After the surprise success of 1977’s Star Wars. George Lucas began to tackle a follow up film, eventually titled, ‘The Empire Strikes Back’. Releasing in 1980 fans were clamoring for anything related to the Galaxy Far Far Away. However, early reviews of the film were not as positive as you may have expected. The NY Times printed an article titled ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ Strikes a Bland Note. Here is an excerpt from the article
The Empire Strikes Back” is not a truly terrible movie. It’s a nice movie. It’s not, by any means, as nice as “Star Wars.” It’s not as fresh and funny and surprising and witty, but it is nice and inoffensive and, in a way that no one associated with it need be ashamed of, it’s also silly.
The review is kind of a surprise with how highly regarded the film is today. But much like other lambasted films of this generation, the follow up to Star Wars took time to marinate and gain the respect it deserves.
To get caught up and get the full effects of our journey towards Episode IX check out our other look backs
A Look Back ‘Star Wars A New Hope’
A Look Back ‘ Rogue One A Star Wars Story’
A Look Back ‘ Solo A Star Wars Story’
A Look Back ‘Star Wars Revenge of the Sith’
A Look Back ‘Star Wars Attack of the Clones’
A Look Back ‘Star Wars The Phantom Menace’
Three years have past since the events of Star Wars A New Hope The Rebel Alliance was forced to run from their Yavin 4 base establishing a new one on the ice planet of Hoth.
An Imperial Star Destroyer, dispatched by the Sith Lord Darth Vader, continuing his quest for Luke Skywalker, launches thousands of probe droids across the galaxy, one of which lands on Hoth and begins its survey of the planet.
Luke Skywalker, on patrol while riding a tauntaun, sees the probe land on the planet but mistakenly believes it to simply be a meteor. He reports his findings to Han Solo but before he can investigate Luke is knocked unconscious by a deadly snow creature called a wampa.
After a few hours pass and Luke fails to report in, Han Solo goes out in the freezing cold to find his friend. The danger only intensifies as a storm rolls in.
Luke, waking up after the attack on his life, finds himself hanging upside down in a cave. Using the Force Luke is able to pull his lightsaber to him and cut himself down before the wampa can reach him. He then swfitly cuts off the arm of the beast and makes his escape. Injured and exhausted Luke collapses outside in the cold when trying to make his way back to Echo base.
As he lay there the Force ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi appears before him. He tells Luke to go to the Dagobah system. There he will find Jedi Master Yoda. The same Jedi who instructed him. Luke begins to call out Ben’s name as the ghost evaporates. Just then Han Solo shows up. Realizing Luke is injured frantically tries to get him to his tauntaun which collapses from the extreme cold and dies. Han uses Luke’s lightsaber to cut open the animal and uses the hide to warm young Skywalker while he builds a small camp.
The next morning a search party in snowspeeders locate both Han and Luke and bring them back to Echo base.
Princess Leia Organa tries to convince Solo to stay with the rebels but Han believes it is because she has feelings for him.
Meanwhile, the Imperial probe droid spots signs signifying Hoth is occupied and sends a signal to the Imperial fleet just before being destroyed by Han Solo and Chewbacca. Darth Vader and the Imperial forces set course for the Hoth system to set up the attack.
The Escape / Battle of Hoth
The rebels begin their evacuation plans and load what they can on their ships. Luke who is now recovered from his injuries bids a farewell to Han and Chewy who are on their way to pay Jabba the Hutt.
Imperial forces enter the Hoth system and quickly make their way to the surface of the planet to begin their attack.
After many failed attempts the Rebels manage to topple one of the AT-ATs, with a tow cable, destroying it in the process. Luke’s speeder is shot down and crash-lands in the snow.
The Rebel base, now under direct attack, causes Leia to have to escape with Han aboard the Millennium Falcon. Just as Imperial snowtroopers and Darth Vader enter the base the Falcon speeds off and makes its way to space. Luke sees this as he and R2-D2 prepare his X-Wing to head to the Dagobah system.
The Falcon is pursued by Imperial TIE fighters. Unknowing that the hyper drive has been damaged Han flips the switch to take them to light speed to which it fails. While trying to fix the hyper drive system, Han enters an asteroid field to hamper pursuit. He manages to land his ship inside a cavern on one of the larger asteroids to rest and find a way to fix the ship.
Luke crash lands on the planet Dagobah. There, he discovers a diminutive and eccentric figure who fiddles around with Luke’s gear. After Luke tells him that he is looking for a Jedi Master, the being offers to take Luke to Yoda.
Back on the Falcon, while Leia is helping with the repairs when Han makes a move on her. They embrace and kiss before being interrupted by C-3PO.
