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The Empire Strikes Back

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The Empire Strikes Back
. This poster shows a montage of scenes from the movie. Dominating the background is the dark visage of Darth Vader; in the foreground, Luke Skywalker sits astride a tauntaun; Han Solo and Princess Leia gaze at each other while in a romantic embrace; Chewbacca, R2-D2, and C-3PO round out the montage.
Theatrical release poster by Roger Kastel
Directed byIrvin Kershner
Produced byGary Kurtz
Screenplay by
Story byGeorge Lucas
Music byJohn Williams
CinematographyPeter Suschitzky
Edited byPaul Hirsch
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • May 17, 1980 (1980-05-17) (Kennedy Center)
  • May 21, 1980 (1980-05-21) (United States)
Running time
124 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$33 million[2]
Box office$547.9 million[3][4]

The Empire Strikes Back, also known as Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, is a 1980 American epic space opera film directed by Irvin Kershner and written by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, based on a story by George Lucas. Produced by Lucasfilm, it is the second film in the Star Wars film series (albeit the fifth chronologically) and the sequel to Star Wars (1977).[a] Set three years after the events of the first film, the Galactic Empire, under the leadership of Darth Vader and the Emperor, pursues Luke Skywalker and the rest of the Rebel Alliance. While Vader relentlessly pursues Luke's friends—Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, and C-3PO—Luke studies the Force under Jedi Master Yoda. The ensemble cast includes Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, and Frank Oz.

Following the success of Star Wars, Lucas hired Brackett to write the sequel; after her death in 1978, he outlined the Star Wars saga as a whole and wrote next draft himself, before hiring Kasdan. Lucas chose not to direct due to his obligations at Industrial Light & Magic and handling the financing, and passed the duty to Kershner, his former professor. Filmed from March to September 1979, The Empire Strikes Back faced a difficult production that included actor injuries, a set fire, and fines from the Writers and Directors Guilds of America. The initial budget was $18 million, but ballooned to $33 million by the time production concluded, making it one of the most expensive films ever made at the time.

The Empire Strikes Back premiered at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. on May 17, 1980, and was released in the United States on May 21, 1980. The film became the highest-grossing film of 1980. Though it was met with divided reviews, it is now regarded as the best film in the Star Wars saga and one of the greatest films ever made. The film has grossed over $547 million worldwide from its original run and several rereleases. Adjusted for inflation, it is the second-highest-grossing sequel of all time and the thirteenth highest-grossing film of all time in North America.[5] In 2010, the film was selected for preservation in the United States' National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

The Empire Strikes Back had a significant impact on filmmaking and popular culture, being regarded as a rare example of a sequel that transcends the original. The climax, in which Vader reveals to Luke that he is his father, is often cited as one of the greatest plot twists in cinematic history. The Empire Strikes Back was followed by Return of the Jedi in 1983. The two films, alongside the original Star Wars, comprise the original Star Wars trilogy.


Three years after the destruction of the Death Star,[b] the Rebel Alliance, led by Princess Leia, has set up a new base on the ice planet Hoth. The Imperial fleet, led by a merciless Darth Vader, hunts for the new Rebel base by dispatching probe droids across the galaxy. Luke Skywalker is captured by a wampa while investigating one such probe and dragged into the creature's cave, but manages to escape using the Force to retrieve his lightsaber. Before Luke succumbs to hypothermia, the Force spirit of his deceased mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi, instructs him to go to the swamp planet Dagobah to train under Jedi Master Yoda. Han Solo discovers Luke and manages to keep him alive by keeping him under the body fat of his dead Tauntaun mount, and the two are rescued by a search party the following morning.

The probe alerts the Imperial fleet to the Rebels' location. The Empire launches a large-scale attack using AT-AT walkers to capture the base, forcing the Rebels to evacuate. Han and Leia escape with C-3PO and Chewbacca on the Millennium Falcon, but the ship's hyperdrive malfunctions. They hide in an asteroid field, where Han and Leia grow closer amidst the tensions. Several bounty hunters, summoned by Vader, assist in searching for the Falcon. Meanwhile, Luke travels with R2-D2 in his X-wing fighter to Dagobah, where he crash-lands. He meets a diminutive creature who reveals himself to be Yoda and reluctantly accepts Luke as his apprentice after conferring with Obi-Wan's spirit. Luke learns more about the Force from Yoda, who lifts his X-wing out of the swamp using the Force.

After evading the Imperial fleet, Han's group travels to the floating Cloud City on the planet Bespin, which is governed by Han's old friend Lando Calrissian. Bounty hunter Boba Fett tracks the Falcon and, with Vader, forces Lando to hand the group over to the Empire. Vader plans to use the group as bait to lure Luke, intending to capture him and turn him to the dark side of the Force. Luke experiences a premonition of Han and Leia in pain and, against the wishes of Yoda and Obi-Wan, abandons his training to rescue them.

