Empire Strikes Back, The (1980)

Empire Strikes Back, The (1980)

“A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.”

During an ongoing rebellion against the Empire and Lord Darth Vader (David Prowse and James Earl Jones), Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and R2D2 (Kenny Baker) head to the planet of Dagobah, where Luke is trained in the ways of the Jedi by Yoda (Frank Oz). Meanwhile, Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) flee from the Imperial Army by heading into an asteroid field, seeking refuge on a mining colony run by Han’s old friend (Billy Dee Williams).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Alec Guinness Films
  • Androids
  • Harrison Ford Films
  • Rebellion
  • Revolutionaries
  • Romance
  • Science Fiction
  • Space Opera

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “spectacular second film in the George Lucas Star Wars trilogy” features dazzling “special effects”, characters who “are developed and become interesting”, and a “cynical, hard edge that happily lifts it out of the comic-book/juvenile-serials realm” into a “great war movie”, with “events tak[ing] place all over the galaxy”. He notes that this picture “eliminates [the] hokiest aspects of the original, reduces the roles of R2-D2… and C-3PO…, and makes combat look uninviting for a change”; and he points out the “great, imaginative creations”, “excellent direction by Irvin Kershner”, and the “Oscar-winning special effects” by Brian Johnson and Richard Edlund. Thankfully, I’m in agreement with Peary’s review: it was a pleasure revisiting this blockbuster cult favorite, which remains an engaging adventure tale with plenty to satisfy even those who aren’t particularly enamored with the series. It nicely continues what was started in Star Wars (1977), and lays some pretty (in)tense groundwork for a sequel. Stay tuned!

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine cinematography

  • Excellent special effects

  • Other-worldly sets

  • John Williams’ score

Must See?
Yes, as a classic of its genre. Nominated as one of the Best Films of the Year in Peary’s Alternate Oscars.


  • Genuine Classic

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


3 thoughts on “Empire Strikes Back, The (1980)

  1. It’s so good that fans debate which one is their favorite: Star Wars or Empire–very few specify any of the others in conversation. I’m in the Empire camp, but not by much. Peary’s review is spot-on, although the narrative is more spread out, its tone is more grounded than Star Wars. I think one key decision that George Lucas made that improved the prospects here was to vacate the director’s chair to Irvin Kershner, become a producer, and leave the script to Lawrence Kasdan. The interplay between the cast members is much more interesting in this one. The banter is more natural. I won’t get into spoilers, but the stakes were definitely high to improve on the original material, and it succeeded in so many areas.

    It’s important to point out that George Lucas has effectively treated the “Special Edition” releases from 1997 of the original trilogy as the ‘official’ version going forward. Sadly, no cleaned up release of the original 1980 theatrical version has ever made its way to Blu Ray or Streaming. It’s only proper that it should be available so people can watch whichever version they prefer, as there are no shortage of director’s cuts and ‘upgrades’ throughout the decades on video. There have been all kinds of rumors as to whether or not the film elements exist to do so, and what kind of shape they are in. I have a hard time believing that it could be such a herculean task to simply put out a cleaned up version of these original movies, there has to still be some relatively clean prints out there somewhere, even if they are not original source material.

    There was a limited edition DVD release from 2006 that featured a grainy print of the original theatrical print as a bonus feature, but you’d have to drop a small fortune for it now. It also isn’t formatted for 16:9 screens.

  2. Sylvia, you list this above as being a YES but on your chronological list you say NO.

  3. Rewatch. A once-must for its place in cinema history – though fans will certainly return to it any number of times.

    Speaking as someone who is not a huge fan of this type of sci-fi, this is still a huge improvement over the previous film. It’s just a better script and it was smart that Lucas handed the reins to Kershner (stepping up to the plate in a surprising manner).

    This installment more or less lives up to just about everything a film of this type ought to be and there are no real lulls.

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