Director: Irvin Kershner
Screenplay: Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasdan
Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Frank Oz, James Earl Jones
Runtime: 124 Minutes
Original UK Release: 1980
After the tremendous success of Star Wars, a sequel was put into production under Lucas’s watch, with indie director Irvin Kershner being handed to reins of the production. The Empire Strikes Back is not only the best film in the series cannon, but one of the most perfectly concieved and executed sequels in cinema history.
Following on directly from the climax of Star Wars, this sees the characters and the universe expand beyond their original confinements into something much larger in dramatic scale.
While being grander in vision, the film goes into much darker territory than the original, taking Luke on a journey into the murkiest recesses of the galaxy, as well as facing up to some difficult truths regarding both himself and his family. Luke must make a choice between his ambition and dedication to the dying Jedi order, or his love and attachment to his friends.
Yoda is introduced as Luke’s hilarious but concerned new trainer and steals every scene that he’s in, while a deeper focus into the character of Vader makes him an even more turbulent presence than before.
Meanwhile, a growing relationship between Leia and Han is explored in depth, and the third act of the story places many of the characters in terrible danger, building up incredible tension with a pace that never gives in. The amount of character focus is not only greater thanks to a terrific screenplay, but some of the smallest touches add up to a lot when trying to convey emotional conviction.
Like the original, the films visuals are all astonishing with an even better scale to play around with, and John Williams offers up an even stronger score than before. Kershner's focus is unquestionable, but it's his use of the camera and the space and staging of events that stands as an immesurable improvement upon Lucas' efforts in the original. His use of different locations, colourschemes, interior and exterior spaces and natural and artificial environments breathes new and original life into a universe suce as this.
Although left open for a sequel, the well-structured story and mythos add up to an experience that’s even more refined than the original.