Vader intends to hold Luke in suspended animation by imprisoning him in carbonite, selecting Han to be frozen as an experiment. Han survives the process and is given to Fett, who plans to collect a bounty on him from Jabba the Hutt. Lando, still loyal to Han, frees Leia and Chewbacca, but they are too late to stop Fett from departing with Solo. Under attack from stormtroopers, they fight their way back to the Falcon and flee the city. Meanwhile, Luke arrives and engages Vader in a lightsaber duel that leads them over the city's central air shaft. Vader severs Luke's right hand, disarming him, and tempts him to embrace his anger and join the dark side. Luke accuses Vader of murdering his father, but Vader reveals that he is Luke's father. Horrified, Luke drops into the air shaft and is ejected beneath the floating city, where he hangs from an antenna. He reaches out telepathically to Leia, who senses him and persuades Lando and Chewie to turn back. After Luke is brought aboard, they are chased by TIE fighters towards Vader on his Star Destroyer and find that the Falcon's hyperdrive has been tampered with, but R2-D2 reactivates it, allowing them to escape.

Luke rejoins the Rebel fleet and his severed hand is replaced with a robotic prosthesis. Lando and Chewbacca begin their quest to save Han, as the other rebels watch the Falcon depart.


While Prowse physically portrays Darth Vader, James Earl Jones provides the character's voice. Oz provides the voice and puppetry for Yoda, with assistance from fellow puppeteers, including Kathryn Mullen, David Barclay, Wendy Froud, and Deep Roy.[6] Alec Guinness appears as Obi-Wan Kenobi, now a Force spirit following his death at Vader's hands.

Denis Lawson reprises his role as Wedge Antilles from the first film. John Hollis plays Lobot, Lando's personal aide. Julian Glover appears as General Veers, a general who leads the Empire in the battle of Hoth. Kenneth Colley portrays Admiral Piett, the Empire's top admiral. Michael Sheard portrayed Admiral Ozzel, Vader's previous admiral. Michael Culver appears as Captain Needa, one of the Empire's captains who failed to catch the Millennium Falcon. John Ratzenberger portrays Major Derlin,[7] one of the officers who leads the Rebels in the Battle of Hoth.[8] Bruce Boa appears as General Rieekan,[9] Princess Leia's military advisor on Hoth.[10] Christopher Malcolm plays Rebel snowspeeder pilot Zev Senesca,[11] who finds Skywalker and Solo on the surface of Hoth.[12] and John Morton portrays Dak Ralter,[13] Luke's gunner in the battle of Hoth who was killed by an AT-AT.[14] Richard Oldfield portrayed Rebel pilot Hobbie Klivian.[15] Morris Bush portrays the bounty hunter Dengar, Alan Harris portrays the bounty hunter Bossk and Chris Parsons portrays the robotic bounty hunter 4-LOM.

Jeremy Bulloch portrays Boba Fett, a bounty hunter hired by Vader. Jason Wingreen provided Fett's voice.[c] Multiple actors have portrayed the Emperor, the evil ruler of the Galactic Empire, who appears via hologram. Clive Revill provides his voice, while actress Marjorie Eaton portrays him physically, wearing a mask.[d]



Lucas hired his former professor and veteran independent filmmaker Irvin Kershner to direct the movie.

George Lucas's Star Wars, released in May 1977, was an unexpected box office success and quickly became a pop-culture phenomenon.[20] Lucas, who did not expect the success, stopped doing publicity after a while because it became too overwhelming. The success of Star Wars and its licensing opportunities meant that a sequel was inevitable.[21] Sequels were generally not well regarded at the time and Lucas was not ready to commit, as the production of the original film "had been a four-year horrific seat-of-the-pants experience"—one that Lucas never wanted to experience again.[21] However, the film did not represent what he had envisioned, and he knew that a sequel would allow him to finish the story. Additionally, Lucas had already established the Star Wars universe, so he figured a sequel would provide an opportunity to introduce more ideas and adventures. "I always felt if I could go back to those environments using the same characters, I could make a helluva better movie," he said.[22] Lucas hired Alan Dean Foster, the ghostwriter of the Star Wars novelization, to write the sequel novel Splinter of the Mind's Eye so it could be adapted as a low-budget film if Star Wars was a box-office failure,[23] but by August 1977 Star Wars was still the number-one film in cinemas, motivating Lucas to continue the saga.[24]

Before production on the sequel, then titled Star Wars: Chapter II, could begin, Lucas had to sort out various problems that had arisen. His special effects company, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), no longer had any employees, as many of them had left to form Apogee and work on Battlestar Galactica. Galactica became a "thorn in [Lucas's] side,"[25] as the project bore a strong resemblance to Star Wars to the point that production illustrator Ralph McQuarrie called it a "rip-off."[26] Lucas hired some of the Galactica crew back, but had to replace others—most notably John Dykstra, whom he had a hard time working with on Star Wars. Lucas had almost fired Dykstra during the production of the first film but did not because Dykstra had close friends on the crew, so Lucas also chose not to hire them back as well.[26] One of Lucas's new hirees was Brian Johnson, who had worked on 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and turned down an opportunity to work on the first film.[27] Lucas also had to build his studio, Lucasfilm, which similarly had few employees.[28]

