Combustible Celluloid
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With: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, David Prowse, Peter Mayhew, Alec Guinness, Frank Oz (voice)
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan, Leigh Brackett, from a story by George Lucas
Directed by: Irvin Kershner
MPAA Rating: PG
Language: English
Running Time: 124
Date: 05/16/1980

Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Year of the Force

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It was fun going to the The Empire Strikes Back when I was 11 and seeing my favorite characters again in new situations. At the time, I considered Star Wars the better movie of the two because of the cliffhanger ending of The Empire Strikes Back. Then, in college, I considered Star Wars better because of its classic Joseph Campbell-type themes. Now, in 1997, seeing the big screen re-release of the two movies within weeks of each other, I finally relent and admit that The Empire Strikes Back is the better of the two. In fact, it's clearly the best -- and the most warmly human -- of the entire series.

Following are some notes on seeing The Empire Strikes Back: The Special Edition in 1997:

1) Pacing: The second act is very strong, cutting back and forth between Luke training with Yoda and Han, Leia, Chewie and C-3P0 fighting the Empire. And it's paced leisurely enough that you get to know the characters a little bit. The beginning romance between Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) are by far the most romantic and erotic sequences in the entire series.

2) Special Effects & Sound Effects: Seeing it again, I was impressed by how well Yoda worked as a muppet. He's very expressive. His eyes seem wise and all-knowing. I liked how Chewbacca seems to express different emotions with his different growls. I also love the grinding noise the Millennium Falcon makes when it can't go to lightspeed.

3) Where They Are Now: The acting is better all around, too (except for the extras with one line each). I got a hoot out of Billy Dee Williams, and how (along with Mark Hamill) he went on to do bad "B" movie stuff after this.

4) New Stuff: The new stuff in the 1997 edition includes extra shots of the snow monster eating a bloody hunk of meat, and new computer rendered shots of Cloud City, as well as some new scenes of extras walking around Cloud City.

5) Personnel: The movie won Oscars for Best Visual Effects and Best Sound. Director Irvin Kersner went on to do Never Say Never Again (1983) and Robocop 2 (1990). Writer Leigh Brackett had written several movies for Howard Hawks, including The Big Sleep (1946), Rio Bravo (1959), Hatari! (1962), and El Dorado (1967). Cinematographer Peter Suschitzky went on to photograph David Cronenberg movies, The Fly (1986), Dead Ringers (1988), Naked Lunch (1991), and Crash (1996).

Note: In 1999, Lucas released the fourth film in the series, which, chronologically, was really the first. Its title, Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, led to a reassessment as to what the original three films should be called. So I guess The Empire Strikes Back should now officially be known as Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back.

DVD Details: In 2004, Lucas released the Star Wars trilogy on DVD, but only in their 1997 refurbished editions. The original theatrical releases from 1977, 1980 and 1983 are apparently lost to time. I still have my old mid-1990s laserdisc editions, and I'll be holding onto them for dear life. (In 2006, Lucas conceded and released three, two-disc special editions containing both the re-jiggered versions and the original theatrical releases, thereby rendering the 2004 editions useless. Will the fans never be satisfied?)

In 2011, Lucas continued outraging the fans, following the same pattern on the Blu-Ray release. So far only the 1997 special editions are available, with the original theatrical editions hopefully to follow someday soon.

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