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

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Widely regarded as the greatest Star Wars movie of them all, The Empire Strikes Back is the first non-George Lucas-directed entry in the franchise. It also introduces many classic elements such as the Imperial March theme, the Light and Dark sides of the Force, the controversial Han/Leia romance, little green Yoda, and the most infamous twist-ending in cinema history. This movie is a classic for many reasons!

We open on the ice planet Hoth, where Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is a high-ranking pilot in the Rebel Alliance. After the Empire destroys their base and their military force is scattered, Luke goes to the planet Dagobah to find Yoda, the Jedi Master who trained Obi-wan Kenobi. Meanwhile, Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie) and the rest of the heroes are in the Millennium Falcon, with the evil Empire in hot pursuit. As Luke is training to become a Jedi, a premonition of pain and suffering compels him to rescue his friends. But before he can find them, he must face his greatest enemy: Darth Vader.

I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say this: Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father. Oh no! I told myself I wouldn’t do that! Now you have no reason to watch this m… Oh, forget it, it’s been 35 years, and everyone who has or hasn’t seen this movie knows that twist already. But it’s still a fun moment when you get to it, to see the look of horror on Luke’s face. It was the ballsiest of moves that more than paid off and changed the course of the franchise forever.

The rest of the movie is just as expertly handled. The story moves at a brisk pace, interweaving several subplots and making it look easy, all culminating in one big revelatory moment, leaving the viewer both fulfilled and gasping for more. Not a lot of trilogies before it would venture down such a dark path for the second entry, but this one not only did it well, it immortalized the entire franchise and is almost single-handedly responsible for the existence of the Expanded Universe.

It’s hard to top such a well-crafted movie. Even George Lucas hasn’t been able to ruin it with all his changes over the last 18 years, and that’s saying a lot. It has snow battles, an asteroid field chase, a city in the clouds, a freaky cave, and probably the most intense lightsaber duel in the franchise’s history. This one is my personal pick for the best entry in the Original Trilogy, as well as the entire franchise. And like all the best decisions, the filmmakers made it seem: “All too easy”!

5 out of 5

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