The Empire Strikes Back (also known as Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back) is a 1980 American epic space opera film directed by Irvin Kershner. Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan wrote the screenplay, with George Lucas writing the film’s story and serving as executive producer. The second installment in the original Star Wars trilogy, it was produced by Gary Kurtz for Lucasfilm and stars Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, and Frank Oz.
The film is set three years after Star Wars. The Galactic Empire, under the leadership of the villainous Darth Vader and the mysterious Emperor, is in pursuit of Luke Skywalker and the rest of the Rebel Alliance. While Vader relentlessly pursues the small band of Luke’s friends—Han Solo, Princess Leia Organa, and others—across the galaxy, Luke studies the Force under Jedi Master Yoda. When Vader captures Luke’s friends, Luke must decide whether to complete his training and become a full Jedi Knight or to confront Vader and save them.
Following a difficult production, The Empire Strikes Back was released on May 21, 1980. It received mixed reviews from critics initially but has since grown in esteem, becoming the most critically acclaimed chapter in the Star Wars saga; it is now widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. The film ranked at #3 on Empire‘s 2008 list of the 500 greatest movies of all time. It became the highest-grossing film of 1980 and, to date, has earned more than $538 million worldwide from its original run and several re-releases. When adjusted for inflation, it is the second-highest-grossing sequel of all time and the 13th-highest-grossing film in North America. The film was followed by Return of the Jedi, which was released in 1983.
Three years after the destruction of the Death Star, the Rebel Alliance, led by Princess Leia, has set up a new base on the ice planet of Hoth. The Imperial fleet, led by Darth Vader, continues to hunt for the new Rebel base by dispatching probe droids across the galaxy. Luke Skywalker is captured by a wampa while investigating one such probe, but manages to escape from the wampa’s lair with his lightsaber. Before Luke succumbs to hypothermic sleep, the Force ghost of his late mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi, instructs him to go to Dagobah to train under Jedi Master Yoda. Han Solo locates Luke and cuts open the tauntaun he rode there on to keep his friend warm; they wait there until being rescued by a search party the next morning.
Meanwhile, the probe alerts the Imperial fleet to the Rebels’ location. The Empire launches a large-scale attack using AT-AT walkers to capture the base, which forces the Rebels to retreat. Han and Leia escape with C-3PO and Chewbacca on the Millennium Falcon, but the ship’s hyperdrive malfunctions. They hide in an asteroid field, where Han and Leia grow closer amidst tension and briefly kiss. Vader summons bounty hunters to assist in finding the Falcon. Luke, meanwhile, escapes with R2-D2 in his X-wing fighter and crash-lands on the swamp planet of Dagobah. He meets a diminutive creature who reveals himself to be Yoda; after conferring with Obi-Wan’s spirit, Yoda reluctantly accepts Luke as his student.
After evading the Imperial fleet, Han’s group travels to the floating Cloud City on the gas planet of Bespin, which is run by Han’s old friend, Lando Calrissian. Unbeknownst to the group, the bounty hunter Boba Fett has tracked the Falcon; shortly after their arrival, Lando hands the group over to Darth Vader. Vader plans to use the group as bait to lure out Luke, intending to capture him and take him to Emperor Palpatine. Luke experiences a premonition of Han and Leia in pain and, against the wishes of Yoda and Obi-Wan, abandons his training to rescue them, promising to return and complete his training.
Intending to hold Luke in suspended animation via carbon freezing, Vader selects Han to be frozen as a test subject. Han survives the process and is given to Fett, who plans to collect the bounty on Han from Jabba the Hutt. Lando frees Leia and Chewbacca, but they are too late to stop Fett from departing with Han. They fight their way back to the Falcon and flee the city. Meanwhile, Luke arrives and engages Vader in a lightsaber duel that leads them over the city’s central air shaft. Vader severs Luke’s right hand, disarming him, and tempts him to join forces. Luke accuses Vader of murdering his father, who reveals that he is his father. Horrified, Luke drops into the air shaft and is ejected beneath the floating city, where he hangs on an antenna. He reaches out telepathically to Leia, who senses him and persuades Lando to turn back. After Luke is brought aboard, they are chased by TIE fighters and Vader on his Star Destroyer, but R2-D2 reactivates the Falcon‘s hyperdrive, allowing them to escape.
