STARRING: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Frank Oz, Alec Guinness

1997, 127 Minutes, Directed by: Irvin Kershner

The secret behind the Star Wars movies, hold on for this, is the music.

No wait, I'm being serious. As I'm writing this refrains from the Imperial March and Leia's Theme is reverberating though my head. And it isn't merely a question of John Williams' score fitting the films so perfectly. No, having just seen The Empire Strikes Back Special Edition I realised that the music analogy goes further than this. The film is like the music score: operatic in its scope and ambitions.

The scene in which Darth Vader confronts Luke Skywalker with the fact that he is his father is like a scene from a Wagner opera seen through the prism of surreal 20th century pop culture.

When Lucas dropped us in the midst of the action with Star Wars (Episode IV and all that . . .) we knew that he was painting a broad canvas, only a part of a bigger story - a story rich with its own mythology, history and background (the Fall of the Republic, the Clone Wars, etc.). See? Now even I am reverting to using capital letters! That is because the Star Wars Trilogy itself is written in Capital Letters. Nowhere is this clearer than with The Empire Strikes Back.

Unlike most sequels it follows naturally on the previous movie and sets the scene for next film, Return of the Jedi (which unfortunately did succumb to the rules of movie sequels by rehashing several ideas from its predecessors). Also, the film spends more time on its characters and unlike the previous film they aren't as busy with all kinds of swashbuckling adventures. It isn't only the sets, which bristle with all kinds of minute detail, that are big . . .

The production designs are, of course, excellent. Being the sequel to the biggest box office money spinner no cost was spared - unlike the short cuts Lucas was forced to take with filming Star Wars. For that reason this so-called Special Edition has fewer altered scenes than the first Star Wars Special Edition version. Also, the added scenes won't affront even the most nit-picking Star Wars fan: no scenes in which Greedo fires first or Han Solo steps on Jabba the Hut's tail. These scenes (mostly new) add more to the general scope and breadth of the Star Wars universe. (Most of them centre around making the city in the clouds look more impressive.)

In fact the scenes are quite dazzling and only makes one wish harder for Lucas to complete the rest of the planned series. After all, he is telling a big story here . . .


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