Talking Movies [Revenge of the 5th]: Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Although May 4th is known the world over as Star Wars Day, many also choose to celebrate the popular, generation-spanning science-fiction saga on May 5th as a play on the word “Sith”. This can extend Star Wars Day into three day celebration of the influential science-fiction series and, as a result, I am using each of these days to look back at the Prequel Trilogy!

Talking Movies

Released: 22 September 2019
Director: George Lucas
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Original Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $115 million
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Christopher Lee, Ian McDiarmid, Temuera Morrison, and Frank Oz

The Plot:
Ten years after the events of Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace (ibid, 1999), the galaxy is on the brink of civil war as Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor) and his volatile apprentice, Anakin Skywalker (Christensen), investigate an assassination attempt on Senator Padmé Amidala (Portman) and uncover a mysterious conspiracy involving the creation of a clone army to service the Galactic Republic.

The Background:
Although The Phantom Menace made over $1 billion at the box office, the film was generally poorly received and, as a result, George Lucas was hesitant to begin work on the next chapter in his epic space opera saga and specifically wrote the script for Episode II to focus more on action rather than political intrigue. Unlike the previous Star Wars films, Attack of the Clones relied heavily on digital effects and CGI creations and went all-in with its use of fascist allegories in its depiction of corruption within the Galactic Republic. Despite Lucas’s insistence on swamping the film with digital effects, Attack of the Clones’ budget was exactly the same as its predecessor; however, the film made considerably less than The Phantom Menace, clocking in at just under $655 million. While I have come to regard the film as an under-rated entry in the saga, reviews have been less than favourable and criticised the script and line delivery (rightfully so, I’d say) and many weaker CGI and narrative moments, and it is is generally regarded as being one of the worst Star Wars films.

The Review:
I mentioned in my review of The Phantom Menace that it, and the Special Edition release of the Original Trilogy around the same sort of time, rekindled interest in Star Wars but I can’t really say the same for Attack of the Clones. The negative feedback from Episode I kinda killed any momentum and interest I and a lot of people had in the films, especially as they erased the popular Expanded Universe books, comics, and videogames from continuity and replaced them with material that was so far, far less interesting. Indeed, as far as I can remember, people were mainly interested in Attack of the Clones because of the trailer showing Yoda (Oz) in action, the nostalgia that follows Star Wars everywhere, and the vague hope that things couldn’t get any worse.

Now a more seasoned Jedi, Obi-Wan is troubled by Anakin’s recklessness and the conspiracy he uncovers.

Young, fresh-faced, and headstrong in the first film, Obi-Wan Kenobi has grown into a far wiser and more seasoned Jedi Master between films. Though he often despairs of Anakin’s recklessness, impatience, and bouts of insubordination, Obi-Wan and his Padawan have grown closer and their bond is analogous to an older brother with an impudent younger sibling. Much of Obi-Wan’s interactions with Anakin consist of reminding the youngster of his place, warning against the dangers of politicians and the shadiness of bureaucracy, and emphasising that Anakin needs to slow down, calm down, and focus his thoughts and feelings. Rather than dwell on the specifics of their partnership and see how their tumultuous relationship develops in the field, the two are split apart from the majority of the film as Obi-Wan investigates the bounty hunter Jango Fett (Morrison) and discovers not only that he’s formed the basis for a secret clone army, but also that former Jedi Count Dooku (Lee), using the Sith alias Darth Tyrannus, has brought together various villainous factions into a Separatist army.

Anakin has grown powerful but arrogant, impatient, and quick to fits of rage.

