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STAR WARS: The Empire Strikes Back (Episode V) – The Chills Scenes

February 26, 2020

Luke Vader Showdown

UPDATE: We initially ran this back in 2015 before the release of The Force Awakens. With perspective on the full Skywalker saga, now seems like a good time to revisit it. The original has been updated with a more extensive appreciation of the film plus more (and higher quality) screenshots. Enjoy!

The original Star Wars trilogy; New Hollywood’s Holy Triumvirate. What is there really left to say about it? Probably not a whole lot, but that won’t stop us from trying. However, in lieu of a traditional write-up for these movies, this will be a space to single out the key moments from the films that helped make them the phenomena they are. These moments might be considered the greatest moments in the trilogy—the chill-inducing cinematic moments that will never get old. Without further ado…

The 12 best moments from Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

1. Return of the Force

The mystery of the Force is strung along very effectively throughout Star Wars. Another breadcrumb is laid down early on in Empire, after Luke is attacked by a wampa and hung upside down in an ice cave, his feet frozen to the ceiling. Luke can’t see the grisly fate that awaits him, but he can hear it. Trouble is, he can’t find his lightsaber. Then, Luke spots his salvation. He locates his lightsaber protruding from a snowbank just beyond his reach. He doesn’t have much time. He feels the Force, and a little adrenaline no doubt, and summons the lightsaber into his waiting hand just in time to fend off the hungry wampa. This rousing sequence is capped off by Luke encountering a vision of Obi-Wan. Hallucination? No. A special directive for continuing education? Yes.

Luke Lightsaber Hoth Empire Strikes Back Luke Obi Wan Ghost Empire Strikes Back

2. The Romance of Echo Base

Not a specific moment per se, but Echo Base comprises some beautiful sets. Low lighting, close quarters, constant ambient beeping and booping from the many rows of computer banks… Who would have thought an underground base carved out of ice could feel so warm and alive?

The sexual tension between Han and Leia is palpable, deflated in hilarious fashion when she kisses Luke. It’s extra goofy in hindsight that she was unknowingly smooching a blood relative.

Luke Bacta Tank Luke Leia Kiss Empire Strikes Back

3. The First Imperial March

John Williams outdid himself once again with The Imperial March. What an incredible piece of music. As for the film itself, Darth Vader’s helmet has never been shinier, and the empire reveals that even after the loss of the Death Star, it is not without toys. Behold, the super star destroyer-class Executor. The unveiling of this piece of Imperial tech boosts the overall scale of the conflict. As pure spectacle, this scene arguably one-ups the opening shot from A New Hope.

Super Star Destroyer Executor Empire Strikes Back Darth Vader Helmet Empire Strikes Back Vader Executor Bridge Star DestroyerStar Destroyers Empire Strikes Back

4. The Battle of Hoth

The Rebellions prepares for a ground assault to buy time for their transports to escape the fray. In addition to more gorgeous shots around Echo Base, the battle between the Rebel snowspeeders and the hulking Imperial AT-ATs became an instant icon.

5. “Imperial troops have entered the base.”

Imperial troops have entered the base

Seeing Vader charging through the abandoned passage ways of Echo Base delivers a chill the reminds me of The Terminator. Empire was first by four years, but both films feature iconic villains basically kicking in the door of our heroes’ place of refuge. It’s chilling — and not just because Hoth is an ice planet. Perhaps now you’ll think of Vader the next time you see Arnold Schwarzenegger drive a car through the front of a police station. His brash stroll through the base does not end with a confrontation, but sets the tone for the rest of the film: the Empire is coming and there’s no place to hide.

6. “Stop that. My hands are dirty.”

Echo Base was romantic, but the low-lit close quarters seem to follow Leia and Han around for the entirety of the film. Hiding from the Empire in an asteroid field, and needing a few quick repairs to the Millennium Falcon, the romantic tension finally boils over. Again, C-3PO drops in with great comedic timing to burst their bubble.

