Study Guide

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back Cast

  • Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill)

    In case you haven't already met our good pal Luke Skywalker, then go ahead and check out his character analysis section in A New Hope and get back to us.

    The story goes like this: A small-town boy finds out that his long-dead father was a mystical warrior known as a Jedi, gets caught up in an intergalactic war between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance, and ends up destroying a super-powerful Imperial weapon called the Death Star.

    Sounds simple, right? That's because it was—in A New Hope, at least. In the second installment of Luke's story, we see his entire world turned upside-down, forcing him to question his own place in this massive conflict.

    In the Trenches

    When we catch up to Luke, he's not exactly doing anything exciting—just routine reconnaissance as a part of his duties as a Rebel soldier. Fortunately for our entertainment (and unfortunately for Luke's health), however, he's attacked by a beast called a wampa and is forced to use his telekinetic Force powers and lightsaber to survive. In another silver lining to this near-death experience, Luke is then told by the ghost of his former teacher Obi-Wan (long story) to go to Dagobah and learn from his former teacher, Yoda.

    This is the moment that we—and Luke—have been waiting for, but it's kind of a bust. For one thing, Yoda's kind of meek-looking, and Luke's a little shallow:

    LUKE: I'm looking for a great warrior.

    YODA: Ah, a great warrior. War does not make one great.

    Yoda is a very strange teacher, and Luke often finds his frustrations building to the point that he can't even continue his lessons.

    This culminates in Luke's bizarre, hallucinatory experience in the cave, in which he kills a false Vader who is revealed to be none other than himself beneath the helmet. This represents Luke realizing that his anger towards Vader might end up leading him down the same twisted path.

    Jedi Powers for Dummies

    Despite making progress in his training, Luke decides to leave Dagobah early because he has a premonition of his friends in danger:

    LUKE: I can't keep the vision out of my head. They're my friends. I've got to help them.

    YODA: You must not go!

    LUKE: But Han and Leia will die if I don't.

    Yoda vehemently opposes this, saying that this decision will likely lead Luke to the dark side.

    Actually, just listen to the muppet himself:

    YODA: Stopped they must be. On this all depends. Only a fully trained Jedi Knight with the Force as his ally will conquer Vader and his Emperor. If you end your training now, if you choose the quick and easy path, as Vader did, you will become an agent of evil.

    Here, it's important to note the distinction between the light and dark side of the Force. It's not necessarily about good and bad: It's about attachment and detachment. Let's put it this way—to Yoda, a good Jedi is one who is completely passive, free of all emotions and completely at peace.

    A dark side Sith, however, is driven entirely by his or her emotions—you know, emotions like fear for your friends' safety. In other words, Luke's love for his pals, no matter how pure-hearted, could cause him to turn to the dark side

    Daddy Issues

    In fact, that's pretty much Vader's plan—to set a trap that ends with his son turning to evil. Oh yeah, did we not mention that Vader is Luke's father?

    VADER: Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.

    LUKE: He told me enough. It was you who killed him.

    VADER: No. I am your father.

    He drops that little nugget after slicing Luke's hand clean off. This a crazy twist—after all, Luke only decided to become a Jedi in the first place because he had heard stories of his old man's heroic exploits. How is he supposed to deal with the fact that his father is a villain?

    As Yoda predicted, Luke is indeed tempted to join the dark side by Vader:

    VADER: Luke, you can destroy the Emperor. He has foreseen this. It is your destiny. Join me, and together we can rule the galaxy as father and son.

    Luckily, Luke turns down his offer—for now, at least. Although we know that Luke doesn't turn to the dark side in Return of the Jedi, it's worth noting how many times The Empire Strikes Back foreshadows this plot point.

    Luke is rescued after telepathically contacting Leia (more on that in Return of the Jedi) and, although he gets a brand new artificial hand, he seems shaken by recent events. Who wouldn't be? Still, with his friend Han Solo (a friend who has saved his butt many times) caught in the clutches of the crime-lord Jabba the Hutt, he doesn't have the luxury to get all emo and cry about his daddy issues. Now it's his turn to strike back.

  • Darth Vader (David Prowse)

    Although Darth Vader remains the physical manifestation of pure evil, The Empire Strikes Back gives us a few glimpses of the human beneath that shiny black helmet.

