Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back is a 1980 space opera film directed by Irvin Kershner. The screenplay, based on a story by George Lucas, was written by Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett. It was the second film released in the Star Wars saga, being followed by Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, and the fifth in terms of internal chronology.
The film is set three years after the destruction of the Death Star. Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia Organa, and the rest of the Rebel Alliance are being pursued by Darth Vader and the elite forces of the Galactic Empire. While Han and Leia are chased across the galaxy by the Empire, Luke studies the Force under Jedi Master Yoda. Vader is secretly plotting a trap for Luke that will lead to a vicious confrontation and a shocking revelation.
Following a difficult production, The Empire Strikes Back was released on May 21, 1980, and received mixed reviews from critics, though it has since grown in esteem to become one of the most well-regarded chapters of the saga. It earned more than US$538 million worldwide over the original run and several re-releases, making it the highest grossing film of 1980. When adjusted for inflation, it is the 12th highest grossing film of all time in the United States.
The Imperial forces land their ground-assault Walkers beyond the energy shield and Luke leads his squadron of flying snowspeeders into battle. However, the Imperial forces eventually overpower the Rebels and destroy the generator powering the energy shield, capturing the Rebel base. Han, Leia, Chewbacca, and their droid C-3PO flee onboard the Millennium Falcon. However, the Falcon's hyperdrive is damaged and it cannot escape the Imperial blockade in space. To evade pursuit, Han enters an asteroid field and lands inside an asteroid crater. Furious at the loss of his prey, Darth Vader turns to several notorious bounty hunters to assist the Empire in finding the Millennium Falcon, including Boba Fett.
Meanwhile, Luke and his astromech droid R2-D2 escape Hoth in Luke's X-wing fighter. After a crash landing on Dagobah, Luke meets a wizened, green little creature who reveals himself to be Yoda. Meanwhile, inside the asteroid cave, Han and Leia argue while repairing the ship, though it eventually leads to a tender kiss. However, they are forced to escape what they thought was a "cave," which is actually the belly of a gigantic space slug. When they reveal themselves to the Imperial armada, Han makes a mock attack-run and attaches the Millennium Falcon to the superstructure of a Star Destroyer, hiding from detection until they are able to mingle with its space-dumped garbage. Han sets course for Cloud City, a mining colony in the Bespin system run by Han's old friend Lando Calrissian, but the Falcon is followed stealthily by Boba Fett, who has anticipated their escape strategy.
On Dagobah, Luke undergoes a crash course on Yoda's rigorous lessons about the metaphysical nature of the Force. Luke has a vision of Han and Leia in danger and agony and wants to rescue them, but Yoda and the vision of Obi-Wan warn of the dangers of leaving rashly because Luke is still susceptible to the powerful temptation of the dark side. Nevertheless, Luke departs from Dagobah and promises Yoda he will return to complete his training. Upon arrival at Cloud City, Han's party is welcomed by Lando Calrissian. After agreeing to help Han repair his ship, Lando invites him and the others to a meal. When they enter the dining room, they are captured by Darth Vader. Lando insists he was forced to conspire with the Empire to prevent them from invading and occupying the city.
