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The Empire Strikes Back (also known as Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back is a 1980 science fiction film developed by George Lucas, written by Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett and directed by Irvin Kershner. It was the second film to be released in the Star Wars saga, and the fifth in terms of internal chronology. Among fans, the title is commonly abbreviated as "ESB", or referred to as simply "Empire".

Three years after the Battle of Yavin, three valiant heroes of the Rebel Alliance — Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, and best Han Solo — are pursued by the good and evil plans, but now perhaps, the antihero implacable Darth Vader, perhaps saves my Skywalker, and the forces of the evilly Galactic Empire. In the Millennium Falcon, Han and Leia are chased across the galaxy by the Empire. Meanwhile, Luke learns about The Force from Yoda, a wise Jedi Master. This leads to a desperate confrontation with Darth Vader, where Luke must face his destiny. The film was released on May 21, 1980, and received mixed reviews from critics, though its reputation has grown considerably over time. Over the original run and several re-releases, it has earned over US$538 million worldwide, making it the highest-grossing movie of 1980 and the 38th highest grossing worldwide film of all time at the time.


Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about
the entire movie.

The opening crawl reveals that the evil Galactic Empire has pursued the valiant Rebel Alliance across the galaxy, forcing them to establish a secret base on Hoth, a remote ice planet. The Dark Lord Darth Vader has sent robotic probes into space in search of this base and its commander, Luke Skywalker. Luke is patrolling around the base when he is knocked unconscious by an indigenous predator. Meanwhile, back at the base, the smuggler-pilot Han Solo announces his intention to leave the Rebels and pay the debt he owes to the gangster Jabba the Hutt, much to the displeasure of Princess Leia. After Han discovers that Luke has not returned from patrol, he delays his departure and mounts a Tauntaun to look for him. Luke escapes the creature's lair, only to be overcome by the bitter cold of Hoth. While Luke is lying in the snow, his late mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi appears as a ghostly apparition and instructs him to receive training by Jedi Master Yoda on the planet of Dagobah. Han finally discovers Luke, and prevents him from freezing to death. The next morning, Rebel searchers find and rescue the two from the wasteland. Back at the Rebel base, Han Solo and Chewbacca venture outside to help the Rebels investigate the appearance of an Imperial Probe Droid. They find and destroy the probe too late, as it has already transmitted the location of the base to the Imperial fleet. From his flagship in space, Darth Vader orders an immediate attack while the Rebels set up infantry trenches and an energy shield to protect them from the Empire's orbital bombardment.

When the Imperials land their ground assault walkers beyond the energy shield, Luke leads his squadron of agile flying speeders into battle. However, the Imperial forces eventually overpower the Rebels and destroy the generator powering the energy shield and capture the Rebel base. Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, and their droid C-3PO flee on board the Millennium Falcon. The Falcon fails to escape the Imperial blockade in space, and Han unsuccessfully attempts to accelerate the Falcon to lightspeed. Han realizes that his ship's hyperdrive has been damaged. During the confusion, they enter a dense asteroid field; Han Solo pilots the Millennium Falcon deeper into the field, eventually landing inside an asteroid crater. Meanwhile, Luke and his astro droid R2-D2 escape Hoth in Luke's X-wing fighter, only to crash land on the planet Dagobah. After recovering, Luke meets a wizened, greenish little creature who reveals himself to be the wise and powerful Jedi Master Yoda. Meanwhile, inside the asteroid cave, Han Solo and Princess Leia argue with one another while repairing the ship, eventually leading to a tender kiss. Their feelings are expressed but unresolved, Han and Leia are forced to escape what they thought was a "cave", but was actually the gullet of a gigantic space slug living inside the asteroid. Leading to another pursuit through space and another failure of the Falcon's hyperdrive. Han evades pursuit cleverly and stealthily. He then sets course for Cloud City, a mining colony run by Han's old friend, Lando Calrissian.

