AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Empire Strikes Back
Director: Irvin Kershner (Dir)
Release Date:   21 May 1980
Duration (in mins):  124
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Cast: Mark Hamill  (Luke Skywalker)
  Harrison Ford  (Han Solo)
  Carrie Fisher  (Princess Leia)
 

Summary: During an intergalactic civil war, freedom fighters Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia battle against an evil empire. Imperial dictator Darth Vader is intent on finding young Luke, and sends exploratory robot “droid” probes into space, to discern the boy’s whereabouts. When the droids crash into the frozen planet Hoth, the secret location of a rebel base, the insurgents mistake the event for a meteorite shower, and Luke is sent to investigate. On his mission, Luke is knocked unconscious by a predatory Wampa creature. Meanwhile, back at rebel headquarters, Han Solo reports that he is being hunted by a former creditor, Jabba the Hut, and must abandon the base to protect its security. When Leia objects to Han’s departure, he chides her for being secretly in love with him, but she recoils at the notion and the two separate on bitter terms. Before Han leaves, however, he learns from droid C-3PO that Luke is missing. As Han searches for his friend in a blizzard, Luke awakens in the Wampa’s cave, conjures the metaphysical power of “the Force,” and assumes his novice faculties as a budding Jedi knight to escape. Back at rebel headquarters, Leia reluctantly agrees to close the outpost’s shield doors for the night. As Luke nears death in the blizzard, he envisions his former Jedi mentor, Ben “Obi-Wan” Kenobi, who orders the boy to travel to the Dagobah System and seek instruction from the universe’s senior Jedi master, Yoda. Just then, Han saves Luke and uses his friend’s lightsaber to cut open the stomach of his dead, bipedal “tauntaun.” The men take shelter in the animal’s corpse for the night, and are picked up by a search and rescue operation the following morning. Back at the base, the rebels detect an Imperial frequency. Han and his tall, hairy Wookie companion, Chewbacca, destroy Darth Vader’s probe droid, but the rebels realize their outpost has been discovered and prepare to evacuate. Meanwhile, Darth Vader navigates his Stardestroyer toward the Hoth System and deploys a fleet of armored Imperial walkers to conduct ground battle. Boarding fighter planes, Luke and his colleagues are unable to defend the base; Luke’s gunner is killed and he is forced to crash land. Back at rebel headquarters, Han is given clearance to leave in his spaceship, the Millenium Falcon, but he lingers, realizing that the station is threatened with imminent destruction. Just as Darth Vader takes over the rebel stronghold, Han, Leia, Chewbacca, and C-3PO narrowly escape in the Millenium Falcon. Outside, Luke watches his friends speed away, then pilots his own spaceship, navigated by droid R2-D2, and heads toward the Dagobah System. He crash-lands in a remote swamp. Meanwhile, the Millenium Falcon malfunctions and is unable to activate its light speed hyper drive. Han evades attackers by steering through an asteroid field and hiding the ship in a cylindrical rock crevice. There, the crew struggles to repair the spacecraft, and Han and Leia kiss. Han soon realizes that he mistakenly landed the Millenium Falcon inside the belly of an enormous worm, and the rebels escape through the creature’s clenching jaws. Back in the Dagobah System, Luke is startled to find an aged troll-like creature, who reveals himself to be Yoda. Despite Yoda’s observation that Luke is too impatient and bitter to become a Jedi, he agrees to begin training the young man. Yoda warns that “the Force” can be wielded for evil as well as good, and that the dark side is seductive. However, Luke will know the difference between the opposing forces if he is at peace with himself and understands that Jedis never use power aggressively. Feeling a chill in the air, Luke confronts a vision of Darth Vader; Luke beheads the enemy with his lightsaber, only to see his own face appear in his opponent’s mask. Elsewhere, on the Imperial Stardestroyer, Darth Vader orders his starfleet to follow the Millenium Falcon. Darth Vader’s evil master, the Emperor, announces that Luke is the son of Anakin Skywalker, and will threaten the Empire if he becomes a full-fledged Jedi. Vowing to lure Luke over to “the dark side,” Darth Vader devises a trap. He hires bounty hunters to track down the Millenium Falcon, forcing Luke to come out of hiding and defend the lives of his friends. Meanwhile, Han navigates toward the Cloud City metropolis of a former associate and fellow-gambler, Lando Calrissian, who wields control over the Tibanna gas mine near planet Bespin. Back in the Dagobah System, Yoda orders Luke to telepathically lift his sunken fighter plane from the swamp in which it crashed, but Luke loses faith in his abilities, and fails. When Luke complains that the mystical ideals of “the Force” are impossible to attain, Yoda raises the spaceship himself. In time, Luke’s skills improve, but he is startled by a premonition that Han and Leia are in grave danger. He vows to rescue them, but Yoda warns that Luke will destroy the rebel movement if he ends his training too soon. An apparition of Obi-Wan Kenobi cautions Luke that he will soon be tempted by evil; Luke will have to battle Darth Vader alone. Ignoring the advice of his masters, Luke embarks on his rescue mission with a promise to return to Yoda. When Obi-Wan mutters that the boy was the last hope of the universe, Yoda professes: “There is another.” Meanwhile, Han reunites with Lando, and the two men cordially bicker over ownership of the Millenium Falcon, leaving Leia suspicious. Shortly after the rebels’ arrival, Lando betrays them to Darth Vader and they learn of the scheme to entice Luke. Darth Vader plans to carbon-freeze the boy for his transport back to the Emperor, and tests the dangerous congealing device with Han as an experimental subject. Leia declares her love for Han, and kisses him farewell. Han’s frozen body is handed over to the bounty hunters, who leave the city to claim their pending rewards. Leia, Chewbacca, and C-3PO are detained by stormtroopers, but Lando secretly rescues them, promising to help save Han. Meanwhile, Luke lands his spacecraft in the Cloud City and confronts Darth Vader. The two battle with lightsabers and Luke impresses the evil leader by controlling his fear. However, Darth Vader advises Luke to unleash his anger, because hatred is the only force strong enough to kill one’s enemies. Darth Vader unhinges part of the space station, causing Luke to be sucked out of the room. As Luke clings to a railing above an abyss and pulls himself to safety, his friends dodge gunfire in another part of the city; the rebels recover R2-D2 and escape in the Millenium Falcon. Luke continues to battle Darth Vader, who severs Luke’s lightsaber-bearing hand. Defenseless, the boy backs away to another perch above the abyss. Darth Vader invites Luke to embrace the power of evil and declares himself Luke’s long-lost father. Choosing between certain death or reuniting with the parent he always wished to know, Luke plummets into the void and lands inside a chute. He slides through the outskirts of the floating Cloud City and clings for life in outer space, calling aloud for Obi-Wan and Leia. Inside the Millenium Falcon, Leia hears Luke’s voice and insists on turning the ship around to save her friend. Meanwhile, Darth Vader returns to his Stardestroyer and orders the Millenium Falcon captured. Speaking telepathically to his son, Darth Vader tells Luke that their union is “destiny.” Just as the Stardestroyer places the Millenium Falcon in its magnetic “tractor beam,” R2-D2 fixes the spaceship’s hyper drive and it blasts into light speed to escape the Imperialists. At a rebel space station, Luke is outfitted with a new hand as Lando and Chewbacca set out to save Han. 