Far from the annoying, wide-eyed boy from the first film, age and experience have caused Anakin to become as arrogant as he is powerful; impatient and overconfident, Anakin is torn between feeling a genuine affection for his master (whom he respects and sees as a father) and his jealousy of Obi-Wan’s stature as a revered Jedi Master. Frustrated at constantly having to endure Obi-Wan’s lectures and teachings, Anakin finds his ego and prowess fuelled by Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (McDiarmid), who has taken a shine to the prophesised “Chosen One”. Eager to prove himself when he’s finally given a solo assignment, Anakin is equally excited and anxious to be reunited with Padmé; his schoolboy crush turning into complicated feeling of lust and desire, Anakin goes out of his way to try and impress and prove himself to her only to constantly stumble because his feelings clash with his strict Jedi teachings. Haunted by nightmares of his mother, Shmi (Pernilla August), Anakin soon sets out to find her on Tatooine and his tumultuous emotions are sparked into a furious rage when he finds her tortured to death by Tuskan Raiders; lamenting having given in to his bloodlust and tormented by his forbidden feelings for Padmé, Anakin is largely characterised as a powerful but petulant youth who isn’t in full control of his emotions, much less his vast Jedi powers.

Despite rebuking his advances, Padmé is torn between her love for Anakin and her duties as a senator.

Having moved away from her royal position on Naboo, Padmé is now a senator in the Republic and actively trying to steer the galaxy away from conflict by working within the Galactic Senate. Padmé is annoyed at being forced away from Coruscant by the threat to her life and treats Anakin with a mixture of contempt and empathy, which only further confuses the young Padawan. Despite rebuking his awkward attempts to flirt with her, Padmé is actually harbouring her own feelings for the young Jedi as she is extremely mindful of her diplomatic duties and Anakin’s loyalty to the strict Jedi Order. As much as I defend this film, I can’t say that I’m a fan of the idea that Jedi can’t fall in love as there never seemed to be an inclination of this “rule” in the Original Trilogy; however, this does add some layers to Padmé’s character as, for all her logic and reason, she still encourages Anakin to disobey Obi-Wan and head to Tatooine, comforts him after he slaughters the Tuskan Raiders responsible for Shmi’s death, and, against her better judgement, she confesses her true feelings to him regardless of the consequences of this admission.

Classic characters get an odd CGI face-lift and we’re introduced to some familiar faces.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Star Wars movie without old favourites like R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels); this time around, C-3PO gets a little more to do as he’s picked up by Anakin and Padmé while on Tatooine and tags along largely to provide awkward comic relief and be replaced by an obvious and uncannily awful CGI model. This was also the first film to render Yoda as a CGI character, primarily to make his big fight scene more diverse and energetic, but I’ll get into the CGI Yoda a little later. R2-D2’s role and capabilities are also greatly expanded to afford him a host of abilities that really would’ve been useful long before this movie (like, seriously, why not just have Artoo roll onto or take control of a floating platform instead of being able to fly with little booster jets?) Still, there are some positives: Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) is practically non-existent, boring political debates have been replaced with a far more intriguing mystery regarding the clone army on Kamino; and we even get to meet Owen Lars (Joel Edgerton), Beru Whitesun (Bonnie Piesse), and other characters who would form the backbone of the future Rebellion, such as Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits).

Palpatine manipulates minions such as Jango and Dooku to sow discord across the galaxy.

Palpatine continues to manipulate events both within the Senate as the Supreme Chancellor and behind the scenes in his guise as the Sith Lord Darth Sidious and, as discord has increased across the galaxy, Palpatine’s plan has grown far greater in scope and complexity. Thanks to orchestrating events to position the Separatists as a serious threat to order and stability, Palpatine is easily able to get himself appointed “emergency powers” and appears as a conquering hero when he immediately reveals his vast army to defend democracy while surreptitiously ensuring a stranglehold on the galaxy for himself. Since he’s still very much a puppet master (and Darth Maul (Ray Park) was stupidly offed in the last film), it falls to Dooku and Jango to shoulder the burden as the film’s primary antagonists. I never really understood why Lucas bothered to have Jango in the film; since we never see under Boba Fett’s (Jeremy Bulloch) helmet in the Original Trilogy, I feel like it would’ve been much simpler to just have Morrison portray Boba here to give the fan favourite character a bit more screen time and personality, but I guess it does tie into Lucas’ themes of the sins of the father and all that since young Boba (Daniel Logan) is raised to be a merciless bounty hunter like his father and sees his dad beheaded in front of him. While I think it would’ve been far better to have had Darth Maul survive The Phantom Menace and get more screen time in the sequels, you can’t go wrong with Christopher Lee and Dooku makes for an enigmatic and compelling villain; a former Jedi turned to the Dark Side by Darth Sidious, Dooku is a manipulative, loquacious snake who becomes a ruthless and bloodthirsty warrior when forced into combat.