Distributor 20th Century Fox had tried to sell Star Wars to other studios because it feared it would lose money on the overbudget production, but following the film's success, by September 1977 it was eager to make a deal with Lucas on the sequel. Unlike the prolonged negotiations of Star Wars, which took years, Lucas was able to strike a deal with Fox swiftly, partially because he planned to finance the sequel himself[29] with $33 million from loans and the previous film's earning. Lucas hoped to become independent from the Hollywood film industry and went against the principles of many Hollywood producers, who believe in never investing one's own money.[30] Similar to how he set up The Star Wars Corporation for the first film, Lucas created a subsidiary, The Chapter II Company, to help minimize the financial risks. By the end of September, the contract had been signed: the "negative cost" of the sequel was set at $8 million, Lucas would receive final cut privilege, and Lucasfilm was guaranteed 77.5% of the profits if the film grossed over $100 million.[29] Under the contract, by July 1978 Lucasfilm subsidiary Black Falcon Ltd. would gain control of licensing, marketing, and merchandise, and the profit split would be 80% for Lucasfilm and 20% for Fox. The contract made it clear that Fox would have no creative control over the film, set a January 1979 start date for filming, and a May 1, 1980 release date.[31]

Now fully in control of the Star Wars enterprise, Lucas chose not to direct the sequel because of his other production roles, including overseeing ILM and handling the financing. Lucas offered the role of director to Irvin Kershner, one of his former professors at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.[32] Kershner was known for smaller character-driven films, but had more recently directed the true-life drama Raid on Entebbe (1977) and the thriller Eyes of Laura Mars (1978). Kershner initially turned Lucas down, citing his belief that a sequel would never meet the quality or originality of Star Wars. He called his agent, who immediately demanded that he take the job.[30] In November 1977, Lucas hired science-fiction author Leigh Brackett to write the screenplay.[33][34] Lucas had only written the original Star Wars out of necessity, which had been challenging since he had to create the world. Since the Star Wars universe had been established, he chose to collaborate with Brackett and give her ideas for the script.[34]


George Lucas, who wrote and directed the first film, decided to only executive produce and co-write the sequel.
Leigh Brackett, the original screenwriter of The Empire Strikes Back, died from cancer in 1978 before the film began production.

Lucas began outlining the film around August 1977, introducing ideas such as the Emperor and the notion that Luke Skywalker had a long-lost sister.[e] Lucas also started considering ways to explain Luke actor Mark Hamill's facial scars (which he suffered in a January 1977 motorcycle crash) within the context of the Star Wars universe.[24] According to Hamill, Lucas told him that, had Hamill died in the accident, he would have replaced Luke with a new character.[29] Story conferences began on November 28, 1977, after Lucas hired Brackett.[34] The two held story conferences until early December, and Brackett wrote her draft while McQuarrie began to paint concept art.[33] Lucas and Brackett discussed including the planet of the Wookiees (which had been considered for the first film), a new alien species, and two new characters—the Emperor and a gambler from Han Solo's past.[35] Lucas also decided early on that they needed to introduce a new teacher for Luke, since Obi-Wan had been killed off in the first film.[24]

Lucas's initial treatment, partly inspired by Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces, contained a few key scenes that made the final film: Luke would study the Force under a Jedi master (then named Minch Yoda) before dueling Vader and ending up hanging from the bottom of a floating city, and the gambler would betray Han to Vader.[33] As Han actor Harrison Ford had not agreed to appear in a third film, the character was written out of the ending by having him go off to secure funding for the Rebellion.[33] During his discussions with Brackett, Lucas conceived the title, The Empire Strikes Back, and the idea to have it follow a structure akin to his film American Graffiti (1973)—one main plot with three subplots. Lucas envisioned 60 scenes, a script around 100 pages, and a roughly two-hour runtime. The two laid out the film's basic plot, but also discussed expanding the character of Han—with Lucas suggesting that he met Chewbacca because he was raised by Wookiees—and Luke's lost twin sister.[36]

Brackett and Lucas came up with various ideas for subplots, including a love triangle (Lucas compared Han to Rhett Butler, Leia to Scarlett O'Hara, and Luke to Ashley Wilkes), the reintroduction of Obi-Wan as a ghost, an arctic world inspired by Flash Gordon (1939–1940) and The Thing from Another World (1951), further development of the Force, and the new Jedi master being an elderly, froglike alien. They also conceived new aliens, planets, and the notion that the Emperor, not Darth Vader, is the true villain.[37]

Brackett's treatment, delivered on February 21, 1978, is similar to the final film, but Anakin Skywalker appears as a ghost to instruct Luke, and Vader is a separate character.[38][page needed] Lucas was disappointed with Brackett's draft, but before he could discuss it with her, learned that she was in the hospital; she died of cancer in mid-March.[39] With no writer available, Lucas had to write the next draft himself. It was this draft in which Lucas first made use of the "Episode" numbering for the films; The Empire Strikes Back became Episode II.[40] His disappointment with the first draft probably made Lucas consider different directions in which to take the story.[41] He made use of a new plot twist: Darth Vader claims to be Luke's father. According to Lucas, he found this draft enjoyable to write, as opposed to the yearlong struggles writing the first film, and quickly wrote two more drafts,[42] all in April 1978.[43]

This plot twist of Vader being Luke's father had drastic effects on the series, including the audience's interpretation of the original film.[44] Lucas outlined a new backstory: Anakin Skywalker had been Ben Kenobi's brilliant student, and had a child named Luke, but was swayed to the dark side by the Emperor (who was really a Sith Lord). Anakin battled Kenobi on the site of a volcano and was horribly wounded, but was resurrected as Darth Vader. Meanwhile, Kenobi hid Luke on Tatooine while the Republic became the Empire and Vader systematically hunted down the Jedi.[45]

