Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

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Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Scruffy-looking Han herding Leia's nerf in the purple mist.
Directed by Irvin Kershner
Produced by Gary Kurtz
Written by Leigh Brackett
Lawrence Kasdan
George Lucas
Starring Mark Hamill
Harrison Ford
Carrie Fisher
Billy Dee Williams
Antwan Danyells
James Earl Jones
David Prowse
A Midget
Peter Mayhew
Frank Oz
Music by John Williams
Cinematography IG-88
Edited by Dengar
Distributed by Lucasfilm
Release date(s) May 21, 1980  (1980 -05-21)
Running time 124 minutes
Country Hoth
Language Hothian
Budget Much bigger than the last movie
Box office $549 million

“No, Luke. I am your father.”

~ Darth Vader on the reason you're probably here

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back is a 1980 American epic space opera film directed by Irvin "Big Chill" Kershner. George Lucas co-wrote the script with his friends, but refused to direct the film because the process was too long and soul-crushing when he did so for the original Star Wars. It is the fifth film in the Star Wars franchise's internal chronology, but it was the second film released. What's up with that?

Set in 3 BBY,[1] three years after A New Hope (although it could just as easily have been three days), we see the trio of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia having a very bad day. Luke gets his arm cut off by Darth Vader, Han gets frozen in carbonite, and Leia loses her newfound boyfriend...who just so happens to be Han. It's Murphy's Law: The Movie: "what can go wrong, will go wrong." Our Rebel heroes are at their lowest point, due to the Galactic Empire's relentless striking back at them (ba-dum-tsss).

Despite a more seasoned director taking over George Lucas's role, the film still went through a difficult production process. It first had its metaphorical right arm cut off when script co-writer Leigh Bracket passed away, forcing Lucas to instead have Lawrence Kasdan co-rewrite the script with him. The film also went overbudget multiple times due to producer Gary Kurtz's incompetence, facing numerous actor injuries, illnesses, and firings. This art through adversity resulted in the darkest movie of the trilogy, notable for being improved dramatically by Lucas being on a leash and allowing another person to direct it.

Despite a strong box office performance, Empire gained mixed reviews from critics and fans, who criticized the film's downer ending and apparently meager narrative structure. However, these critics and fans didn't know the power of the dark side and were sentenced to carbonite-freezing after publishing their reviews. Following their executions, the film has become known as one of the greatest films to ever exist throughout our galaxy and others far, far away.


Three years have passed since the Death Star was destroyed, and the Rebel Alliance has been driven out of Yavin 4 by the Galactic Empire. Princess Leia, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca, R2-D2, and C-3PO have somehow not disbanded as a group yet. They lead a contingent on the icy planet of Hoth. Luke, who is sent to investigate a crash landing on the planet, is ambushed by a probe sent by Darth Vader. After the probe ambushes his ass, a furry wampa ambushes his ass as well. Luke frees himself from the wampa's cave with a fancy lightsaber but it doesn't matter as he succumbs to the below-zero wind chills and faints in the snow. Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi, who was killed in the previous film, appears before him and tells him to go train with Yoda in Dagobah. Luke replies, "The fuck is a Yoda and why would it be in a Dagobah? I THOUGHT YOU WERE DEAD!" Han discovers Luke and brings him back to Echo Base.

Suddenly, a battle.

Luke hops into a snowspeeder, which is a type of flying ship, not a type of speeder bike. The Empire sends down three All Terrain Armoured Transports, or Aytee-Aytees, or AT-ATs. While flying around the AT-ATs, Luke finishes eating a banana, then throws the banana peel out of the window. One of the AT-ATs then slips over the peel, falling over and taking down the other two AT-ATs with it.

Flying ship thing hyperspace. You get the picture yet?

Luke and R2-D2 leave for Dagobah while Han and Leia escape into a meteor field upon the Millennium Falcon. Luke crash-lands on Dagobah where he meets a little green frog guy, who is clearly wearing a fake mustache and a hat. The green midget tells Luke that he will take him to Yoda. Luke follows him to a hut. Inside, he is told, is Jedi Master Yoda. Luke enters but there is nobody inside. Then, the green guy comes in, takes off his hat and the fake mustache, and reveals himself to be the Yoda the boy seeks for. Luke and Yoda then train for a couple months (or weeks, or days, or years; we don't actually know), where Yoda shows that size matters not when he Force-lifts Luke's X-Wing out of the swamp, and Luke faces a Force-vision of Vader in the Dagobah cave, finding his own face in Vader's helmet when he cuts the spirit down.