The Nitty-Gritty:
One of the main things I disliked about The Phantom Menace (and which undoubtably brings down the entire Prequel Trilogy) is George Lucas’ terrible dialogue; nowhere are the flaws in Lucas’ script more evident than in Attack of the Clones, where Anakin’s attempts at expressing his love for Padmé come across as stilted and wooden and not in a way that you’d expect from an awkward, love-sick youth. Jake Lloyd might not be around to grate on my last nerve, but Daniel Logan isn’t much better, and once again Lucas seems to be happy to settle for inelegant, unnatural line deliveries and sub-par performances. Ewan McGregor, Temuera Morrison, and Christopher Lee are the obvious standouts in the film and even they seem to be struggling to make Lucas’ clunky dialogue acceptable.

I think I’ve seen less CGI in entirely animated movies…

Of course, it probably doesn’t help that the film is absolutely swamped with CGI; almost every single shot bar those on Tatooine seems to have been filmed on a massive green screen, which makes many of the scenes seem surreal as the live-action actors jut out from a cartoony, computer-generated environment and interacting with largely CGI characters doesn’t appear to have excited the cast all that much. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against CGI, especially in Star Wars and sci-fi films, but it’s clear that Lucas went way, way overboard here and the film hasn’t aged too well as a result. The sequence on Geonosis where Anakin, Padmé, Theepio, and Artoo get into all sorts of hijinks amidst an abundance of stupidly big and cartoonish CGI hazards stands out as one of the worst moments of the film, and the excess of terrible-looking CGI monsters in the coliseum are a far cry from the impressiveness of the Rancor or the Wampa. The overreliance on CGI may make for grander battles and a much bigger scope than was possible back in the seventies or eighties, and CGI’ing all the clones may have been faster and is technically impressive, but was it all really necessary? Imagine how well practical effects such as animatronics, miniatures, and puppets could have benefitted from Lucas’ technological innovations if he had just exercised a little restraint rather than dropping his actors into a massive green screen and clumsily splicing in dodgy-looking CGI creatures.

Palpatine strokes Anakin’s ego and he struggles with his commitment to the Jedi code.

A core aspect of the film revolves around Palpatine’s scheme to assume control of the galaxy through complex manipulations; not only is he manipulating the Jedi Council without being suspected (beyond his position as a politician being a source of distrust for Obi-Wan and the other Jedi), but he’s also been busying corrupting Jedi, erasing their records to cover his tracks, building his own private army, and orchestrating events to lay the foundation of the Galactic Empire and the construction of the Death Star. Palpatine delights in stroking Anakin’s ego and encouraging his ambitions; playing on the Padawan’s resentment towards Obi-Wan, his immaturity, and his desperate need to be all-powerful, Palpatine woos Anakin with promises of him one day achieving his full potential as the most powerful Jedi of all. Frustrated with being “held back” and eager to rush to that end, Anakin’s arrogance is matched only by his fear and anger. Despite Christensen being hampered by Lucas’ script, he does a commendable job of juggling Anakin’s many complex emotions; he’s meant to be this stroppy, volatile braggart and it’s genuinely interesting (if not down-right heart-breaking) to see him both hate and love Obi-Wan and both revel in and be disgusted by his slaughter of the Tuskan Raiders.

