Vader’s Revenge: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Eric Cunningham

Eric Cunningham is the editor-in-chief of Elections Daily. He is a lifelong resident of western North Carolina and graduated from Appalachian State University. You can follow him on Twitter at @decunningham2. @decunningham2.

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15 Responses

  1. Empire is utterly brilliant. The last 30 minutes, from the time Han is frozen in carbonite, are some of the best stuff in the entire series. And it rewards rewatching. There are subtleties in it: such as how Vader toys with Luke at first, is surprised by how well Luke fights back and then completely overpowers him at the end, showing that Luke never stood a chance (an echo of which is seen in TFA). And, as you note, Williams’ has his best score.

    People understate how much of this was Lucas. Kershner was great but he never made another truly great film. It was Lucas’ vision all along.Report

    • You could argue neither did Lucas. It is a pairing I wish we had had more of.Report

      • Eric Cunningham in reply to Andrew Donaldson says:

        It is a shame the relationship didn’t continue, but Kershner didn’t trust the early script for Jedi, there were issues with the union (who wanted an opening credit, leading Lucas to quit and that limited his hiring pool), and it’s a long process to make the film. As much as I would love to have seen a Kershner Return of the Jedi, it wasn’t ever really viable.

        I will say that Kershner loved the Empire Strikes Back Special Edition. Why? They added windows to Cloud City. This was something he wanted the whole time, but it wasn’t technologically viable. It was basically Lucas’s gift to Kershner. They had a good relationship.Report

        • Good points. I think there is definitely an argument that Star Wars worked best as Lucas as mastermind but then collaborating with someone to make it really work, like in Empire, and the other films, especially the prequels, suffered from Lucas perhaps not trusting anyone else with the material enough to let them reel in his lesser impulses. Also, bonus points for working “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye” in.Report

          • Brent F in reply to Andrew Donaldson says:

            I think Lucas and Stan Lee occupy a similar spot of being fantastic in collaboration with other talent that balanced them, initially over-credited as singular geniuses when they were really key cogs in a collaborative effort, then latter under-credited due to the backlash against singular genius myth, as the backlash tends to underplay how critical what they brought to the table was to the work’s success.Report

          • Lucas has astonishing breadth of vision and a good feel for the language of film. The thing I noticed about the prequels is how clear everything is. He doesn’t do jump cuts, he keeps the action centered and oriented so you know what’s going on. You would not expect less of a an admirer of Kurosawa.

            Where he fails is with actors. He doesn’t direct actors well. In the prequels, Christianson is terrible and Portman is dull. These are both good actors. I think Lucas storyboarding and someone else doing the directing works best.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Andrew Donaldson says:

        Leigh Brackett’s screenplay didn’t hurt either.Report

  2. rexknobus says:

    For what it’s worth, after having absolutely loved the first (Episode 4) film, I came out of “Empire” with a positive impression based on, as I said at the time: “That was a great second chapter of a trilogy. Whether it’s really any good will finally depend upon how well the third installment works.” For me, “Return” really, really sucked, so I lost a lot of respect for “Empire.” YMMVReport

  3. Empire was my favorite, too, but I wish the plot had been slightly different. Toward the end, as Leie, Han, et al. are escaping Cloud City, R2, who has rejoined them, helps open the last door before they all can get to the Millennium Falcon.

    I wish R2 hadn’t and that they found another way to open the door.

    The reason: that would have underscored the futility of Luke coming to “rescue” his friends. As it was, Luke’s decision to quit training* and rescue everyone was 1) a rejection of his promise to his Jedi teacher and 2) probably meant to be pointless and demonstrate that Luke was wrong to go anyway. With R2 helping out toward the end, that point isn’t driven home.

    But then again, as one of my literature professors said (I paraphrase), “if you want the story to say that, then write your own book.” Perhaps the point was that even good came out of a potentially colossal mistake?

    *However, we learn in Jedi that he had already completed his training and all he had to do was face Vader.** But he already had faced Vader at that point. So much for part 3.

    **Interesting how “Vader” doesn’t come up as incorrect on spell check.Report

    • Brent F in reply to gabriel conroy says:

      I think the point is that training and skills are pretty much secondary when it comes to the Force. What really matters is emotional state. Luke wasn’t psychologically ready for the test of facing an opponent like Vader. He was still locked into his preconceptions, that he wanted to be a magic all conquering superhero. That’s enough of a self-sacrificing notion to do some tricks with the Force and Luke is naturally clearheaded and resourceful in a tight spot but it isn’t enough to match the practiced rage Vader can bring to bear to a confrontation.

      To win a confrontation as a Jedi, Luke needed emotional skills that he didn’t even know were his strengths. Empathy, intuition, and a strong moral center. He had these qualities in Empire, but it wasn’t until Return of the Jedi where he was emotionally mature and disciplined enough to use them as psychological weapons and defenses.

      So it was never really about the training and skills. Luke had an initial seminar worth of training in the first film and still could use to Force to win. It was all about the mindset to use the Force.Report

      • gabriel conroy in reply to Brent F says:

        That sounds like a good explanation of what the creator(s) intended. I might quibble that we don’t see/don’t know how and why Luke in Jedi is emotionally more mature than the Luke in Empire. However, I suppose the actual first encounter with Vader might have been, paradoxically, what made him emotionally mature enough to face Vader again.Report

  4. If you have 20 minutes, Cinema Wins has a great episode on Empire, including a strong defense of Lucas’ vision.

  1. May 4, 2020

    […] what most would agree to be the best film in the franchise: The Empire Strikes Back. Eric posted an excellent review of the film a few months ago that covers the themes, the script and the overall importance in the […]Report