With this new backstory in place, Lucas decided that The Empire Strikes Back would be the second film of two trilogies, designating it Episode V by the fifth draft.[42][46] Lawrence Kasdan had just completed writing Raiders of the Lost Ark,[47] and Lucas hired him to write the next drafts with input from director Irvin Kershner. Kasdan, Kershner, and producer Gary Kurtz saw the film as a more serious and adult film, helped by the new, darker storyline, and developed the series from the light adventure roots of the first film.[48]


Filming began in Norway, at the Hardangerjøkulen glacier near the town of Finse, on March 5, 1979. Like the filming of Star Wars, where the production in Tunisia coincided with the area's first major rainstorm in fifty years, the weather was against the film crew. While filming in Norway, they encountered the worst winter storm in fifty years. Temperatures dropped to −20 °F (−29 °C), and 5.5 metres (18 ft) of snow fell.[30] On one occasion, the crew were unable to exit their hotel. They achieved a shot involving Luke's exit of the Wampa cave by opening the hotel's doors and filming Mark Hamill running out into the snow while the crew remained warm inside.[30] Mark Hamill's face was scarred in a motor accident that occurred between filming of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. Despite reports to the contrary, the scene in which Luke is knocked unconscious by the Wampa was not added specifically to explain this change to Hamill's face. Lucas admitted that the scene "helped" the situation, though he felt that Luke's time fighting in the rebellion was sufficient explanation.[49]

The production moved to Elstree Studios near London on March 13,[47] where over 60 sets were built, more than double the number used in the previous film.[30] A fire in January on Stage 3 (during filming of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining) forced the budget to be increased from $18.5 million to $22 million, and by July the budget increased $3 million more.

Filming finished September 24, 1979.[47][50]

The script contained a scene in which Princess Leia professed her love to Han Solo, with Han replying "I love you too." Harrison Ford felt the characterization was not being used effectively, and Kershner agreed. After several takes, the director told the actor to improvise on the spot, and Ford changed Solo's line to "I know."[30]

During production, great secrecy surrounded the fact that Darth Vader was Luke's father. Like the rest of the crew, Prowse—who spoke all of Vader's lines during filming—was given a false page that contained dialogue with the revelatory line being, "No. Obi-Wan killed your father."[30][51][52] Hamill was informed just moments before cameras rolled on his close-up,[53] and did not tell anyone, including his wife; according to Hamill, Ford did not learn the truth until he watched the film.[54]

To preserve the dramatic opening sequences of his films, Lucas wanted the screen credits to come only at the end. While this practice has become more common over the years, this was relatively unusual at the time. The Writers and Directors guilds of America had no problem allowing it on Star Wars, back in 1977, because the writer-director credit (George Lucas) matched the company name. However, when Lucas did the same thing for the sequel, it became an issue because they viewed the company credit (Lucasfilm) as displaying Lucas' name at the start of the film, while the director and writers had theirs on the end. The guilds fined him over $250,000 and attempted to pull Empire out of theaters. The DGA also attacked Kershner; to protect his director, Lucas paid all the fines to the guilds. Due to the controversy, he left the Directors and Writers guilds, and the Motion Picture Association.[30]

The initial production budget of $18 million[3] was 50 percent more than that of the original. After the various increases in budget, The Empire Strikes Back became one of the most expensive films of its day, costing $33 million,[55] and after the bank threatened to call in his loan, Lucas was forced to approach 20th Century Fox. Lucas made a deal with the studio to secure the loan in exchange for paying the studio more money, but without the loss of his sequel and merchandising rights. After the film's box office success, unhappiness at the studio over the deal's generosity to Lucas caused studio president Alan Ladd, Jr. to quit. The departure of his longtime ally caused Lucas to take Raiders of the Lost Ark to Paramount Pictures.[30]


The Imperial AT-AT walkers at the Battle of Hoth were created using models and a new stop motion animation technique developed by Phil Tippett for The Empire Strikes Back called go motion. Landscape paintings by Mike Pangrazio were used as backgrounds.

After the release of Star Wars, ILM grew from a struggling company and moved to Marin County, California.[30] The Empire Strikes Back provided the company with new challenges. Whereas Star Wars mostly featured space sequences, The Empire Strikes Back featured not only space dogfights but also an ice planet battle opening sequence and elements of cities that floated among the clouds. For the battle scenes on the ice planet Hoth, the initial intent was to use bluescreen to composite the Imperial walkers into still-shots from the original set. Instead, an artist (Michael Pangrazio) was hired to paint landscapes, resulting in the Imperial walkers being shot using stop motion animation in front of the landscape paintings.[30] The original designs for the AT-ATs were, according to Phil Tippett, "big armored vehicles with wheels". Many believe the finished design was inspired by the Port of Oakland container cranes, but Lucas denied this.[56]

In designing the Jedi Master Yoda, Stuart Freeborn used his own face as a model and added the wrinkles of Albert Einstein for the appearance of exceptional intelligence.[57] Sets for Dagobah were built five feet above the stage floor, allowing puppeteers to crawl underneath and hold up the Yoda puppet. The setup presented communication problems for Frank Oz, who portrayed Yoda, as he was underneath the stage and unable to hear the crew and Mark Hamill above.[58] Hamill later expressed his dismay at being the only human character on set for months; he felt like a trivial element on a set of animals, machines, and moving props. Kershner commended Hamill for his performance with the puppet.[30][49]


The musical score of The Empire Strikes Back was composed and conducted by John Williams, and it was performed by the London Symphony Orchestra at a cost of about $250,000.[59] In 1980, the company RSO Records published this film's original musical score as both a double LP album and as an 8-track cartridge in the United States. Its front cover artwork features the mask of Darth Vader against a backdrop of outer space,[60] as seen on the advance theatrical poster for the film.