The lightsaber battles continue to be a highlight, with even Yoda getting in on the action!

One of the best parts of The Phantom Menace were the fight scenes and battles which, unlike other parts of the film, generally benefit from the advantages of CGI. Obi-Wan and Anakin’s pursuit of Zam Wesell (Leeanna Walsman) through the skies of Coruscant is very exhilarating, as is the chase between Obi-Wan and Jango through an asteroid field, though the first deployment of the clone army isn’t as impressive despite the scope of the battle being beyond anything achievable thirty years prior. Still, for me, this sequence and the introduction of the clones is all a little rushed; when the Clone Wars were first mentioned, I never imagined that they would actually (technically) be the good guys and I can’t help but feel like they should’ve been a much bigger part of all three films (perhaps set up in the first one, in full force here, and concluded in the third). Still, just as the lightsaber battles were one of the best parts of the last film, so too are they an endlessly entertaining aspect of this one; although the Jedi are small in numbers (for…some reason…) we get to see them in full force when Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) leads them in rescuing Obi-Wan, Padmé, and Anakin and, while some of them are killed off with a ridiculous amount of ease and the monsters they fight look terrible, the scene with them coming in, laser swords flashing, in the coliseum is pretty entertaining. Obi-Wan’s battle against Jango on the storm-swept landing bay is an intense fight scene as well and great for showcasing what Fett’s armour is actually capable of but, of course, the highlight of the film comes in the finale where Obi-Wan and Anakin confront Count Dooku. Here, Anakin’s recklessness cost him not only their advantage but also an arm and Dooku is easily able to best the two Jedi thanks to them being unable to get on the same page and fight as a unit. Thus, it falls to Yoda to battle his former Padawan in one of the most thrilling, if ludicrous, sequences in all of Star Wars. While I can understand the mindset that Yoda really shouldn’t even need to use a lightsaber since his command of the Force is that powerful, it can’t be denied that seeing him whip out a laser sword and hop all over the play like a crazy little monkey is incredibly entertaining and just serves to emphasise how desperate events have become where even Yoda is taking an active role in the rising conflict.

The Summary:
A lot of people hate on Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones and, honestly, it’s easy to see why: there’s too much green screen and too much CGI; the script, dialogue, and line delivery is down-right awful at times; the “love story” (and I use the term very loosely) is contrived, forced, and painfully awkward; and Anakin is overbearingly immature and petulant throughout. Yet, for whatever reason, I actually find myself enjoying it far more overall than The Phantom Menace and it’s probably my second favourite of the Prequel Trilogy. While handicapped by Lucas’s terrible writing, Ewan McGregor really shines in this film and looks to be having a blast; bringing in Christopher Lee was an inspired decision to add the same kind of gravitas that Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing brought to the first fourth film, and the escalation of the galactic turmoil is really interesting to see. I find it fascinating that Palpatine was able to so masterfully fool everyone into allowing him to simply usurping control of the galaxy by first sowing discord and then manoeuvring himself into a position where he was the natural choice to lead a war effort. While Jedi like Obi-Wan, Mace Windu, and Yoda suspect a greater, more dangerous threat, they are all completely blinded to Palpatine’s true and obvious motivations because he has them running around with limited resources fighting the likes of Jango and Dooku. While I never imagined the Clone Wars to be depicted in the way they are here, having them basically be the proto-Empire was a bitter irony as the people basically ended up causing their own oppression. Obviously, though, Attack of the Clones isn’t a perfect film by any means but I think it has more positives than negatives and is deserving of a little more credibility than it often gets.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Are you a fan of Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones? Where does it rank against the rest of the Prequel Trilogy, and the other films in the Star Wars saga, for you? Do you agree that it is under-rated or do you think the script and green screen effects irrevocably ruin the experience? What did you think to the conspiracy sub-plot and the introduction of Count Dooku? Were you a fan of Jango Fett and do you agree that Lucas could have just used Boba instead? What did you think to the romance between Anakin and Padmé and Anakin’s chaotic emotions? How are you celebrating Revenge of the 5th today? Whatever you think, comment below and let me know, and be sure to check out my review of the final part of the Prequel Trilogy.