Han Leia Kiss Empire Strikes Back

7. Everything else that happens in the asteroid field.

asteroid field Empire Strikes Back

“They’d be crazy to follow us, wouldn’t they?” asks Han, defending his decision to fly into a perilous asteroid field to shake Imperial pursuit. They find a hidden cave in the crater of a large asteroid, where they attempt to make some repairs to the Falcon. While it sure is cozy in there, they have make a hasty exit from the cave when they realize, in fact, that “this is no cave.”

Giant Space Slug

8. “Bounty hunters. We don’t need their scum.”

It’s been discussed that the Skywalker saga is largely seen through the eye(s) of R2-D2. If the story had a narrator, it would almost certainly be him and/or C-3PO. It’s also worth considering that, collectively, bounty hunters are the other connective tissue in this film franchise. They are the oil in the machine, and many plot points throughout the saga are advanced by the actions of a bounty hunter, Boba Fett, or otherwise. Perhaps that’s why this scene, in which Vader holds open casting for bounty hunters who can track the Millennium Falcon, resonates far beyond it’s quick run-time.

Regardless of the plot mechanics, it’s also just a great scene. It’s the rich little moments like this one that inspire lists like these. This scene flaunts some great creature and costume design, but also delivers compact, memorable characterization. In one line, the bounty hunters assembled to track down the Millennium Falcon are established as the worst of the worst, and the cattiness of the Imperial officers is on display once again. The exchange between the officers is just strange enough that it makes everything feel a bit more real and relatable. Great stuff! It’s a testament to the talent and vision of Lucas & Co. that the whole trilogy is populated with bits like this.

Also, “no disintegrations!”

9. “Do or do not. There is not try.”

In addition to having one of the lines most quoted by middle school teachers, the scene in which Yoda proves to Luke that “size matters not” is truly a spine-tingler. Early in his training with Yoda, Luke’s bad attitude crops up again. He is frustrated and needs to see in order to believe. Distracted by his X-Wing sinking almost completely into the Dagobah swamp, Luke all but gives up on ever retrieving it. “It’s too big,” he says. Then the Green Muppet serenely lifts the spacecraft using the Force, John Williams’ score swells, and we melt.

do or do not, there is not try

10. Uninvited Dinner Guests

We knew Han, Leia, Chewbacca, and C-3PO were being tracked by some hardcore baddies, but it’s still a shock when Han enters the dining room and finds Vader sitting at the head of the table.

11. The Carbon Freezing Chamber

The carbon-freezing chamber beneath the surface of Cloud City is glorious. The cocktail of red uplighting, blue ambiance, and steam billowing from just about everywhere sets off the nightmarish mood just right. It’s the perfect setting in which to devastate our heroes. The bad guys have joined forces, and they’re winning. This whole sequence is a marvel of production design and film-making in general.

As and aside, some people say they like Empire because it’s “the dark Star Wars.” That’s valid, but it’s also not the reason Empire is good. Empire is good (good, great, choose a superlative) because it’s bold, distinctive, and astonishingly well-made. Lucas was humble enough to bring in reinforcements in the writing and directing departments to bolster his Hollywood-altering vision. That added steadiness paid off. Also, it’s kinda dark. And if all that isn’t enough, Han and Leia’s parting exchange is an all-timer.

12. Oedipus Skywalker (a.k.a. “No! I am you father.)

This scene has become ubiquitous, perhaps even clichéd. Every time I hear someone botch Vader’s iconic line, I can’t help but groan. Fortunately, watching this film every once in a while, and this scene in particular, instantly washes away the bad taste of repeated misquotes. Perhaps this just means that Empire is better seen than quoted. For what it lacks in acrobatics (a la the prequel trilogy), this showdown between Luke and Darth Vader makes up for it with emotion and atmosphere. The intensity is dialed up by the direction and unforgettable production design.

Return of the Jedi coming soon! Have you read Star Wars: A New Hope?

From → Lists, Star Wars

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