Prior to re-watching these films I probably would have said The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite in the series but now it comes in second to A New Hope. Mainly because A New Hope is more of a complete story but also because this film suffers at the hands of both the prequels and Return of the Jedi.
Before I get into the problems I'll run through some of the things I like...
Firstly, the battle of Hoth is hands down the best battle sequence in any of the Star Wars films. It's got everything, all of the films main heroes, the rebel army fighting an imperial onslaught both in the air and on the ground, Snow Speeders, AT-ATs, AT-STs, a real sense of urgency and Darth Vader personally almost catching up with the Millenium Falcon.
There's a real urgency about the Battle of Hoth and, it's the one battle that the Empire actually demonstrates the strength that put them in control of pretty much everything.
What's even better is that the pressure for our heroes on the Falcon rarely lets up for the whole film. Any quiet moments are short lived before they're back in the thick of the action. From start to finish, Empire is pretty much a chase film.
Like A New Hope the story is small and focused on the characters. There's no grand, sweeping political game playing or boring Jedi Councils (if you've read my previous Star Wars reviews you might be detecting a theme in my dislike of the prequels).
Within that there is the growing love story between Leia and Han. Unlike the second prequel there's no awkward, vaguely creepy, declarations of love. Every moment is streamlined with just enough dialogue to make the point that Leia is either still in denial or starting to come around. It's so much better written. Maybe George Lucas should've taken a back seat on writing the screen play for Episode II like he did for this film.
The humor of Empire is better written too. Particularly with C3-PO who gets plenty of funny lines that occur naturally without feeling forced. There's also none of the distracting background attempts at humor like those inserted into the Mos Eisley scenes of A New Hope Special Edition.
Chewbacca really comes into his own as a central character of the trilogy in Empire with a full range of emotions from laughter to anger to real concern for Han and Luke. All without any discernible dialogue or subtitles. Even though the team of Han and Chewie were likeable in Episode IV it was this film that really gave some depth to both characters.
This was also the first time we meet Boba Fett in live action (well, it was pre special editions) and are introduced to Lando Clarision. Lando had the potential to be a great, friendly, competitive rival to Han but unfortunately how the films panned out we only ever heard of their exploits and never really got to see much of them in action.
There's so much to like that I'm basically listing every scene in the film and nearly convincing myself all over again that Episode V is better than Episode IV. Even when the film slows down it never drags and always seems to have something to say before things pick up again.
So, to finish up with things I really liked... actual Puppet Yoda... way better than CGI Yoda of the Prequels. Not least because Episode V Yoda was funnier, more intriguing and less up himself with all that Jedi Council nonsense. He's basically little green Ben Kenobi from Episode IV. Also Yoda gives a more complete description of the force... not a single mention of Midichlorians.
So what's not to like? Unfortunately this film suffers at the hand of it's sequel, Episode VI and the Prequels making certain scenes less re-watchable.
Before we get into that, I noticed the opening crawl mentions that Darth Vader is specifically trying to locate Luke Skywalker, even though the Emperor doesn't tell him anything about Luke's relationship to Anakin Skywalker until the middle of this film. The Emperor then talks about Anakin as if he's someone other than Darth Vader to Darth Vader... weird?
All of this is the result of the Prequels and re-release of the original trilogy special editions. The Empire Strikes Back is the only film of the original trilogy that I saw at the cinema when it was released and I owned the original theatrical version on VHS tape. I'm pretty sure the Empire was trying to track down the rebels, post battle of Yavin and not just Darth trying to find Luke Specifically.
Also the conversation with the Emperor features new lines (and the new Emperor from Jedi and the Prequels who hadn't been cast for this film). I don't remember what was said in the original version but I know it wasn't as specific.Though I'm sure that's the point in the original film when I think Darth is told about Luke being a potential threat. There is no mention of Anakin.
One scene that loses all it's humor is Leia kissing Luke in front of Han in the medic centre on Hoth. The first time I saw this scene it was one of the funniest parts of the film. Unfortunately in Return of the Jedi we find out Leia is Luke's sister, forever condemning the scene to creepy weirdness. Especially since, in Jedi, Leia says she thinks she's always known they were brother and sister... WTF... and you still smooched him?
What's kind of worse is that Luke starts calling to Leia at the end of this film and she hears him (presumably via the force since he's not literally within earshot). This suggests that the film's writers knew Leia was related to Luke somehow yet they still let her kiss him on Hoth?
I'm one of those people that really became a big fan of Boba Fett after seeing this film. He didn't say much but he looked cool, had a cool ship and when he spoke it sounded menacing. We didn't know much about him and didn't really need to know anything about him. Boba Fett got completely short changed by the prequels.
I think it's Episode II that we first see a young Boba Fett, a full clone of his 'father' Jango Fett. At some point Jango is killed and young Boba sees it happen. I'm fine with all that. Boba didn't need a back story. Just because he wears Mandalorian armor doesn't mean he needed to be a clone or related to the clone army in any way but whatever.
Special Edition Empire Strikes Back, we now know Boba's early back story, fine, less mystery but he's still bad ass. Boba's cool, menacing voice is overdubbed with Jango's less menacing New Zealand accent. Holy Christchurch Batman!!
Look, don't get me wrong, Temuera Morrison was great as Jango Fett but that's the problem. Instead of mystery surrounding who the man behind the mask is, all I see is Jango Fett's face and voice. Boba Fett no longer feels unique, special or mysterious. Even worse, if they do future films featuring Boba Fett talking, I'm going to have to hear Jango Fett's New Zealand accent (Sorry New Zealand but Jango's accent just doesn't sound any more menacing than if he was voiced by an Aussie called Bruce).
- What exactly is the usual purpose of the cable guns on the back of the Snowspeeders? It seems like using them to trip AT-AT's was something Luke improvised after deciding the ship's blasters were no good against AT-AT armor.
- Speaking of AT-AT armor... after tripping their first AT-AT Wedge flies in and blows the thing up with blaster fire directly to it's armor? WTF?