Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back – Second Act With Three Acts

Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back – Second Act With Three Acts

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  1. While Star Wars V:  The Empire Strikes Back isn’t as highly acclaimed as the original, A New Hope, many Star Wars fanatics argue that it is a superior film.  It only won one Oscar (Best Sound) rather than A New Hope‘s six.  Maybe it’s because A New Hope was so shockingly different than anything else that had come out recently so The Empire Strikes Back wasn’t as awe-inspiring.  Whatever the case, The Empire Strikes Back has some of the most important reveals in all of Star Wars and builds the tension to massive levels in preparation of the final chapter:  Return Of The Jedi.

    What is it about?

    The films starts three years after the Rebels successfully destroyed the Death Star.  They now have a secret base on an icy planet called Hoth.  Leia, Luke, Han, and Chewbacca are all there helping strengthen the Rebel forces.  Darth Vader and the Empire, though, find them and bring a massive assault to Hoth forcing the Rebels to flee.  Leia, Han, Chewbacca and C-3PO escape on Han’s famous ship, The Millennium Falcon, while Luke and R2-D2 escape on his X-Wing to the swamp planet of Dagobah.  Here, Luke searches for a Jedi Master named Yoda who is supposed to train him to be a Jedi Knight.

    Han and his crew, despite having a broken hyperdrive (it’s hard to explain… but it limits their ability to escape), successfully evade the Empire’s forces long enough that Darth Vader employs a group of ruthless bounty hunters to scour the galaxy for them.  Han chooses to go to a highly advanced city in the clouds (not-so-creatively called ‘Cloud City’) so that Han’s friend Lando can help fix the hyperdrive.  Lando ends up selling them out to the Empire putting Han, Leia, Chewbacca, and company into deep trouble.

    Meanwhile, Luke trains with Yoda, a little green Jedi Master that speaks in a rather funny way.  During this training, Luke goes through a lot of self doubt, frustration, etc.  He does, however, get much stronger in the force.  He gets so strong, in fact, that he can sense that his friends are in trouble.  Despite the urgings of Yoda and Obi Wan Kenobi’s spirit, Luke decides to not finish his training so that he can go save his friends on Cloud City.

    Once Luke arrives in Cloud City, a lot of fighting occurs leading to Han being frozen in cabonite (another thing that’s hard to explain… it’s not a good thing to be frozen in it, though) and given to Boba Fett (a bounty hunter), Luke’s hand being chopped off, Han professing his love to Leia, C-3PO getting blown apart into a bunch of pieces, and more.  The biggest event is the lightsaber duel between Luke and Darth Vader in which Vader cuts Luke’s hand off and reveals that he is Luke’s father.  Luke doesn’t take it well, to say the least.  But he does get saved by Leia, Chewbacca, and Lando and they fit him for a prosthetic hand.  They they decide to head for Luke’s home planet of Tatooine to save Han from Boba Fett and Jaba the Hutt – to whom Boba Fett was delivering Han.

    Is it any good?

    Much like A New Hope, this second installment is very good.  It has similarly epic music (scored by the masterful John Williams), and the story is highly engrossing.  The thing this film doesn’t have to worry about that A New Hope did, though, is developing the characters.  That had already been done very well in the first film so this one can focus entirely on the story and building relationships.  It does introduce a few new characters, though, and those characters are very well developed.

    The interesting thing about The Empire Strikes Back is that is essentially serves as the second act in a really, really, really long screenplay.  But it also has to have it’s own first, second, and third acts.  George Lucas hands the writing reigns off to Leigh Brackett (El Dorado, The Big Sleep) and first time feature scribe, Lawrence Kasdan who would later go on to write Return Of The Jedi and Raiders Of The Lost Ark.  According to, Brackett wrote a first draft, then died of cancer.  After Lucas retouched her first draft, he hired Kasdan to finish it.  After all of that, they got a very strong product that isn’t quite as good as A New Hope, but still is quite good.

    Being a second act in a massively epic story makes this film different from most films because it allows for a negative ending.  Going into this film, you are acutely aware of the possibility that the Empire could come back very strongly… just look at the title.  So it leaves you unable to guess what will happen and keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout.  Also, being a second act, this film is able to (and supposed to) keep amping up the tension making it harder and harder for the heroes to succeed.  And that just makes for an exciting movie-going experience.

    Nolan’s Grade:  A

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