Vader orders his fleet to search the asteroid field and find the Millennium Falcon. In his private quarters, Vader receives a holographic message from Palpatine, alias Darth Sidious, who alerts the Dark Lord to a “new enemy who could destroy” the Empire – Luke Skywalker. Vader suggests that if Luke could be turned, he would be a “powerful ally”. Lord Sidious agrees, saying that Luke would be a “great asset” and asks his apprentice if it could be done. Vader declares Luke will join the Empire “or die”.
Instead of going straight to Yoda, Luke is brought to the creature’s hut. Luke insists on going to find Yoda immediately, but the small creature only responds with “Not far. Yoda not far.” The diminutive figure then declares the boy lacks patience, but the voice of Kenobi tells the figure that the boy will learn patience if he is to be trained. Only then does Luke realize that the small green figure is Yoda. Yoda asks Kenobi if he will finish whatever training he begins, then suspects that Luke will someday succumb to fear.
Back with Han and the gang it is discovered that they landed the Falcon inside a giant space slug to which they must escape.
Meanwhile, Luke begins a rigorous training regime from Yoda which includes moral lessons about the dangers of the dark side of the Force. That particular lesson is driven home when he is told to enter a cave that is strong with the Dark Side’s power. Ignoring Yoda’s counsel to leave his weapons, Luke enters the cavern armed. Once inside, he has a vision of himself angrily confronting Darth Vader and beheading him. However, the severed head’s mask bursts apart and reveals Luke’s face underneath
This is a warning of sorts in which if Luke faces Vader without controlling his emotions he will become just like Darth Vader…. seduced by the Dark Side.
The Falcon is seen as it exits the asteroid field and the Star Destroyers make their chase. With no hyper drive Han decides to pull a trick and attach the ship on the side of one of the Imperial Star Destroyers. This would have them believe they escaped and would need to dump their trash to make their jump to light speed. When this happens they would detach the falcon and float away with the garbage. However, when this does happen the Bounty Hunter Boba Fett witnesses this and follows Han and the gang to Cloud City.
Days later, while training, Luke becomes distracted when he finds that his X-wing fighter has almost completely submerged into the swamp. Luke declares he will never be able to get the ship out, seeing that it is too big for him to extract from the water. Yoda says it is “no different, only different in your mind.” Luke says he’ll “try” to lift the ship, but Yoda says “No! Do or do not, there is no try.” Luke tries to use the Force, but to no avail. Yoda reminds him that “size matters not” and gives him wisdom about the Force. Luke denies all of this, then Yoda decides to use the Force to lift the ship out himself. Luke is dumbfounded and incredulous. Yoda senses the youngster’s failures within his mind.
The next day, Yoda reminds Luke of the things the young Jedi will see in his mind, the future, the past, and of friends he recognizes. Luke loses concentration again and has a vision of his friends in danger. He wants to leave Dagobah to rescue them, but Yoda reminds him that if he leaves now, everything his friends fought and suffered for will be destroyed.
The City in the Clouds
Arriving at Cloud City, Han and everyone is welcomed by his old friend Lando Calrissian. While Lando ensures that the Empire would never come to Cloud City, suspicious incidents begin happening. One of which finds C-3PO deactivated and in pieces.
That evening, Luke and R2 prepare themselves to leave Dagobah, but are warned by both Yoda and the spirit form of Kenobi not to end training so soon for a fight Luke is not ready for. Ben declares that should Luke decide to face Vader, he will have to face him alone without interference. Luke understands this, and his ship takes off from Dagobah. Yoda is disappointed, declaring Luke is reckless.
On their way to dinner with Land it is discovered that they have been betrayed by Calrissian. Approached by the Empire just before they arrived Land was threatened by Vader unless he cooperated.
Now captives of Darth Vader, who proceeds to torture Han and Leia to create a disturbance in the Force to draw Luke Skywalker to him.
Vader enters a carbon-freezing chamber intending to freeze Luke Skywalker once he arrives. Darth Vader decides to use the opportunity for Boba Fett to deliver Solo to Jabba the Hutt by testing the device on Han first.
Chewbacca rawrs and pushes the stormtroopers, but Han is quick to restrain him telling him that he needs to take care of Leia.
Han says goodbye to Leia with a passionate kiss before he is descended into the carbon freezing chamber.
When he is successfully entombed in carbonite in a state of suspended animation, Vader hands over Han to bounty hunter Boba Fett for transportation to Jabba the Hutt.
Vader is informed that Luke’s starfighter has arrived on Bespin. The Dark Lord orders Lando to take Leia, Chewbacca, and C-3PO to his Star Destroyer, reneging on a deal he made with Calrissian.
Duel with the Dark Lord and escape from the Cloud City
Luke makes his way to Bespin safely. He quietly walks down the corridors of Cloud City. Spotting Boba Fett who is taking the now-frozen Solo back to his ship. He attempts to follow but is thwarted when the bounty hunter notices and opens fire. Luke narrowly escapes and runs down farther into the corridor. He finally meets up with Leia, Chewie, and Lando, who have been captured by stormtroopers. Luke tries to ambush the group of Imperials, but is unsuccessful. Leia yells at him and tells him that “it’s a trap!” Luke runs after his captured friends, hoping to save them, but wanders into the carbon-freezing chamber. There he meets with Vader and the two fight in an epic lightsaber duel. We quickly discover Luke’s undeveloped Jedi skills are no match for Vader’s experience.