    Bad to the Mechanically Reconstructed Bone

    Of course, he doesn't become all that human. Darth Vader is still the dude who will telepathically choke out his most prized admirals for making tactical errors, so make no mistake—he's still one bad Sith Lord. Also, his pursuit of the Rebels has become a relentless obsession, which we think has to do with a certain small town Skywalker from the rough streets of Tatooine.

    There's no two ways about it—Vader is obsessed with hunting down the Rebels because of Luke:

    VADER: If he could be turned, he would become a powerful ally.

    EMPEROR: Yes, he would be a great asset. Can it be done?

    VADER: He will join us or die, my master.

    Although we don't realize this at the time, a repeat viewing of the film shows that Vader is clearly tortured by the knowledge of his son being alive, which drives his actions through the entire film.

    After all, how else would you explain his refusal to kill Luke and suggestion of turning him to the dark side instead? Does Vader really want another power-hungry Sith Lord vying for his top dog status?

    Dr. Jekyll and Darth Hyde

    This is the emergence of Vader's human side. This is further emphasized on a symbolic level when we glimpse Vader in his meditation chamber, the only place where he can survive without his mask. We see the back of Vader's head briefly—it's pale white and pock-marked—before his helmet lowers and clicks into place. This establishes a conflict between Vader's technological and human sides that won't be concluded until the end of Return of the Jedi.

    This is echoed by the conflict between Luke's image of his father and the reality of him as Darth Vader. Luke started his Jedi training in the first place because he had heard stories of his father's heroic exploits—exploits that, according to Obi-Wan, ended when Anakin was murdered by Darth Vader. Of course, he was murdered in a way—his former identity was blown to smithereens and replaced with that of the bad Mr. Vader.

    Intergalactic Jerry Springer

    Interestingly, Vader is still unwilling to kill Luke even when he has him on the end of his lightsaber. Just check out what he says:

    VADER: Luke, you can destroy the Emperor. He has foreseen this. It is your destiny. Join me, and together we can rule the galaxy as father and son.

    There are a few ways to read this statement. Is Vader just playing mind game to convince Luke to join the dark side, or would Vader actually prefer to be all evil-and-stuff with his son? While this point is debatable, it reinforces the idea that Vader does want to have a relationship with his son on some level.

    The final moments of the film see Luke and Vader communicating telepathically: Luke doesn't even seem angry when he refers to Vader as "father," but sympathetic and caring. It's an odd moment. Whether you think that this is a signal that Luke is being tempted by the dark side, or that Vader is creeping closer to the light, you're going to have to check out Return of the Jedi to see the electrifying (literally) conclusion to Anakin Skywalker's descent into the dark side.

  • Han Solo (Harrison Ford)

    Luke Skywalker might still be hogging the spotlight, but Han Solo goes on a hero's journey of his own in The Empire Strikes Back. When we think about Han's growth from selfish smuggler to a selfless hero over the course of the first two Star Wars film, we can't help but beam with pride at our all-time favorite scruffy nerf-herder.

    On the Road Again

    At first, Han is itching to separate himself from the Rebel Alliance. To be fair, it's not like he wants to leave or anything—he just needs to deal with Jabba the Hutt, who put a price on his head after the events of A New Hope prevented him from fulfilling a job for the over-sized slug. Still, this couldn't come at a worse time, as the Empire is finally bearing down at the secret Rebel base on Hoth.

    There's one thing that makes him hesitate, however: Leia. When the film opens, Han is desperately trying to get Leia to admit her feelings for him, which she steadfastly denies. That's the interplanetary friend zone. Check out this exchange, for example:

    HAN: Come on, you want me to stay because of the way you feel about me.

    LEIA: Yes. You're a great help to us. You're a natural leader.

    Shade. Despite this rejection, Han shows how much he cares for Leia by refusing to leave until she evacuates, which eventually forces them to travel together on the Millennium Falcon after the Imperial forces invade the base.

    The Nicest Scoundrel

    What follows makes us remember why we (oh yeah, and Leia) fell in love with Han in the first place. He uses crafty means to evade the Empire, showing his whip-smart intelligence. He puts himself at risk to protect his fellow crew members. Then too, he's totally charming in that whole rogue-ish kind of way. In one exchange, Han highlights these sometimes-contradictory aspects of his personality:

    HAN: You like me because I'm a scoundrel. There aren't enough scoundrels in your life.