In captivity, Luke's friends are used as bait to lure Luke to the city. Vader orders a carbon-freezing chamber prepared to freeze Luke, which will hold him in suspended animation for transport to the Emperor. The process is tested on Han. As Han is lowered into the machine, Leia declares her love for him. He is frozen in carbonite and handed over to Boba Fett, who intends to return his quarry to Jabba the Hutt for a large reward. Meanwhile, Luke lands at Cloud City and is tricked into entering the carbon-freezing chamber. He meets Vader and engages him in combat. While escorting their prisoners, Vader's Imperial troopers are captured by Lando's private security force, who set Leia and the others free. Lando insists that there is still a chance to save Han, and along the way they find R2-D2. The group pursues Boba Fett and Han's frozen form through Cloud City, but arrive just as the bounty hunter's ship flies away. After a desperate chase, Leia, Chewbacca, Lando, and the two droids make their escape on the Millennium Falcon. Meanwhile, Vader and Luke's fierce lightsaber duel brings them to a narrow platform above the city's central air shaft. After gaining the advantage, Vader cuts off Luke's dueling hand along with his lightsaber. With Luke cornered and defenseless, Vader informs Luke that he does not yet know the truth about his father. Luke claims that Vader killed him; Vader, in response, answers:
No. I am your father.A horrified Luke screams in denial. Vader tries to persuade Luke to join him, embrace the dark side of the Force, and overthrow the Emperor with him. Luke refuses, lets go, and falls off the platform into the abyss, signifying that he would rather die than join him. In freefall, Luke is sucked into an air vent, shoots out of the underbelly of the floating city, and lands on an antenna hanging beneath. In desperation, Luke calls out to Leia, who senses Luke's distress aboard the Millennium Falcon and orders Lando to pilot them back to Cloud City. After saving Luke and leaving the planet, they are pursued by Darth Vader's flagship. R2-D2, who discovered that the hyperdrive was merely de-activated while searching the city's central computer, reactivates it and the Falcon escapes into hyperspace. Aboard a Rebel medical frigate, Luke is fitted with an artificial hand as Lando and Chewbacca set out in the Falcon to locate Han.
In addition to Clive Revill as the voice of the Emperor, an unknown actress played the part in the original theatrical cut and the 1997 Special Edition of the film with superimposed chimpanzee eyes. Ian McDiarmid, who portrayed Palpatine in Return of the Jedi as well as the prequel trilogy films, replaced both the actress and Revill as the Emperor in the 2004 DVD version with filming taking place during the principal photography of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. For the 2004 DVD release, Temuera Morrison also replaced Jason Wingreen as the voice of Boba Fett to conform with plot points established in the prequel trilogy.
Notable character actor Treat Williams portrayed several background characters, including a trooper in the Hoth rebel base and a trooper in Cloud City.
After the release of Star Wars, ILM grew from being just a struggling company and moved to Marin County, California. The Empire Strikes Back provided the company with new challenges. Star Wars mostly featured space sequences, but The Empire Strikes Back featured not only space dog-fights, but also an ice planet battle sequence and elements of cities that floated among the clouds. For the battle scenes on the ice planet of Hoth, the initial intent was to use bluescreen to composite the Imperial walkers into still-shots from the original set. Instead, an artist was hired to paint landscapes, resulting in the Imperial walkers being shot using stop-motion animation in front of the landscape paintings. The original designs for the AT-ATs were, according to Phil Tippett, "big armored vehicles with wheels". Many believe the finished design was inspired by the Port of Oakland container cranes, but Lucas denied this.
In designing the Jedi Master Yoda, Stuart Freeborn used his own face as a model and added the wrinkles of Albert Einstein for the appearance of intelligence. Sets for Dagobah were built five feet above the stage floor, allowing puppeteers to crawl underneath and hold up the Yoda puppet. The setup presented Frank Oz, who portrayed Yoda, with communication problems as he was underneath the stage and was unable to hear the crew and Mark Hamill above. Hamill later expressed his dismay for being the only human character on set for months; he felt like a trivial element on a set of animals, machines and moving props. Kershner commended Hamill for his performance with the puppet.
Filming began in Norway on March 5, 1979. Like the filming of A New Hope, where the production in Tunisia coincided with the area's first major rainstorm in fifty years, the weather was against the film crew. While filming The Empire Strikes Back on Norway's Hardangerjøkulen glacier, they encountered the worst winter storm in fifty years. Temperatures dropped to , and of snow fell. On one occasion, the crew were unable to exit their hotel. They achieved a shot involving Luke's exit of the Wampa cave by opening the hotel's doors and filming Mark Hamill running out into the snow while the crew remained warm inside. Despite reports, the scene in which Luke gets knocked out by the Wampa was not added specifically to explain the change to Mark Hamill's face after a motor accident that occurred between filming of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Lucas admitted that the scene "helped" the situation, though he felt that Luke's time fighting in the rebellion was sufficient explanation. The production then moved to Elstree Studios in London on March 13, where over sixty sets were built, more than double the number used in the previous film. A fire in January on Stage 3 (during filming of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining) caused the budget to spiral from $18.5 million to $22 million, and by July the budget spiralled $3 million more. Filming finished by mid-September.
