Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

star wars the empire strikes back

“You stuck up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf-herder!”

The Scoop: 1980 PG, directed by Irvin Kershner and starring Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and James Earl Jones

Tagline: The Adventure Continues…

Summary Capsule: The Empire indeed strikes back and feasts on the Rebel’s entrails (who are in turn camping out in other beasts’ entrails)

Justin’s rating: Just because I think Jedi is better, doesn’t mean that Empire is forbidden a place in my heart

Justin’s review: Here’s a scary and true story. At a church lock-in with a bunch of teens (every all-night lock-in I do takes away about three years of my life), we popped in The Empire Strikes Back at about one in the morning to watch. As it’s getting to the Battle of Hoth, I said, “Oh, here comes the best part!” And one of my junior high kids scoffed, “No it’s not… this is stupid!”

I sat there, frozen. They never approve of murders on church property.

I spent the rest of the time watching the film through their eyes — the eyes of a generation who didn’t grow up on the original trilogy, the eyes of teens who have been so saturated by CGI special effects that stop-motion animation doesn’t hack it at all. Unless it looks completely real, they have no idea how to suspend disbelief any more. And… they hate Star Wars. It’s not some sort of holy trilogy to them, it’s just a bunch of flicks over 20 years old that don’t look as slick and new as The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. And it’s a true shame that they’re missing out on an era where Lucas freelanced creativity to actually make scifi worth caring about.

Now, I know that perception is key when it comes to loving a film. If you’ve grown up with a movie and seen it close to five bajillion times, you probably have a very fixed opinion of what is and is not great about that movie. As a kid, I think that the original Star Wars flicks spoke loud to our imagination and fantasies. We wanted to be Jedi with lightsabers that could hack into Tauntaun (or the neighbor’s farting dog) bellies. We wanted to be witty sarcastic space pilots that thought nothing of skipping through an asteroid belt to avoid three measley TIE fighters.

And now, as an adult, I look back on the series and I do recognize an element of cheesiness to it all. I’m sorry, but I have to admit that. Seeing it now, the characters DO talk like their in some sort of serial 1930s comic book, and quite often their actions make little sense at all. But strangely enough, that also adds more fun to watching these films. Plus, many parts of ESB are so intensely cool — the ground battle, the asteroid chase, the bounty hunters — that seeing it today gives me serious thrillbumps (those are goosebumps, just the good kind).

Heck, I love to mock the Rebel troops and their pathetic “arm raised” cheer when they hear “The first transport is away… the first transport is away.” I admire the Rebel’s pluckiness in trying to fight off the Imperial invaders, yet at the same time I have to ask if they’re completely sane. Poor Rebels, they’ve finally moved to a sunny vacation planet that wants to kill them all, and now they have to leave! You can hear confused Rebel movers going, “We just GOT here!” Plus, their side has little itty-bitty guys and fighter craft developed from paper airplane technology, and the Imperial Army boasts giant walking tanks. I’m no military strategist, but…

I also love how Darth Vader is essentially the most morale-reducing commander in the universe. If you talk with him — even to give him a status report — you’ve got about a 50-50 chance of being Force choked to death or having your skin turned inside out. Heaven forbid if you’re an Imperial intern and accidentally spill coffee on his cape. And what, exactly, does he do in that giant black egg shell of his? I like to think he yodels and listens to the echoes.

Yoda is still creepy in his little haunted planet, and I still can’t resist saying along with him, “You will be. You WILL be” after Luke boasts that he won’t be afraid. Han and Leia are still a hoot to watch in their catty romantic foreplay, doing and saying things dumb enough to remind us all how we acted in high school. And Boba Fett… well, we all know how there are major world religions based around this guy, but face the facts. He doesn’t really DO anything in this movie, except vaguely show up places. Maybe the guy was just an intern who wore the armor and would sneak onto the sets, and Lucas just didn’t find out until later, so he decided to use the footage anyway.

I still very much admire how Empire took a bold step in showing a darker side to this kid scifi fantasy. Even today, when filmmakers feel that they’ve got to shove as much sugar-coated safeness down kids’ throats, this film remains a groundbreaker in not flinching when it comes to the punch. I don’t think Lucas would make this kind of movie today — people get killed (people! not CGI!), Han Solo gets tortured (and you can hear his screams), arms get hacked off, and there’s enough frightening imagery to keep many an 8 year-old up at night. But it’s also important to have these elements too, because like many fairy tales we’ve been exposed to as children, it’s not blatantly attempting to lie to us, and we can appreciate that. This film says that, hey, bad stuff happens. Sometimes the bad guys win, and sometimes the good guys are so dumb that they lose a hand. Sometimes there are many forms of evil, and sometimes a bad guy can have admirable qualities.

