around the screen, plush carpet with oriental designs. This was long before the movie plexes when theaters were in the heart of small downtown streets. Watching this movie in that theater was epic. Being a kid and looking up at the screen full of action and adventure. The sight of that movie on the big screen has always been embedded in my head.

Watching the film on a 60" LED, HD TV from Blu Ray brought back everything. The movie still holds up and is just as good now if not better. To my relief the additions Lucas added to the film were much more minor then what he added to Star Wars. There were no added dinosaurs or flying droids. It seemed that the bulk of the revisions were simply in making the colors brighter from explosions and lasers.

In this sequel to Star Wars, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) find themselves on the run from Darth Vader (David Prowse & James Earl Jones) with Chewbacca and C-3PO. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) makes his way to The Dagobah system with R2-D2 where Yoda (Frank Oz) begins training him as a Jedi Knight. Leia and Solo make their way to Cloud City where they can hide from Vader with the assistance of Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams). However Vader beats them to Cloud City and already has arranged for Calrissian to assist in capturing them. Once captured, Vader surrenders Solo to Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch), a bounty hunter who is going to take Solo to Jabba The Hutt to claim a reward for the price on his head. Vader uses Solo as a test in a carbon freeze chamber. When Vader sees that this device stores prisoners without harming them, he decides to lure Skywalker there in hopes of freezing him in the same manner to deliver him to the Emperor. Skywalker does come to resuce his friends but is too late. Instead he must face Vader where we learn the truth about their relationship. "Luke, I am your Father," Vader says in an effort to bring Luke to the dark side. Skywalker does not give in and chooses to drop hundreds of stories to the bottom of Cloud City where he is stuck hanging from an antenna. While this is happening, Calrissian overthrows a small group of Stormtroopers and rescues Leia and Chewbacca. They flee to the Millennium Falcon and leave Cloud City. As they fly off, Skywalker dangles from the antenna calling to Leia. She senses his trouble and can comprehend where he is. Once Skywalker has been saved, the film closes with Skywalker, Leia C3-PO and R2-D2 safe in a space station looking out upon the universe. The stage is set for the rescue of Solo.

Initially, I always found this to be my least favorite of the original trilogy. Looking at The Empire Strikes Back now, I feel I was wrong. I think this is actually the best of the original three films. The romance between Solo and Leia is classic Hollywood. They have a love/hate relationship with sexual tension so thick you can cut it with a knife. The storyline between Vader and Skywalker is well played. Fighting scenes are exceptional with astonishing visual and sound effects. The mastery in the beginning of the film where the Rebels battle the Empire on the planet Hoth is orchestrated beautifully. Flying fighters take down giant machines. Costumes are far more advanced in this film then the last. While I would say this movie is superior then Star Wars, it also has to be said that this film shouldn't be seen without first seeing Star Wars.

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