    LEIA: I happen to like nice men.

    HAN: I am a nice man.

    This goes into high relief after we meet Lando, a former smuggler and the Falcon's original owner. While on the surface it seems that Lando has become a much more reputable member of society than the rebellious, antagonistic Han, his decision to betray our heroes to the Empire puts a squash on that real quick. Despite his disheveled appearance, carefree quips, and brash attitude, Han is a good—although maybe not nice—man at his core.

    The Smuggler of Our Hearts

    In many ways, this is the culmination of an arc that began with A New Hope, in which a short-sighted, selfish smuggler gets caught up in a crazy series of events and inadvertently becomes a hero. What's more, the film ends with Han in a more dangerous position than ever before—frozen in carbonite and captured by Jabba the Hutt—his heroism met with grave revenge by evildoers.

    At least now he's finally won the affection of Leia, whose final declaration of love he responds to with a simple "I know" (a line Harrison Ford improvised himself). This sets the stage for the next entry in the series, in which our remaining heroes desperately try to make things right and rescue the man who has rescued them so many times before.

  • Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher)

    As royalty, Princess Leia has been raised to handle high stakes political conflicts with the greatest of ease… which is why she's such a kick-butt leader for the Rebel Alliance. Despite this obvious greatness, however, Leia reveals herself to have one tragic flaw: an inability to chill out and let her hair down (although who would want to, with those amazing braid 'dos?).

    A Royal Buttkicker

    The Battle of Hoth firmly establishes Leia as a top-notch leader. As we see, she quickly takes charge of the situation, planning battle strategy and overseeing the Rebels' risky escape plan. What's more, she proves herself to be fearless, waiting until the last possible second to evacuate herself and then only doing so after Han drags her out of the command center:

    LEIA: Why are you still here?

    HAN: I heard the command center had been hit.

    LEIA: You got your clearance to leave.

    HAN: Don't worry. I'll leave. First I'm going to get you to your ship.

    She's fierce, and not just in the Tyra Banks way.

    However, Leia has a harder time interacting with Han than she does planning an intergalactic assault. Although she obviously digs him, she refuses to admit it even when he pesters her into oblivion. (Note to potential Romeos: Pestering your crush is never, ever a good idea… unless you're Han Solo, and there is only one Han Solo.)

    Of course, this doesn't last long: Han scores himself some smooches after confirming that Leia loves him because he's a scoundrel, and because he's so unlike the high-class men she typically spends time with:

    HAN: You like me because I'm a scoundrel. There aren't enough scoundrels in your life.

    LEIA: I happen to like nice men.

    HAN: I'm a nice man.

    Unfortunately, their smooching gets sidetracked by C-3PO barging in at the least opportune time.

    A Heroine's Journey

    Sadly, Leia's acceptance of her feelings towards Han comes right before Mr. Solo is frozen in carbonite. Although she has the opportunity to tell him that she loves him (which he responds to brilliantly by saying, "I know"), Leia is forced to consider the very real possibility that she'll never see Han again. This highlights what a tough position Leia finds herself in—she has to balance her personal desires with her duties as a leader.

    Here's one thing we know about Leia, though—she's not going to take this nonsense lying down. In a way, this is a beautiful reversal of the traditional damsel-in-distress motif, with the beautiful princess being forced to rescue a powerful warrior from the clutches of evil. Guess what? We'd expect nothing less from the baddest princess in all of the galaxy.

  • Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch)

    We loved Boba Fett as kids, but even we have to admit that the dude only exists to sell action figures. Vader gives him money, he hunts down Han, and then he brings Han's frozen body to Jabba the Hutt—not exactly the most complex story in the world.

    Although we'll learn more about this mysterious bounty hunter in Return of the Jedi (as well as a bunch of stuff we'd rather forget in the prequel trilogy), he's such a simple character in this film that calling him "one-dimensional" might be an overstatement.

  • C-3PO (Anthony Daniels)

    The inseparable duo of C-3PO and R2-D2 get, well, separated, in The Empire Strikes Back. Instead of the odd couple dynamic we saw in A New Hope, we get two distinct characters. Double your pleasure, double your fun, double your droid scenes.