Talking Movies [Revenge of the 5th]: Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (2019)

Although May 4th is known the world over as Star Wars Day, many also choose to celebrate the popular, generation-spanning science-fiction saga on May 5th as a play on the word “Sith”. This can extend Star Wars Day into three day celebration of the influential science-fiction series and, as a result, I am using each of these days to look back at the Original Trilogy!

Talking Movies

Released: 22 September 2019
Originally Released: 17 May 1980
Director: Irvin Kershner
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Original Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $33 million
Stars: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse/James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams, and Frank Oz

The Plot:
Three years after destroying the Death Star, Luke Skywalker (Hamill), Han Solo (Ford), and Princess Leia Organa (Fisher) and the Rebel Alliance have been constantly hounded by the Galactic Empire. Having been driven from their hidden base, the Rebellion is scattered, with Luke journeying to refine his Jedi sills and Han and Leia relentlessly pursued by Darth Vader (Prowse/Jones).

The Background:
George Lucas’s science-fiction “space opera” was a near-immediate hit upon release and, almost immediately, talks began of producing a sequel. Despite the filming of Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope (ibid, 1977) proving a harrowing experience, Lucas wasn’t finished with his story and soon relented to the demand for a follow-up but had to navigate the minefield of sci-fi films and media that Star Wars had subsequently inspired. Having financed much of the film himself in order to maintain creative control, creating his own film studio in the process, Lucas turned directing duties over to Irvin Kershner, and filming began on 5 March 1979. Filming ran into a few snags when star Mark Hamill was injured in a car accident and Harrison Ford first voiced his desire for his character, Han Solo, to be killed off, both of which necessitated a number of rewrites. Conversely, the film’s now-iconic twist was kept a closely-regarded secret, with only a handful of cast and crew being in on the dramatic revelation, ensuring that audiences were shocked at the reveal. For me, even now, The Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars film in the entire saga, with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Edwards, 2016) a close second. Fittingly, the film was massively profitable, making over $550 million at the box office but, interestingly, opinions on the film were divided when it first released, with many critics dismissing it outright. Since then, the film’s reputation was increased and it has, rightfully, been lauded as one of the greatest films ever made. Although Lucas would return to the film, restoring, augmenting, and remastering it, of the three films in the Original Trilogy it has received the least amount of alterations and changes, which, to me, says a lot about the standard to which The Empire Strikes Back was made.

The Review:
So I said in my review of A New Hope that, while I like Star Wars, I don’t really think that much of the first film Lucas released; it’s far simpler, narratively, and lot of its characters and concepts seem jarringly out of place with the rest of the saga. Today, I have another confession: I actually preferred A New Hope over The Empire Strikes Back as a child. If I’m being totally honest, Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (Marquand, 1983) was my favourite as a kid and was, as I recall, the first Star Wars movie I actually watched from start to finish (or, at least, the first one I remember enjoying). Over the years, however, my opinion has changed and I have come to regard Empire as the greatest Star Wars film of them all for its bleaker tone and the way it raised the stakes against our heroes.

Luke undergoes gruelling training in anticipation for getting his revenge against Darth Vader.