And sometimes, just sometimes, it’s okay to give your sister a full-on passionate kiss that would get you hanged in Arkansas.

Lissa’s rating: Most. Romantic. Line. EVER.

Lissa’s review: Do you know there are people at my work that have not seen the original Star Wars trilogy? Now, that not seem all that remarkable, but consider two things:

(1) I am talking about people older than myself, not these young teeny-boppers who think “Empire” refers to Empire Records; and

(2) I work in a lab. I work with scientists. I work with GEEKS!

I mean, seriously. Isn’t a viewing of Star Wars (preferably with reciting choice quotes) a part of every thesis defense? How do you get your Ph.D. and not see Star Wars? That’s just wrong.

The funny thing is, I remember that my college used to have Trilogy Nights. Ah yes, I remember those well. First of all, you never needed to define what The Trilogy was. Everyone knew it was Star Wars. But what was really interesting was the crowd you got for a Trilogy Night. It wasn’t just the geeks. No. It was anyone who didn’t have anything better to do that night. You got the jocks (such as they were at my college, where our football team lost every game but one while I was there), the decade-too-late-flower-children, the Young Republicans (all three of them), the debaters, the science geeks (because, y’know, we were really pretty much all geeks)…. If it was a social caste at our college, it probably had a representative at Trilogy Night. And for all the diversity that was represented, there were two universal reactions: everyone whined about Luke wanting to go get power converters, and there was a coherent, distinctly female sigh when Han Solo first appeared on screen.

Yeah. Han Solo. The ultimate in movie hunk. The funny thing is I preferred Luke when I was a kid. I’ve since learned.

As Justin comments somewhere on this site — maybe even in the review above me — The Empire Strikes Back is not a stand alone movie. There’s no real beginning and set up, and there isn’t a really satisfying ending. And that’s exactly as it should be, thank you very much. Like The Two Towers, The Empire Strikes Back is a section in a single story, not its own independent let’s-make-more-money type of affair. (It feels so weird to be typing some of those words in relation to George Lucas!) But it’s epic, even if the effects are cheesy by today’s standards and the acting is Star (Wars) quality.

It’s hard to give an objective review of any Star Wars movie, because the memory colors the movie so much. I mean, my first real movie memory is watching Luke blow up the Death Star. (And that droid that gives Princess Leia the injection — it gave me nightmares for WEEKS because I was four when Star Wars came out and naturally, one of my biggest fears was shots.) I can remember seeing Luke get his hand chopped off and fall down that long tube and hang off the weathervane at the bottom. Han Solo being frozen in carbonite utterly fascinated me. And for the life of me, I can’t separate my perception then from what I perhaps should think now. I love Empire, because I love the whole Trilogy.

Plus, in Empire we get all sorts of great things. There’s Yoda. AT-ATs. Luke learning the Force. Lots of Han and Leia back-and-forth. Great one-liners. Obi-Wan’s ghost. Lando Calrissian. Storm Troopers. Betrayal. Love. Torture. Space battles. Kissing. Darth Vader. And the three best-known, most infamous lines in history:

“Do or do not do. There is no try.”

“No. I am your father.”


“I love you.” “I know.”

It’s the last one that breaks my heart. Now, I realize that “I know” was not the original response. It was supposed to be “I love you, too,” until Harrison Ford got fed up with constant takes. But even that was far better romantic dialogue than the stuff that Anakin and Padme spout to each other. Oh, for the days when George Lucas wrote witty banter instead of ninth-grade poetry for his couples! (Although at least we now know where Luke gets his whiny tendencies from.)

I realize this isn’t a particularly critical, objective, or even coherent review. And it’s not meant to be. Yes, it’s meant to be Lissa rhapsodizing for a few minutes about the glory that is Star Wars in general. I’ll give you a far more critical, objective, and coherent review when I see Revenge of the Sith. (Unless everyone beats me to it and says what I want to say.)


