Winner - Best Sound

LUCASFILM LTD. / 20th CENTURY FOX (1980)

Director: Irvin Kershner

Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Peter Mayhew,

Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz

After the world propelled George Lucas’s space opera into the stratosphere, the tricky work was just beginning – how do you follow it up? Well you enlist the skills of Lawrence Kasdan, Leigh Brackett, Gary Kurtz and Irvin Kershner (to write, product and direct) and have Lucas explain his vision to them. The result? The Empire Strikes Back – building on the foundations of A New Hope, exploring new worlds and portraying a new direction, the team created a cinematic masterpiece.

The cast involved have all grown since the experience of the first movie (the fourth movie?!) and it shows as the performances are all more assured – especially with Mark Hamill, who looks calm and assured, even when acting opposite a green puppet.  

Han Solo gets to continue do Han Solo things and more to boot, with Princess Leia as steely as ever. We are also introduced to the character of Lando Calrissian (Williams) – a smooth operator based in Cloud City, on the gas planet of Bespin. Williams brings a charm and swagger to the role, and is not surprisingly an old acquaintance of Han Solo.

 

The FX were ramped up for the movie, with the AT-AT walkers being created and filmed as models during the Battle of Hoth, greater visuals on the flying ships and the levitating X-Wing on Dagobah. The trickery used to bring Yoda to life was wonderful, with Frank Oz providing the magic and the voice, along with a plethora of hidden secrets. His inclusion allowed the saga to take on a more ethereal direction, with his multi-century experience with the Force and the mysticism attached to it all explained in grand (backwards) fashion. Visually there are some great shots, especially the final duel between Luke and Vader – blues and orange lights battling for supremacy with the lightsabers buzzing away in front of them. The misty swamps of Dagobah are perfect for the introduction of Yoda and the vivid light of Cloud City is another interesting addition to the Galaxy.

 

The movie has a ‘darker’ tone to it than its predecessor (or any of the other films in the saga, bar Revenge of the Sith) depicting the real struggle facing the Rebellion against the incredible might of the Empire. Trouble begins to flare when the gang are split up for their own adventures, ultimately leading to two major plot points on Cloud City which don’t go awfully well for our heroes. The shadow of doom hangs over everyone not affiliated with the big bad guys. The movie’s major twist is a showstopper and still one of cinema’s great moments – I try to imagine a world without internet and spoilers aplenty (imagine keeping that a secret nowadays?) and an audience to which wasn’t as accustomed to a reveal like that, and the furore that surrounded it. The twist itself wasn’t in the original draft of the movie, so thank you Lucas for adding it later.

 

Also, James Earl Jones sounds even more like a bad ass in this movie.

 

Nicely, for an ensemble movie, each character is placed under intense scrutiny and is left to deal with their own fears, worries and tragedies allowing for a bigger experience. We aren’t just following Luke on his quest (though training to become a Jedi, the weight of expectation from the Rebellion, love for his friends and the knowledge of having to face Vader is indeed a struggle), we see Han struggle with being part of an actual movement and his feelings for Leia. Leia herself has to deal with Solo and the ramifications of a deal gone wrong later, whilst harbouring feelings for Luke and attempting to fight the good fight. Calrissian – put in a corner and having to make a decision and living with the outcome. Each character has a chance to develop and the story benefits greatly from this.

 

Needless to say, John Williams’ wizardry is at work yet again with the majestic score underpinning everything, and becoming an integral part to the flow of the story.

 

The Empire Strikes Back took the story from A New Hope and elevates it somewhere higher, with a tight story, incredible twists, great characters and crunching action scenes – all tied up with a terrific ending. A visually great looking movie, there’s something for almost everyone here. A sequel that surpasses the original is rare, but evident here – if you don’t believe so, that is why you fail.

December 11th 2016

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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