Sci-Fi Movie Month: "Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back" Review

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Directed by Irvin Kershner, this 1980 film is set three years after the original Star Wars. The Galactic Empire, under the leadership of the villainous Darth Vader, is in pursuit of Luke Skywalker and the rest of the Rebel Alliance.
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Movie Review: "Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back"

Rating: PG (sci-fi action, violence)
Length: 124 minutes
Release Date: May 21, 1980
Directed by: Irvin Kershner 
Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi

"Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back" is the fifth film in the "Star Wars" series, but it was actually the second film to be released and the direct sequel to "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope," which was originally released as "Star Wars" in 1977. George Lucas, the mind behind the "Star Wars" series, was not expecting his film to soar to popularity. Instead of working on an entire series right off the bat, George Lucas made the first "Star Wars" film fairly self-contained, so it would be well-received regardless of whether or not it would have a sequel.

When "Star Wars" took off and enthralled the world, George Lucas decided to make the series a six-part epic and released "Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back" just a few years later. Three years after "Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back," George Lucas released "Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi." The other three films, "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace," "Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones," and "Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith," are actually prequels to the original three films and were released much later.

"Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back" picks up where "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope" left off. In the previous film, Luke Skywalker and his unusual band of Rebel comrades, R2-D2, C-3PO, Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Obi-Wan Kenobi teamed up to rescue Princess Leia from the corrupt Empire. "Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back" begins on Hoth, a desolate frozen planet with a strong Rebel base. The base is assaulted by Imperial Stormtroopers and many lives are lost. Princess Leia escapes with C-3PO, Han Solo and Chewbacca aboard the Millennium Falcon, the ship Han Solo and Chewbacca owned and piloted in the first film. Darth Vader catches up with the ship and captures all four heroes. Knowing he is the only one who can save his friends, Luke Skywalker goes to the swamps to receive extensive Jedi training from Master Yoda to prepare for his confrontation with Darth Vader.

Some of the most iconic moments in film history are from "Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back." This is the film that first featured the towering AT-ATs, also known as All Terrain Armored Transports, vaguely camel-like robotic vehicles with enormous plodding feet that carried them slowly and ominously across the frozen landscape. Audiences were in awe of these tremendous machines, especially when they were tripped by the heroes and crashed to the ground. Few films from the late 70s and early 80s could portray such massive creatures realistically. Of course, that's not the only famous scene in "Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back." One of the most memorable scenes in movie history is the confrontation between farmer-turned-hero Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, the most iconic antagonist of the series. Luke Skywalker's horror when he learns Darth Vader is his father is a turning point in the direction of the series, and modern films and television shows still regularly make references to that scene.

Of course, the cast was a major reason behind the success of the "Star Wars" series. Mark Hamill's first movie role was Luke Skywalker, the young Jedi Knight who is the last hope in the battle against the dark forces behind the Empire. "Star Wars" was Harrison Ford's first blockbuster film, and he received wide critical acclaim for his portrayal of outlaw smuggler Han Solo. David Prowse is still best known for his role as Darth Vader, even though James Earl Jones was actually the actor who voiced the character because David Prowse had an accent that was not intimidating enough for the Dark Lord. Even though most of the cast members were relatively unknown and had very little experience, every actor in "Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back" portrayed their characters flawlessly.

Usually, the most popular film in a series will be either the first or the last film, but this is not true of "Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back." The special effects used in "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope" were ahead of their time, which blew audiences away and ensured theaters would be packed with excited fans when "Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back" was released. This film certainly did not disappoint, paving the way for the immensely popular final episode, and the other three films that followed. Thanks to groundbreaking visuals, an enthralling story, and a talented cast, "Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back" will always be one of the most critically acclaimed films of all time.

Rating: 4 out of 5