Overview: Luke begins his training with a Jedi Master, while his comrades find themselves at the mercy of the Empire as the result of a well-laid trap to capture young Skywalker. 1980; 20th Century Fox; rated PG; 127 minutes.
The Great Escape: The fist pumping climax that concludes A New Hope leaves the viewer with a knowing feeling that it can’t be that easy. When you knock down the bad guys and they get back up, they return with gusto. The Empire hits back, and it hits back hard. In Empire Strikes Back, each of our main characters is trying to escape something from which they can no longer hide. For Luke (Mark Hamill), it’s his destiny as a Jedi, his insecurities, and the responsibility of saving not just his friends but also the Republic weighing on his shoulders. Han (Harrison Ford) is trying to escape the pursuit of Jabba the Hutt and his cohorts (namely everyone’s favorite bounty hunter, Boba Fett) and battling his own internal struggle of coming to terms with the realization that he’s no longer just looking out for old number one. Last but not least, our damsel-not-so-much-in-distress (Carrie Fisher) making a valiant but failing effort to escape her feelings for Han (it’s Harrison Ford in his 1970’s prime…of course it’s a failing effort).
No Longer Flying Solo: Leia’s journey may sound like the least impressive of the three, but it’s no small feat for someone so self reliant. She’s a tough chick who is accustomed to seeing things in black and white, and Han makes her feel like she’s no longer in control. Although it’s obvious our Princess enjoys the flirtatious banter, she remains resilient for much longer than most of us could hold out on resisting Han Solo’s charms. Romances inserted into sci-fi and action movies can often be an unwelcome distraction from the core of the story, but Han and Leia’s culminating relationship is a highlight of Empire Strikes Back and it’s one of the few happy moments. The chemistry between Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford doesn’t hurt either.
Unfortunately, the bliss of this new romance comes crashing down when Han is frozen in carbonite to be delivered to Jabba. Just before he’s frozen, Leia drops all of her walls and exclaims “I love you”, which is replied to in typical nonchalance by Han with, “I know”. He’s finally won the girl, but he won’t be giving in and delivering any sappy goodbyes that easily. He’s Han Solo after all.
Cementing Relationships: The scene mentioned above is beautiful, heartbreaking, and one of the most powerful in the entire series for several reasons. Not only does it keep viewers in anxious anticipation to find out if Han will survive, we also know that this is also an experiment in preparation for the trap laid out for Luke, who has made the decision to potentially sacrifice himself for those he loves. Additionally, we see several bonds cemented by the most loyal character in the entire Star Wars universe, Chewbacca. We already know he’s loyal to Han, but here we see that his affections aren’t limited just to his partner in crime. He sets the pain of losing his companion aside to comfort his new found friends, as he carries C-3PO and wraps his arms around Leia, fulfilling his promise to take care of her. These careful, subtle details and character developments (need I even remind you of the tauntaun scene?) are symbolic of what makes this series, and specifically this installment, much more than just a fun action flick.
Luke, I Am Your Father: That’s not to say the darkest chapter in the Star Wars tale is without its high action moments. Empire Strikes Back delivers one of the most intense reveal moments in movie history, delivered in the heat of an emotionally charged light saber battle. The satisfaction in Vader’s voice at the impact of his upper hand and the gut wrenching scream that explodes from a battered Luke create a confrontation that’s almost impossible to look away from. This is the pivotal point when Hamill (as Luke Skywalker) really wins us over. Hook, line and sinker, we’re all in.