Luke Skywalker is back, a little older and a little less naïve than in the last film; now a Commander in the Rebel Alliance, he has attained a degree of notoriety amongst his peers (and the Empire) for destroying the Death Star and is no longer the wide-eyed, inexperienced farmboy we knew. That’s not to say that he’s become this battle-hardened soldier, though; Luke remains this adventurous, optimistic character through whom we are introduced to the complexities of the Force. Guided by the spirit of his deceased mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), Luke splits off from the Rebellion to travel to Dagobah and seek out another Jedi Master to further refine his skills. On the desolate swamp planet, he encounters the wizened Yoda (Oz), a curious little hermit of a creature who speaks in riddles and vagaries regarding the true nature of the Force and what it means to be a Jedi. Luke’s training is physically and mentally gruelling as he is forced to learn harsh lessons about his distracted ways and the anger boiling inside of him. Still, he learns much from Yoda and in a comparatively short length of time, certainly enough to motivate him to interrupt his training to rush to the aid of his friends. This, it turns out, proves to be his harshest lesson so far but, again, Luke’s motivations are clouded by his desire to help the ones he loves and to get a measure of revenge against the man who killed his father and his mentor: Darth Vader.

Through her growing feelings for Han, Leia’s pragmatic façade starts to slip.

Having undergone perhaps the most significant character arc in the last film, Han Solo’s arc in Empire is intertwined with that of Leia’s as both characters are now in denial of their true feelings towards one another. Luke throws a spanner into the works as he is still infatuated with Leia but, luckily (especially in retrospect…), the film doesn’t dwell on or descend into a bitter love triangle thanks, largely, to our main characters being separated for the majority of the film. Accordingly, though now a Captain in the Rebellion and actively aiding their cause, Han is anxious to leave to pay off his debts but finds himself fleeing the Rebel base on the ice planet Hoth with Leia in tow and forced into a dramatic cat-and-mouse game with the pursuing Empire thanks to damages to his ship, the Millennium Falcon. This will-they-won’t-they attraction between Han and Leia helps to flesh her character out a bit more, too; still a competent and devoted leader in the Rebellion, Leia’s outspoken nature and forthrightness is revealed to be a front for her true feelings. Having denied or suppressed her personal desires due to her complete focus on bringing down the Empire, her interactions with Han allow her façade to slip and show her as a more vulnerable and layered character. Ultimately, when faced with what could be Han’s death, she is unable to hold back her true feelings and expresses them with a passionate kiss and cry of “I love you” to which Han, ever the loveable rogue, simply replies: “I know”, indicating that they were both in love for a long time, perhaps forever, but unable to properly express it due to their nature and commitment to playing a certain role (the competent, unemotional leader and the daredevil smuggler, respectively).

While Artoo assists Luke, Chewie tries to repair Threepio and the Falcon…with mixed results.

Once again, our heroes are supported by the bickering droids C-3PO (Daniels) and R2-D2 (Baker) as well as the loveable Wookie, Chewbacca (Mayhew). Each play a pivotal role in supporting the main narrative and the arcs of the main characters: C-3PO is the awkward comic relief always ruining potentially romantic moments between Han and Leia and ultimately learns of a betrayal against his companions, R2-D2 is the blank slate Luke can convey his concerns and doubts to on Dagobah and later finally repairs the Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive so the character’s can beat a hasty retreat, and Chewbacca is shown to be much more than a brutish, growling bodyguard as he desperately tries to repair the Falcon, puts his mechanical ability to better (and more comedic) use trying to repair the damaged Threepio, and explodes into anger and anguish when they are betrayed and Han meets a bitter fate.

A smooth talking charmer, Lando is in cahoots with, and screwed over by, the Empire.

