The best of the best.
This is the one that changed the game. Hell it pretty much blew it up. A New Hope gave our hero’s a happy ending with the evil Empires super weapon having been destroyed, Vader being flung in to the unknown and perhaps most sad, Leia not bothering to give a Chewie medal. All well that ends well.
However, Gerorge Lucas had other ideas. Lucas financed Empire entirely from loans and profits from the mega successful A New Hope. This gave him total creative control over the production. Perhaps because of the troubled production of the original film, Lucas handed over directing duties to his friend Ivan Kershner.
Picking up a few years after the battle of Yavin, Empire puts us right into the middle of a Galactic Civil War. The Empires true size and strength are revealed to us in this episode, as they seem to have endless resources and the rebellion looks totally overrun. Luke and the rebellion are on the Ice planet Hoth when he is attacked by an animal and only just manages to escape being eaten. The ghost of Obi Wan appears to him and tells him to go to the Dagobah system, to seek out a Jedi master. The Empire finds out that a large amount of the rebbilon are on Hoth and launches an full on attack. During the attack on the ice planet and the rebellions eventual escape, we get to see the true power of the Empire. They attack on land with amazing AT-AT walkers. They appear to have endless amounts of Star Destroyers and of course Darth Vader’s ridiculously big Super Star Destroyer. Evil, all powerful Empires have never been so cool.
Now Episode 4 is fine, but Empire is when we really started to get some true character development. During Han and Leia’s escape on the Falcon were treated to a classic love/hate storyline with both actors doing their best to out do each other. The chemistry between the two is excellent. By the time they get to the “I love you scene”, I’m totally sold. When they finally escape the grasp of Vader’s Star destroyer they make their way to Cloud City where Hans old friend Lando has built a mining colony.
Meanwhile, Luke arrives on Dagobah but doesn’t find what he expects. Hoping to find some grand Jedi master, instead he finds a annoying small green creature that wants to eat all his food. This will be his first Jedi lesson, because not everything is what it seems. Yoda voiced and puppeteed by Frank Oz and team, gives us our first impression of what the Jedi used to be. Yoda opens us up to the mystical and metaphysical side of Star Wars. Luke isn’t destined to just have a lightsaber battle with Vader. He will also have to battle with his own dark side. Empire introduces us to a type of intellectual complexity we didn’t think possible after the simplicity of Episode 4.
The final battle between Vader and Luke is legendary. Its beautifully lit and choreographed and distinctly different from anything in the previous episode. Vader knows he has Luke beaten physically and mentally. He’s just toying with him. He knows Luke isn’t ready to face him yet. The revelation that he is Luke’s father is just another twist to Luke’s soul in an attempt to weaken his resolve. I appreciate the ending far more now that I’m older. As a child I needed a happy ending. In fact in my childish naivety I didn’t even consider this film to have a proper ending and for that reason it was the Star Wars movie I watched the least. Now as a adult I really appreciate the darkness of it. Just think about it. The audience find out that Luke’s dad is a genocidal manic, we discover that Lando has betrayed our hero’s and the movie ends with Han still frozen in carbonite. Its a brave descion by Lucas and Kershner which really pays off.
This movie has made such an impact that every time a sequel is released in the last 20 years or so, it’s compared in tone to Empire. It set the bar for sequels and even the tone that’s expected of them. People expect a second movie to be dark and moody now because of what Lucas and Kershener achieved here. Its not just the best Star Wars episode, its one of the greatest movies ever made.