“No, I am your father.” – Darth Vader
The Empire Strikes Back was the most important Star Wars sequel ever made simply because it was the first sequel. If it stumbled and failed to at least match the hugely successful Star Wars, then who knows how the Star Wars franchise would’ve fared. Maybe creator George Lucas may have been able to complete the trilogy and the films would not have been so revered as they are to this day.
Fortunately for everyone, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back turned out to be much, much better than expected. As it stands, it’s still the gold standard for Star Wars films that hasn’t been matched more than 30 years later.
The Empire Strikes Back’s opening crawl tells of a Galactic Civil War taking place long ago in a distant galaxy. The Rebel Alliance has scored an impressive victory when the farm boy-turned-rebel Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) destroyed the Galactic Empire’s massive Death Star battle station. The celebration was short lived for the Rebels, who were forced to flee their headquarters to the frozen planet Hoth. Darth Vader (David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones), commanding the imperial fleet, leads an exhaustive search for Luke and the Rebels with the intent of crushing the rebellion.
An imperial Star Destroyer battle cruiser launches several probe droids throughout space to find the Rebel’s new headquarters. One of them lands on Hoth and begins its mission. A few miles away, Luke Skywalker is out on patrol riding a tauntaun, a bipedal beast of burden. After checking in with his friend Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Luke and his tauntaun are attacked by a wampa, a yeti-like predator. The tauntaun is killed while Luke is knocked out. Waking up in the creature’s den, he manages to escape, but is lost in a raging blizzard. Before long he succumbs to the pelting snow and collapses. Before passing out he sees a vision of his old, deceased mentor Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi (Alec Guinness) and is tasked by the specter to go to the planet Dagobah and continue his Jedi training.
Han Solo returns to the Rebel base and announces to Rebel leader Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) that he intends to leave the base to pay off his debt to the gangster Jabba the Hutt. He and Leia get into a heated argument, which underscores the smoldering romantic tension between the two. Then they learn that Luke hasn’t returned yet from his patrol. Fearing the worst, Han heads out with a tauntaun into the white maelstrom to look for his friend. He eventually finds Luke unconscious, but they’re forced to spend the night out in the tundra.
The next day, a Rebel patrol rescues them. Back at the base the celebration over their return is cut short with the news that a probe droid transmitted their location to the Empire. The Rebels are forced to evacuate as Darth Vader arrives with his fleet and dispatches a contingent of imperial walkers, ambulatory tank units shaped like quadrupeds, to attack the Rebel base. To delay the imperials, Luke and a group of fighter pilots fly several snowspeeder fighter craft and engage the walkers, but the fight is one sided. The walkers are too armored for the snowspeeders. Still, the fight gives the Rebels enough time to evacuate. However, Leia is blocked off from her route to an assigned ship. This forces her and the protocol droid C-3P0 (Anthony Daniels) to leave with Han and his Wookiee first mate Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) in his ship the Millennium Falcon.
Once in space, Han finds out that the Millennium Falcon’s engines are damaged and the ship can’t jump into hyperspace. Pursued by imperial ships, Han hides out in an asteroid field to make some repairs. During this time, the feelings between him and Leia grow stronger and the two begin a romantic relationship.
While Han, Leia, Chewbacca and C-3P0 escaped Hoth, Luke and his astromech droid R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) managed to flee Hoth as well in his X-Wing fighter craft. Instead of rendezvousing with the Rebels, Luke instead goes to the planet Dagobah, a planet covered in dense vegetations and swampy environments. The X-Wing crashes into a swamp, but Luke and the droid are able to make a camp. Before long, they are visited by a diminutive, goblin-like being (Frank Oz) that claims to know Yoda and takes Luke to meet him.
Luke and R2-D2 accompany the small green person to his muddy hut and Luke becomes irritated by the person’s eccentric behavior and syntax. The being rummages about his dwelling and speaks gibberish to the point that Luke scolds him about wasting time. Seeing the young man’s impatience, his demeanor becomes serious and says to an unseen person that Luke cannot be trained. In response, Obi-Wan’s disembodied voice implores that Luke has potential. Luke realizes that this person that he dismissed moments ago is indeed Yoda. Startled by his error in judgment, Luke joins in the conversation and practically begs to be trained as a Jedi. Finally, Yoda gives in agrees to train him.
Time passes in the bog as Luke learns the ways of the Force, the mystical energy field wielded by the Jedi. He grows in mind and body as he undergoes physical and mental training. He also begins to have explicit visions. One of them is a precognitive one. Luke sees that his friends Han and Leia are in trouble. This convinces Luke that he has to leave to save his friends. This concerns Yoda and Obi-Wan, who now appears as ghostly presence. They believe that Luke hasn’t completed his Jedi training and is vulnerable to Vader and the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid), who want to lure him into embracing the dark side of the Force. Luke is adamant about leaving Dagobah, but promises to return to complete his training. As he leaves with R2-D2 in his salvaged X-Wing, Obi-Wan laments that Luke is their only hope. Yoda replies “No, there is another.”
Back on the asteroid field, Han and his group are forced to leave their hideout because it turned out that he piloted the Millennium Falcon inside of a giant whale-like space creature. Outside the field, they resume their cat-and-mouse game with the imperial ships. During the maneuvers, the Falcon is able to evade the Star Destroyers by piggybacking onto the side of one of their hulls. The Rebels are finally able to shake their pursuers when the Star Destroyer jettisons its garbage and they drift away with the debris. The plan works as the imperial fleet jumps into hyperspace, but they’re unaware that nearby in a small ship, a bounty hunter called Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch) is tracking them.
Going through his navigational charts, Han realizes that they’re near the planet Bespin. He knows an old friend there, Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), who runs a floating mining facility there and can offer them a safe haven. When they arrive in the luxurious floating city, they’re greeted warmly by Lando, but they don’t realize that they have walked into a trap that will lure Luke Skywalker into the hands of Darth Vader.