Rejoined with the Rebel fleet, Luke’s severed hand is replaced with a robotic hand. Lando and Chewbacca take off in the Falcon with hopes of saving Han.
- Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker: A Jedi in training, who is powerfully connected with the Force.
- Harrison Ford as Han Solo: A smuggler and Captain of the Millennium Falcon.
- Carrie Fisher as Leia Organa: A leader of the Rebel Alliance, the former Princess of the destroyed planet Alderaan.
- Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian: Administrator of Cloud City and an old friend to Han Solo.
- Anthony Daniels as C-3PO: A humanoid protocol droid in the Rebel Alliance.
- David Prowse as Darth Vader: Luke’s father and a warrior of the dark side of the Force and the Emperor’s second-in command. The character’s voice is provided by James Earl Jones.
- Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca: A Wookiee and loyal friend to Han Solo.
- Kenny Baker as R2-D2: An astromech droid in the Rebel Alliance and long-time friend to C-3PO. He also portrays a GONK power droid in the background.
- Frank Oz as Yoda: The wise, centuries-old Grand Master of the Jedi, who is Luke’s self-exiled Jedi Master living on Dagobah. Oz was assisted by several other performers, including Kathryn Mullen, David Barclay, Wendy Froud, Wendy Midener, and Deep Roy.
- Jeremy Bulloch as Boba Fett: A bounty hunter, hired by the Galactic Empire. Jason Wingreen provided Fett’s voice in the film’s original theatrical cut and the 1997 Special Edition. In the 2004 and 2011 special editions, Temuera Morrison, who played Jango Fett in Attack of the Clones and all his clones, replaced Wingreen as Fett’s voice. Bulloch also makes a cameo appearance as the Imperial officer who grabs Leia when she tells Luke to avoid Vader’s trap with John Morton doubling as Fett in this scene.
- Multiple actors have portrayed the Emperor: The evil ruler of the Galactic Empire and Darth Vader’s powerful Sith Master, who appears via hologram. Clive Revill originally provided his voice, while actress Marjorie Eaton portrayed him physically, wearing a mask. Ultimately the actress and voice actor were replaced by Ian McDiarmid, who portrayed the character in later films, for the 2004 DVD edition and subsequent releases.
- Alec Guinness appears briefly as Obi-Wan Kenobi‘s Force ghost: Luke’s deceased mentor, who guides him to Yoda.
Denis Lawson reprises his role as Wedge Antilles from the first film. John Hollis plays ‘Lobot’, Lando’s personal aide. Julian Glover appears as General Veers, a general who leads the Empire in the battle of Hoth; Kenneth Colley portrays Admiral Piett, the Empire’s top admiral; Michael Sheard as Admiral Ozzel, Vader’s previous admiral; Michael Culver appears as Captain Needa, one of the Empire’s captains who failed to catch the Millennium Falcon; John Ratzenberger portrays Major Derlin, one of the officers who led the rebels in the battle of Hoth; Bruce Boa appears as General Rieekan, Princess Leia’s military advisor on Hoth; Christopher Malcolm plays Rebel snowspeeder pilot Zev Senesca, who finds Skywalker and Solo on the surface of Hoth; and John Morton portrays Dak Ralter, Luke’s gunner in the battle of Hoth who was killed by an AT-AT. Richard Oldfield is Rebel pilot Hobbie Klivian.
Morris Bush portrays the bounty hunter Dengar, Alan Harris portrays the bounty hunter Bossk and Chris Parsons portrays the robotic bounty hunter 4-LOM.