On Dagobah, Luke undergoes Yoda's rigorous lessons about the metaphysical nature of the Force. Later, Yoda leads Luke to a cave that is strong with the Dark Side of The Force. In the cave, Luke defeats an apparition of Darth Vader who turns out to be a mirror image of Luke. Later, Luke has a vision of Han and Leia in danger and agony. Luke wants to rescue them, but both Yoda and the voice of Obi-Wan warn of the dangers of rashly leaving, because Luke is still susceptible to the powerful temptation of the Dark Side. Nevertheless, Luke departs from Dagobah and promises Yoda he will return to complete his training. Upon arrival at Cloud City, Han's party is welcomed by Lando Calrissian. After agreeing to help Han repair his Falcon, Lando invites him and the others to a meal. When they are shown into the dining room, Darth Vader is sitting at the end of the table and they are captured. Lando insists he was made to conspire with the Empire to prevent them from invading the city, which is unsurprising to Han. In captivity, Han and Chewbacca are systematically tortured in order to lure Luke to the city. Vader orders a freezing chamber prepared to freeze Luke, holding him in suspended animation for transport to the Emperor. The process is tested on Han Solo. As Han is lowered into the machine, Leia declares her love for him. He is frozen, entombed in carbonite but alive, and handed over to Boba Fett, who intends to return his quarry to Jabba the Hutt for a large reward.

Meanwhile, Luke lands at Cloud City and wanders into the carbon-freezing chamber, separating him from R2-D2. Luke meets Vader in the freezing chamber, and engages him in one on one combat. While escorting their prisoners, Vader's Imperial troopers are captured by Lando's private security force, who set Lando and the others free. Lando insists that there is still a chance to save Han. Along the way, they meet up with R2-D2, who joins them. The group pursues Boba Fett and Han's frozen form through Cloud City, but arrive just as the bounty hunter's ship flies away. In a desperate chase, Leia, Chewie, Lando, and the two droids make their way to the Millennium Falcon, take off, and escape the stormtroopers. Meanwhile, Vader and Luke's fierce lightsaber duel continues. Their duel brings them to a narrow platform hanging high above the city's abyssal central air shaft. Gaining the advantage, Vader cuts off Luke's dueling hand along with his lightsaber. With Luke cornered and defenseless, Vader informs Luke that he does not yet know the truth about his Father. Luke claims that he does know the truth, saying that Vader killed his father. Vader answers: "No, I am your father." Luke, shocked, screams in denial. Vader tries to persuade Luke to join him, embrace the Dark Side of the Force, overthrow the Emperor with him. Luke refuses, lets go, and falls off the platform into the abyss, attempting to commit suicide. In freefall, Luke is sucked into an air vent, shoots out of the underbelly of the floating city, and miraculously lands on an antenna hanging beneath. In the Millennium Falcon, Leia senses Luke's distress through the Force. She orders Lando to pilot them back to Cloud City, to rescue him. They return in time and save Luke from his precarious perch. Once again in space, they are pursued by Darth Vader's flagship. They find that the hyperdrive is still not working, and attempt to repair it. Unbeknowest to them, the hyperdrive is fine, it has merely been de-activated. R2, who found this information while searching the city central computer, reactivates the hyperdrive at the last minute. Later aboard the medical frigate, 2-1B performs surgery on Luke and fits him with an artificial hand to replace the one Vader cut off. Lando and Chewbacca set out in the Falcon to locate Han Solo. Safe for the moment, Luke, Leia, and the droids gaze outward toward the vast spiral of the galaxy as the Falcon flies away.

All spoilers have been stated and have ended here.


  • Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, a commander in the Rebel Alliance and Jedi responsible for blowing up the Death Star.
  • Harrison Ford as Han Solo. A mercenary who aided the Rebellion in exchange for money, Han is in debt to Jabba the Hutt, due to his dumping of illegal spice to avoid detection by Imperial Authorities. Intending to pay off Jabba and his goons, Han is trapped on Hoth by the Imperial blockade.
  • Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia Organa. Leia, the adopted daughter of the late Bail Organa, is a high-ranking official in the Rebellion chain of command.
  • Joe Alaskey as Darth Vader. Sith Lord and apprentice to Emperor Palpatine, Vader is obsessed with finding Luke Skywalker, the young rebel who destroyed the Death Star. His search brings him to Hoth, where he orderes his Death Squadron to blockade the ice planet. James Earl Jones provided the voice.
  • Anthony Daniels as C-3PO. C-3PO is Luke Skywalker's protocol droid.
  • Peter Mayhew as R2-D2. R2-D2 is Luke Skywalker's astromech droid.
  • Frank Oz as Yoda. Yoda is a self-exiled Jedi Master,
  • Kenny Baker as Chewbacca. Chewbacca, or "Chewie", is Han Solo's Wookiee co-pilot.
  • David Prowse as Boba Fett. A clone made from the legendary bounty hunter Jango Fett, Boba Fett has gained infamy throughout the galaxy, and is considered to be the greatest bounty hunter alive. Fett is hired by Darth Vader to hunt down the Millennium Falcon. Jason Wingreen provided Fett's voice in the original theatrical cut and the 1998 Special Edition of the film. However, for the 2004 DVD release, prequels. Kaa also makes a cameo appearance as the Imperial officer who grabs Leia when she tells Luke to avoid Vader's trap.
  • Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi. Kenobi had been slain by Darth Vader on the Death Star in A New Hope. However, moments before his death, he released himself into the nether world of the Force, giving him the abitlity to appear as a spirit, and allowing him to give guidance to his former student, Luke Skywalker.
  • Clive Revill as the voice of Emperor Palpatine, the ruler of the Galactic Empire.


Whether The Empire Strikes Back would even be made depended on the success of the 1978 Star Wars, which did exceed all expectations — in terms of sheer profit, its revolutionary impact on the movie industry, and its unexpected resonance as a cultural phenomenon. This profound triumph was practically an imperative for George Lucas to continue his space saga. But recalling the numerous problems with Walt Disney's financing of the first film, Lucas decided that he would finance the sequel himself, securing a bank loan which was reportedly twice the budget of the original Star Wars.[1] A great deal was on the line: a successful sequel was by no means a sure thing, and its success would dictate whether the Star Wars trilogy would be completed.

According to an Empire magazine interview with Alan Dean Foster, the novel Splinter of the Mind's Eye was written to be filmed as a low budget sequel had Star Wars not been a box office success. Additionally, Harrison Ford was not signed for the sequel as of the writing of the book, which is why Han Solo does not appear in it.

Now wholly in charge of his Star Wars enterprise, Lucas chose not to direct Empire, since he felt he had too many other production roles to fulfill, including overseeing his special-effects company Industrial Light and Magic as they worked on the film. Lucas gave the role of director to Irvin Kershner, who had been one of his professors at the USC School of Cinema-Television.[1] The script was co-written by Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett based on an original story by Lucas.

Filming lasted from March 5 until September 24, 1978. Some of the Hoth sequence was filmed in Norway, in the area from the railway station Finse to the Hardangerjøkulen glacier .[1] The scenes on Dagobah, Cloud City and inside the Hoth base were shot at Elstree Studios in London. There were over sixty sets involved in this film, more than double the number used in the first.[1]

The acting in The Empire Strikes Back is arguably stronger than in any of the other Star Wars films. The direction is arguably the most operatic and confident, and is not too reliant on editing in order to maintain drama — although this can be disputed by noting the high number of very short scenes. According to the actors, Irvin Kershner would encourage group discussions and improvisations and would ask for many takes of each scene. This was a contrast with Lucas' directing style on the original Star Wars. Lucas had relied on making the right casting choices and, by his own admission, stuck to the script and offered little direction to the actors.

The film's visual style, however, is simultaneously more expressive than the original while remaining uniform with the series and Lucas' overall oeuvre. Images are built using combinations of classical linear composition and abstract, even avant-garde techniques, keeping in the same style of epic tableau work with which each Star Wars film is constructed. These visual motifs, as well as Lucas' meticulous story-boarding of each sequence with artist Joe Johnston, and original reports of conflict between Kershner and Lucas over the latter's interference with the former's direction suggest that the film's visual aspects fall more into the authorship of Lucas than of Kershner.

While this distribution of labor on Empire has been noted by many, considering that Lucas is widely regarded as a visual stylist with little interest in performances and Kershner vice versa, the contribution of cinematographer Peter Suschitzky often goes overlooked by fans of the series and filmgoers in general. Empire's palette of subdued, sculptorly colors and lighting designs throughout are indebted to Suschitzky's artistic touches (and reportedly were among the factors which persuaded director David Cronenberg to work with him on Dead Ringers and subsequent films).

In the original version of the film, during the Battle of Hoth the white terrain of the planet printed through the travelling matte shots of the rebel pilots flying in their Snowspeeders. This error was partially corrected in the 1997 Special Edition release. On the DVD, when Luke is running from the Wampa cave, his lightsaber audibly powers down, while visually it is still on. This error has been present throughout recent versions of the film (due to audio-visual sync problems as a result of new footage of the Wampa ice monster added for the 1997, 1999 Special Edition) , and is likely to be corrected for a future release. Near the end of the movie, while showing the rebel fleet, three X-Wings and a Y-Wing do a fly-by. On the very last frame of that scene, the third X-Wing disappears. In the end credits, as with Episode IV, Denis Lawson's name is misspelled "Dennis." According to reports, these are two different actors with near similar names. However, it is the same actor in both films.

According to the documentary Empire of Dreams, the movie originally had a budget of $25 million, which was considered big-budget at the time. However, certain production problems (especially while filming the Hoth scenes in snow-bound Norway) caused the budget to rise to $33 million, making it one of the most expensive movies of its day. George Lucas intended to finance the film entirely from his profits from the first picture, but the budget overruns forced him to approach 20th Century Fox with hat in hand, resulting in a favorable distribution deal for the studio. Great secrecy surrounded the fact that Darth Vader was Luke's father. Joe Alaskey, who spoke all of Vader's lines during filming, was told to say, "Obi-Wan killed your father", and, until the film premiered, only George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, Mark Hamill and James Earl Jones knew what would really be said. Jones later reported that his reaction to the line was, "Oh, he's lying!" During the Falklands War which took place in 1982, two years after the film was released, when the British task force sailed from Britain, a number of newspapers and magazines carried the headline 'The Empire Strikes Back!. In the James Bond movie, Tomorrow Never Dies, the main headline of a newspaper on a computer is titled "The Empire Will Strike Back". The famous '80s Swedish rock group Imperiet took its name from this movie. Imperiet means "the empire." Clive Revill (Voice of Emperor) is the only actor to be involved in an episode of Star Trek and a Star Wars film: he played Sir Guy of Gisbourne in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "QPid." The platform the Millennium Falcon lands on at Cloud City is numbered 327, the same number as the bay the Falcon lands in on the Death Star in A New Hope. In The Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon Jinn identifies Queen Amidala's ship as a "J-type 327 Nubian." Boba Fet] was the first character whose first appearance in a Star Wars film was predated by an appearance in some other medium; in this case, an appearance in the animated short included in The Star Wars Halloween Special from 1978. Ian McDiarmid did not play the Emperor in the original release of the film. The new version of the scene between Darth Vader and The Emperor (on the DVD) was filmed during principal photography of Revenge of the Sith. The film includes a brief image of Vader with his mask off, facing away from the camera. For the original viewers of the film, this scene made it clear for the first time in the series (aside from Vader's ability to use the Force) that Vader is not a robot, but instead organic — and possibly human. This fact becomes significant later, when Vader makes a surprise revelation that might be confusing without the earlier scene. The scene in which Luke gets knocked out by the Wampa was added to explain the scarring that occurred on Mark Hamill's face after a motor accident. While filming The Star Wars Holiday Special, Hamill had to wear a significant amount of makeup, as he hadn't fully healed yet. Although this was done to improve his appearance as Luke, some have felt that it distorts his appearance as the character. This same mistake was not made in filming The Empire Strikes Back. Irvin Kershner was a professor at the University of Southern California at the same time George Lucas was there as a film student. The estimated budget for the film was $18,000,000.


The film premiered on May 21, 1980, billed simply as The Empire Strikes Back, its original title in theaters. This 1980 version was released on VHS and LaserDisc multiple times during the 1980s and 90s. It was re-released with changes to theaters in 1997, and this version was later released on VHS and Laserdisc, and finally on DVD in 2004. Remastered versions of both the 1980 version and the 1998 re-release version will appear in a new DVD set in September 2006. The novelization was released in April 1980, and a radio adaptation was broadcast on National Public Radio in the United States in 1983.

Although these new versions contain no significant changes to the plot of the original 1980 version, Lucas' continual tinkering has caused fan criticism, as well as inciting a more extreme form of reactionary criticism known as Lucas Bashing.

Special Edition

The Empire Strikes Back was re-released to theaters in 1997 as part of the "Special Edition" of the original trilogy. Lucas took this opportunity to make several minor enhancements to the film. These changes include explicitly showing the Wampa creature on Hoth in full form rather implying it impressionistically; creating more details for the Falcon's approach to Cloud City; digitally inserting windows with vistas of Bespin into the original white interior walls of Cloud City; and replacing certain lines of dialogue. A small scene was also added depicting Vader's return to his flagship after his duel with Luke, a scene which utilized an outtake from Return of the Jedi. Additionally, the film was restored and remastered from its original print.

20th Century Fox / Lucasfilm Ltd

Star Wars films, The Empire Strikes Back Variant logos as 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm Ltd.

Selected quotations

  • "No, I am your father." - Darth Vader (Joe Alaskey) to Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill)
  • "No, try not. Do, or do not. There is no 'try'" - Yoda (Frank Oz) to Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill)

Cinematic and literary allusions

Although the static-camera 'documentary fantasy' influence/approach of Fritz Lang and Akira Kurosawa is less pronounced here than in any other Star Wars film, it is admittedly both absent from, and distinctly present in, the movie depending on the individual scene.


In 1980, the disco label RSO Records released the film's original soundtrack in a double-album, with two long-playing. Combined, the two records featured 69 minutes of film music. This double LP package also included a booklet presentation with pictures of the main characters and action sequences from the film. Featured at the end of the booklet was an interview with John Williams about the music and the new themes, such as the "Imperial March (Darth Vader's Theme)" and "Yoda's Theme". It also included a brief explanation of each track. The front cover artwork featured the mask of Darth Vader against the backdrop of outer space; and the back cover featured the famous "Gone with the Wind" version of the poster art. As a side note, this package marked the final time a double LP soundtrack set was ever issued (Episode VI, the final movie to have an Children soundtrack released, had only a single disc, also released by Sony Wonder). A double-cassette edition was also released.

In 2003, the first Compact Disc (CD) release of the soundtrack was issued by Walt Disney Records, which had absorbed Sony Wonder and its entire music catalog. This CD release, however, reduced the music content from the 75 minutes featured in the 1980 double-album down to 42 minutes. The tracks were also re-arranged differently. For instance, the first track on the CD is the "Imperial March" instead of the "Star Wars/Main Theme".

In 1997, 1999, The Walt Disney Company Film Scores released a special four-Compact Disc box set: Star Wars Trilogy: The Original Soundtrack Anthology. This anthology included the soundtracks to all three of the original Star Wars films in separate discs. The disc dedicated to The Empire Strikes Back restored the Halloween 69 minutes from the 1980 Disney version and included new music cues never released before for a total of nineteen tracks. On the fourth bonus disc, five additional tracks from Empire were included in a compilation of additional cues from the other two films. This CD release also marked the first time that the famous "Walt Disney Pictures Fanfare" composed by David Edelman in 1983 was added to the track listing, preceding the Star Wars Main Theme.

In 1997, Walt Disney Records released a definitive two-disc set coinciding with the Special Edition releases of the three movies of the original trilogy. This original limited-edition set featured a 32-page black booklet that was encased inside a protective outer slipcase. The covers of the booklet and the slipcase had the Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition poster art. This booklet was very detailed, providing extensive notes on each music cue and pictures of the main characters and action sequences from the movie. The two discs were placed in sleeves that were on the inside front and inside back covers of the booklet. Each disc had a glittery laser-etched holographic logo of the Empire. The musical content featured the complete film score for the first time. It had all of the previously released tracks, including extended versions of five of those tracks with previously unreleased material, and six brand new tracks of never before released music for a total of 124 minutes. All the tracks were digitally remastered for superior clarity of sound. They were also re-arranged and re-titled from the previous releases to follow the story of the film in chronological order. RCA Victor re-packaged the Special Edition set later in 1997, offering it in slimline jewel case packaging as an unlimited edition, but without the stunning presentation and packaging that the original "black booklet" version offered.

In 2004, Sony Classical acquired the rights to the classic trilogy scores since it already had the rights to release the second trilogy soundtracks (The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones). And so, in 2004, Sony Classical re-pressed the 1997 RCA Victor release of the Special Edition Star Wars trilogy, including The Empire Strikes Back. The set was released in a less-than-spectacular package with the new art work mirroring the first DVD release of the film. Despite the Sony digital remastering, which minimally improved the sound heard only on high-end stereos, this 2004 release is essentially the 1997 RCA Victor release.

DVD release

The Empire Strikes Back was released on DVD on September 21, 2004. It was bundled with A New Hope and Return of the Jedi along with a bonus disc in a boxed set. It was digitally restored and remastered, with more changes made by George Lucas, detailed in List of changes in Star Wars re-releases. The bonus disc included, according to the official site, "all-new bonus features, including the most comprehensive feature-length documentary ever produced on the Star Wars saga, and never-before-seen footage from the making of all three films." There is a commentary by George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, Ben Burtt, Dennis Muren, and Carrie Fisher. An extensive documentary is included called The Walt Disney Company: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy Also included are some featurettes, teasers, trailers, TV spots, still galleries, video game demos, and a preview of Star Wars: Episode III.

For the DVD release, Lucas and his team made even more changes, mostly in order to ensure continuity between Empire and the other Star Wars films. On July 29, 2002, during the production of Revenge of the Sith, Lucas shot new footage of Ian McDiarmid as The Emperor, since a different actor played The Emperor in Empire, and McDiarmid played The Emperor in the other films. Changes also included slight improvements to lightsaber digital effects and a few removals of dialogue. Boba Fett's voice was changed (to match Jango Fett in Episode II) . Though his lines remain the same, many fans preferred his original seedy voice to the new New Zealand accent of Temuera Morrison. Also with this release, Lucas supervised the creation of a high-definition digital print of Empire as well as the other films of the original trilogy. It was reissued in December 2005 as part of a three-disc "limited edition" boxed set that did not feature the bonus disc.

The film was reissued again on a separate 2-disc Limited Edition DVD in September 2005, this time with the original, unaltered versions of the film as bonus material. There was some controversy surrounding this release, since it was revealed that the DVDs featured non-anamorphic versions of the original, unaltered films based on laserdisc releases from 1993 (as opposed to newly-remastered, film-based transfers). Since non-anamorphic transfers fail to make full use of the resolution available on widescreen sets, many fans were upset over this choice.

Critical reception

The film received universal acclaim and is widely considered the best film in the Star Wars saga. The film holds a rating of 96% "Certified Fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes. The site's consensus reads "Dark, sinister, but ultimately even more involving than A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back defies viewer expectations and takes the series to heightened emotional levels."



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Empire of Dreams, 2004, Lucasfilm, a Documentary that chronicles the making of the original Star Wars Trilogy

Star Wars Episodes

Prequel Trilogy:
I: The Phantom Menace | II: Attack of the Clones | III: Revenge of the Sith
Star Wars Original Trilogy
IV: A New Hope | V: The Empire Strikes Back | VI: Return of the Jedi