Movie Review - The Empire Strikes Back
Complex 'Empire' has a force others lack
Second part ventures into darker territory

The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Empire Strikes Back has always been my favorite among the Star Wars trilogy, and the new restored and updated version only reinforced my preference.

The entire series, of course, is a triumph of imagination and technical skill. But in Empire, creator George Lucas' childlike epic ventures into complex territory that gives the story a touch of psychological heft its siblings lack.

Here, in the middle of the story, as the hero Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) undergoes his most demanding tests, the story plumbs waters where mythic archetype and the private psyche meet.

The first key scene in this regard takes place first in Luke's imagination. Deep in a swamp under the tutelage of the gnome-like Jedi master Yoda, Skywalker enters an ominous cave to battle a wraith in the form of the evil Darth Vader.

The scene is re-enacted on a larger, more frightening scale when the two meet in the bowels of Cloud City. Luke loses his hand and nearly his faith before he escapes -- thanks to a previously undiscovered telepathic link with Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher).

It's a tantalizing and emotionally evocative episode that cries out for the next chapter -- the sure sign of great storytelling.

In addition, Empire boasts a rich array of action scenes -- on a snowbound planet, inside an asteroid field, in Yoda's home swamp, and inside Cloud City. It also features my favorite Star Wars special effect: the giant Imperial Walkers that are defeated with the old tangle-foot trick.

It also gives us the delicious Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), a charmer with ambiguous moral standards, and a developing romance between Leia and Han Solo (Harrison Ford).

The one inconsistency about Empire that has always bothered me is temporal: The time it takes Han and Leia to escape from the ice planet, hide in the asteroid field and flee to Cloud City seems about a day, maybe two. In exactly the same amount of time, Luke makes it to Yoda's planet and undergoes most of his Jedi training. True, Yoda says Luke is leaving too soon, but really -- one day to lift rocks with his mind?

Anyway, it's a minor quibble with what is otherwise a ripping good yarn -- one that is sure to whet your appetite for The Return of the Jedi.

The Empire Strikes Back
(PG; space battles, hand-to-hand combat) Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Billy Dee Williams. 127 minutes. At National Amusements, Danbarry Middletown, Showplace 8.