  • The guy who says “The shield doors must be closed” is John Ratzenberger, Cliff Clavin from TV’s Cheers
  • On one of the holographic communiques, you can see one of the officers flinch and disappear as his ship is smashed by an asteroid
  • The blasters used by the stormtroopers were constructed from Sterling L2A3 Mk 4 submachine guns.
  • Amputation city: Luke cuts off the Wampa’s arm. C-3PO loses an arm when blasted by the Stormtroopers. Darth Vader cuts off Luke’s hand.
  • The voiceover line “The first transport is away” during the Rebel evacuation is delivered by Mark Hamill.
  • Luke is upside-down at the beginning (Wampa cave), in the middle (training on Dagobah), and at the end (below Cloud City). He uses the Force each time.
  • Han Solo is the only character in all of the Star Wars movies (UPDATE: until General Grievous in Revenge of the Sith) that uses a light saber without having Jedi powers.
  • Dak’s a big whiner… I’m glad he bites it
  • When the Millennium Falcon is inside the worm and a tremor makes Princess Leia fall on Han Solo she says, “Captain, being held by you isn’t quite enough to get me excited”, Han Solo is mouthing her line.
  • Just before Han Solo is put into carbon freeze, he’s wearing a double-breasted white shirt. After he’s frozen, his outline in the block of carbonite depicts him wearing the shirt he wore in Star Wars. Then, when he’s unfrozen in Return of the Jedi, he’s wearing the double-breasted Empire shirt again.
  • Further scenes with the Wampa were shot, and later cut. R2-D2 encountered one within the Rebel base, where it was killed by troopers. Later, the beasts were lured into a prison within the complex. In the completed film, a medical droid is seen examining the wounds of a tauntaun killed by a Wampa, and Princess Leia mentions the “creatures” while discussing the Imperial probe droid. A scene filmed but cut had Han, Leia and C-3PO running through a corridor. Han went to take a short-cut through a door with a sign on it, but Leia warned him “that’s where those creatures are kept”. They run off, but not before C-3PO rips off the sign, hoping that the stormtroopers will enter the room.
  • Wedge was not originally scripted to appear in this film, but intense fan interest prompted Lucas to include him.
  • When Han Solo is about to be frozen, Princess Leia says, “I love you.” In the original script, Han Solo was supposed to say, “I love you, too” but after having to reshoot the scene several times, Harrison Ford became annoyed and simply remarked “I know.” This line stuck.

Groovy Quotes

Han: And I thought they smelled bad on the outside!

Yoda: Ready are you? What know you of ready? For eight hundred years have I trained Jedi. My own counsel will I keep on who is to be trained! A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph! Adventure. Heh! Excitement. Heh! A Jedi craves not these things. You are reckless!

Princess Leia: Why, you stuck up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf-herder!
Han Solo: Who’s scruffy-looking?

C-3PO: Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1!
Han Solo: Never tell me the odds!

Emperor: The son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi.
Darth Vader: If he could be turned, he would be a powerful ally.
Emperor: Yes. Yes. He would be a great asset. Can it be done?
Darth Vader: He will join us or die, my master.

Luke: I want my lamp back! I’m gonna need it to get out of this slimy mudhole!
Yoda: Mudhole? Slimy? My home this is!

Han Solo: Don’t get excited!
Princess Leia: Captain, being held by you isn’t quite enough to get me excited.
Han Solo: Sorry sweetheart. I haven’t got time for anything else.

Han Solo: It’s not my fault!

Han Solo: Afraid I was gonna leave without giving you a goodbye kiss?
Princess Leia: I’d just as soon kiss a Wookiee!
Han Solo: I can arrange that! You could use a good kiss!

Han Solo: Well Princess, it looks like you managed to keep me here a while longer.
Princess Leia: I had nothing to do with it. General Rieekan thinks it’s dangerous for anyone to leave the system until they’ve activated the energy shield.
Han Solo: That’s a good story. I think you just can’t bear to let a gorgeous guy like me out of your sight.
Princess Leia: I don’t know where you get you delusions, laser brain!
[Chewbacca laughs]
Han Solo: Laugh it up, fuzzball!

Darth Vader: The Force is with you young Skywalker, but you are not a Jedi yet.

Luke: All right, I’ll give it a try.
Yoda: No! Try not. Do… or do not. There is no try.

Luke Skywalker: I don’t believe it.
Yoda: That is why you fail.

Luke: I’ll never join you!
Darth Vader: If you only knew the *power* of the dark side. Obi-wan never told you what happened to your father.
Luke: He told me enough! He told me *you* killed him.
Darth Vader: No. *I* am your father.

Princess Leia Organa: I love you.
Han Solo: I know.

Princess Leia: You have your moments. Not many of them, but you do have them.

Princess Leia: What are you doing? You’re not actually going *into* an asteroid field?
Han Solo: They’d be crazy to follow us, wouldn’t they?

C-3PO: Sir, it’s quite possible this asteroid is not entirely stable.
Han Solo: Not entirely stable! I’m glad you’re here to tell us these things.

Princess Leia: Would it help if I got out and pushed?
Han Solo: It might.

Luke: I won’t fail you. I’m not afraid.
Yoda: You will be. You will be.

Obi-Wan: That boy was our last hope.
Yoda: No. There is another.

Darth Vader: Apology accepted, Captain Needa.

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