In 1985, the first compact disc (CD) issue of the film score was made by the company Polydor Records, which had absorbed both RSO Records and its music catalog. Polydor Records used a shorter, one compact-disc edition of the music as their master. In 1993, 20th Century Fox Film Scores released a special boxed set of four compact discs: the Star Wars Trilogy: The Original Soundtrack Anthology. This anthology included the film scores of all three members of the original Star Wars Trilogy in separate CDs, even though there was significant overlap between the three (such as the Star Wars theme music).[61]

In 1997, the record company RCA Victor released a definitive two-CD set to accompany the publications of all three of the Special Editions of the films of the Star Wars Trilogy. This original limited-edition set of CDs featured a 32-page black booklet that was enclosed within a protective outer slip-case. The covers of the booklet and of the slip-case have selections from the poster art of the Star Wars Trilogy: Special Edition. All of the tracks have been digitally re-mastered supposedly for superior clarity of sound.

RCA Victor next re-packaged the Special Edition set later on in 1997, offering it in slim-line jewel case packaging as an unlimited edition, but without the packaging that the original "black booklet" version offered.[62]

In 2004, the Sony Classical Records company purchased the sales rights of the original trilogy's musical scores—primarily because it already had the sales rights of the music from the trilogy of prequels: The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith. Hence in 2004, the Sony Classical company began manufacturing copies of the film-score CDs that RCA Victor had been making since 1997, including the one for The Empire Strikes Back. This set was made with new cover artwork similar to that of the film's first publication on DVD. Despite the digital re-mastering by Sony Classical, their CD version made and sold since 2004 is essentially the same as the version by RCA Victor.[63]


The world premiere of The Empire Strikes Back was held on May 17, 1980, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. (as a special Children's World Premiere event). The film had a Royal Charity Premiere in London at the Odeon Cinema in Leicester Square on May 20. The special event was dubbed "Empire Day", a playful take the British Commonwealth Day holiday (known as Empire Day prior to 1958), where legions of stormtroopers were unleashed across the city.[64] A series of other charity benefit premieres were held in numerous locations on May 19 and 20. The film went on to official general release in North America and the U.K. on May 21, 1980. The first wave of release included 126 70 mm prints, before a wider release in June 1980 (which were mostly 35 mm prints).[65] Lucas added three shots to the film's ending before the latter release.[66] During the initial theatrical run in Europe and Australia, the short film Black Angel by Star Wars art director Roger Christian was shown before the feature.[67]

The Empire Strikes Back logo, version featuring a Star Wars referencing frame

Prior to its opening crawl, the film began in a similar way to the original Star Wars film[a] with a presentation of both the "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...." text and with the Star Wars logo receding into a starscape background. The crawl then appeared with the plain text headings "Episode V" and "The Empire Strikes Back".[68] Trailer and poster promotions for the film generally read "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back" without the episode number. Like A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back was rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America, and certificate U in the United Kingdom.[69]

Box office[edit]

The Empire Strikes Back opened mid-week across 126 theaters prior to the three-day Memorial Day holiday weekend. Compared to Star Wars $1.5 million Memorial Day opening weekend, The Empire Strikes Back earned $4.9 million during the weekend—an average of $38,972 per theater.[70][71] This figure increased a further $1.5 million during the holiday Monday to a total of $6.4 million—an average of $50,919 per theater[71]—making it the number one film of the weekend, ahead of counterprogrammed debuting films, the comedy The Gong Show Movie ($1.5 million) and psychological horror The Shining ($600K).[72][73]

After four weeks on release, it expanded to 824 screens and grossed $10.8 million for the weekend setting a new weekly record of $20.4 million.[74] Within three months of the release of The Empire Strikes Back, Lucas had recovered his $33 million investment and distributed $5 million in bonuses to employees.[30] It earned $181.4 million during its first run in the United States and Canada.

It was re-released on July 31, 1981 and grossed a further $26.8 million and again on November 19, 1982 with a gross of $14.5 million to bring its gross to $222.7 million.[75]

When The Empire Strikes Back returned to cinemas in 1997, it grossed $22 million in its first weekend of re-release. As of 2007, the film has grossed $290.5 million domestically and $547.9 million worldwide.[3] 35 years after the film's initial release, it re-entered the UK box office at number 9 grossing $470,000 from June 4–7, 2015.[76]

Critical response[edit]

