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Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Empire Strikes Back is an atmospheric sci-fi classic that 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. 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. 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 series gains most of its emotional and thematic depth, and while it's a rousing adventure told superbly, it's among the darkest and most intense of the films.
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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 The Empire Strikes Back 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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how they've been impacted by the heavy merchandising for Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back 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?
Why is this movie considered a classic?
- In theaters: May 21, 1980
- On DVD or streaming: 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
- Character Strengths: Courage, Perseverance, Self-control
- Run time: 124 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: sci-fi action violence
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.