    C-3PO, the droid equivalent of an English butler, gets paired up with the Millennium Falcon after it evacuates Hoth… but not before he instructs R2 to look after Luke:

    C-3PO: R-2, you take good care of Master Luke now, understand? And do take good care of yourself. Oh, dear, oh, dear.

    His role as a member of Team Falcon (apart from his usual "Oh no!" nervousness) is basically a two-part function. He's a handyman—he identifies the fact that the hyperdrive is malfunctioning—and he plays the part of The Worst Roommate Ever—he shows up at the exact wrong moment and disrupts Han and Leia's smoochathon.

    Once he gets to Cloud City, however, his role totally changes because he's… blown to bits by the Empire. Yup. He's dismembered like a zombie extra on The Walking Dead. This isn't just dumb luck on 3PO's part; it's actually evidence of a loving heart beating inside that shiny gold chest. He's drawn into the Empire's trap because he thinks he hears R2—basically, he gets tricked because he misses his best friend. D'aww.

    Luckily, the film ends with Star Wars' most iconic couple reunited, and boy does it feel good. What's more, this reunion symbolizes the Rebels coming back together after the failures seen in the film, setting the stage for a conflict that will rock the galaxy in Return of the Jedi.

  • R2-D2 (Kenny Baker)

    In A New Hope, C-3PO and R2-D2 were our gateways into the Star Wars universe. This was a deliberate choice: Lucas created these characters as audience stand-ins of a sort, placing them in every scene so we always have something to hold on to.

    Because of this, their separation in The Empire Strikes Back—R2 cruising with Luke and C-3PO chilling with Team Falcon—reflects the fate of our heroes as a whole. In other words, by separating the two most inseparable characters from the first film, Lucas is emphasizing that the Rebel Alliance is in a desperate, scattered state.

    R2-D2, everyone's favorite vaguely soccer-ball looking droid, ends up chilling with Mr. Skywalker on Dagobah. Well, maybe "chilling" is a loose term: He's pretty reluctant to go to Dagobah in the first place, and spends the flight bleeping and blooping about whether or not it's a safe planet for droids.

    It's not.

    Immediately after crash landing in the swamp, R2 falls in the murky water and is promptly eaten by a swamp thing. Lucky for our favorite droid, though, he tastes terrible and is spit out again. Oh, the humanity!

    Being swallowed by a swamp thing and puking up mud doesn't keep our R2 down for long. (Neither does Yoda beating on him.) He's as plucky and resourceful as ever: He repairs Luke's X-wing, flies to Cloud City, and repairs the Millennium Falcon's hyperdrive… after reconnecting with his platonic lifemate C-3PO, of course.

  • Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew)

    Chewbacca might be one of our favorite fictional characters of all-time, so we're sorry to say that he doesn't play a big role in The Empire Strikes Back. He spends the bulk of the film trying (and failing) to fix the Falcon's hyperspace drive and, when not, remaining firmly planted in his role as Han's sidekick.

    We do see a few moments that emphasize this bond between man and Wookiee. Think back to Chewie's anguished wails after Luke and Han get trapped on the harsh Hoth wasteland. Think about when he hopelessly attacks a group of stormtroopers in a desperate attempt to save Han from being frozen. No matter the situation you find yourself in, Chewbacca is the kind of bro you want at your back.

    Of course, everything is turned upside-down by the end of the film: Han has been captured by Jabba the Hutt and now Chewie and Lando must save him. Chewie might not be able to spit soliloquies like Shakespeare, but Jabba should be put on notice—this is one Wookiee you don't want to mess with.

  • Emperor (Clive Revill)

    The evil Emperor Palpatine pops up a few times in The Empire Strikes Back, but he remains a vague, other-worldly figure, leaving the muscleman Darth Vader to take care of the dirty work.

    This is actually his first appearance in the original trilogy, although we did see him in the prequels as he transformed from the respectable Senator Palpatine to the fearsome Darth Sidious, corrupting a young Anakin Skywalker along the way. Based on the Emperor's brief interaction with Vader in this film, it's clear that he continues to hold a great deal of power over his apprentice:

    VADER: If he could be turned, he would become a powerful ally.

    EMPEROR: Yes, he would be a great asset. Can it be done?

    VADER: He will join us or die, my master.