This latter plot point is due to the film’s other new addition, Lando Calrissian (Williams), a smooth talking former smuggler turned respectable businessman whom Han is forced to turn to for repairs and shelter. Williams excels in the role, exuding a slick and flawless charisma while still appearing somewhat disreputable and shady due to the nature of his past and his business. Ultimately, of course, he is forced to betray Han and the others to the Empire to keep the Empire from interfering with his business but this immediately backfires on him when Darth Vader continuously alters the terms of their agreement. Similar to Han in the last film, Lando is then forced to re-align himself with the Rebellion and join their cause in order to remove the Empire from Cloud City and try to rescue his old smuggling buddy. That proves much harder than first anticipated thanks to Darth Vader employing the services of a number of unnamed bounty hunters, chief among them an individual who would go on to become one of the franchise’s most popular characters: Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch/Temuera Morrison). Now, I like Boba Fett, don’t get me wrong; he has a cool look, a cool voice, and is a very mysterious and enigmatic character but I’ve never really understand why he is so popular amongst Star Wars fans. Taken in a bubble, using only the two films he appears in as a reference, he is only ever portrayed as competent once and that’s in this film and largely because Darth Vader allows him that chance. Otherwise, he’s just a nameless, faceless grunt who pursues the Millennium Falcon and takes possession of Han’s frozen corpse by the film’s finale.

Vader is driven, focused, obsessed with getting his hands on Luke Skywalker!

Thankfully, however, Darth Vader is greatly expanded upon in Empire; no longer a mere puppet of the Empire, Vader is proactively leading the Imperials seen in the film and even has his own Super Star Destroyer, the Executor, which is, like, three times the size of other Star Destroyers. The obsession with finding the one responsible for destroying the Death Star has, apparently, reawakened Vader’s passion and he is a far more intimidating and threatening presence in this film. Quick to anger at the incompetence of his subordinates (and no longer on the leash of other high-ranking Imperials), Vader doesn’t hesitate to kill those who fail him (he even utters a dry quip while doing so at one point). However, Vader isn’t just a cold, merciless machine; he promotes Captain Piett (Kenneth Colley) and entrusts him with hunting down the Millennium Falcon and makes a point to order his bounty hunters (in particular Boba Fett) that he desires his prisoners, especially Luke, to be captured alive. When meeting with the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid),Vader is even able to subtly steer his master towards attempting to turn Luke to the Dark Side of the Force rather than kill him and all of this comes to a head when the film’s big twist is revealed. During his dramatic and engaging lightsaber duel with Luke, Vader is far more aggressive and competent as a swordsman than before and, in revealing the truth to Luke, reveals yet more layers to his personality; you get a sense that he is absolutely overwhelmed, almost addicted, to the power of the Dark Side and he appears visibly shaken when Luke escapes his clutches at the lasts second, all of which does wonders for expanding on what was previously little more than a one-dimensional character with a cool look and an intriguing past.

The Nitty-Gritty:
The Empire Strikes Back takes everything that worked about A New Hope and expands upon it masterfully; the galaxy is opened up much wider to include such locations as the desolate ice world of Hoth, the putrid swamps of Dagobah, and the beautiful copper-red skies of Bespin. Thanks to a far larger array of memorable characters and locations, we finally get a sense of the scope of Lucas’ galaxy; strange alien creatures don’t just walk the streets, they inhabit entire asteroids and take up such lucrative professions as bounty hunters, all of which only adds to the “lived-in” feeling of the world Lucas established in A New Hope.

Empire‘s effects and model shots are a dramatic improvement over the previous film.

Furthermore, the film’s special effects and action sequences are easily 100% better than those in A New Hope; the Millennium Falcon doesn’t just lazily list to the left during space scenes, it spins and darts and flies all over the place to outmanoeuvre not just the smaller, faster TIE Fighters but the massive Star Destroyers as well. Space battles are actually few and far between in Empire in favour of more character-building moments, lightsaber combat, and ground-based action, meaning that the Falcon is left to carry the entirety of the film’s space battles and, thanks to its improved manoeuvrability and the tension-building sequences in the asteroid belt, it does so wonderfully. I mentioned the ground battles earlier and I would be remiss to not spend some time talking about easily one of the film’s most impressive effects sequences, the battle of Hoth, in which the Rebel Alliance is set upon by gigantic All-Terrain Armoured Transport (AT-AT) and All-Terrain Scout Transport (AT-ST) walkers; these incredibly well-constructed machines are brought to life through a combination of models and traditional stop motion techniques and really make an impact, decimating the Rebel base and forcing them to flee into the vastness of space.

