Let's face it, this film is not only the best of all the Star Wars movies, but one of the greatest sequel films of all time. What's to love about this film? Heck, where can one even begin?
The Empire Strikes Back
is one of the few Star Wars films in which you get a real sense that the galaxy is huge
. Much of the film is actually spent in space on the Falcon, a real highlight. With a malfunctioning hyperdrive slowing them down, our heroes are unable to simply blip from one planet to another, leaving them in the vast blackness of space, a blackness inhabited by the unstoppable Super Star Destroyer that hunts them.
The film begins on a desolate, barren planet, Hoth. Again, the terrain is expansive, and inhospitable - much like space. Even in the most desolate places, danger awaits - the Wampa on Hoth, or the Space Worm in the asteroid field. The galaxy is dark and exciting.
The galaxy is filled with the mystical and mysterious. A ghost of Obi-Wan appears to Luke in the snowy wastes. He tells Luke of an aged Jedi warrior known as Yoda. Luke is to seek him out to finish his training.
The film then takes us to Dagobah and Bespin, eerie antitheses of one another. Dagobah, a claustrophobic black swamp populated by hideous creatures and weird nightmare caves, is where the last warrior of light, the last Jedi Master, Yoda, resides. It is here, on this creepy, mist filled world, that Luke trains to be the hero he is destined to be. This is contrasted with Bespin and its Cloud City, which seems heavenly and celestial and bright, but hides darkness within - betrayal into the hands of the Empire, and a trap set by the Dark Lord of the Sith. Light hiding Darkness and Darkness hiding Light. In some ways these mirror the lead characters, Luke and Vader. The darkness hidden in Luke will tempt him, but he will not give in. The light hidden in Vader will be revealed in his redemption in the next film.
All of the scenes are filmed with absolutely gorgeous cinematography, the best in the franchise. Each shot is iconic. The lighting is incredible. ESB uses colored lighting more than any other Star Wars film, and examples readily come to mind: the hot red and cold dark of the carbonite chamber, the dark green wispy shadows of Dagobah, the chilled blues of Echo base. The lighting in the film is often subdued and atmospheric. The colors are deep. The locations are stunning. I'm convinced the cinematography here is far superior to that of any other Star Wars film.
Each location is given plenty of room to breathe as well. Certain SW movies jump from planet to planet in a short period of time. ESB lingers on each planet, allowing us to soak in the atmosphere and the let the images wash over us before we move on. It sucks us into the world and makes us forget that we are just the audience. The editing isn't too frenetic or attention-deficit as it often seemed in the prequels (especially during battle sequences). Here it takes the right amount of time without feeling self-indulgent.
The story is powerful. It ups the stakes. Luke's friends are in danger, and he is tempted to cut his training short. He is impatient. He is rash. But he has courage and heart.
Han, Leia, Chewie, and the Droids are pursued in the Falcon by the nearly relentless Super Star Destroyer and Darth Vader. For the first time, Vader is accompanied by the Imperial March, a brassy militaristic theme filled with power. His hunt for the Falcon is ruthless. He knows who Luke Skywalker cares about, and he will torture them to bring Luke to him and to the dark side.
Luke, meanwhile, is torn by two visions. The first is a nightmare in the depths of Dagobah, in which he fights Vader and finds himself in the mask - giving him a not so subtle message: you too could fall
. This dream, his warning, is contrasted with another dream, his temptation - a dream of his friends in pain, a vision of a possible future. Luke races to help his friends, but does little good - in fact, they have to save him in the end. Near the close of the film he looks down at his robotic arm, the first piece of a possible future - Luke Skywalker as the new Darth Vader, the new cyborg Sith Lord.
These things only scratch the surface. I could ramble on for hours about this film. To be honest, I value it far above the rest of the Star Wars films. It is simply superb. Star Wars brought to perfection.