Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (originally released as The Empire Strikes Back) is a 1980 American epic space opera film directed by Irvin Kershner. The screenplay, based on a story by George Lucas, was written by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan. Of the six main Star Wars films, it was the second to be released and the fifth in terms of internal chronology.
The film is set three years after Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. The Galactic Empire, under the leadership of the villainous Darth Vader, is in pursuit of Luke Skywalker and the rest of the Rebel Alliance. While Vader chases a small band of Luke’s friends—Han Solo, Princess Leia Organa, and others—across the galaxy, Luke studies the Force under Jedi Master Yoda. But when Vader captures Luke’s friends, Luke must decide whether to complete his training and become a full Jedi Knight or to confront Vader and save his comrades.
Following a difficult production, The Empire Strikes Back was released on May 21, 1980, and initially received mixed reviews from critics, although it has since grown in esteem, becoming one of the most popular chapters in the Star Wars saga and one of the most highly-rated films in history. It earned more than $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 in the USA and Canada as of 2010.
Three years after destroying the Death Star, the Rebel Alliance has suffered setbacks in their struggle against the Galactic Empire. Princess Leia now leads a contingent that includes Han Solo and Luke Skywalker in a hidden base on an icy planet of the Hoth system. A probe droid, one of many sent by Darth Vader throughout the galaxy in hopes of finding Luke and the other rebels, lands on Hoth. Luke goes to investigate but is ambushed by a monstrous, furry wampa. While Han Solo searches for him, Luke frees himself from the wampa’s cave with his lightsaber but soon succumbs to the freezing temperatures of the snowy wasteland. The spirit of his late mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi, appears before him and instructs him to go to the planet Dagobah to train under Jedi Master Yoda (Frank Oz). Han manages to find Luke and uses the warmth of his dead tauntaun mount to keep him alive while they wait to be rescued.
Just as Luke recovers, the Imperial fleet, having been alerted to the location of the Rebel base by the probe droid, launches an attack using gigantic AT-AT Walkers. The Rebels mount a strong defense, and Luke brings down a walker single-handedly after his fighter is disabled, but the base is nonetheless captured. Han and Leia escape on the Millennium Falcon with C-3PO and Chewbacca, but their hyperspace drive malfunctions, and they must hide in an asteroid field. Luke escapes with R2-D2 in an X-wing fighter and crash lands on Dagobah. He is soon found by the diminutive Yoda, who at first pretends to be a simple swamp inhabitant in order to test Luke’s patience. After conferring with Obi-Wan’s spirit, Yoda accepts Luke as his pupil.
Han and Leia end their bickering and grow closer, but their courtship is interrupted when they must flee a giant asteroid worm. They avoid capture again by attaching the Millennium Falcon directly to the side of a Star Destroyer in Vader’s fleet. Frustrated at having lost them, Vader turns to several notorious bounty hunters, including Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch). Meanwhile, Luke begins a brief period of intensive training, during which his power in the Force grows exponentially. He suffers a setback when he fails a test and sees the vision of his own face inside Darth Vader’s helmet. Then he becomes troubled by premonitions of Han and Leia in pain and leaves to save them, promising to return to complete his training.
Having escaped detection, Han lets his ship float away with the star destroyer’s garbage and sets a course for Cloud City, a floating gas mining colony in the skies of the planet Bespin. It is run by Han’s old friend Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), but shortly after they arrive he turns them over to Vader to prevent the takeover of his city. Over Lando’s objections, Vader uses them as bait to bring Luke into his trap.
Vader intends to hold Luke in suspended animation and selects Han as a test subject for the process. Leia and Han profess their love, and he is frozen in a block of carbonite. Reneging on his deal with Lando, Vader gives Han’s hibernating form to Boba Fett, who plans to present this “prize” to Jabba the Hutt. Lando frees Leia, Chewbacca, and C-3PO, but they are too late to stop Fett from escaping with Han, forcing them to flee in the Falcon without him.
Meanwhile, Luke has arrived at Cloud City, as Vader planned. Luke and Vader engage in a lightsaber duel that leads them over the central air shaft of Cloud City. Vader severs Luke’s right hand, disarming him, and reveals that he is actually Luke’s father. Horrified, Luke refuses Vader’s offer to rule the galaxy at his side, choosing instead to throw himself down the air shaft. He slides through a tube system and is ejected but catches onto an antenna under the floating city. He makes a desperate telepathic plea to Leia, who senses it and persuades Lando to return for him. Its hyperdrive finally repaired by R2-D2, the Falcon escapes. Aboard a Rebel medical frigate, Luke is fitted with an artificial hand. As Luke, Leia, R2-D2, and C-3PO look on from the medical center, Lando and Chewbacca set off to rescue Han.
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First Published: Jan 16, 2012 – Last Updated: Mar 11, 2013