REVIEW: Star Wars Episode V: The Best One (AKA The Empire Strikes Back)

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All right, everybody strap in for the second installment of Star Wars Week here on LAS, building up to the release of Rogue One. This time, it’s another rambling essay posing as a review by yours truly.

There are spoilers, obviously, so if you don’t know who Darth Vader is, stop reading now.

Star Wars was a phenomenon. It was mythological. It felt like a fairy tale and a sci-fi pulp story and a Western all at once. How do you follow something like that up?

You take it in a completely different direction.

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The heart of this movie, really, is the cave. Luke goes in to face what lies in the shadows. And what lies there?

Only what he took with him.

A New Hope presented a binary good versus evil. The heroic farm boy using his father’s weapon to strike down an evil black-robed man. Empire subverts that.

In the cave, Luke encounters Vader, or thinks he does. He immediately strikes: his first instinct is to kill, to destroy the evil. But when Vader’s head comes off, it’s his own face staring up at him. He is the darkness. The evil is not some separate thing that can be killed. It’s inside Luke.

More than that, his desire to be the hero, to rush straight into things, constantly causes problems. He gets clobbered by a wampa, he gets Dac killed right after Dac talks about how he “feels like he could take on the whole Empire” himself, he disobeys Yoda’s instructions to leave his weapons before going into the cave, and he falls right into Vader’s trap by going to rescue Han and Leia. It isn’t even Luke that actually saves his friends: it’s Lando, working with Leia and Chewie.

And here’s the thing I think a lot of people miss.

Luke doesn’t actually try to save them after he arrives. He sees Leia, but he doesn’t go straight to her. He goes to Vader. Why? Because he thinks he’s the hero. He thinks he’s going to avenge his father and make everything right.

Then everything goes wrong, because Vader isn’t just the man who killed his father, the mustache-twirling villain. Vader is Luke’s father.

This is the dramatic twist of Empire: that evil is not some external thing that needs to be fought. It’s what we take with us.

The biggest victory our Death Star-destroying heroes achieve in this film is surviving. They flee Hoth; they escape Cloud City (or everyone but Han does). The last shot of the film is our survivors looking out at the galaxy from the rebel fleet. They’ve been battered and bruised. The universe has disillusioned them and done its best to destroy them, but they’re still here.

And in that moment, maybe surviving is victory enough.

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I give Empire Strikes Back an 11/10, because nobody can tell me that I can’t.

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