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Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

tomatometer

96

Average Rating: 8.7/10
Reviews Counted: 75
Fresh: 72 | Rotten: 3

Dark, sinister, but ultimately even more involving than A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back defies viewer expectations and takes the series to heightened emotional levels.

88

Average Rating: 7.5/10
Critic Reviews: 17
Fresh: 15 | Rotten: 2

Dark, sinister, but ultimately even more involving than A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back defies viewer expectations and takes the series to heightened emotional levels.

audience

97

liked it
Average Rating: 4.1/5
User Ratings: 1,037,738

My Rating

Movie Info

The second entry in George Lucas' Star Wars trilogy finds Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the green-as-grass hero from the first film, now a seasoned space warrior. Luke's Star Wars cohorts Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) are likewise more experienced in the ways and means of battling the insidious Empire, as represented by the brooding Darth Vader (body of David Prowse, voice of James Earl Jones). And, of course, "The Force," personified by the ghost of Luke's mentor

Sep 21, 2004

Twentieth Century Fox - Official Site External Icon

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All Critics (75) | Top Critics (17) | Fresh (72) | Rotten (3) | DVD (15)

In many ways the new film is a better film than Star Wars, visually more exciting, more artful and meticulous in detail.

August 13, 2008 Full Review Source: TIME Magazine
TIME Magazine
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The Empire Strikes Back is a worthy sequel to Star Wars, equal in both technical mastery and characterization, suffering only from the familiarity with the effects generated in the original and imitated too much by others.

March 4, 2008 Full Review Source: Variety
Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Irvin Kershner directed the actors this time around, and without the benefit of Lucas's personal affection they seem stiffer, more clenched.

May 30, 2007 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader | Comments (77)
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop Critic

An extended ricochet from one incendiary set-piece battle to another which still finds time to attend to plot, pace and character.

January 26, 2006 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The total effect is fast and attractive and occasionally amusing. Like a good hot dog, that's something of an achievement in a field where unpalatable junk is the rule.

January 22, 2002 Full Review Source: Washington Post
Washington Post
Top Critic IconTop Critic

In the glory days of science fiction, critics wrote about the 'sense of wonder.' That's what The Empire Strikes Back creates in us

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Detroit News
Detroit News
Top Critic IconTop Critic

See it and prepare to be captivated by the most spellbinding sci-fi film of them all.

September 9, 2013 Full Review Source: Lyles' Movie Files
Lyles' Movie Files

Director Irvin Kershner's imaginative supervision of George Lucas's brainchild gives this second part of the first Star Wars trilogy a truly epic dimension, adding a mature, philosophical aspect to the nonstop barrage of brilliant special effects.

August 4, 2013 Full Review Source: Radio Times
Radio Times

It's darker than the original, and perhaps less well structured, but it combines gorgeous visuals and surprisingly deep human emotions.

August 4, 2013 Full Review Source: Total Film
Total Film

It's not up to the original.

August 4, 2013 Full Review Source: People Magazine
People Magazine

The best of the original series, but the most intense, too.

December 15, 2010 Full Review Source: Common Sense Media | Comment (1)
Common Sense Media

Continues to set the standards for sequels to this day...

May 22, 2010 Full Review Source: Cinema Crazed
Cinema Crazed

O melhor de toda a série, este episódio abraça o potencial sombrio do universo concebido por Lucas e consegue equilibrar com eficiência os aspectos infantis da narrativa com os momentos de maior densidade.

January 7, 2010 | Comment (1)
Cinema em Cena

Despite ... an unresolved storyline that paves the way for its dismal sequel, Empire remains in many ways the best (indeed the last good) Star Wars film.

July 13, 2008 Full Review Source: Cinefantastique | Comments (8)
Cinefantastique

A more mature instalment than its predecessor, loaded with spectacular special effects and efficiently written, this may well be the pinnacle of the saga.

March 4, 2008 Full Review Source: Film4
Film4

Each section of the film has a stand-out sequence that inspires hyperbole like 'best ever.'

July 30, 2007 Full Review Source: eFilmCritic.com
eFilmCritic.com

The most imaginative and emotionally connectable "Star Wars" film and, with the exception of "Revenge of the Sith," also the darkest.

June 23, 2006 Full Review Source: Arizona Daily Star
Arizona Daily Star

The second act is very strong, cutting back and forth between Luke training with Yoda and Han, Leia, Chewie and C-3P0 fighting the Empire. And it's paced leisurely enough that you get to know the characters a little bit.

May 26, 2006 Full Review Source: Combustible Celluloid
Combustible Celluloid

The best of the films.

