Star Wars ended with so much going for the Rebel Alliance. Luke finished off the Death Star with relative ease, and seemingly the Empire was back on its heels. But alas, this was not the case. Vader now commands the Empire and will cease at nothing to destroy the Rebels. Things are not looking good for underdogs. Hoth, the current base of the Alliance is fending off one attack after another. After escaping certain death Luke and R2-D2 head to the Dagobah system to learn the teachings of Yoda.
The Empire Strikes Back presents the largest challenge for many of the characters because they are in unprecedented territory. Luke has never trained with anyone besides Ben and Han has never had to depend on other people before. Leia is also dealing with allowing people to be close to her after the annihilation of everyone on her home planet. The transition the three have to make is what propels this story above A New Hope and Return of the Jedi.
The films also features the best duel of the series. Initially, Vader only planned on combating until Luke ends up trapped in carbonite. But as tempers flare the battle becomes more vicious. Each slash comes perilously close to ending Luke's life. The other films had a slight problem with the lightsaber duels that Irvin Kershner did not make. Each clash is uninterrupted and captivating.
'Empire' ends with an unrelentingly dark close on the battle against the Evil Empire. Han is frozen in carbonite awaiting Jabba - and presumably his death - on Tatooine. Luke is missing a hand and dealing with the most devastating revelation of his life and Leia has seen herself lose the love she just realized she had. A cold place for sure. But assuredly a classic.