Meanwhile, Han and Leia need a honeymoon hotel to spend the night together at, after escaping from a giant worm in the meteor field. Han says that he knows the owner of a 5-star resort and that he would be able to get a room. Han calls his friend Lando Calrissian to book a room. So, the duo (plus Chewie and C-3PO) go to Cloud City on Bespin. However, Lando, one of the few black people in space, and owner of the floating resort, secretly sends Darth Vader and faceless bounty hunter Boba Fett an email saying that in exchange for a cloud meringue cake, he would turn over the rebel scum. Meanwhile, Luke senses his friends are in danger, but Obi-Wan's Force Ghost and Yoda warn Luke it is too dangerous and he has not completed his Jedi training. Luke does not heed their warning, and heads off in his X-wing. Obi-Wan says the boy is their last hope, to which Yoda retorts "No, there is another." That "other" was supposed to be Luke's sister Nellith...until Lucas ran out of time to do a sequel trilogy. Thus he crammed a retcon into Return of the Jedi that made Leia Luke's sister, which makes their previous kisses seem a lot more awkward.

Han, Leia, Threepio, and Chewie arrive on Bespin and are greeted by Lando. That night at dinner, Vader and Fett show up to pay their bill, and Solo is captured. The villains then freeze Han in calories, as per his diet requirements, and Boba transports the stoned Han to Jabba the Hutt via his ship, the Love-Slave I. Suddenly, Luke shows up out of nowhere and gets into a duel with Vader. The Dark Lord of the Sith obviously wins, but instead of just killing Luke, he cuts off his hand and tells Luke that Obi-Wan never informed him of his father's fate. Luke says that Kenobi told him that Vader murdered his father; it is here that Vader reveals that he is Luke's father, and that Old Ben was lying as he always does. However, Luke denies that Vader is his papa and screams that it's impossible. Vader asks Luke to join him so they can rule the galaxy, but Young Skywalker politely declines the offer. He then jumps thousands of feet below into an air shaft, somehow survives, and is ejected beneath the floating city, latching onto a Robot Chicken-themed weather vane. He reaches out through the Force to Leia, and the Falcon returns to rescue him.

TIE fighters pursue the group, which is almost captured by Vader's Star Destroyer until R2-D2 reactivates the Falcon's hyperdrive, allowing them to escape. Aboard the Rebel fleet, a robotic prosthesis gives Luke a new robotic hand (which looks more advanced than Vader's robotic hand in the prequels, despite the other tech in the original trilogy having regressed or barely advanced). He, Leia, C-3PO, and R2-D2 overlook the spinning-too-fast-to-be-a-galaxy galaxy as Lando and Chewbacca depart on the Falcon to rescue Han.

Cast and characters[edit]

  • Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker: Hamill returns to play as the space farmboy, who was told by a hermit that he has magic powers in the first film. After filming, he took a shine to the character Boba Fett, asking George Lucas if the male bounty hunter could be revealed to be Luke's mother in Return of the Jedi.
  • Harrison Ford as Han Solo: Ford only shows up to collect a paycheck. Not wanting to be in any more nerdy space films, he asked Lucas to kill off his character. Lucas almost does by freezing Han at the end of this one, but brings him back in the third film after Ford wanted yet another check.
  • Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia: Fisher also returns to play the space princess whose (adopted) home planet] was destroyed in the last film. Going through a coke problem, as it was the '80s, Fisher wanted to kiss as many men she could in the film. Lucas, being a good screenwriter, only gave her two men to kiss. Those being the obvious choices: Han Solo, and her brother, Luke.
  • David Prowse (suit) and James Earl Jones (voice) as Darth Vader: After reading the script, Jones took a DNA test with Mark Hamill to see if, in fact, they were related. The test returned back negative, to nobody's surprise.
  • Frank Oz as Yoda: A little wrinkly green dude who could lift up stuff by just thinking, so he lifted up some ship thing that Luke crashed.
  • Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian: The traitorous Cloud City Admin who previously lost the Millennium Falcon after he gambled it away to Han.
  • Antwan Danyells as C-3PO: A prissy protocol droid who shouts annoying lines of dialogue at inopportune dramatic moments.
  • A Midget as R2-D2: An astromech droid who often makes backhanded remarks about his heterosexual life partner Threepio.
  • Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca: Han's wookiee friend who likes to drop toolboxes on the scruffy-looking nerf herder for his own amusement.
  • Marjorie Eaton and Clive Revill as Emperor Sheev Palpatine: The chimpanzee-faced ruler of the Empire who looks and sounds nothing like he does in the other movies.
  • Frank Oz as Yoda: A supercentenarian green Jedi Master who lives in exile on Dagobah, and spouts generic spiritual proverbs in in a weird backwards fashion.
  • David Prowse (suit) and James Earl Jones (voice) as Darth Vader: The bad guy from the last movie, who has more history with Luke than one would think. He's Lukes father.
  • Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi: Luke's former Jedi mentor, now a Force Ghost, who is revealed to be a pathological liar for the first time in this movie.
  • Jeremy Bulloch (suit) and Jason Wingreen Temuera Morrison (voice) as Boba Fett: A bounty hunter who barely has any lines of dialogue but is somehow built up as the ultimate badass by fanboys.


