Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Routinely voted the best sequel of all time, Irvin Kershner’s The Empire Strikes Back remains the greatest Star Wars property that has ever been.
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Rather than follow a single storyline like the first film, director Irvin Kershner and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan decided to split the narrative across two paths; the first follows Luke and Artoo as they journey to Dagobah in search of the mysterious Jedi Master Yoda, whilst the second sees Han, Leia, Chewie and Threepio doggedly pursued by Darth Vader and his mammoth Star Destroyer. Not only does this mean that the pacing is kept pleasingly brisk, but also that the film finds time to pause for quieter, more reflective moments.
Luke learning about the Force alongside Yoda is rich with key mythology and backstory, whilst a brief visit to a strange and mystic cave affords the film one of its creepier and more profound moments. You get a grander sense of scale as George Lucas‘ galaxy opens up exciting new worlds (Hoth, Bespin, Dagobah) and interesting new characters (Lando, Yoda, Boba Fett). Through shooting on location (Norway doubles as the snowy ice planet Hoth) and using practical effects (Frank Oz’s Yoda puppet still looks amazing to this day), Lucas and Kershner were able to maintain that living, breathing aesthetic fans loved so much about the first film.
The tone is noticeably more sombre this time around; our heroes are on the back foot and the long shadow cast by Vader is seemingly impossible to escape from. The iconic conclusion where, for once, the good guys don’t win stands out to me as the best moment in this film; even though we don’t believe for a second that Luke will lose his life to hands of Vader, we simply can’t shake the feeling that the young Jedi is hopelessly outclassed. Vader is simply toying with him as they arc from the glowing freeze chamber to standing atop the vast chasm where cinema’s most iconic plot twist is shouted into the void – “No, I am your father”. At the time, the three-year wait until this particular cliffhanger was resolved would’ve been gut wrenching.
Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
The fun of the Force finds a worthy-but-not-quite-classic finale in Return of the Jedi, at least until December 17th…
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Following the events of The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi sees Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), now near completion of his Jedi training, hatch a plan to retrieve the carbonite frozen Han Solo (Harrison Ford) from the clutches of crime kingpin Jabba the Hutt, with the aid of Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C-3PO. Reuniting with the Rebel Alliance, they learn that the Empire is constructing a new, indestructible Death Star, while Luke confronts his father, Darth Vader, in the hope that he is not completely lost to the Dark Side.
It must be said that Jedi, sadly, never quite reaches the heights of Episodes IV and V; though that’s not to say there’s not still plenty to love about it. The standout is its opening act – Luke’s rescue mission on Tatooine to free Solo and an enslaved Princess Leia. It’s a terrific sequence; a blast that comes prior to the realisation that Jedi isn’t quite living up to Empire. The cuddly, teddy bear-like Ewoks of Endor seem to be the big divide amongst fans – whether you love them or hate them, they willno doubt will affect your overall opinion of this final chapter. Ultimately, it lacks the enthralling twists and suspense that made Empire so memorable, but remains an exciting, high quality adventure in its own right.
Just try your best to avoid the Special Edition of the late 90’s – George Lucas’ ill-advised cosmetic update of his original classic trilogy. The addition of the disgusting CGI creatures of the Max Rebo Band, performing a song entitled “Jedi Rocks” in Jabba the Hutt’s palace as Chewbacca and Leia arrive to rescue Han, is truly an affront on Star Wars at all levels. With such poetic lyrics, like “Chee ka koo-ja oo pa-pa chee-ka-nang kee hey!”, one has to ponder Lucas’ mental state as he came up with this canopy of cringe – though it was the same time he unleashed The Phantom Menace upon the world. Other disastrous additions include inserting Hayden Christiansen into the spirits’ send-off and dubbing Darth Vader’s “Noooooo!” as he tosses Emperor Palpatine to his death.
Jedi is unquestionably a tad disappointing compared to its predecessors, but still a top-tier slice of science-fiction cinema, and asolid conclusion to a phenomenal, ground-breaking series (not to mention lightyears ahead of the prequel trilogy). Plus, it features my personal favourite Star Wars character – Nien Nunb, the clam-faced co-pilot of Lando Calrissian during the final flight to destroy the Death Star. His chuckle is enough to bring a starfleet to tears.
Images courtesy of Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures