A quick note before we begin: I am happy to be back. I apologize for the delay; I’m not sure where all my time goes, but it doesn’t leave a lot of room in my schedule for this fun exercise. I eagerly await finishing this saga and continuing with more movies (we haven’t touched Marvel yet, or even the movies that make me happiest). And now, on with the show!
Empire Strikes Back
Released three years after the first film took people by storm, the core cast returns. Julian Glover, who we saw as Donovan in Last Crusade pops in as General Veers. Frank Oz gives us that iconic Yoda voice. And a fun fact; Bob Anderson who choreographed the sword fights for Princess Bride, Pirates of the Caribbean, Lord of the Rings, and dozens of other films and taught Viggo Mortensen, Errol Flynn, and Sean Connery to sword fight is the stunt double for Darth Vader in this film and Return of the Jedi.
We left our heroes celebrating the destruction of the Death Star and gaining an important victory against the Empire. Vader is now obsessed with finding Luke Skywalker. But the Empire is still hunting the rebels. They’ve taken refuge on the ice planet, Hoth. Luke and Han are placing sensors when Luke sees a crash. He assumes it is a meteorite; we know it is a probe from the Empire. He tells Han he’s going to check it out. Han returns to base and reports to the general; he needs to leave and pay back Jabba to get the price off his head. Leia follows him because he can’t just leave. The couple has a “discussion” in the hall. Han is certain that Leia has feelings for him, but she won’t admit it (and vice versa, Han certainly has feelings for Leia but won’t admit it either.) Han’s departure hits a snag, besides the lengthy repairs he is doing with Chewie to the Falcon, 3PO reports that Luke hasn’t returned.
I think one of my favorite things from the original trilogies now is the friendship between Han and Luke. They’re like brothers (and a different relationship than Obi-Wan and Anakin had). Han is very concerned that Luke has not returned and immediately sets about discovering his whereabouts. When it is clear that Luke is still out in the freezing weather of Hoth, Han does not hesitate to suit up to go after him. Someone cautions “you’re Tauntaun will freeze,” Han quips “see you in Hell!” (because of course Han is going to be the one to swear in the film).
And Luke has indeed found trouble. A Wampa ice creature knocks him out and takes him back to cave, intent on eating him [the Wampa reminds me of Bumble the snow creature in Rudolph, or vice versa]. [Supposedly, the scars from the Wampa were to mask scars Mark Hamill had received from a car accident]. Luke uses his lightsaber to escape, but then trudges in the blowing snow (actually shot in a blizzard in Norway; the crew were nice and safe in a hotel while Mark got to venture outside). He collapses and Force-ghost Obi-Wan visits him and urges him to go to Dagobah to find Yoda to complete his Jedi training. That is how Han finds him, delirious and freezing. Han’s Tauntaun does freeze to death, so Han uses Luke’s lightsaber to slice it open in order to keep Luke warm and alive.
Commander Skywalker and Captain Solo are rescued come morning and Luke spends some time in a bacta tank. Everyone meets up in the medical bay; “that’s two you owe me, junior,” Han remarks to Luke. Leia and Han continue to push each other’s buttons until Leia proclaims Han to be a “stuck up, half-witted, scruffy looking nerfherder!” and then kisses Luke just to prove that Han doesn’t know everything about women. Luke is very pleased.
The Empire has to crash the party and the Rebels prepare to evacuate. Luke leads the snow-speeders in knocking out the Imperial AT-Ats (All Terrain Armored Transport), rather ingeniously. Han ends up taking Leia in the Falcon when Imperial troops enter the base and headquarters are in disarray. Vader is steps behind them. They’re pursued by a Star Destroyer and Han executes some fancy flying; until they try to go to lightspeed and the Falcon malfunctions. Han gets the crazy idea to hide in an asteroid field; because the Imperials would have to be crazy to follow them, snapping at 3PO “never tell me the odds!” They find a cave on a large asteroid to hide and make repairs.
Luke reaches his X-Wing and leaves Hoth as well. Then he heads for Dagobah. R2 doesn’t quite agree with his decision and Luke is wrong when he assures the little astromech that the planet is safe for droids. Fog clouds his sight and he crashes into a swamp and R2 almost gets eaten by something, until the creature decides it doesn’t like metal and spits the droid out. They set up camp and a short green creature comes upon them, very curious about them, even stealing Luke’s dinner and whacks R2 with his stick when R2 won’t let him take a light. But he knows Yoda. He’ll take Luke to Yoda. Luke shows his impatience and Yoda finally reveals himself when he remarks that Luke is not ready to become a Jedi. “Adventure, excitement, a Jedi craves not these things.” Obi-Wan’s voice chimes in that he was the same. “For eight hundred years I have trained Jedi. My own counsel I will keep on who is to be trained” (oh boy if this didn’t tie-in with the prequels). Luke insists he wants to finish his training, declaring he is not afraid. “You will be,” Yoda warns.
Meanwhile, Vader must report his progress to the Emperor. The Emperor has sensed a great disturbance in the Force and knows they have a new enemy in Skywalker. He declares him to be the offspring of Anakin Skywalker and Vader asks how [this is a bit of a plot hole when you take into account the prequel because Anakin knows that Padmé was pregnant, but he doesn’t know that the child was born, especially since the Emperor told him she had died]. The Emperor informs his apprentice, “the son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi.” Vader suggests that they turn Luke to the Dark Side; he’d be a great asset. “He will join us or he will die.”
On the Falcon, Han and Leia have another interlude. Leia is still resisting her feelings and calls Han a scoundrel. He’s fine with that and we hear their theme as they finally share a kiss! Only for 3PO to interrupt them. Later, there is something flying around outside the Falcon; Leia remarks “I have a bad feeling about this” (famous saga line). Mynocks are starting to attack the ship and the cave is not feeling like a cave. Han beats a quick retreat; “there’s no time to discuss it in a committee,” he snaps at Leia. “I’m not a committee,” she snaps back. Just in time because the cave was actually a giant slug! After they escape, they hide on the Star Destroyer, powered down so the Empire won’t read them. Once the Imperials decide to separate, the Falcon can float away with the trash. What they don’t know is that Vader has contacted bounty hunters to find Han and Leia.
Yoda puts Luke through his paces in his training. He cautions Luke to beware the Dark Side; anger, fear, aggression. “Once start down that path, consume you it will,” like Vader, the wise master warns. Canonically, this is the first lesson on the Force and Jedi we learn. The Dark Side is not stronger, but an easier path, Yoda teaches. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack [written before Attack of the Clones and can be viewed as something Yoda regretted]. There is a cave on Dagobah, strong with the Dark Side. Luke ventures in it to learn something about himself and ends up dueling an illusion of Vader. When Luke beheads his adversary, the helmet explodes to reveal Luke’s face. A cautionary tale that Luke can fall the way of Vader (and also hinting at a deeper connection). When Luke’s X-Wing sinks deeper into the swamp, he despairs at retrieving it. He argues with Master Yoda there is a difference between lifting a stone with the Force and lifting an entire ship. “No difference, only in your mind!” Yoda insists. Luke tries to raise the ship. The infamous “do or do not, there is no try,” [and even in Rebels Kanan admits he doesn’t even know what it means]. Luke does not succeed, because he does not believe he can. Yoda raises the ship
Han suggests they take refuge with Lando, an old friend one could say, on Bespin. They don’t know that a bounty hunter is following them. Lando teases Han a bit when greeting him, but seems happy to see the old scallywag. And then is very pleased to meet Leia. Han’s now not so sure about introducing Lando to Leia; luckily, she is not taken by the man’s charm. 3PO wanders off and is attacked. Chewie eventually finds him and sets about putting him back together. Unfortunately, the bounty hunter Boba Fett arrived before Han and Leia and reported to Vader. Lando leads our heroes into a set up with Vader. The suited man tortures Han; he never asks any questions, just causes pain. Lando admits that Han and Leia are just bait for Luke.
Luke has a vision of Han and Leia in danger while training. He faces the question of rescuing his friends and possibly bringing about their suffering, or else staying and completing his training and following their wishes. Obi-Wan cautions his pupil that the Dark Side will try to tempt Luke; he must complete his training. He doesn’t want to lose Luke the way he lost Vader. Luke promises to return and flies off. Obi-Wan remarks to Yoda “that boy is our last hope.” “No, there is another,” Yoda answers.
Vader’s plan is to test carbon freezing on Han to see if it will work on Luke; he doesn’t want to damage the Emperor’s prize. Boba can have him afterwards. If Solo dies, Boba will be compensated. Chewie tries to fight the guards, but Han charges him with protecting the princess. He gives Leia a searing kiss before he’s pulled away. “I love you,” she finally declares. “I know,” the scoundrel answers (this line was Harrison Ford’s idea; and this scene was partly due to not knowing if Harrison was coming back for the third movie). Then Han is frozen; perfectly preserved and alive and now on his way to Jabba the Hutt.
Luke arrives on Bespin and begins searching for his friends. Leia briefly spots him and screams “it’s a trap!” But he’s funneled towards Vader anyway. The lighting of this scene is iconic now; only the silhouette illuminated. The lightsaber blades shine out. Luke manages to hold off Vader, though he falls in the chamber for a moment and Vader muses whether Luke is really worth it, but the lad is full of surprises. They move lower in the city, Vader pushing Luke back, even throwing heavy objects at the young man. He urges Luke to dip into his anger; only his hatred will destroy his enemy. They end up in a windy chamber and Vader literally disarms his opponent and tries another tactic. “Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.” “He told me enough. He told me you killed him.” “No. I am your father” [the shocker of the decade. Only a handful of people knew that was the actual line; it had originally been written as “Obi-Wan killed your father;” a huge plot twist as well. George and the director knew, and James Earl Jones when he recorded it, but not even David Prowse (the actor in the suit) knew and Mark was told only moments before shooting. He was warned that if the secret got out, they’d know who to come after. Harrison apparently had words with Mark after the premiere.]
Luke makes the ultimate getaway by falling down the chamber and hanging off an antenna at the bottom of Cloud City. Lando has gotten Chewie and Leia out of Cloud City aboard the Falcon; they were too late to rescue Han. But Leia has Chewie turn around when she hears Luke call to her in her mind. Chewie easily accepts her request despite Lando’s protest. They catch the young man before Vader can come after him. Luke moans “Ben, why didn’t you tell me.” With a little help from R2, who knows that the hyperdrive on the Falcon had been disengaged, our heroes escape right from under Vader.
We see our heroes at another medical facility where Luke gains a life-like artificial hand. The plan is he will join Lando and Chewie on Tatooine once he’s healed and they will rescue Han.
While I have said that I love Anakin and Padmé’s love theme, Across the Stars because you have that sweeping, passionate love theme that makes your heart melt, Han and Leia’s theme is more sedate. It is a more mature refrain. It echoes how they are unsure about each other. There were hints of their attraction from the moment they met; Han even joked that he was beginning to like her when she took over her own rescue. The music is upbeat for just a moment to brighten the peril they are in.
Empire Strikes Back is a good second movie in a trilogy. We continue the adventure with characters we already know and love and everyone gets a bit of character development. A lot of it focuses on Luke because he’s training to be a Jedi, but it’s Han and Leia who are trying to outrun Vader the entire movie. We’re left with a cliffhanger which makes us anxious for the final film to come out. And this lightsaber duel is even better than the one in New Hope (but just wait until the third movie!). And the plot twist! First time viewers had no idea that was coming. I didn’t the first time I watched the movie as a child (and my reaction to Yoda was “it’s Fozzy Bear!”)
Next Time: Return of the Jedi