Did you know that these two AT-AT walkers were so bored during the production of the fifth Star Wars movie that they...err, got "experimental" on the set?

After George Lucas made lots and lots of money (by owning all over the guys who didn't think action figures would take off) off the original Star Wars, he decided to make more money with a sequel, and continue to forward the neverending storyline that is Star Wars. Lucas had become too stressed directing the previous movie and decided to let another person direct Empire, that being his buddy Irvin Kershner. This plus the bigger budget resulted in a slight lack of pure concentrated Lucas quirkiness, a darker and more dramatic tone, and an ever-increasing number of random aliens in the background who would show up as tiny plastic toys being sold for $8 later on. Also, Episode V contained an unintentionally funny scene where Luke and Leia share a kiss, only for Luke to find out in the next movie that Leia is his sister.

Most of all, Empire marked the introduction of cult icon Boba Fett (well, actually, he first appeared in The Star Wars Holiday Special, but we don't talk about that). Fanboys who saw Boba thought he was so cool and self-inserted as him, though in actuality the character was a jobber who barely does anything in this movie and gets beaten within 30 seconds in the next movie. One of the most-cited criticisms of the Special Editions was Lucas's addition of a three-second Boba cameo into A New Hope (he even looks directly at the camera), simply so he could make nerds squeal and release another plastic toy of Fett for $10.

After taking inspiration from The Hidden Fortress with A New Hope, Lucas turned to the Bhagavad Gita for inspiration on The Empire Strikes Back. Both stories circle around destiny and that no man can change what the gods have said will be. In Empire, like the Gita, Luke goes against what has already been ordained, hoping to save his friends, and is the one that needs to be rescued. Other themes lifted include the Purusha sukta or Cosmic Being that is Ben Kenobi. Dharma versus Greg chaos, or the light side of the Force versus the Dark, and the selfless action where rather than make a decision to join the dark side or stick with the Light, Luke tries to commit suicide by jumping to his death.


The Empire Strikes Back lives up to its title, being the only film in the original trilogy where the Galactic Empire manages to strike back at the Rebels instead of the Rebels striking at them.

Upon release, The Empire Strikes Back received mixed reviews from critics. The New York Times's Vincent Canby thought Empire was "more machine than man" compared to Star Wars, and said "It, uh...didn't really have a beginning, middle, or ending." Starlog magazine criticized the film, saying "Luke maybe got three days training from Ben in the last movie. In this one, he maybe got about two weeks from Yoda. Yet we're supposed to believe he's almost a Jedi with such a small amount of training. If this pattern continues, he's maybe gonna get another three more days before Yoda tells him that he's finally a Jedi. So, maybe three or four weeks. Five if you're slow. Sounds like a Gary Stu character to me."

In retrospect however, Empire has often been cited as the best and most emotionally complex of the original trilogy among geek circles. "Since George didn't direct this installment, but instead provided cursory input, this one was a lot better than A New Hope," said Clerks director Kevin Smith. "It had drama, suspense, steamy makeout scenes, a downer ending, and made geeks everywhere want Boba Fett armor of their own." "The Empire Strikes Back is a masterpiece of modern filmmaking. It's just too bad the following sequels/prequels/spinoffs had to desecrate this franchise with bloody Jar Jar," said geek culture figure Simon Pegg.


Along with A New Hope and Return of the Jedi, Empire got a Special Edition facelift in 1997, as well as more redos for the 2004 DVDs, 2011 Blu-rays, and 2019 Disney+ 4K scans. Unlike with the other two movies, the changes here generally helped the movie rather than hurting it, such as adding more windows to Cloud City to make it less claustrophobic, and Sheev being changed from the chimp-lady and boring Transformers villain to the amazingly campy Ian McDiarmid (who played the role in all the other Star Wars movies).


  1. Time in the Star Wars universe is reckoned using as a basis the exact moment in A New Hope when the stormtrooper entering the control room on the Death Star bangs his head on the door and yells. Using this system, events occurring before this moment are designated BBY (before bang/yell), and events after ABY.