September 30, 2005 Full Review Source: Three Movie Buffs
Three Movie Buffs

Sci-fi cinema at its best.

September 17, 2005 Full Review Source: TheMovieReport.com | Comment (1)
TheMovieReport.com

Everything you loved about A New Hope and more.

July 5, 2005 Full Review Source: Bullz-Eye.com
Bullz-Eye.com

The backbone of the Star Wars saga… takes the story and themes of the first film into deeper waters.

May 16, 2005 Full Review Source: Decent Films Guide
Decent Films Guide

Audience Reviews for Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

Startling relationships, dark pasts, and high-octane space battles surround this brilliant sequel to the beloved "Star Wars" film, "A New Hope." The first half of this film is more of the same, with a few new characters and a much better screenplay; However, the second half surpasses it's predecessor in every way. Filled with amazing twists and brilliant dialogue, "Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back" is arguably better than the original, which is almost impossible for me to decide between, because it is part of a saga that doesn't feel distant from the first at all. With great direction, fantastic writing, and visuals, that, for 1980's is spectacular. Fantastic filmmaking all around!
April 28, 2013
KJ Proulx

Super Reviewer

five stars!!
February 19, 2013
YodaMasterJedi
MisterYoda ?

Super Reviewer

A darker, more mature, and more sophisticated Star Wars than the original. That doesn't necessarily make it a better film, as much of the freshness is gone and stripping Empire of its major revelation that is forever engraved in pop culture hurts its overall impact that it had back when it was released. It's still a fantastic movie and continues the Star Wars saga in spectacular fashion. There's some significant improvements to speak of. The special effects are much better, the acting is just a little better, and the scope is bigger and well executed. There's also better action sequences, including a rousing finale between Luke and Darth Vader. Vader's increased role in the film is a welcome highlight as well. He's one of the greatest villains of all time without question. It's not that I think this is a worse film than A New Hope, I just prefer the original slightly. It just has the original magic for me that this one lacks.
December 31, 2012
jlewis07

Super Reviewer

The success of Star Wars took everyone by surprise - most of all George Lucas, who had struggled for four years trying to get his dream project made. Out of the original principal cast, only Alec Guinness had signed on for a share of the gross; ironically, he would be the one to try and distance himself from Star Wars in later life.

With huge box office success and Oscar nominations on his hands, Lucas knew that the world would be a ripe for a sequel. But feeling overwhelmed during pre-production for what was then called Star Wars II, he made perhaps the best creative decision of his life: he backed off, and let someone else direct. This might all sound like schadenfreude, considering the scorn that I have poured on Lucas' skills as a director. But there can be little denying that The Empire Strikes Back improves upon its predecessor in pretty much every way.

Much of the success of Empire lies in Irvin Kersher's approach as a director. Kershner had no prior experience of blockbusters or science fiction, having made his name with small, low-budget indie character dramas. He expressed his surprise at being given the job, with Lucas reassuring him by saying: "you know everything a Hollywood director is supposed to know, but you're not Hollywood." Sadly for Kershner, directing this film proved to be a poisoned chalice: the only films he helmed after this were Never Say Never Again and Robocop 2.

The main difference between Lucas and Kershner, regardless of any gulf in talent, is that Kershner is far more focussed on the characters. Kershner was interested in what he called "the landscape of the human face", filling the screen with more close-ups that focus on people's expressions where Lucas would have the actors just run into shot with the camera some distance back. Even if the story was as silly as its predecessor, this decision at least gives the impression that we are going somewhere, and that there is a greater attempt being made at subtlety.

Fortunately, for Kershner and for us, The Empire Strikes Back does have a better story. The first film always gave the impression that our heroes were going to win, either by plot points directly in favour of them or by the enemies' lack of capability (e.g. the inability of Storm Troopers to shoot straight). This time, there actually feels like there is something at stake, with greater odds being stacked against the rebels. Setting the opening on a snowy planet creates a sense of hostility and impending death, with the inhospitable conditions reflecting the rebels' fragile predicament.

In addition to the harsher opening, the story puts a series of obstacles before the protagonists which create conflict and make the story more interesting. There is no Death Star, which is relatively easy to find and destroy; instead there are far more manoeuvrable Star Destroyers, scattered all throughout the galaxy. Having the hyperdrive of the Millennium Falcon damaged means that there is no get-out-of-jail-free card for Han; he can't just leave the fight to go back to life as a smuggler, notwithstanding his feelings for Leia. And for the most part, there is no Luke to stand around being the hero. All of this may sound pretty elemental when written out like this, but it's worth listing these things considering how stake-free the prequels were.