Initial critical reception of The Empire Strikes Back was divided, with some critics dismissing the film and others celebrating it.[77][78][79][80] For example, Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote a largely dismissive review of the film, saying "it is nice and inoffensive and, in a way that no one associated with it need be ashamed of, it's also silly. Attending to it is a lot like reading the middle of a comic book."[81] David Denby of New York magazine called the film "a Wagnerian pop movie—grandiose, thrilling, imperiously generous in scale, and also a bit ponderous".[82] Judith Martin of The Washington Post criticized the film's "middle-of-the-story" plot, which she claimed had no particular beginning or end.[83] However, this was a concept that Lucas had intended.[49] James Harwood of Variety wrote, "'The Empire Strikes Back' is a worthy sequel to 'Star Wars,' equal in both technical mastery and characterization, suffering only from the familiarity with the effects generated in the original and imitated too much by others."[84] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four and stated that although the film "has some poor special effects" and that Lando Calrissian "isn't given enough screen time to develop into anyone special," he found these weaknesses "trivial compared to the strengths of the film, which are considerable and sometimes even majestic."[85] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times stated that the film "seems to me a hugely accomplished and exciting follow-on to 'Star Wars'," adding that "I wish it were a handful of minutes shorter but this my single caveat about another richly imaginative, engrossing and spectacular motion picture from the redoubtable George Lucas."[86] Roger Angell of The New Yorker reported, "I had a great time at 'The Empire Strikes Back,' and although I did not find it as consistently pleasing and exciting as its predecessor, I felt stretched and terrifically entertained—and convinced, as I was at 'Star Wars,' that I was watching a first-class kids' movie."[87] Richard Combs of The Monthly Film Bulletin was negative, writing, "That story counts for less than gimmicks, and characters less than both, might be judged from the lack of resonance in the one narrative revelation, concerning Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker."[88] Bruce McCabe of The Boston Globe said, "This is a respectable sequel to 'Star Wars' but not as good," explaining that "[t]he sequel is more calculated. The spontaneous energy of the original, which grew out of the arcane riskiness of the project, is missing."[89]

Christopher John reviewed The Empire Strikes Back in Ares Magazine #3 and commented that "George Lucas has produced a better film than the original, though many feared he would not even be able to equal it."[90]


At the 53rd Academy Awards, The Empire Strikes Back won the award for Best Sound, which was awarded to Bill Varney, Steve Maslow, Gregg Landaker, and Peter Sutton.[91] In addition, the film received the Special Achievement Academy Award for Best Visual Effects that was awarded to Brian Johnson, Richard Edlund, Dennis Muren, and Bruce Nicholson. Composer John Williams was also nominated for Best Original Score, and Norman Reynolds, Leslie Dilley, Harry Lange, Alan Tomkins, and Michael Ford were nominated for Best Art Direction.[92]

In addition, John Williams was awarded the British Academy Film Award for his compositions: the Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music. The Empire Strikes Back also received British Academy Film Award nominations for Best Sound and Best Production Design. Williams was also nominated for a Grammy Award and a Golden Globe Award for his musical score of the film.[93] The Empire Strikes Back received four Saturn Awards, for Mark Hamill as Best Actor, Irvin Kershner for Best Director, Brian Johnson and Richard Edlund for Best Special Effects, and the Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film.[citation needed] The Empire Strikes Back won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. The film was nominated for the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.[94] The Empire Strikes Back was awarded the Golden Screen Award in Germany.[95]

American composer John Williams nominated the Academy Award, BAFTA Award, Golden Globe Award and Saturn Award for The Empire Strikes Back music
Year Organization Award Result
Academy Awards Best Original Score John Williams Nominated
Best Production Design Norman Reynolds Nominated
Leslie Dilley Nominated
Harry Lange Nominated
Alan Tomkins Nominated
Michael D. Ford Nominated
Best Sound Mixing Bill Varney Won
Steve Maslow Won
Gregg Landaker Won
Peter Sutton Won
Special Achievement Academy Award Brian Johnson Won
Richard Edlund Won
Dennis Muren Won
Bruce Nicholson Won
British Academy Film Awards Best Original Music John Williams Won
Best Production Design Norman Reynolds Nominated
Best Sound Peter Sutton Nominated
Ben Burtt Nominated
Bill Varney Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Original Score John Williams Nominated
Saturn Awards Best Science Fiction Film Gary Kurtz Won
Best Director Irvin Kershner Won
Best Actor Mark Hamill Won
Best Supporting Actor Billy Dee Williams Nominated
Best Writing Leigh Brackett Nominated
Lawrence Kasdan Nominated
Best Costume Design John Mollo Nominated
Best Music John Williams Nominated
Best Special Effects Brian Johnson Won
Richard Edlund Won
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Adapted Screenplay Leigh Brackett Nominated
Lawrence Kasdan Nominated


Thematic analysis[edit]

Like its predecessor, The Empire Strikes Back draws from several mythological stories and world religions. It also includes many elements from 1930s film serials such as a childhood favorite of Lucas', Flash Gordon, which similarly featured a city afloat in the sky.[96][97]

Special Edition and other changes[edit]

The 1997 theatrical release poster of the new Special Edition version of the film (art by Drew Struzan)

As part of Star Wars's 20th anniversary celebration in 1997, The Empire Strikes Back was digitally remastered and re-released along with Star Wars and Return of the Jedi under the title Star Wars Trilogy: Special Edition. Lucas took this opportunity to make several minor changes to the film. These included explicitly showing the Wampa creature on Hoth in full form, creating a more complex flight path for the Falcon as it approaches Cloud City, digitally replacing some of the interior walls of Cloud City with vistas of Bespin, and replacing certain lines of dialogue. A short sequence was also added depicting Vader's return to his Super Star Destroyer after dueling with Luke, created from alternate angles of a scene from Return of the Jedi. Most of the changes were small and esthetic. Some fans believe that the changes to the film were less detrimental than that of the other two entries in the trilogy.[98]

The film was also resubmitted to the MPAA for rating; it was again rated PG, but under the Association's new description nomenclature, the reason given was for "sci-fi action/violence".[99] This version of the film runs 127 minutes.