Yoda has some harsh lessons to teach Luke about patience and the Force.

Aside from Lando and Boba Fett, Empire also introduces another pivotal character to the saga in Yoda; a wizened old crone, Yoda reveals more about the intricacies of the Force and guides Luke’s training, however reluctantly. Like Obi-Wan, Yoda is clearly haunted by the mistakes and events of a vaguely-defined past and is continually disappointed by Luke’s impatience and conflicting feelings of attachment, fear, and anger. This comes to a head when Luke battles a vision of Darth Vader and, reacting out of instinct and emotion, sees himself literally reflected in Vader’s gruesome visage and, after Luke rushes off to help his friends, Yoda is left despondent but secure in the knowledge of “another” who could be trained to take Luke’s place.

Vader casually drops one of cinema’s all-time greatest plot twists!

Similarly, as mentioned, lightsaber combat is significantly improved in Empire; although we only really get one actual lightsaber battle, it is leagues above the plodding, awkward affair seen in A New Hope thanks to Luke’s youthful exuberance and desire for revenge. The fight has many layers to it, too, with Vader clearly toying with Luke in the early going and somewhat taken aback by Luke’s tenacity; in the end, though, while Luke is able to land a glancing blow on Vader, experience and ruthlessness allow Vader to easily (and literally) disarm Luke with a mere swing of his red-tinted lightsaber. It is in this moment, while Luke is in agony and overwhelmed by fear and anger, that Vader drops perhaps the biggest twist in movie history: not only did Obi-Wan lie about the fate of Luke’s father, Anakin, but Vader himself is Luke’s father! It’s a startling, shocking revelation given so much poignancy thanks to John William’s booming, iconic score (the unforgettable “Imperial March” debuts in this film, which elevates it even more in my opinion) and Luke’s agonising reaction. Shaken by this revelation, Luke willingly plummets to an unknown fate, apparently perfectly willing to die and only saved by luck or the will of the Force and the film ends with Luke’s hand being replaced with a cybernetic prosthetic, Han a prison of Boba Fett and encased in carbonite, and the Rebel Alliance in tatters. Luke’s faith in everything he was told is shaken and he and his friends gaze out into an unknown future, ending the film on an incredibly bleak cliff-hanger that masterfully sets the stage for the final showdown with both Vader and the Empire.

The Summary:
Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back is still the best Star Wars film ever made. It just is and that’s all there is to it but, if you want to get technical, just look at what it offers: the effects are bigger and better, the score is more iconic and bombastic, the characters are more nuanced and layered, and the lore is greatly expanded upon to show that there is so much more than even the titbits we were fed in A New Hope. With its far grittier, more mature, and bleak atmosphere and ending, some of the saga’s most memorable characters and, of course. one of the greatest reveals in movie history, The Empire Strikes Back stands head and shoulders above its predecessor, offering exciting space and sci-fi action, an emotionally charged and engaging lightsaber battle, and far more intriguing themes regarding destiny and portrayals of the futility of battling against a superior force. Empire very much sets the tone for the remainder of the Star Wars saga and many of the subsequent films and spin-off media would take their cue from its revelations and direction, for better or worse, and its influence to the franchise cannot be understated.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.


Where does Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back rank against the Original Trilogy, and the other films in the Star Wars saga, for you? Do agree that it is the best film in the Original Trilogy and the saga or do you, perhaps, prefer a different Star Wars film? Are you a fan of Boba Fett? If so, what is it about his character as portrayed in this movie that you find so appealing? What did you think of the other characters introduced in this film, like Lando and Yoda, and the way existing characters were developed? What was your reaction upon hearing Darth Vader’s revelation for the first time? How are you celebrating Revenge of the 5th today? Whatever you think, comment below and let me know, and be sure to check out my review of the final part of the Original Trilogy.