Not only is the story better, but the dialogue in Empire is much more believable. We see the characters starting to move beyond their original archetypes, and as the higher stakes pull us in so they begin to feel more rounded. Harrison Ford is given a lot more really funny one-liners, turning him from a cocksure cowboy into a genuinely loveable rogue. His and Leia's conflict is very well-played, especially their (incestuous) love triangle with Luke and their (improvised) farewell in Cloud City. The supporting characters are more memorable too, with a number of fleshed-out imperial officers and of course Boba Fett (see my review of Attack of the Clones).

Not only is The Empire Strikes Back narratively stronger than Star Wars, but it is also genuinely darker. We're still in pantomime territory, with the lines between good and evil being clearly drawn, but as before we are conscious that more effort is being put in all round. Darth Vader stops being a souped-up Klytus, with Grand Moff Tarkin "holding his leash", and becomes more threateningly obsessive. His opening scenes during the Hoth battle serve to make him genuinely menacing, confirming that he is human but also reinforcing how callously mechanical he has become.

Vader's development is mirrored by that of Luke, who spends much of the film in isolation and anguish. The training he undergoes with Yoda serves to make the Jedi more complex, showing the pain that comes from being able to see into the future or feel another's presence. His confrontation in the cave dips its toe into debates about the duality of man, while in leaving he is asked to consider whether his friends' death would serve the greater good. You won't find deep existential quandaries in these scenes, but you do get a lot more than you would expect.

The action scenes in Empire are generally very well-paced. Since Kershner was not an action director, or had any great knowledge of special effects, we should give credit to Lucas and ILM where it is due. While the prequels were overflowing with effects but utterly devoid of direction, in Empire the two combine in near-perfect harmony. Lucas provides the eye candy, with impressive model shots and prop work during the battles as well as improved lightsaber and sound effects. But Kershner is always on hand to keep the camera on the characters, preventing us from feeling overwhelmed.

One of the big problems with the prequels was the lightsaber fights; they were so tightly choreographed that there was no emotional intensity to them, and hence no reason to care. But in Empire, the lightsaber battles reflect the mind-set and emotional state of the characters. The duel between Luke and Vader goes through three distinct rounds, so that unlike the duel in Revenge of the Sith, we are waiting with great anticipation each time they cut back to it. We also get the sense of Vader genuinely toying with Luke: he could just crush him like an ant, but that would be too easy.

This brings us, inevitably, to the twist. It's hard to imagine in 2012 how audiences would have reacted to the big reveal the first time around; suffice to say that when James Earl Jones read the script, he openly blurted out: "He's lying!". It's also hard to imagine, in an age where everything is leaked online, how this was kept a secret for so long. The original script that David Prowse delivered had Vader telling Luke that Obi-Wan killed his father, and Mark Hamill only found out a few minutes before shooting. Even after it's been parodied into the ground, it still has quite an impact, coming completely out of left-field and yet completely making sense.

There are a couple of problems with Empire which prevent it from being a great film. There are a number of contrivances in the middle section, designed to stretch out the pursuit of the Falcon; the Empire find and then lose the ship on several occasions, usually just so a character can be introduced (like Boba Fett) or killed off (like Captain Needa). Moreover, there is still the underlying sense of a film is taking itself a little too seriously, or at least that Lucas isn't aware that one can be dark and playful at the same time. It's a relatively minor quibble, considering the film's successes, but it's worth reminding ourselves just how deep into Flash Gordon territory we are.

Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back is a marked improvement over its predecessor in (almost) every conceivable way. The improvements in the visual effects are thankfully matched by the strides forward in character development and direction, which make this a shoe-in for the best film in the Star Wars series. Whatever the merits of the instalments either side of it, or the flaws of the series as a whole, it still holds up as a very good film in its own right, and the benchmark against which all the others should be measured.
October 28, 2012
Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

    1. Luke Skywalker: Is the dark side stronger?
    2. Yoda: No.
    – Submitted by Joey B (16 days ago)
    1. Darth Vader: No, I am your father!
    – Submitted by Owen K (7 months ago)
    1. Darth Vader: Don't make me destroy you.
    – Submitted by Matthew B (7 months ago)
    1. Darth Vader: No, I am your father.
    – Submitted by Kristin V (10 months ago)
    1. Yoda: Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!
    – Submitted by Andrew H (11 months ago)
    1. Han Solo: Laugh it up, fuzz ball.
    – Submitted by Matthew D (13 months ago)
View all quotes (58)

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