On The Edge Films

Cinematic Thoughts for Cinematic Minds

The Empire Strikes Back

1980/USA

Director: Irvin Kershner

Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Frank Oz

It’s common knowledge that more Star Wars films are on their way with the franchise now being in the hands of Disney and it is this fact that helped me decide which of my favourite films to write about. Nevertheless, it definitely, at the very least, stands at the summit of my esteem with perhaps one or two others and I say this not just as a fan of the saga but as a lover of film in general.

And who would argue that it’s not widely considered a masterpiece? Like Taxi Driver, of which there is another ‘Eye on Nostalgia’ article on, the second Star Wars film produced and the fifth in terms of the saga’s chronology was selected to be put in the US’s National Film Registry for preservation due it being “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant.” Of course, this is just one in a galaxy of accolades Empire has garnered over the 33 years since its original release which I’m sure the reader will be thankful to know I will not bother to list. In short, this film is a work of unadulterated genius without parallel… And a helluva lotta fun.

A swashbuckling adventure story set in space with fantasy elements at the core of it written with splashes of humour and romance, Episode 5 has pretty much everything and is widely regarded by critics and fans alike as the best “episode”.

Interesting, memorable characters? Well unless you’ve exiled yourself to some swampy hole in a galaxy far, far away, you’ve at least heard of the likes of the underdog farm boy Luke Skywalker, the roguish smuggler Han Solo, the famously evil Darth Vader and the green, sagely Yoda.
Irvin Kershner’s character-centric directorial style brought out all the very best this motley assortment of intergalactic heroes and villains had to offer. Along with Yoda, this film also introduced two more characters audiences instantly took to; the charismatic Lando Calrissian played by Billy Dee Williams and the mysterious bounty hunter Boba Fett. This would’ve been quite a risk as the first film had generated so much hype for a sequel and one ridiculous or unbearable character could have ruined the series then and there. Luckily, none of these characters were Jar Jar Binks. It would be easy to see Yoda as the oddly-spoken result of a one-night stand between Albert Einstein and Kermit the Frog but it just doesn’t happen. I put this down to the fact that at first, he’s presented as a character not to be taken too seriously and before we know it, we’re being cunningly lulled into loving this wise, ex-Jedi: (“Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try”.)

Now I always say there are three tiers of fool: There’s the fool, the fool who follows him and then there’s the fool who underestimates the power of John Williams’ breath-taking film scores. Particularly in this film. From the universally-renowned “Imperial March” to the goose bump-inducing “Yoda and the Force”, if you weren’t in another universe already, the spellbinding soundtrack will take you the rest of the way. String, woodwind, brass and percussion all arranged and interwoven beautifully to lift you out of your seat and into the frozen tundra of the planet Hoth or the dizzying altitudes of Cloud City. John Williams has an uncanny knack for being able to pinpoint where a story is at emotionally and transcribing it into music that fits perfectly. Even if you’re not a particular fan of classical music, it is incredibly difficult not to be moved, transported and excited by Williams’ work.
A particular favourite of this writer’s is ‘Yoda’s Theme’. It seems to sum up everything this movie is – playful, magical and able to inspire the audience with a sense of child-like wonder.

Thus conclude, ladies and gentleman, my reasons for The Empire Strikes Back being the pinnacle of what I consider to be a great film.  When I was but a youngling in a hoody pretending I was a jawa, I obtained a copy of this work of art on video cassette and was over the moon/space station.

Now, at 22, I’m set to watch it on blu-ray next week and I’m just as excited at the prospect as I would’ve been back then. Movies come and go and some we forget after watching them. Sometimes though, we see one that stays with us the rest of our lives. They’re not tarnished by age or outdated as the years go by and though our perception of the world may change our experience from them stays the same. I may change a lot in the years to come but I’m convinced that one thing will stubbornly, resolutely maintain, and that is that I will always, whatever my age, enjoy this film.

That’s why, of all the films I know and love, THIS… is the father.

Saul Nix

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