The 2004 release, among other changes replaced Jason Wingreen's voicework as Boba Fett with Temuera Morrison, who portrayed the character's father Jango Fett in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002). Similarly, the Emperor, as voiced by Clive Revill and portrayed by Marjorie Eaton, was replaced by Ian McDiarmid, who portrayed the character in later films.[98][100][f]

Home media[edit]

When the film debuted on television, it was preceded by a second-person introduction by Darth Vader, framed as an interruption of the Earth broadcast by the Galactic Empire.[101] The film was released on CED in 1984[102][103] and on VHS and Laserdisc several times during the 1980s and 1990s.[104]

The Empire Strikes Back was released on DVD in September 2004, bundled in a box set with A New Hope, Return of the Jedi, and a bonus disc of extra features. The films were digitally restored and remastered, with additional changes made by George Lucas.[98] The bonus features include a commentary by George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, Ben Burtt, Dennis Muren, and Carrie Fisher, as well as an extensive documentary called Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy. Also included are featurettes, teasers, trailers, TV spots, still galleries, video game demos, and a preview of Revenge of the Sith. For the DVD release, Lucas and his team made changes that they stated would ensure continuity between The Empire Strikes Back and the then-recently released prequel trilogy films. The most noticeable of these changes was replacing the stand-in used in the holographic image of the Emperor (with Clive Revill providing the voice) with actor Ian McDiarmid providing some slightly altered dialogue. With this release, Lucas also supervised the creation of a high-definition digital print of The Empire Strikes Back and the original trilogy's other films. It was reissued in December 2005 as part of a three-disc "limited edition" boxed set that did not feature the bonus disc.[105]

The film was reissued again on a separate two-disc Limited Edition DVD for a brief time from September 12, 2006, to December 31, 2006, this time with the film's original, unaltered version as bonus material. It was also re-released in a trilogy box set on November 4, 2008.[106] There was controversy surrounding the initial release, because the DVDs featured non-anamorphic versions of the original films based on LaserDisc releases from 1993 (as opposed to newly remastered, film-based, high-definition transfers). Since non-anamorphic transfers fail to make full use of the resolution available on widescreen televisions, many fans were disappointed with this choice.[107]

On August 14, 2010, George Lucas announced that all six Star Wars films in their Special Edition form would be released on Blu-ray Disc in Fall 2011.[108] On January 6, 2011, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment announced the Blu-ray release for September 2011 in three different editions.[109]

On April 7, 2015, Walt Disney Studios, 20th Century Fox, and Lucasfilm jointly announced the digital releases of the six released Star Wars films. The Empire Strikes Back was released through the iTunes Store, Amazon Video, Vudu, Google Play, and Disney Movies Anywhere on April 10, 2015.[110]

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment reissued The Empire Strikes Back on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital download on September 22, 2019.[111] Additionally, all six films were available for 4K HDR and Dolby Atmos streaming on Disney+ upon the service's launch on November 12, 2019.[112] This version of the film was released by Disney on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray box set on March 31, 2020.[113][113]


A radio play adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back was written by Brian Daley, and was produced for and broadcast on the National Public Radio network in the U.S. during 1983. It was based on characters and situations created by George Lucas, and on the screenplay by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan. Its director was John Madden, with sound mixing and post-production work done by Tom Voegeli.[114]

Mark Hamill, Billy Dee Williams, and Anthony Daniels reprised their roles as Luke Skywalker, Lando Calrissian, and C-3PO respectively, with John Lithgow voicing Yoda. This radio play was designed to last for five hours of radio time, usually presented in more than one part.[115] Radio agencies estimate that about 750,000 people tuned in to listen to this series radio play beginning on February 14, 1983.[116] In terms of the canonical Star Wars story, this radio drama has been given the highest designation, G-canon.[117][118]


The film was selected in 2010 to be preserved by the Library of Congress as part of its National Film Registry.[119][120] 35 mm reels of the 1997 Special Edition were initially presented for preservation because of the difficulty of transferring from the original prints,[121][122] but it was later revealed that the Library possessed a copyright deposit print of the original theatrical release.[123]

Lasting reception[edit]

Although The Empire Strikes Back received mixed reviews from critics upon release, the film has since grown in esteem; it is now widely regarded as the best film in the Star Wars saga and one of the greatest films ever made.[124][125][126][127][128]

According to the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 94% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 102 reviews, with an average rating of 8.97/10. The site's critics 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."[129] At Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 82 out of 100 based on 25 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[130] Bob Stephens of The San Francisco Examiner described The Empire Strikes Back as "the greatest episode of the Star Wars Trilogy" in 1997.[131] In 2016, James Charisma of Playboy ranked the film #3 on a list of 15 Sequels That Are Way Better Than The Originals.[132] Roger Ebert described the film as the strongest and "most thought-provoking" film of the original trilogy.[133]

