The Empire Strikes Back (1980) – Ace Mini-Review

My reviews of the first three Star Wars films are all based on pre-Special Edition cuts of the movies.  #releasetheoriginaltrilogy

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher
Written by: George Lucas, Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasdan
Directed by: Irvin Kershner
U.S.A., 1980

How good is this movie?

In my review of A New Hope, I complained that the movie, despite its famously well-structured plot, was a little short on character development.  The Empire Strikes Back makes up for this by being all character development – and minimal plot.  A brutally reductive summary of the film might be, “Han and Leia fly around while Luke sits in a swamp.”  Certainly, little progress is made in terms of the Rebels’ fight against the Empire.  And yet, this is an extremely important chapter in the Star Wars saga.  The special effects have been improved since the original, and the over-all look of the film is much sleeker.  There are plenty of great new action sequences and interesting new locations.  The film introduces several iconic Star Wars elements, including Yoda, Lando, and the “Imperial March”.  Darth Vader also emerges as a much more formidable adversary than he was in the first movie.  In terms of our heroes, I don’t really enjoy Han and Leia’s famously annoying romance, but it at least leads to some funny moments and a last scene together that is actually quite touching.  And Luke develops his Jedi powers, faces new challenges, is confronted with his own weaknesses, and, finally, has his world shattered with a devastating revelation.  The ending is surprisingly sombre and may feel a bit unsatisfying, but it’s the perfect set-up for an awesome sequel.

How ace is this movie?

Whereas A New Hope was almost romance-free, this movie devotes considerable time to the emerging romance between Han and Leia.  Their courtship in the first half of the movie is… weird.  He’s in love with her, but is apparently more comfortable telling her about her feelings than his own.  She’s in love with him, but insists she isn’t because… reasons.  Their Belligerent Sexual Tension ranges from endearingly ridiculous to completely insufferable, depending on your tolerance for bad ’80s romance tropes.  It all culminates in an ambiguously consensual kissing scene that has now become infamous, though it was, unfortunately, pretty typical of its era and is actually tame compared to some.  It’s the sort of scene that’s likely to remind a lot of people of times they’ve faced unwanted sexual advances, an especially familiar problem for asexuals.  In Han and Leia’s case, however, it results in the immediate establishment of a romantic relationship that lasts until Han gets frozen in carbonite.  If there’s a silver lining to all this, it may be that the romantic relationship is so obnoxious we’re kind of forced to care about the platonic ones.  I know the only thing keeping me from detesting both Han and Leia in this movie is the knowledge that Luke loves them and they love him.

Speaking of Luke, he shows no romantic interest in anyone in this movie.  Leia does snog him at one point, but that seems to be more for Han’s benefit than for Luke’s.  Whether Luke is pleased by the kiss or simply amused at his friends’ antics is left ambiguous, but he does nothing to either pursue a romance with Leia or hinder her relationship with Han.  Instead, his main focus in the first half of the film is his training with Yoda.  In the second half, he becomes consumed with his need to save Han and Leia from the Empire, but his focus is always on the two of them.  He refers to them both as his “friends” and never suggests that he in any way values Leia more than Han.  Still, at the film’s end he and Leia are together and Han is a popsicle, so there’s no telling what could happen!

4 Stars; 3 Aces

Happy 45th Star Wars anniversary!

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