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Encyclopedia > The Empire Strikes Back
Movie poster

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back is the sequel to the first released Star Wars movie, and the second film released in the original trilogy. In the six-film series, it is the fifth film in the story, hence its "Episode V" tag in the opening titles. It featured most of the original cast of the previous movie and received its first cinema release in 1980. It was advertised as simply The Empire Strikes Back.

A radio adaptation was broadcast on National Public Radio.


Opening Crawl

The opening crawl from The Empire Strikes Back

It is a dark time for the Rebellion. Although the Death Star has been destroyed, Imperial troops have driven the Rebel forces from their hidden base and pursued them across the galaxy. Evading the dreaded Imperial Starfleet, a group of freedom fighters led by Luke Skywalker has established a new secret base on the remote ice world of Hoth. The evil lord Darth Vader, obsessed with finding young Skywalker, has dispatched thousands of remote probes into the far reaches of space...

Plot summary

The following summary is based upon the original 1980 theatrical release version, and not upon the 1997 and 2004 re-releases.

It is now three years after the events in A New Hope. The Rebels have been forced to flee their Rebel base on Yavin and establish a new one on the ice planet of Hoth. Darth Vader, continuing his quest for Luke Skywalker, dispatches thousands of probe droids across the galaxy. One of the probes lands on Hoth and begins its survey of the planet. Luke Skywalker, on patrol via his tauntaun, discovers the probe, which he mistakes for a meteorite. After reporting to comrade Han Solo, he is knocked unconscious by a mysterious snow monster.

In their underground Rebel Base, Solo reports to his commander, General Rieekan, about the situation, then realizes he has to leave Hoth to return to Tatooine in order to pay off Jabba the Hutt. Solo turns to Princess Leia, but she gives him the "mushy" look. Headed for the corridor, Solo is followed by Leia. The Princess begs him to stay, but he argues with her and leaves in a huff.

The droids, R2-D2 and C-3PO, find Solo about to leave on his starship, the Millennium Falcon, currently devoid of its hyperdrive system. 3PO reports to Solo that Luke is missing and hasn't returned. Despite the freezing conditions and oncoming nightfall, Solo rides his tauntaun to find his friend.

Meanwhile, Luke is held captive (albeit upside-down) by the Wampa snow monster. Using the Force, he draws upon his lightsaber (half-buried in the snow) to kill the creature. Luke escapes the Wampa cave, but is overcome by the freezing cold. Shortly later, as night begins to fall, he is visited by the spirit form of dead Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi, who tells Luke to go to the planet Dagobah for further training by Yoda, the Jedi Master who once trained Kenobi. As the image fades, Han finds Luke barely conscious. But the cold weather proves too much for Han's tauntaun who collapses and dies. The best thing for Solo now is to build a night shelter, hoping to be discovered by Rebel ships.

The next morning, Rebel ships discover a signal from the outer passage, and the radio cracks open...it is the voice of Solo, and thus the ship also finds Luke. The injured Jedi-to-be is taken back to the base to be immersed in a bacta-tank, and shortly recovers. The rest of Luke's comrades visit him to send get well wishes, but they are interrupted by an emergency. The Alliance has picked up unusual signals from the East. Solo and his wookie companion Chewbacca investigate. They shoot down what turns out to be a self-destructive Imperial Probe Droid. Solo suspects the Empire has found what they've been looking for. General Rieekan orders the start of evacuation.

Darth Vader and the Imperial forces set course for the Hoth system to set up the attack. Shortly after, Luke realizes he too has to leave Hoth, so he says goodbye to Chewbacca and Solo. As the Imperial forces enter the Hoth system, Vader discovers Admiral Ozzel has emerged from lightspeed so close to Hoth that the Rebels have been alerted to the Empire's arrival. Via video communication, Vader Force-chokes Ozzel to death for his actions, then appoints associate Piett the new Admiral.

Princess Leia gives the Rebel fighters instructions on the evacuation to leave Hoth two to three ships at a time past the energy shield to a rendezvous point beyond the outer rim. Rieekan raises the shields to fire the Ion Cannon at one of the Imperial Star Destroyers allowing the first transports to escape. The Rebels who have chosen to fight on the ground depart the Hoth base for the oncoming battle against heavily equipped Imperial forces, who are armed with agile AT-STs and monstrous AT-ATs (All Terrain Armored Transports).