Writing for Empire Magazine, Ian Nathan gave the film a five-star rating proclaiming "it's generally agreed that The Empire Strikes Back is the best film of George Lucas' initial trilogy (despite a latter-day shift toward the original's storytelling purity). Not a sequel as such, but the next part of a continuing story, Empire marks enormous progression both in terms of the mythos of the series and in the filmmaking quality itself."[134] In 2014, the magazine's readers voted for the film as the greatest movie ever made, based on 250,000 votes.[135]

Chuck Klosterman suggested that while "movies like Easy Rider and Saturday Night Fever painted living portraits for generations they represented in the present tense, The Empire Strikes Back might be the only example of a movie that set the social aesthetic for a generation coming in the future."[136]

Cultural impact[edit]

In the 2014 Empire Magazine list, "The 301 Greatest Movies of All Time" voted by fans, The Empire Strikes Back was named as the greatest film ever made.[137][138] It was listed at number 2 on Empire's 2017 list of the 100 Greatest Movies.[139]



A comic book adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back was released by Marvel Comics in 1977. It was written by Archie Goodwin and illustrated by Al Williamson and Carlos Garzon. It was published simultaneously in four formats: as a magazine (Marvel Super Special #16),[140] an oversized tabloid edition (Marvel Special Edition Featuring Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back),[141] as part of a serialized comic book series, and as a paperback pocket book.[142] It has been noted by comic book historians and industry professionals that Marvel's Star Wars comics published prior to the release of The Empire Strikes Back include plot points similar to those used in the film, such as the Empire's counter-strike against the rebels after the destruction of the Death Star. However, the film's makers have not acknowledged receiving any inspiration from the comic books.[143]


A novelization of the film was released on April 12, 1980, and published by Del Rey Books. It was written by Donald F. Glut, and based on the film's screenplay.[144] Japanese artist Toshiki Kudo also adapted it into a manga comic book.[145]

Lucasfilm adapted the story for a children's book-and-record set. Released in 1980, the 24-page Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back read-along book was accompanied by a ​33 13 rpm 7-inch gramophone record. Each page of the book contained a cropped frame from the film with an abridged and condensed version of the story. The record was produced by Buena Vista Records.[citation needed]

Video games[edit]

Video games based on the film have been released on several consoles. Additionally, several Star Wars video games feature or mention key events seen in the film, but are not entirely based upon the film.

In 1982 Parker Brothers released Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back for the Atari 2600 games console, which featured the speeder attack on the AT-ATs on Hoth.[146] The arcade game Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back followed in 1985. The game features familiar battle sequences and characters played from a first-person perspective. Specific battles include the Battle of Hoth and the subsequent escape of the Millennium Falcon through an asteroid field.[147] A conversion was released in 1988 for the ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, BBC Micro, Atari ST, and Commodore Amiga.[148]

In 1992, JVC released the LucasArts-developed video game also titled Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console.[149] The player assumes the role of Luke Skywalker and maneuvers through Skywalker's story as seen in the film. In 1992, Ubisoft released a version for the Game Boy. Like its previous incarnation, it follows the story of Luke Skywalker.[150] Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was developed for the console Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) by LucasArts and was released by JVC in 1993. The SNES game is similar in spots to the 1991 NES release, and is on a 12-megabit cartridge.[151]


Empire Strikes Back
TESB flyer.jpg
Release date1980
DesignDavid Hankin

The Empire Strikes Back is a pinball machine released in 1980 by Hankin. It is based on the Star Wars film The Empire Strikes Back. The machine was designed by David Hankin and was the last built by this manufacturer.

The Empire Strikes Back was the first Star Wars pinball machine ever created. According to Pinball Memories, this game was first exhibited in November 1980 at the National Amusement Machine Operators Convention held at Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia.

The features;

  • 4-Player game
  • 4 flippers
  • 4 pop bumpers
  • 2 roll-under spinners
  • 2 kick-out holes
  • 1 3-bank drop targets
  • 1 single drop target

A total 350 units were produced and are sought after collectors items.

Sequels and prequels[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Later titled Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
  2. ^ As depicted in the 1977 film Star Wars.
  3. ^ Bulloch also makes a cameo appearance as the Imperial officer who grabs Leia when she tells Luke to avoid Vader's trap with John Morton doubling as Fett in this scene.[citation needed]
  4. ^ This was stated in 2013 to be make-up artist Rick Baker's wife wearing a mask he crafted, with chimpanzee eyes superimposed over hers.[16][17] However, it was later clarified by Lucasfilm creative executive Pablo Hidalgo to be Eaton in the film (previously believed to have only appeared in a test), wearing a mask crafted by Phil Tippett.[18][19]
  5. ^ Not yet established to be Leia, who is revealed to be Luke's lost sister in Return of the Jedi (1983).
  6. ^ Filmed during the production of Revenge of the Sith (Kaminski 2008)


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  • Arnold, Alan (1980). Once Upon a Galaxy: A Journal of Making the Empire Strikes Back. London: Sphere Books. ISBN 978-0-345-29075-5.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Bouzereau, Laurent (1997). The Annotated Screenplays. Del Rey. ISBN 0-345-40981-7.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Kaminski, Michael (2008) [2007]. The Secret History of Star Wars (3.0 ed.).CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Rinzler, J. W. (2010). The Making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back : the definitive story. New York: Del Rey Books. ISBN 9780345509611. OCLC 657407687.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

External links[edit]