Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Movie review by
Charles Cassady Jr., Common Sense Media
Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back Movie Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
The best of the original series, but the most intense, too.
  • PG
  • 1980
  • 124 minutes

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 46 reviews

Kids say

age 8+
Based on 160 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Although this film is meant to entertain, not educate, 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. Major themes include perseverance and courage.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters demonstrate such positive traits as loyalty, bravery, self-control, 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

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 8-year-old Written bykpeets January 1, 2020

Decapitation too much for many under 10

While the Common Sense review was helpful, I think parents need to know that the cave scene they refer to as disturbing involves Luke Skywalker decapitating a h... Continue reading
Adult Written byJean Kristine F. August 28, 2017

Thrilling but with mild inappropriate scenes

The movie plot twist gives a mind-blow to every audience, especially the scene where Vader reveals himself to be Luke's father and I've seen many bewi... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byskyjackson January 1, 2017

An incredible sequel to an iconic trilogy.

The star wars name is now a household name, with 7 movies (with more coming) The original trilogy is no doubt incredible, but honestly this movie is as close to... Continue reading
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 a... Continue reading

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?

  • How do the characters in Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back demonstrate self-control, perseverance, and courage? Why are these important character strengths?

Movie details

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For kids who love sci-fi

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