Star Wars aka A New Hope, used a variety of strategies to tell a fairly shallow tale. Lucas applied every trick he knew borrowing from multiple sources to create a visually complex film that still feels fresh today.
The Empire Strikes Back avoids many of these same strategies. The film is still very visually appealing but it now assumes that the audience knows what needed to be stated previously. In terms of space being big, the seemingly never ending shot of an Empire ship is not repeated, nor the shot in which a planet is too big to fit on screen. The only shot which cleverly invokes relative size is when we see an Empire ship become eclipsed by shadow. Initially it isn’t clear why the lighting is changing over this ship until we are shown that it is below and even bigger ship.
The fragmented sense of a stitched together serial is still there, particularly in the initial section where Luke finds himself attacked by a hungry monster. However, what drives the second movie is a question of personal relationships.
The Han/Leia romance is pitched at 1940s sensibilities (i.e. no hint of sex but a lot of what looks more like sexual harassment than romance) but it ties together the almost random set of events together as the Millenium Falcon escapes from Hoth, hides among space rocks and then runs off to meet Lando Calrissian – who comes over as creepy as Han does. The intent of the filmmakers was to suggest ‘charming rogue’ rather than sleazebag but then it does turn out that Lando is partly in league with the Empire.
The big reveal is as big as ever. Darth Vader’s revelation is the biggest acting challenge that Mark Hamill gets in the series and he rises to the challenge.
The impact of The Empire Strikes Back is inward also – it is pivotal to the Star Wars franchise but it is less significant to the film industry except in regard to it being a successful sequel.
R2-Sith Lord observations: Some challenges and some overt hints in this movie.
- In most cases in the films, when Luke sees or hears from dead-Obi Wan, R2 is present. This is the basis of the Obi Wan’s ghost is just R2 projecting holograms of Obi Wan. However, there is a major counter-example in Episode V. Luke is dying out on the ice having escaped being eaten, when Obi Wan appears and tells him to go to Dagobah. If we watch the scenes in the order they are shown not only is R2 not present but he has gone back inside the Rebel base and the big doors have been shot. However…the Rebels shut the base doors because night has fallen and it is just too cold but when Luke sees Obi Wan it is still daytime. The sections aren’t quite in chronological order. Just prior to R2 going back inside he is outside the base with some sort of antennae sticking out of his furiously transmitting something…
- Luke escapes from Hoth and is flying off in his X-Wing. There is a dialogue between him and R2. R2 is beep-booping so we only hear Luke’s side of the conversation, which sounds like Luke is explaining to R2 why he is changing course for Dagobah. The right way to watch this is to imagine that R2’s beep-boops are nearly the exact words Luke then repeats back to R2 – just like the Jedi mind-trick scene with Obi Wan and the stormtroopers.
- When Luke does reach Dagobah he is more than just disappointed, he is confused about why he chose to go there and refers to his decision as being like a dream.
- R2 is swallowed by a swamp monster and then does a force leap out of it. He isn’t even pretending not to have force powers.
- Now with Yoda I think we have to assume Yoda and R2 are reluctant allies. They aren’t friends but they share a common goal to use the Skywalkers to bring down the Empire. We have a brief scene in which Yoda (pretending to be a crazy swamp resident) has stolen a small penlight from Luke. It looks like a novelty toy light saber. R2 attempts to snatch it back off Yoda and the pair struggle back and forth for a moment over who will possess wht appears to be a symbol of Luke’s soul. R2 concedes possession to Yoda.
- R2 projects Ben’s voice into Yoda’s house. Assume from now on that when you see of hear Obi Wan it is R2 primarily talking about R2. Assume Yoda knows this.
- You have to watch this bit – about 30 seconds in.
- Did you watch it? Yoda is on Luke’s back and warns against him choosing the dark side. Film cuts to R2 with Yoda’s dialogue continuing with the warning. It was heavy handed juxtapositions of character shots and dialogue that removed any mystery from The Phantom Menace as to who the Sith Lord was.
- For the rest of this sequence assume R2 is staging most of it. It is a debate between R2 and Yoda.
- For the rest of the time on Dagobah, R2 levitates himself, sinks the X-Wing and imitates Obi Wan.
- Nearly lastly – Obi Wan (i.e. R2) warns Luke that if he confronts Vader: “you will do it alone. I cannot interfere”. Skip ahead – just prior to Luke facing Vader, R2 leaves Luke and goes to help Leia instead aka Plan B. Luke stands no chance against Vader and so R2 puts his effort into getting Leia out. Always have a back-up Skywalker.
- Lastly, the Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive has been troubling everybody all movie, Chewbacca, Rebel engineers on Hoth, Sole, leia, C3P0. The Empire have also overtly disabled it by this point and it has singularly failed to work ALL movie. C3P0 rightly points out that R2 isn’t capable of fixing it. R2 then simply switches it on.