Hello everyone and welcome to The Sarlacc Pit. Today, I am going to discuss my favorite movie of all time, “Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.” Specifically I am going to point out the parts of this movie that make it, in my opinion, the best Star Wars movie. While I discuss this movie I will write under the assumption that you have watched the Star Wars franchise in the correct order, meaning you watched Episodes IV-VI before I-III. Obviously, there will be major spoilers from the original trilogy (OT), so read at your own risk. Although if you have not seen the OT yet, then I am confused as to why you are reading this, and greatly encourage you to get your life together and watch these movies.
Reason #1: The Setup
In “Episode IV: A New Hope,” the Rebel Alliance landed a crippling blow to the Empire when they destroyed the planet-killing Death Star. Everyone was super stoked about this, Luke Skywalker and Han Solo got medals, and everyone lived happily ever after, right?
WRONG! Yeah, the Death Star was space dust, but after the Battle of Yavin, the Empire knew where the Rebel base was, and still had a fleet of ships called Star Destroyers and a bad grudge. Also, most of the Rebel fleet died in the Battle of Yavin, so the Rebels were up one Jedi, one smuggler, and a Wookiee, but they were down one base and most of their fleet, as well as a planet of people who supported them. So the Rebels are on the run, but luckily they find a pretty secluded planet, that just so happened to be an icy hellscape (the ice planet Hoth) inhabited by freaking yetis, what could possibly go wrong?
Reason #2: Luke’s Brush With Death
Well, one thing that could go wrong would be if the newly minted hero of the Alliance gets ganked by a wampa (the name of the aforementioned yetis living on Hoth) and strung up like a slab of beef in a meat freezer (which totally happened). Now, in this one scene we get two major moments: 1. this is the first time we see someone use the Force to move something. Luke, bleeding, cold, and watching as his pet tauntaun is getting eaten by the abominable snowman, clears his mind and focuses on the Force, and for the first time in the movies, is able to pull his lightsaber to him to cut himself off the icy roof of the wampa’s cave and also cut the wampa’s arm off (classic Star Wars-style dismemberment).
Major moment number 2 from this scene is that Obi-Wan Kenobi comes back from the dead to give Luke a mission to go to Dagobah, find Jedi Master Yoda, and become a true Jedi. If you don’t think that Kenobi coming from the dead to give Luke a Jedi mission is cool then you don’t understand Star Wars.
Reason #3: Everything Else Goes Wrong (a.k.a. The Battle of Hoth)
Ok, so Luke just got some heavy Jedi poodoo dropped on him, but he has to brush it off for a second because while he was out jackin’ around with wampas, the Empire found the Rebel base. Also, Darth Vader and the Emperor know that the guy who blew up the Death Star is there and is strong in the Force, and they want him bad. So the Empire, not one to do things half-assed, throw everything they have at the Rebels. This scene is my favorite scene in the movie, nay, the entire franchise. First of all, it’s really the first part of Star Wars that really feels like a war. While the Battle of Yavin had some cool dogfighting action between starfighters, this scene has it all. It has infantry on the ground, giant tanks taking out gunner encampments, and air support from above. If you got into Star Wars because you thought it would be a cool sci-fi war franchise, then this is the scene you were looking for this whole time. In the end, the Rebels put up a good fight, and a good many are able to escape, but only after losing their new base, and being forced to run once more.
Reason #4: Luke Tries to Become a Jedi
After the Battle of Hoth, Luke takes a break from being a Rebel, he saw his mentor come back from the freakin’ dead and give him a mission, so he’s going to carry out that mission. He’s looking for Yoda, when he runs into this insane little goblin who can barely speak basic. After some comical stuff where they fight over fishsticks and a flashlight, Obi-Wan’s voice transcends the veil of life and death to insist that Yoda trains Luke. Yoda begrudgingly accepts, and begins to take Luke on a mystical journey through the Force. Here were see Luke lift objects with his mind, do cool acrobatics, run around with Yoda on his back, and learn more about the mysteries of the Force. I think that even including the prequel trilogy, “The Empire Strikes Back” teaches more about the Force than any other Star Wars movie.
