Wednesday Rewind: Star Wars - The Empire Strikes Back by @Cartoonbeardy

Empire Strikes Back changed Star Wars forever. It was both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, the film is arguably one of the best sequels, after The Godfather: Part II, to ever grace the cinema; while, on the other, it set the scene for every single awful Star Wars sequel / prequel and spin off to date...

...but we come to praise Empire not to bury it. It’s surprising to learn that this fantastic movie is still the lowest-grossing movie of the franchise. Upon its release, fans were perplexed and put off by the film’s darker tone and downbeat ending. It would be almost a year before Empire was fully appreciated by fans and critics alike.

However, for many (this reviewer included), the film's more-mature tone breathed life, texture and dramatic impetus into Star Wars’ fairytale space fantasy. Even 30 years on Empire, retains a gritty, film noir feel, from the partially-improvised, whip-sharp dialogue through to the reversed nature of the story progression, effectively having the major set-pieces at the start of the film and winding down from there, giving the feeling that even in a galaxy far, far away, things don’t always work out they way they should.

However, Empire's main strength remains its fleshing out of the characters. The film takes the dashing rogue, the noble knight with a destiny, the princess and the magic villain in black and expands them into more-rounded figures, with flaws and motives, which in turn allows the audience to empathise with their plight. 

The characters are further strengthened by the uniformly-excellent performances. Harrison Ford’s portrayal of Han Solo for example, is worlds away from his previous turn. Taking centre stage, Ford gives the rogue a dash of romantic charm, vulnerability and, in his final scenes, rugged nobility in the face of almost certain death.

Yet heroes are only as good as their villain and in this Empire truly excels.

Say what you will about the original movie, it is Empire that took the dark lord of the Sith and cemented him in the pantheon of cinema’s classic bad guys. Vader, in this film, becomes a truly dangerous foe, unstoppable, implacable and obsessed with his target. Yet, this is no one-note villain; he also has layered motivations, not only serving the Emperor, but possessing his own agenda.

However, for all this talk about character, motivation and story, the film is not without its spectacular action set pieces. From the AT-AT assault on the rebels' HQ, to the relentless pursuit of the Millennium Falcon through an asteroid field and the final dramatic showdown between Luke and Vader, Empire strives to up the ante from the original film in every way.

Overall, Empire Strikes Back is the film that kept Star Wars alive and remembered as more than a simple landmark in visual effects history. To this day, it retains its timeless power and forever acts as a tantalising glimpse of what the Star Wars universe could have become had George Lucas left it to the professionals.

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