The group, led by Luke, commence the attack, but realizing the Amours are too strong for blasters, they decide to destroy them by using attached cables, and manages to destroy one of the AT-ATs. The main AT-AT prepares to take their aim at the Rebel Base's main generator. Suddenly, Luke's fighter is shot down by the Imperials, and crash-lands in the snow. Luke escapes before the AT-AT can destroy his ship.

The Rebel Base is now under attack and Imperial Stormtroopers have entered the base, forcing Han, Leia, Chewie, and 3PO to decide to escape.

Luke, meanwhile, manages to destroy another AT-AT by using his cable, explosive charge, and lightsaber to get into the belly of the Transport before it is destroyed. The Rebels suffer major casualties as the result of the battle. The main transport reaches the generator, and successfully aims and fires at it, destroying the generator.

Han, Leia and company, not realizing they are being followed by Vader (who has arrived on Hoth), eventually reach the Millennium Falcon in time to escape. Luke later meets with R2 on his ship and finally departs Hoth. Changing course from the rendezvous point, he sets his coordinates for Dagobah.

Han and company are pursued by Imperial fighters. Flipping the switch to take them to lightspeed, Han realizes (with reluctant help from 3PO) that the hyperdrive has been damaged. While trying to fix the hyperdrive system, Han enters an asteroid field (with the Imperials still in pursuit). He manages to land inside one of the larger asteroids to rest and find a way to fix the ship.

Luke lands on the jungle planet Dagobah. There, he discovers a diminutive figure who tries to help Luke (all the while, the young Jedi-to-be is unaware his patience is being tested, and that the figure is really Yoda). The figure invites Luke to his cave for dinner.

Back on the Falcon, while Leia tries to make repairs, Han makes his move on the Princess, drawing himself closer to her before both end up in a passionate kiss. When 3PO arrives, Leia withdraws and walks away.

The Imperial search begins to take its toll: an asteroid blew off the bridge tower of a Star Destroyer. On the Executor, Vader communicates with the captains of the other ships (the one from the ship that blew up fades away). One officer, Captain Needa, tells Vader that they should consider their damage. Vader firmly says they will continue the search. Shortly afterwards, Admiral Piett informs Vader that the Emperor commands he make contact with him. Vader orders his ship out off the asteroid field for a clear transmission.

In his private quarters, Vader receives a holographic message from the Galactic Emperor, who alerts the Dark Lord to a "new enemy who could destroy" the Empire...Luke Skywalker. Vader suggests that if Luke could be turned, "he would be a powerful ally". The Dark Lord declares Luke will join the Empire "or die".

That evening, Luke's patience (or lack thereof) is put to the test. The diminutive figure declares the boy lacks patience, but the voice of Kenobi tells the figure that the boy will learn patience if he is to be trained. Only then does Luke discover the figure is Yoda. Yoda asks Kenobi if he will finish whatever training he begins, then suspects that Luke will be afraid at some point.

The next day, the Falcon manages to escape what turns out to be the mouth of a space slug (who resided in one of the asteroids the Falcon landed in). Meanwhile, Luke begins a rigorous training regime from Yoda which includes moral lessons about the dangers of the Dark Side of the Force. That particular lesson is driven home when he is told to enter a cave that is strong with the Dark Side's power. Ignoring Yoda's consul to leave his weapons, Luke enters the cavern armed. Once inside, he has a vision of himself angrily confronting Darth Vader and beheading him. However, the severed head's mask bursts apart and reveals Luke's face underneath; it is a warning that if Luke battles Vader with no emotional control, he will become Vader himself, seduced by the Dark Side.

Back on the Star Destroyer, Vader enlists bounty hunters (including Boba Fett and Bossk) to find the Millennium Falcon for a "special reward". One of the Imperial commanders finally spots the Falcon, leading to another pursuit that results in the Falcon eluding the Empire by making the insanely counter intuitive move of attacking the lead Star Destroyer. However, at the last moment, the ship veers off and secretly attaches itself to the ship, which is not extensively covered by sensors, making it appeared to have vanished in the Empire's point of view.

