Luke Skywalker gets tutored by Yoda. Darth Vader gets paternal. C-3PO gets dismembered. In The Empire Strikes Back, a lot goes wrong for our freedom fighters. But for my intergalactic box office dollar, this is the best of the Star Wars trilogy reissue, and not just because Harrison Ford, as Han Solo, nails that rogue-heartthrob persona he has subsequently brought to all his most engaging movies. The storytelling is the series’ best, with a zingy balance of drama, humor, and Deep Thoughts (in a screenplay by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, directed with confident exuberance by Irvin Kershner). The boffo action sequences are more gracefully integrated into the whole than they are in Star Wars. And the psychological underpinnings — all that hero’s journey stuff, with accompanying issues of sexual awakening and father-son competition — are smoothly, even wittily present, without distracting from the corking saga.
Just before Solo is carbon-frozen and returned to Jabba the Hutt (he’s thawed in Return of the Jedi), he and Princess Leia exchange words of deep feeling, Star Wars style. ”I love you,” says Leia, her hair in long braided loops rather than coiled breakfast cakes. ”I know,” says Han. It’s enough to make one’s emotion chip melt.