The Imperials are overpowered by Cloud City security, setting Lando and company free. Chewbacca turns against Lando for betraying Han and chokes him, but he manages to tell the Wookiee there’s still a chance to rescue Han at the East Platform. C-3PO is reunited with his companion R2-D2. Lando and company arrive too late as Fett’s ship takes off, then engage in a fierce battle with stormtroopers.
Luke and Vader continue the duel in the darkened rooms of the Cloud City. Luke didn’t falls into the freezing chamber but manages to jump out of it with the help of the Force. The fight continues and Vader, using the Force, throws objects at Luke. One of the items breaks the window, Luke pulls out and the fight moves to the emergency platform.
As the gunfight continues, Lando orders an evacuation of Cloud City. The rebel company manages to find their last hope of escape…the Millennium Falcon.
On the emergency platform of the Cloud City, Luke and Vader continue the duel. During the duel Luke gets a hand up on Vader and tags him in his right shoulder. Damaging his armor. Vader is furious and cuts Luke’s right hand holding a lightsaber. As Luke is all but defeated he backs away from Vader. It’s at this time the Dark Lord reveals to Luke the fatal truth about his father.
Darth Vader: “Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.”
Luke Skywalker: “He told me enough! He told me you killed him!”
Darth Vader: “No, I am your father.”
Luke Skywalker: “No, That’s not true, That’s Impossible!”
Darth Vader: “Search Your feelings you know it be true”
Luke Skywalker: “Nooooo, Nooooo!”
Luke does not want to believe what he heard. Shocked and frightened by the cruel truth, Luke falls into despair. Vader invites the young man to reunite with him in order to destroy the Emperor together and rule the galaxy as a father and son. However, Luke chooses a risky escape over being corrupted and throws himself down a deep shaft.
Luke is sucked into an air vent, exits the underbelly of the city and catches an antenna beneath Cloud City. Facing clear death, Luke calls out to Ben Kenobi in vain (Kenobi had warned Luke that he would not be able to help Luke once he faced Vader). Then, he calls out to the only other one who could help… Leia.
Leia mysteriously senses Luke’s telepathic distress signal. The Falcon turns around and comes back to Cloud City. Using an escape hatch, Lando manages to catch Luke and rescue him before the wounded Jedi falls helplessly to the planet as TIE Fighters race toward them.
The Falcon finally leaves Bespin’s gravitational field and is about to escape into hyperspace when the hyperdrive system again fails (as it turns out – this is the work of the imperial specialists, as reported by the city computer R2-D2). Vader asks for confirmation that the Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive system was deactivated to prevent their escape, then orders weapons be set to stun.
As the Imperials pursue the Falcon, the injured Luke telepathically hears the voice of Vader calling to him. He answers, “Father…”, while Vader telepathically calls, “Son, come with me”. Luke senses it is Vader, then cries, “Ben, why didn’t you tell me?”
C-3PO commands that R2-D2 finish reconstructing him after his ordeal in Cloud City. However, with quick ingenuity, R2 manages to re-activate the Falcon‘s hyperdrive system just in time for the ship to flee to hyperspace. Vader is disappointed and retreats to his secret quarters in his Star Destroyer, ignoring Piett’s failure.
The film ends at the Rebel fleet’s rendezvous point, where Luke under the care of 2-1B again which includes the implantation of a prosthetic hand. Lando and Chewbacca begin their parts of a most dangerous mission…rescuing Han. Lando promises to Leia they’ll bring her back the man she loves. Luke, Leia, and the droids look on as the Falcon departs for unknown territories.
This film had a HUGE impact on the overall story of Star Wars. If you are watching the films in release order the reveal of Vader being Luke’s father was quite jarring. At the time of release many fans questioned if it was a lie to lure Luke to the dark side. How could this be true?
The film left our Heroes beaten and bruised physically and mentally. Leia lost the man she had fallen in Love with. Luke lost a hand and was rocked by the revelation of who is father is. The movie ended with these characters in such despair that you leave the film as a viewer just shocked by what transpired.
What it Meant to Me
This film, at least to me, was my least favorite as a child. The pacing slows down significantly after the Battle of Hoth and only picks up in the last 15 minutes of the movie. I have also noticed my children sorta getting bored with The Empire Strikes back today.
As an adult though I enjoy it enough. It has never really sat atop of my rankings for the saga but sits high enough. The revelation of Vader being Luke’s father was spoiled for me at a young age so the shock wasn’t there. But overall this might be the most important film of the Saga as to what it meant to the entire narrative of everything that came after or before it.