One memorable exchange of dialogue was partially ad-libbed. Originally, Lucas wrote a scene in which Princess Leia professed her love to Han Solo, with Han replying "I love you too." Harrison Ford felt the characterisation was not being used effectively, and Kershner agreed. After several takes, Kershner told Ford to improvise on the spot. Consequently, Ford changed Solo's line to "I know."
During production, great secrecy surrounded the fact that Darth Vader was Luke's father. Like the rest of the crew, David Prowse, who spoke all of Vader's lines during filming, was given a false page that contained dialogue which the revelatory line being "Obi-Wan killed your father. Until the film premiered, only George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, Mark Hamill, and James Earl Jones knew what would really be said. Jones later reported that his initial reaction to the line was, "Oh, he's lying!" The film includes a brief image of Vader with his mask off, facing away from the camera. For the original viewers of the film, this scene made it clear that Vader is not a robot, but instead organic — and possibly human. This fact becomes significant later, when Vader reveals himself to be Luke's father, which may have been confusing without the earlier scene.
To preserve the dramatic opening sequences of his films, Lucas wanted the screen credits to come at the end of the movies. Though more common now, this was a highly unusual choice at the time. The Writers Guild and the Directors Guild had allowed it for the first Star Wars, but when Lucas did the same thing for the sequel, they fined him over $250,000 and attempted to pull Empire out of theaters. The DGA also went after Irvin Kershner. To protect his director, Lucas paid all the fines to the guilds. The resulting feelings of frustration and persecution caused him to drop out of the Directors Guild, Writers Guild, and the Motion Picture Association.
The Empire Strikes Back finished production with a budget of $35,000,000, making it one of the most expensive movies of its day with a budget three times more than that of the original. After the bank threatened to pull his loan, Lucas was forced to approach 20th Century Fox. Lucas made a deal with the studio to secure the loan in exchange for paying the studio more money, but without the loss of his sequel and merchandising rights.
For the DVD release, Lucas and his team made changes that were mostly implemented to ensure continuity between The Empire Strikes Back and the recently released prequel trilogy films. With this release, Lucas also supervised the creation of a high-definition digital print of The Empire Strikes Back and the other films of the original trilogy. It was reissued in December 2005 as part of a three-disc "limited edition" boxed set that did not feature the bonus disc.
The film was reissued again on a separate two-disc Limited Edition DVD in September 12, 2006 to December 31, 2006, this time with the original, unaltered versions of the film as bonus material. There was controversy surrounding this release, because the DVDs featured non-anamorphic versions of the original films based on Laserdisc releases from 1993 (as opposed to newly-remastered, film-based high definition transfers). Since non-anamorphic transfers fail to make full use of the resolution available on widescreen sets, many fans were disappointed with this choice.
Some critics had problems with the story but admitted the film was a technical achievement. For instance, Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote a largely negative review. Judith Martin of The Washington Post complained of the film's "middle-of-the-story" plot, which featured no particular beginning or end, a concept that Lucas actually intended. However, Bob Stephens of the San Francisco Examiner later described the film as "the greatest episode of the Star Wars Trilogy. Empire is now considered the most morally and emotionally complex of the Star Wars trilogy. Roger Ebert, in his 1997 review, called the film the strongest and "the most thought-provoking" of the original trilogy. On Rotten Tomatoes, The Empire Strikes Back has a 97% fresh rating, the highest Star Wars rated film episode on the site. Darth Vader was ranked as the third greatest film villain of all time on the American Film Institute's 2003 list of the 100 greatest heroes and villains for his role in this film, while Wizard magazine named the film's ending as the greatest cliffhanger of all time. The film's most famous line "No, I am your father" is often misquoted as "Luke, I am your father.