Distribution Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Production Company: Chapter II Company (Star Wars Corp.)
Lucasfilm Limited
Director: Irvin Kershner (Dir)
  Harley Cokliss (Dir, Studio 2d unit)
  John Barry (Dir, Studio 2d unit)
  Peter MacDonald (Dir, Loc 2d unit)
  Bruce Sharman (Prod supv)
  Svein Johansen (Prod mgr, Loc 2d unit)
  Patricia Carr (Asst prod mgr)
  David Tomblin (1st asst dir)
  Dominic Fulford (Asst dir, Studio 2d unit)
  Bill Westley (Asst dir, Loc 2d unit)
  Ola Solum (Asst dir, Loc 2d unit)
  Steve Lanning (2d asst dir)
  Roy Button (2d asst dir)
  Andrew Montgomery (2d asst dir, Studio 2d unit)
Producer: Gary Kurtz (Prod)
  George Lucas (Exec prod)
  Robert Watts (Assoc prod)
  James Bloom (Assoc prod)
Writer: Leigh Brackett (Scr)
  Lawrence Kasdan (Scr)
  George Lucas (Story)

Subject Major: Civil war
  Dictators
  Insurgency
  Long-lost relatives
  Search and rescue operations
  Space warfare
  War
 
Subject Minor: Air pilots
  Aliens, Extraterrestrial
  Battles
  Courtship
  Duels
  Faith
  Fathers and sons
  Fights
  Firearms
  Friendship
  Ghosts
  Government agents
  Government officials
  Gunfights
  Heroes
  Heroism
  Imperialism
  Military bases
  Military government
  Military occupation
  Mind-reading
  Monsters
  Partnership
  Planets
  Political corruption
  Princesses
  Robots
  Romance
  Secret plans
  Space travel
  Sword fights
  Swords
  Teachers
  Telepathy

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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