Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
(United States, 1980)

There are many times when the sequel to a beloved movie fails to live up to the hype. Such was not the case with 1980's The Empire Strikes Back, which didn't just equal the excitement and derring-do of its predecessor, Star Wars, but exceeded it. Regarded by some as the best sequel of all-time, it's not hard to understand how The Empire Strikes Back earned that distinction. The film's shocking revelation that Darth Vader is Luke's father became the biggest topic of conversation in my circle for most of the summer. (I knew the film's secret before seeing it, because the book was available three days before the movie opened. Less than 48 hours after getting my hands on the paperback novel, I had completed it. This foreknowledge did nothing to dim my enjoyment of or enthusiasm about the movie.) And, at the time, it seemed intolerable that we would have to wait three long years for the conclusion of the trilogy. (Return of the Jedi - or Revenge of the Jedi, as it was originally known - never looked better than before I saw it.) For a year or two, The Empire Strikes Back was my favorite movie (taking that coveted spot from Star Wars). Thousands of films later, it's still in the Top 30 a testament to the enduring power of this singular science fiction experience. Not only is The Empire Strikes Back the best of the Star Wars pictures to-date, but it's the most accomplished science fiction movie to have come out since the genre was re-popularized by George Lucas' 1977 cinematic gem. The darkest and bleakest of the series has proven to be its most enduring.

Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
The movie does not pick up where Star Wars left off. The Death Star's destruction is a thing of the past; Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) have been with the Rebellion for quite some time. There's a love triangle involving the two friends and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), although Han, the perpetual scoundrel, has the upper hand. When an Imperial Probe Droid turns up on the ice world Hoth, where the current Rebel base is located, it's time for a quick evacuation. Darth Vader (David Prowse, voice of James Earl Jones) detects his quarry, Luke, there, and orchestrates a full-scale invasion. Suddenly, the Rebels are on the run, with Han taking the princess, Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), and C-3P0 (Anthony Daniels) on board the Falcon and into an asteroid field to avoid pursuing TIE fighters. Meanwhile, Luke, along with the faithful R2-D2 (Kenny Baker), heads for the swamp planet of Dagobah to learn from the wizened Jedi Master, Yoda (Frank Oz).

Although it lacks the pioneering "newness" of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back is in many ways a superior motion picture. The storyline is more interesting and ambitious, the characters - little more than appealing types in the original - are allowed to grow and develop, the special effects are more mature, and the tone is deliciously dark and downbeat. In the first film, good triumphed decisively over evil; here, it's almost the other way around. More than two decades after its intial release, The Empire Strikes Back is still as thrilling and involving as ever. Because of the high quality of the original product, it doesn't show a hint of dating. Neither the first nor the third chapters (or, properly, the "fourth" and "sixth") of the Star Wars saga were able to match the narrative scope of Empire, which today remains one of the finest and most rousing science fiction tales ever committed to the screen.

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