George Lucas said he wanted to make a movie for kids, to recapture the sense of wonder that he felt as a child. Star Wars, a real gee-whiz experience, became the highest grossing film ever made. Now the Star Wars saga continues with The Empire Strikes Back and we learn that this is the fifth installment (the original was part four) of an envisioned nine-part series. Fans of the space fantasies can rejoice that outer space will now be given the same extended treatment as the Bond thrillers or the Pink Panther spoofs.
The Empire Strikes Back is built solidly on Star Wars, but it also incorporates new elements, characters, and environments. In fact, director Irvin Kershner has improved upon the original with more rounded portraits of the protagonists and a faster pace for the storyline. The main characters have been developed beyond comic book proportions; the romantic involvement between Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and pilot Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is heart felt; Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is less naïve now he's growing up and learning how to use The Force; and the villainous Darth Vader (David Prowse) gives pause to think about a very human factor behind his obsession with Luke Skywalker.
While the technical wizardry of Lucas and his team of special effects artists was highly evident in Star Wars, this time around we are treated to a more interesting variety of settings. Some of the action takes place on the frozen planet of Hoth where the main means of transportation are gigantic camel-like beasts called Tauntauns. Here the Rebel Alliance (Skywalker and his cohorts) are routed by the Empire's military prowess especially the fire power of the Imperial Walkers, giant four-legged mechanical monsters. Our heroes flee into space aboard the humorously malfunctioning Millennium Falcon. After a rousing trip through an asteroid field, they land on the Cloud City complex of Bespin ruled by Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams).
There is also a fascinating counterpoint to the razzle-dazzle aerial dogfights, the hair breadth escapes, and the spectacular battle sequences in this episode. Luke is admonished by the spirit of Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) to visit the swampy planet of Dagobah where he is tutored in the way of The Force by Yoda (Frank Oz), an elflike sage. Screenplay writers Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan use this occasion to expand upon the philosophy which is at the heart of the Star Wars saga. The Force as taught by Yoda is a nonviolent religious vision of life emphasizing harmony, attention to the present, mysticism, and service to others.
This moral dimension of The Empire Strikes Back gives the movie soul as well as comedy, ingeniousness, and action-paced adventure. All these elements combine to make this movie a total delight. The only problem is that now we'll have to wait three years to find out what happens next.