At the 1981 Academy Awards, The Empire Strikes Back won for Best Sound, given to Bill Varney, Steve Maslow, Greg Landaker, and Peter Sutton; in addition the film received the Academy Special Achievement Award for Visual Effects that went to Brian Johnson, Richard Edlund, Dennis Muren, and Bruce Nicholson. It was also nominated for Best Music, Original Score, to John Williams, and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, to Norman Reynolds, Leslie Dilley, Harry Lange, Alan Tomkins, and Michael Ford. It won the BAFTA Film Award for "Best Original Film Music" by John Williams, as well as being nominated for "Best Sound" and "Best Production Design." Williams' score also received the Grammy Award and the Golden Globe. The Empire Strikes Back received four Saturn Awards, including Mark Hamill for "Best Actor," Irvin Kershner for "Best Director," "Best Special Effects" to Brian Johnson and Richard Edlund, and it was awarded "Best Science Fiction Film." The film was awarded with the Golden Screen Award as well as the Hugo Award for "Best Dramatic Presentation." It was nominated for the WGA Award (Screen) for "Best Comedy Adapted from Another Medium."
For many, The Empire Strikes Back has become the prime example of a superior sequel. Director Bryan Singer and producer Tom DeSanto emulated the film for X2, the sequel to X-Men, in that the characters are "all split apart, and then dissected, and revelations that occur that are significant... the romance comes to fruition and a lot of things happen.
In 1997, RCA Victor released a definitive two-disc set coinciding with the Special Edition releases of the three movies of the original trilogy. This original limited-edition set featured a 32-page black booklet that was encased inside a protective outer slipcase. The covers of the booklet and the slipcase had the Star Wars Trilogy: Special Edition poster art. All the tracks were digitally remastered for superior clarity of sound. RCA Victor re-packaged the Special Edition set later in 1997, offering it in slimline jewel case packaging as an unlimited edition, but without packaging that the original "black booklet" version offered.
In 2004, Sony Classical acquired the rights to the original trilogy scores since it already had the rights to release the prequel trilogy soundtracks (The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge Of The Sith). And so, in 2004, Sony Classical re-pressed the 1997 RCA Victor release, including The Empire Strikes Back. The set was released with the new artwork mirroring the first DVD release of the film. Despite the Sony digital re-mastering, which minimally improved the sound heard only on high-end stereos, this 2004 release is essentially the same as the 1997 RCA Victor release.
In 1992, JVC released the LucasArts-developed video game also titled Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console. The player assumes the role of Luke Skywalker and maneuvers through Skywalker's story as seen in the film. In 1992, Ubisoft released a version for the Game Boy. Like its previous incarnation, it follows the story of Luke Skywalker. Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was developed for the console Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) by LucasArts and was released by JVC in 1993. The SNES game is similar in spots to the 1991 NES release, and is on an 12-megabit cartridge. LucasArts's Shadows of the Empire game was one of the first games made available for Nintendo's 3rd generation console, the Nintendo 64 and Windows. The most commercial product in the Shadows of the Empire line, the game was first released as an exclusive N64 title 4 months after the console's launch in December 1996. The PC version came nearly a year later in September 1997. In the game, players control mercenary Dash Rendar in his efforts to help Luke Skywalker and rescue Princess Leia from Prince Xizor's hands. It is divided into four parts (or chapters), the first of which chronicles Rendar's involvement in the Battle of Hoth.
In the years since Shadows, several games have dropped players into the action of Empire:
In strategy games, such as Star Wars: Rebellion, action often takes place during the timeline of Empire but only infrequently drops players directly into the action from the film.