Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back



The best of the original series, but the most intense, too.
Parents recommendPopular with kids
  • Review Date: January 27, 2007
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Release Year: 1980
  • Running Time: 124 minutes

What parents need to know

Educational value

A large section of the film depicts a training session in which the lead character is educated on the ways of the series' "religion," which is really a kind of moral code and way of parsing the difference between good and evil.

Positive messages

The film provides strong positive messages around the ideas of always trying your best (or rather, "Do. Or do not. There is no try."), avoiding the temptations of evil, and remaining loyal to friends.

Positive role models

Characters demonstrate such positive traits as loyalty, bravery, problem solving under extreme duress, and sacrificing one's own needs and wants for the sake of others. This is the first time a character of color is introduced.

Violence & scariness

The violence is primarily centered around sci-fi battles in space and characters using blasters and laser swords. However, this film amps up the psychological violence, especially centered around the lead character and his interactions with the dark forces that have overtaken the universe. Sequences such as an encounter with the villain in a cave, a character being placed into a deep-freeze chamber, and the final sword battle are all dark, scary, and packed with emotional weight. The film ends with a well-known moment of extreme violence, emotional turmoil, and parental abandonment that will have a powerful impact on young viewers.

Sexy stuff

Two of the main leads in the film engage in a love-hate flirtatious relationship over the course of the film, culminating in a few relatively chaste kisses. A few moments of veiled sexual innuendo, but not anything that would be apparent to children.


There is very little iffy language; some banter/name-calling, and the word "hell" is used once.


As the second film released in a series, this film's development was driven at least in part by merchandising opportunities, primarily toys and other products for children. Even decades after the film's release, these products remain widely available.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this atmospheric sci-fi classic features some intense moments of dark emotional content, along with a few very jarring scenes that are not so much violent as they are psychologically jarring. The romantic content is significantly increased from the first movie in the series, although it still remains at a flirtatious level with just a few moments of relatively tame kissing. This is the movie where the six-film series gains most of its emotional and thematic depth, and while it's a rousing adventure told superbly, it's also the darkest and most intense of the six films.

What's the story?

The focus of EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is on the pursuit of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and the other rebel heroes by the cyborg villain Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones). The story gets moving with an outburst of violence, as Luke is mauled by a Yeti-like monster on the ice planet where the rebels are hiding. Luke, looking to sharpen his powers of the Force, seeks out a long-lost master named Yoda for some serious training in the Eastern-religion style mysticism required to be a fabled Jedi knight. Meanwhile, Vader and his fleet of marauding starships hunt Luke's friends, all fleeing aboard the ramshackle ship of galactic fortune-hunter Han Solo (Harrison Ford), who maintains a bickering romance in this one with Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher). Of course the real payoff of this plot is when Luke confronts Darth Vader in single combat, and learns the dreadful secret of his family tree.

Is it any good?


By many opinions, this is the very best in the Star Wars series. To 1980 audiences (who did not have the benefit of The Phantom Menace and its follow-ups) it was a breathtaking surprise, a hugely entertaining mix of sci-fi spectacle, fantasy, and funny robots.

George Lucas did not direct, but handed the reins to a time-proven but relatively unsung director named Irvin Kershner, who delivered a space spectacle that is true to the Joseph Campbell mythology and fairy-tale wonder of the first Star Wars Episode IV. But Empire stands apart from the rest in terms of mature, straight-ahead storytelling. It's significant as the only Star Wars feature that doesn't have a big "cantina" scene in which the filmmakers overindulge in cramming the frame with all the wacky aliens they can.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how they have been impacted by the heavy merchandising for this film and the others in the series. Do you think movies are over-merchandised? Are there too many products on sale to promote movies? Can you think of some movies that seem created primarily to sell toys and other products?

  • How is the tone of this movie different from the first one? Do you think this is a better film than the first? Why are sequels usually worse than the original?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:May 21, 1980
DVD release date:September 12, 2006
Cast:Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill
Director:Irvin Kershner
Studio:Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Genre:Science Fiction
Topics:Adventures, Robots, Space and aliens
Run time:124 minutes
MPAA rating:PG
MPAA explanation:sci-fi action violence

This review of Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back was written by

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Kid, 12 years old April 25, 2011

The Empire Strikes Back is a classic for all to see

An excellent sequel filled with lots of action. This movie contains some kissing and some blood so watch out.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Great messages
Great role models
Teen, 13 years old Written byEzio432 September 25, 2010


One of the best Star Wars movies, but maybe your kids under age 11 wouldnt like it, MOST just like the prequels because they dont like 1980's films their age(I SAID MOST SO I WOULDNT BE PREJUDIST). Has fairly mild violence and a mild scene with Han and Leia kissing, nothing we havent seen in a rated G movie. Is dark and some little kids might be afraid of its scary parts, but not as bad as Episode 3. Overall, best movie in the series(but its tied with Attack of the Clones!)
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Teen, 13 years old Written bySpielberg00 May 29, 2011

Slightly more intense than "A New Hope".

My rating: PG for sci-fi violence.
What other families should know
Too much violence


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