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Empire Strikes Back, The (Fox 1980, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford)

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The darkest of the original Star Wars trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back is considered by many fans to be the best. The cool vehicles, exciting chases and climactic battles of the first film were all present, but Empire went beyond the ‘Good Rebels vs. Bad Empire’ story into complicating shades of gray.

Officially the fifth episode in a nine-part series, The Empire Strikes Back opens at a dark time for the Rebellion. The Death Star was destroyed, but Darth Vader survived and has committed himself to crushing the Rebellion. Luke, Leia, Han and the rest are hiding out at a new base on the ice planet Hoth. Luke ventures out across the tundra and gets clobbered by a Yeti-like Wampa. While semi-conscious, Luke receives a message from the dead-but-not-departed Obi-Wan Kenobi, who tells Luke to seek out Jedi master Yoda in the Dagobah system.

Han rescues his young friend and gets him back to base, but an Imperial probe droid has tipped Vader off to the Rebels’ location. A wave of armored AT-AT walkers storms the base, forcing the Rebels to flee. Luke and R2-D2 take off for Dagobah, while Han, Leia, Chewie and C3P0 deal with a broken hyperdrive motivator, which prevents them from blasting away in hyperspace. The roguish pilot takes the Millenium Falcon through a dangerous asteroid field, finding a seemingly safe haven in a large asteroid’s cave.

On Dagobah, Luke crash lands in a swamp and runs across a green, troll-like creature. Luke tries to get rid of the pesky little fellow, but the creature reveals himself to be 900-year-old Yoda. After some convincing from the spirit of Obi-Wan, Yoda agrees to train the headstrong young apprentice.

Back in space, Han has launched back into the asteroid field, but the Imperial TIE Fighters are still on his tail. He finds a new hiding spot in plain sight, and once things calm down, he takes off for temporary refuge in old pal Lando Calrissian’s Cloud City. After a seeming betrayal, Han, Leia, Chewie and Threepio are led into the clutches of Vader. Luke senses their peril and leaves his training prematurely, against Yoda and Obi-Wan’s advice. The young Jedi-in-training arrives in Cloud City too late to save one of his friends, instead finding himself in mortal combat with Vader, from whom he learns a painful truth about his past.

The Empire Strikes Back ended on a fairly dark note, setting up the final installment in this trilogy, Return of the Jedi, three years later. None of this unpleasantness, of course, stopped the legions of Star Wars fanatics from crowding theaters across the country when The Empire Strikes Back opened in the summer of 1980. It had been three years since the first installment, and the Force was still with George Lucas’ creation, pushing the new film onto the list of all-time moneymakers.

For this second (or fifth) installment, Lucas turned over writing and directing duties to Lawrence Kasdan and Irvin Kershner, respectively, choosing instead to oversee things as story writer and executive producer. The success of the first film also allowed his team at the newly-christened Industrial Light and Magic to create even more impressive special effects than those found in the first film. And again, sales of Star Wars merchandise skyrocketed, as AT-AT walkers and Snowspeeders topped every kid’s ‘must-have’ toy list.

The 1997 Special Edition of The Empire Strikes Back added a few more shots of the Wampa, threw in some windows in Cloud City and altered a few lines of dialogue, but this remained the least changed of the three films. In the minds of many, it had the least room for improvement.

production details
cast
Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker
Harrison Ford as Han Solo
Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia
Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian
Anthony Daniels as C-3PO
David Prowse as Darth Vader
James Earl Jones as Darth Vader (voice)
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca
Kenny Baker as R2-D2
Frank Oz as Yoda (Voice)
Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi
Jeremy Bulloch as Boba Fett
Jason Wingreen as Boba Fett (voice – uncredited)
John Hollis as Lando’s Aide
Jack Purvis as Chief Ugnaught
Des Webb as Snow Creature
Kathryn Mullen as Performing Assistant for Yoda
Marjorie Eaton as Emperor (uncredited)
Clive Revill as Emperor (voice)
Kenneth Colley as Admiral Piett
Julian Glover as General Veers
Michael Sheard as Admiral Ozzel
Michael Culver as Captain Needa
John Dicks as Captain Lennox
Milton Johns as Bewil
Mark Jones as Commander Nemet
Oliver Maguire as Cabbel
Robin Scobey as Lieutenant Venka
Bruce Boa as General Carlist Rieekan
Christopher Malcolm as Zev Senesca
Denis Lawson as Wedge Antilles
Richard Oldfield as Derek “Hobbie” Klivian
John Morton as Dak Ralter
Ian Liston as Wes Janson
John Ratzenberger as Major Derlin
Jack McKenzie as Cal Alder
Jerry Harte as Rebel Force Head Controller
Norman Chancer as Tamizander Rey
Norwich Duff as Jeroen Webb
Ray Hassett as Tigran Jamiro
Brigitte Kahn as Toryn Farr
Burnell Tucker as Wyron Serper
Wendy Froud as
Bob Anderson as Imperial Officer (uncredited)
Lightning Bear as Stormtrooper (uncredited)
Richard Bonehill as Stormtrooper / Snowtrooper / Rebel Soldier / … (uncredited)
John Cannon as Holographic Imperial Officer (uncredited)
Mark Capri as Officer M’kae (Captain Needa’s Communications Officer) (uncredited)
Martin Dew as Cloud City Guard (uncredited)
Peter Diamond as Snowtrooper Gunner (uncredited)
Stuart Fell as Snowtrooper (uncredited)
Doug Robinson as Snowtrooper (uncredited)
Tony Smart as Snowtrooper (uncredited)
Alan Harris as Bossk / Bespin Security Guard (uncredited)
Tiffany L. Kurtz as Extra (uncredited)
Mac McDonald as Rebel Pilot (uncredited)
Ralph McQuarrie as General McQuarrie (uncredited)
Ralph Morse as Stormtrooper / Imperial Comms Officer / Rebel Soldier (uncredited)
Terry Richards as Wampa (uncredited)
Michael Santiago as (voice, uncredited)
Treat Williams as Echo Base Trooper (uncredited)
Shaun Curry as Hoth Rebel Commander (uncredited)
Alan Austen as Stormtrooper/Snowtrooper
Jim Dowdall as Stormtrooper/Snowtrooper
Ian Durrant as Stormtrooper/Snowtrooper
Tom Egeland as Stormtrooper/Snowtrooper
Alan Flyng as Stormtrooper/Snowtrooper
Chris Parsons as Stormtrooper/Snowtrooper
Trevor Butterfield as Stormtrooper/Snowtrooper
Christopher Bunn as Stormtrooper/Snowtrooper
Quentin Pierre as Stormtrooper/Snowtrooper
Keith Swaden as Stormtrooper/Snowtrooper
Howie Weed as Wampa
Morris Bush as Dengar
Ian McDiarmid as The Emperor

crew
Director: Irvin Kershner
Script: George Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan, Leigh Brackett

USA / Twentieth Century Fox / 124 / 1980