During Luke’s training, he constantly fails. He is unable to lift his X-Wing because he is wrapped up in his current way of thinking, when confronted with the dark side of the Force he gives in to his fear, not to mention he was a total jerk to Yoda, who ended up being his teacher (not the best way to start off your Jedi training). Through this we see that while he may be the hero of the Rebellion, he still has a long way to go before becoming a Jedi. Also, ya boi Obi-Wan Kenobi comes back from the dead again to talk to Luke as a Force ghost, which is pretty neat.
Reason #5: Cloud City
Everything that happens at Cloud City is awesome. First off you got Lando Calrissian, a smooth talkin’, baby blue cape wearin’, backstabbin’ gambler who legitimately won an entire mining operation and city in a game of cards.
Oh, and then this bro betrays Han, Leia, and Chewbacca, handing them over to Darth Vader to use as bait to lure in Luke Skywalker. When Han sees Vader and realizes what happened, do you think our favorite smuggler panicked? Do you think he tried to talk it over with the 7′ tall cyborg? Nope. Han pulled out his blaster and started shooting. And if you think that’s cool, Darth Vader blocked Han’s shot…WITH HIS FREAKING HAND! HE JUST ABSORBED THAT MESS LIKE IT WAS NO BIG DEAL!
Sure, Lando then double-crosses Vader, turning his security force on the stormtroopers and freeing Leia and Chewie, but only after Han got frozen in carbonite and shipped via UBS (United Boba Servie) to Jabba the Hutt. Also, Luke, like a dummy, has already taken the bait, and arrives to confront Vader, where one of the best lightsaber fights in the OT occurs (granted, there are only three of them, but it’s not the worst one). We see Vader throw things at Luke with the Force, Luke uses the Force to do cool jumps and flips, Vader throws a lightsaber, it’s some cool stuff, man. This leads to…
Reason #6: THE MOST IMPORTANT PLOT TWIST IN FILM HISTORY
Luke is backed into a corner, or more literally backed into a bottomless pit. He has lost his hand, his lightsaber, and probably a lot of respect for himself considering he went in all confident that he was gonna kick some cyborg ass. That’s when Vader tells him that he was not the man who killed Anakin Skywalker, he WAS ANAKIN SKYWALER!!! That’s right, the biggest bad guy in Star Wars was the hero’s own father, and if you think that’s not at least in the top 5 of biggest plot twists then it is because someone spoiled it for you ahead of time. This is HUGE! How can Luke even consider himself a Jedi knowing his father helped wipe out the Jedi? How can the Rebel Alliance trust Luke knowing his father is the Emperor’s right hand man? What are even Luke’s options at this point? This is when Luke literally chose suicide over joining Vader. Sure, he survived through some luck and some Force telepathy, but when he jumped into that pit, there is no way he could have been certain he would survive, but he decided right then that he would rather die than to face the fact that Vader was his father and turn to the dark side. And I think that that’s really intense.
This leads into the end of the movie. One thing that strikes me really hard is that “The Empire Strikes Back” is a movie where the heroes constantly fail: the Rebels are driven off Hoth, Luke is an asshole to the greatest Jedi of the past few centuries, Luke fails in the cave when he gives in to his fear of Darth Vader, Luke leaves his Jedi training early because he fell for Vader’s trap, Han gets frozen in carbonite and taken to a giant gangster slug on Tatooine. It does not have a happy ending, and viewers are left with a sense of loss at the end, a drastic change from the ending of “A New Hope” and “Return of the Jedi.”
This movie also has major conflict. The heroes are shown to be deeply flawed and just as vulnerable to failures as anyone else. In “A New Hope,” the heroes seem as though they are able to succeed in anything they attempt, including blowing up a Death Star in a ship they’ve had zero experience in. In “The Empire Strikes Back,” there are successes, but there are also crippling failures, humanizing the characters and making them more relateable. These are just a few of the reasons “The Empire Strikes Back” is, to me, the best movie in the Star Wars franchise.
That’s it for this week. Next week, I am going to discuss Luke Skywalker’s character development in the movies, from whiny teenage farm boy to Jedi master with magnificent flowing hair. I will keep to the character development seen in the movies, but there will be major spoilers for the OT, as well as one major spoiler for “The Force Awakens.” Thanks for reading, and as always, may the Force be with you!