Review: ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ celebrates 40th anniversary at Lakes 12

"Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back" is back in movie theaters for a return engagement four decades after it was first released. The second movie in George Lucas' original Star Wars trilogy is considered the most critically acclaimed of the iconic franchise since the sequel's release in 1980.

Darth Vader is the iconic villain in George Lucas' Star Wars film franchise. Photo by Tommy van Kessel on

BAXTER — Talk about daddy issues on an intergalactic scale.

“Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back” (hyper) jumps back onto the big screen this week at the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter in time for its 40th anniversary.

The sci-fi action-adventure movie by creator George Lucas was released in 1980. The PG movie features returning co-stars Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and the late Carrie Fisher.

Most know by now the film’s basic plot given the decades that have passed since the motion picture was first shown in theaters, but its enduring appeal is a testament to Lucas’ genius.


Frank Lee.jpg
Frank Lee

He drew upon cultural archetypes, put them in a blender and gave moviegoers something new yet familiar, albeit with lightsabers, spaceships and blasters.

The first sequel of the original Star Wars trilogy of the late 1970s and early 1980s begins with a battle between the Rebel Alliance and the First Galactic Empire on the ice planet Hoth.

Hamill as Luke Skywalker is a little more experienced in the ways of the Force, an ever-present power source that can be harnessed by those trained how to use it — for good or evil.

But the young buck is still in need of rescue, usually and occasionally by the dashing scalawag and space smuggler Han Solo, played to perfection by the older Ford as a roguish bad boy.

The ice planet Hoth is the opening battle between the Rebel Alliance and the Imperial Fleet in "Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back." Photo by Eric Ding on


Princess Leia, Fisher’s character, holds down the fort figuratively and literally at the rebel base as Solo returns with Skywalker, who recovers in time from hypothermia to help fight the empire’s Imperial Fleet, which has discovered the secret rebel base forcing them to evacuate.

Solo gets a chilly reception from the independent-minded Rebel Alliance leader Leia who can’t hide her feelings for Solo, but is reluctant to admit those feelings go light-years beyond platonic.

Skywalker decides to continue his Jedi training with the legendary Jedi master Yoda before those issues of his compatriots can be resolved and flies off to the instructor’s home planet.

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The brash Skywalker, however, has his work cut out for him when he finally meets the pint-sized Yoda, who schools the boy even as he fears the ambitious young man will be lured by evil.

Yoda dispenses ungrammatical nuggets of wisdom such as “Try not. Do ... or do not. There is no try” in “Karate Kid” fashion to Skywalker, who is eager to engage the villainous Darth Vader.

Solo and Leia flee the planet with C-3PO, an android, and Chewbacca, Solo’s shaggy co-pilot of the Millenium Falcon, in their rust bucket of a starship, as the Imperial Fleet gives chase.

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The motley crew seeks refuge on the floating Cloud City, which is governed by Solo’s old friend and gambling buddy Lando Calrissian played by Billy Dee Williams, who previously owned the Falcon.

The suave and smooth-talking Calrissian has a hard time winning over Leia, however, and her fears are soon shown to be justified as Darth Vader sets a trap for Skywalker with them as bait.

But not all of the fights in the movie are physical. Solo and Leia struggle with their feelings for each other while Skywalker grapples with his family history and the allure of the Dark Side.

Perhaps that’s why “The Empire Strikes Back” remains a perennial favorite of mine. Lucas has gone on to make a trilogy of prequels while directors like J.J. Abrams have picked up the baton and made some of the trilogy of sequels decades later when the property was sold to Disney.

The epic space opera based on a story by Lucas features the immediately recognizable score by composer John Williams, which was performed by the London Symphony Orchestra.


From the rousing Star Wars theme that plays as the explanatory scrawl makes its way across the title screen to the “The Imperial March,” the soundtrack conveys the vast scope of the film.


“The Empire Strikes Back” ping-pongs between the two groups as they navigate their way through love, hate and a whole host of issues that would make for several “Dr. Phil” episodes.

For those who haven’t seen the Irvin Kershner-directed sequel, I won’t spoil the big reveal that left many moviegoers back in the day gasping in disbelief or doing a spit-take with their soda.

Lucas’ hammy dialogue is thankfully absent from this “episode” of the profitable and endearing franchise and with someone else at the helm it seems more grounded and more mature.


Often when movie critics point out the law of diminishing returns of most sequels — or reference major movie studios’ penchant for churning out something the audience will recognize — they’ll even admit “The Empire Strikes Back” is the rare sequel that’s better than its predecessor.

In fact, the film was selected in 2010 for preservation in the United States’ National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Darth Vader might say that recognition is — like he says in “The Empire Strikes Back” when he faces a much improved Skywalker — “Impressive. Most impressive.”


FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .

I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write mostly features stories for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The newspaper is owned by Forum Communications Co.
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