Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

on May 21, 1980 by Jimmy Summers
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   [Not so long ago and only as far away as your local theatre, "The Empire Strikes Back" debuted on May 21, 1980. On February 21, 1997, a digitally updated "Empire" follows in the wake of the phenomenally successful re-release of "Star Wars," which in a bare three weeks has grossed more than $99 million to make the 1977 film the biggest boxoffice success of all time. Below, we offer the 5/18/1980 BOXOFFICE review of "The Empire Strikes Back." Contemporary moviegoers will note that critic Jimmy Summers' forecast for the film's public response was right on target, but his prognosis for the eventual arrival of the final Episode IX proved a bit too optimistic. Unfortunately.]All that really needs to be said about "The Empire Strikes Back" is that it's just as good as "Star Wars." Fun, exciting and wondrous, it should have audiences returning again and again for repeat viewings. Unless the public has had its fill of science-fiction films, and "Empire" really goes beyond the genre, it should run in theatres for as long as 20th Century-Fox allows it.

   A detailed account of the story is nearly impossible, but it begins with the original characters (who now, after only one movie, seem amazing ly like old friends) in a rebel encampment on an ice planet, and ends after a daring escape from the clutches of Darth Vader. Along the way, Luke Skywalker and R2-D2 stop on a jungle planet for Jedi Knight instruction from Yoda, the aged high yogi of all Jedi Knights. Meanwhile, Han Solo's romantic relationship with Princess Leia deepens as they, and Chewbacca and C-3PO, escape from the Imperial fleet aboard Han's Millennium Falcon, a rusty bucket of flybolts that's in worse disrepair than ever.

   Billy Dee Williams is also introduced as Lando Calrissian, an old gambling buddy of Han's and mayor of an art deco-styled cloud city. At first a shady dealer with Darth Vader, Lando eventually straightens up in time to help the rebels--but not before Han is frozen and shipped off to another planet for possible defrosting in the next sequel.

   There's even a final twist to the story in which Luke learns more about Darth Vader than he really wants to learn. It's as shattering a revelation for Luke as it is a perfect hook for the next chapter of the saga.

   Because the lead characters were already established in "Star Wars," little exposition is needed before the action is set in motion and the movie is on its way. But, although the story never slows down and seems much shorter than its 124-minute running time, more room has also been given to the actors to behave like emotionally developed adults, rather than characters in a comic strip.

   Executive producer George Lucas handed over the directorial chores this time around to Irvin Kershner, and that might account for the slightly more mature slant. But Lucas is still responsible for the story, developed as "Episode V" of a three-trilogy film cycle, and there's virtually no shifting in style between the two pictures.

   It's still a treat for the eyes and ears, and there's never a moment when the screen isn't filled with action, bizarre creatures or fascinating machinery. It will take several viewings to see and remember it all.

   Among the highlights this time is Yoda, an amazing little troll-like creature whose operation by Muppet veteran Frank Oz can only be attributed to outright magic. A totally believable creation, he'll probably be the hit of the picture.

   The movie wouldn't be complete without the new hardware (which surely excites the toymakers of America), the familiar John Williams score introducing the opening title crawl, the sound effects that sound like nothing ever heard on Earth, the tongue-in-cheek dialogue, Harrison Ellenshaw's master paintings, and a storyline that seems to be a collection and celebration of nearly all movie genres.

   It's impossible to imagine a person leaving the theatre feeling like he didn't get his money's worth. The only complaint could be the not-too-satisfying, cliff-hanging ending that's an obvious setup for the next sequel.

   Science-fiction movies were nearly beaten to death in recent years when every studio tried to make its own "Star Wars" movie and instead produced stolid, pretentious or just plain silly hardware displays. It's amazing, then, that "Empire" could come back and make it all seem fresh and new again.

   With seven more chapters to go--five sequels and three "prequels"--the final chapter in the "Star Wars" saga should be finished in the year 2001. "Empire" is rated PG, evidently for the stylistic violence. A 20th Century-Fox release. Rated PG. Space adventure, 124 min. Limited release on May 21. Dolby Stereo, 70mm. Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, Frank Oz, David Prowse and Peter Mayhew. Executive produced by George Lucas. Produced by Gary Kurtz. Directed by Irvin Kershner. Screenplay by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan. Story by George Lucas. Music by John Williams
Tags: Irvin Kershner, The Empire Strikes Back, George Lucas, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher
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