Although Star Wars helped bring the concept of the hero's journey into the public consciousness, The Empire Strikes Back poses some unique challenges in this context. That's because the film is merely the first half of a story that'll be concluded in Return of the Jedi—you'd need to look at both films to get the full picture. Despite this, we can still see a form of the hero's journey in the plot of Empire… though it sometimes hits those marks in unexpected ways.
The movie opens on the freezing cold planet of Hoth, where the rag-tag Rebel Alliance has holed up following the destruction of the Death Star, a WMD created by the evil Empire. Luke Skywalker, the hero of the first film, has settled into the life of an ordinary Rebel soldier, rather than the Jedi warrior we know him to be.
Call To Adventure
After spotting an Imperial probe crash into the planet's surface, Luke is attacked by a wampa (a fearsome yeti-like creature), and dragged into its cave. Luke uses his telekinetic Jedi powers and lightsaber to slay the beast, but he's still in a tough spot—night is falling and it's freezing. Before he passes out, however, he has a vision of his now-deceased mentor Obi-Wan telling him to go to the planet Dagobah, where Luke will learn from the Jedi master who taught him: Yoda.
Refusal Of The Call
Although he's rescued by his buddy Han Solo, Luke doesn't immediately go to Dagobah—he stays behind and helps the Rebels hold off an Imperial assault while they evacuate. They just barely do it: Luke's friends Han, Leia, and Chewbacca leave on the Millennium Falcon with the Empire in hot pursuit.
Meeting The Mentor
Luke doesn't rejoin the Rebel fleet, and instead heads for Dagobah, a swampy planet full of life but bereft of civilization. He crash-lands, which is a bummer, but Luke quickly sets up shelter. Suddenly, a strange green creature appears and subtly implies that he knows Luke. Annoyed by the intrusion but intrigued, Luke agrees to eat dinner with the creature if he introduces him to Yoda.
Crossing The Threshold
Surprise—this green goofball is Yoda. However, Yoda is so annoyed by Luke's rudeness that he almost refuses to teach him altogether, saying that he is too emotionally volatile, just like his father Anakin. Luckily for Luke, the ghost of Obi-Wan appears once again and convinces Yoda to change his mind. Then, just like that, Luke starts his training to become a Jedi.
Tests, Allies, Enemies
While Luke begins his training, his pals are in some serious trouble. After hiding in an asteroid to escape the Imperial forces, the crew of the Falcon is shocked to learn that they're not in a cave at all—they're in the belly of a giant space worm. Luckily, they get out in one piece. Meanwhile, Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine, the rulers of the Empire, observe Skywalker's growing strength and discuss their plan to turn him to the dark side.
Approach To The Inmost Cave
Luke starts acting strangely after a day of training. Observing this, Yoda explains that they're standing near a cave that is steeped in the dark side of the Force. Guess what? He wants Luke to go inside. After warning Luke to leave his weapons behind (a warning that Luke ignores), Luke crawls down into what is quite literally the inmost cave.
After crawling down into the cave, Luke is shocked to see the evil Darth Vader appear. Egad! The two men pull out their lightsabers and fight—Luke wins handily, decapitating his foe. To our horror, however, Vader's helmet explodes to reveal Luke's own head underneath. Luke, naturally, is tripping out.
Reward (Seizing The Sword)
Although Luke improves after his experience in the cave, he continues to struggle in his training. In particular, he has an extreme lack of faith, a failure Yoda highlights when he lifts Luke's ship out of the swamp with the flick of his wrist. Once he focuses on his newfound powers, however, Luke has a strange vision of his friends in danger...
The Road Back
That's because they are. After going to Cloud City in the hopes of finding refuge with Han's old friend Lando, the crew of the Falcon is led straight into Vader's trap—a trap, it must be noted, that's meant to snag Luke. It works like a charm. Terrified at the thought of losing his friends—and against Yoda's vehement protestations—Luke decides to return to civilization and rescue his friends from Cloud City.
Luckily, Leia and Chewbacca are saved when Lando switches back to the good team. (Han is frozen in carbonite and shipped off to the ruthless crime lord Jabba the Hutt.)
Meanwhile, Luke meets the real Vader in the lightsaber duel that ends with Vader cutting off Luke's hand and pushing him to the edge of a balcony. That's when he drops a bomb—he is Luke's father. For real.
Horrified by this revelation, Luke tosses himself off the balcony and is shot out a hole on the bottom of the city, though he manages to grab hold of a stray antenna before falling to oblivion.
Return With The Elixir
Somehow, Luke is able to telepathically contact Leia and the Falcon picks him up. Thanks, Kenobi! After escaping the Imperial forces, they then rendezvous with the Rebel fleet, where Luke gets a new mechanically reconstructed hand. Meanwhile, Lando and Chewbacca are preparing the Millennium Falcon to undertake a perilous rescue mission to save Han Solo.