Days later, while training, Luke discovers his X-wing fighter about to sink into the lake, then breaks concentration. Luke declares he will never be able to get the ship out, seeing that it is too big for him to extract from the water. Yoda says it is "no different, only different in your mind". Luke decides to "try" to lift the ship, but Yoda says "do or do not, there is no try". Luke tries to use the Force, but to no avail. Yoda reminds him that "size matters not" and gives him wisdom about the Force. Luke denies all of this, then Yoda decides to use the Force to lift the ship out himself. Luke is dumbfounded and incredulous. Yoda senses the youngster's failures within his mind.

When the fleet disperses to search for the Falcon, the Rebels wait for the ship to do its standard dump of refuse before jumping, then detach to float away with it. Han decides to make their way to Cloud City, a gas-mining colony run by an "old friend" of Solo's named Lando Calrissian. Unfortunately, Boba Fett, a bounty hunter who was one of a number hired by Vader to search for the Rebels, had deduced the Falcon's escape method and had his ship jettisoned with the waste for the purpose of stealthily following the fugitives.

The next day, Yoda reminds Luke of the things the young Jedi will see in his mind, the future, the past, and of friends he recognizes. Luke breaks concentration again and has a vision of his friends in danger. He wants to leave Dagobah to rescue them. Yoda reminds him that if Luke leaves now, everything his friends fought and suffered for will be destroyed.

Upon arrival at Cloud City, Han's party is welcomed by Lando. However, there are numerous elements that make the Rebels suspicious, not the least of which being C-3PO being found deactivated, dismembered and almost recycled.

That evening, Luke and R2 prepare themselves to leave Dagobah, but are warned by both Yoda and the spirit form of Kenobi not to end training so soon for a fight Luke is not ready for. Ben declares that should Luke decide to face Vader, he will have to face him alone without interference. Luke understands this, and his ship takes off from Dagobah. Yoda is disappointed, declaring Luke reckless. Ben tells Yoda that Luke is the Jedi's last hope, but Yoda answers back, "there is another..."

A day later, Han and company find themselves betrayed by Calrissian who was approached by the Empire before the Rebels' arrival and threatened him and the city unless he cooperated. They became the captives of Darth Vader, who proceeds to torture them to create a disturbance in The Force for Luke to detect.

That afternoon, Vader enters a carbon-freezing chamber intending to freeze Luke Skywalker once he arrives. The Dark Lord uses the opportunity for Boba Fett to deliver Solo to Jabba the Hutt (to whom Han owed a debt) by testing the device on Solo himself. Han and company enter the chamber for the experiment. At first, Chewie resists the Stormtroopers, but Han restrains him, saving his strength for another time. Han says goodbye to Leia with a kiss before he is escalated into the carbon freezing chamber. When he is successfully entombed in carbonite in a state of suspended animation, Vader hands over Han to bounty hunter Boba for transportation to Tatooine to receive a bounty from Jabba. One of the Imperial commanders informs Vader that Luke's starfighter has arrived on Bespin. The Dark Lord orders Lando to take Leia, Chewie, and 3PO to his Star Destroyer, reneging on a deal he made with Lando. But the Cloud City administrator has other plans.

Luke makes his way to Bespin safely, and, after discovering Solo's carbonite coffin manages to escape a gun battle with Boba Fett. Leaving R2 behind, he makes his way to the carbon freezing chamber. There, he meets with Vader and the two fight in an epic lightsaber duel, where Luke's undeveloped Jedi skills are no match for Vader.

The Imperials (escorting the Rebel prisoners out of Bespin) are overpowered by Cloud City security, setting Lando and company free. Chewie turns against Lando for betraying Han, but he manages to tell the wookie there's still a chance to rescue Han at the East Platform. 3PO is reunited with his companion R2. Lando and company arrive too late as Boba's ship takes off, then engage in a fierce battle with Stormtroopers.

Luke and Vader continue their lightsaber battle in the bowels of Cloud City. Vader uses the Dark Side of the Force against Luke by using whatever equipment is at hand, eventually thrusting Luke through a window and landing on one of the emergency platforms.

As the gunfight continues, Lando orders an evacuation of Cloud City, then the company manage to find their last hope of escape...the Millennium Falcon.

In the final phase of the lightsaber duel, Vader manages to cut off Luke's sword hand, throwing it (and the lightsaber which the hand grasped) into an abyss. In perhaps one of the most memorable scenes in cinema history, Vader reveals to Luke that he is his father. Luke screams in total denial. Vader attempts to persuade Luke to join him and embrace the Dark Side to defeat the Emperor. However, Luke chooses suicide over being corrupted and throws himself down a deep shaft.