    Interestingly, however, we start to see a few cracks in this relationship by the end of the movie. Just think about Vader's suggestion that he and Luke "destroy the Emperor" and "rule the galaxy as father and son," a.k.a. the Sith equivalent of playing catch. While you might argue that Vader is just playing mind games here, we see it as a clear sign that the baddest partnership in the galaxy isn't as strong as it appears.

  • Lando (Billy Dee Williams)

    In many ways, Lando Calrissian is a mirror image of Han Solo, a parallel universe version of our favorite smuggler. By the end of the film, however, the differences between these two men only give us a greater appreciation of Han than ever before.

    At first, Lando seems more respectable than Han. Although he used to be a smuggler back in the day (he was even the original owner of the Millennium Falcon), he's since turned away from a life of crime to become a political leader in Cloud City. It's a tough job running a shoestring operation like this, sure, but it's a whole lot better than smuggling illegal goods for giant slug creatures.

    Ultimately, Lando gets hamstrung by these responsibilities, forced to betray our heroes to protect his city:

    LEIA: Do you think that after what you did to Han we're going to trust you?

    LANDO: I had no choice.

    This is a genuinely tough decision and, if we were in Lando's shoes, we don't know if we'd have acted differently. However, here's one thing we do know for sure: Han wouldn't. They could've bribed him with a million Kyber Crystals if they wanted to, but Han would never have betrayed his friends to the Empire.

    In other words, appearances can be deceiving. Han the scoundrel is actually a respectable man, while Lando the respectable man is actually a scoundrel. Although Lando does eventually double-double-cross the Empire—and will go on to become a valuable member of the Rebel Alliance in Return of the Jedi—he'll have a long way to go on his road to redemption.

  • Yoda (Frank Oz)

    A character analysis you seek, eh? Hrrrm? Patience you must have, young Shmooper.

    Now that we've gotten that out of our system (we've been practicing our Yoda impression since the third grade) let's take a closer look at the green man himself: Master Yoda. Like Obi-Wan before him, Yoda serves as a mentor for our mythic hero Luke, teaching him the ways of the Force and—hopefully—guiding him away from the dark side.

    Zen and the Art of Shiny Laser Swords

    Unfortunately, the little dude has his work cut out for him. Like his father Anakin, Luke is headstrong and impatient—he's flat-out rude to Yoda before he realizes that this Kermit lookalike is the most respected Jedi in the galaxy. This disturbs Yoda so much that he refuses to teach Luke altogther until the ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi convinces him otherwise, arguing that he too was the same way when Yoda taught him.

    As it turns out, it takes no shortage of patience to understand Yoda's lessons. Just check out this iconic exchange:

    LUKE: But how am I to know the good side from the bad?

    YODA: You will know [...]

    LUKE: But tell me why I can't...

    YODA: No, no, there is no why.

    Here's another classic:

    LUKE: All right, I'll give it a try.

    YODA: No. Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.

    And one more for good measure:

    LUKE: I don't believe it.

    YODA: That is why you fail.

    In all three instances, Yoda subverts Luke's logic to make a point about his lack of faith in the Force. These statements are reminiscent of Zen kōans, which are short stories, sayings, and parables used in Zen Buddhism to impart illogical spiritual truths. Just check out a few of 'em—they sound like they came straight out of Yoda's mouth. (To make the comparison more striking, many of these kōans depict a master humbling an overconfident student.)

    Dropping Out

    Despite these proven techniques, Yoda has a tough time teaching Luke. Sometimes it's due to Luke's anger, like when he fails his test in the cave by attacking a fake Darth Vader. Sometimes it's due to his lack of faith, like when he scoffs at Yoda's suggestion that he can lift an X-Wing using only the power of the Force.

    Although Luke clearly makes progress over the course of his training—he can do a killer handstand at least—he's not up to Yoda's standards by the time he ships off for Cloud City.

    In fact, Yoda clearly believes that Luke is on the wrong path at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. Like his father before him, Luke is allowing himself to be guided by his emotional attachment to others rather than the impersonal murmurings of the Force, which favors passivity above all else. Is Luke really about to break bad? Given that Return of the Jedi exists, we know that this doesn't happen, but the question alone shows us that Yoda and Luke's relationship is more uneasy than most people remember.