Luke is sucked into a air vent, exits the underbelly of the city and lands on an antenna complex beneath Cloud City. Facing clear death, Luke calls out to Ben Kenobi in vain (Kenobi swore not to help Luke once he faced Vader). Then, he calls out to the only other one who could help...Leia.

Leia mysteriously senses Luke's telepathic distress signal. The Falcon turns around and comes back to Cloud City. Using an escape hatch, Lando manages to catch Luke and rescue him before the wounded Jedi falls helplessly into deep space. The Falcon finally escapes Bespin's gravitational field about to escape into hyperspace when the hyperdrive system again fails the company. Vader asks for confirmation that the Millennium Falcon's hyperdrive system was deactivated to prevent their escape, then orders weapons set for stun.

As the Imperials make their pursuit of the Falcon, the injured Luke hears the telepathic voice of Vader calling to him. He answers, "Father...", while Vader telepathically answers back, "son, return to me". Luke senses it is Vader, then cries, "Ben, why didn't you tell me?"

3PO commands that R2 finish reconstructing him after his ordeal in Cloud City. However, with quick ingenuity, R2 manages to fix the system just in time for the ship to get away. Vader is disappointed and retreats to his secret quarters in his Star Destroyer, ignoring Piett's failure.

The film ends on a medical ship (part of the Rebel fleet headed for the rendezvous on Tatooine), where Luke is outfitted with a prosthetic hand. Lando and Chewie begin their most dangerous mission...rescuing their friend Han Solo. Lando promises to Leia they'll bring her back the man she loves. Luke, Leia, and the droids look on as the Falcon departs for unknown territories. Their own fates and futures are now uncertain. But the time will come when all will be resolved...it is a question of how long.

Critical reception

Many consider this installment of the series to be the best of the original trilogy, since it lacks much of the stilted acting of its predecessor and the cuteness of Return of the Jedi. It is the most morally ambiguous and darkest of the original trilogy; it is also the only one of the six Star Wars films in which no major character dies.

Critics had various reactions to changes introduced in re-releases of this film.

Film credits

Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian), and James Earl Jones (voice of Darth Vader)

Directed by Irvin Kershner, from a screenplay by Leigh Brackett & Lawrence Kasdan (adapted from a Story by George Lucas), musical score by John Williams.


  • Great secrecy surrounded the fact that Darth Vader was Luke's father. This secrecy extended to the cast with only Mark Hamill being told the truth so he could react to it. David Prowse was given the line, "Obi-Wan killed your father", to say during the scene and didn't find out the real lines until the premier screening.
  • 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!.
  • When the first TIE fighter explodes in the asteroid chase, a small black object can be seen flying out and breaking apart. If someone looks closely, it almost looks like the pilot of the fighter.

Set locations

Some of the Hoth sequence was filmed in Norway, at the with of Hardanger. The scenes on Dagobah, Cloud City and inside the Hoth base were shot at Elstree Studios in London.

Star Wars

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

The Star Wars Holiday Special | The Ewok Adventure | Ewoks: Battle for Endor

External links

  • StarWars.com official Episode V site (http://www.starwars.com/episode-v/)
  • Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080684/) at the Internet Movie Database

  Results from FactBites:
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (1965 words)
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back is the sequel to the first released Star Wars movie, and the second film released in the original Trilogy.
The Empire Strikes Back is the only Star Wars film in which the teaser trailer features conceptual artwork by Ralph McQuarrie.
The Empire Strikes Back was released on DVD in September 2004.
The Empire Strikes Back (1030 words)
Until I read Empire, by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, I would never have believed that a postmodernist paean to Italian anarcho-syndicalism could be presented by its publishers as a defense of "the idealism of the Founders and Abraham Lincoln," and of the universal validity of the US Constitution.
As for its vision of a modern world "empire," this is not without interest as a portrait of certain aspects of "globalization," but the authors' attempts to define this picture as an "empire," and to distinguish "empire" both from "imperialism" and from contemporary American hegemony are strained, to say the least.
It is difficult to resist the conclusion that this curious choice of the word "empire" as a name for these patterns of globalization reflects the new modishness of empire as a subject--as witnessed by the number of books now appearing on this theme.
  More results at FactBites »



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