The Jedi training scenes on Yoda may appear sluggish (there were apparently many other scenes which were cut - see right), but they are usefully counterbalanced by the continuing chase of the Millennium Falcon by the Empire, having evaded their clutches by the most sneaky of methods. Just when he thinks he has led them off the trail, Han Solo takes his friends over to the sanctuary of Cloud City on Bespin, where an old friend is in charge. Unbeknownst to them however, a bounty hunter knows some of Solo's tricks, and pursues the Falcon on its journey to Bespin: Boba Fett.
The old friend of Solo's meanwhile, is the Cloud City administrator, Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), more in truth a gambler and smuggler - and a bit of a charmer with the ladies - than a "responsible leader", and intended by George Lucas as an "earlier" version of Han. Indeed, Billy Dee Williams was one of those who originally tested for the role of Han Solo in Star Wars.
One element that Calrissian is also not beyond is deception, and before our heroes know it, C-3PO is dismantled into several pieces by stormtroopers, and our heroes are finally caught by Darth Vader, who has been led on to the trail by...Boba Fett.
How I first learned of the surprising twist in the tale.
Thus a curious love triangle reaches its closure, as Luke, in love with Leia from the beginning, is rescued by her - reversing the pattern set in Star Wars - but her heart now belongs to Han Solo, whom they both resolve to rescue, as too does Lando Calrissian and, of course, Chewbacca. The film ends therefore, beautifully poised with our surviving heroes severely humbled but having reached the sanctuary of the Rebel fleet, and looking out from the edge of the galaxy, to an uncertain but hopeful future.
We sit sheepishly in Screen One, hoping that the Odeon staff will let us stay in the cinema for the next screening that evening, and after one audience has rolled out and another rolled in, we sit through the familiar "Rank Screen Advertising", and the trailers for some other fantasy films (none which I remember now), before in due course, the second screening is under way.
Who will she choose? Luke - in a forbidden (by George Lucas) romantic scene...
Before the romantic complications can be sorted out however, Luke is rescued out of the snow by Han, and once these slightly sluggish opening scenes on Hoth are done with, we get to the nitty-gritty of the story of the story, when the aforementioned probe droid is disintegrated (by self-destruction) to just a fragment, and the alerting signal to the Imperial fleet is all the proof that Darth Vader needs that the Rebel Alliance, and Luke Skywalker, is there.
So the resulting impressive battle in the snow with giant evil Trojan Horse-style Imperial Walkers, was actually at the end for me, rather than the beginning - which probably helped - followed soon afterwards by a thrilling asteroid field chase, after the crew of the Millennium Falcon discover to their shock that the ship's trademark lightspeed is faulty! Using his wits and his cunning, Han Solo navigates the Falcon through a Grand Canyon-like gorge to evade the dogged Imperial TIE fighters, and finds temporary refuge in a mysterious "cave"...
... which as they say, is where we came in.
Mischievously, I watched a few minutes extra, and really wanted to see the rest of the film over again, but Dad eventually persuaded me out of the cinema.
On the way back home (by which time the rain had eased off) that night, I told my father of the various imaginative ideas I'd had for sequels ever since Star Wars first set me buzzing in 1978 - including one where I imagined a 9-year old (modelled on myself of course) befriending Princess Leia and helping the heroes to defeat Darth Vader. In later years I thought this to be just childish whimsy - or was it? Little did I expect that 27 years later, another Star Wars film would indeed feature a 9-year old as its pivotal hero.
So after all the anticipation, and indeed all the euphoria after the first film, the new follow-up in the "continuing" saga was enthralling, quite dark, and with some unexpected plot developments. But is also, on reflection, a very sluggish film, deliberately so at times, trying to focus on characters and philosophy rather than plot, and characters bicker with each other - C-3PO is reduced to a figure of ridicule, and Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia is still spiky and feisty but also petulant, rarely feminine or princess-like, and even reduced on a couple of occasions to a screaming heroine. Above all, the Empire strikes back indeed, with a vengeance, but it is not as much FUN as Star Wars.
So at the time for me, the excitement of the Star Wars whirlwind had blown its full course. Perhaps on reflection I wasn't entirely happy with the way things were mapping out for the characters; I certainly had always envisaged Luke Skywalker as Princess Leia's true love rather than Han Solo, and to see the way things were going was secretly disappointing - although that particular romantic triangle was later resolved in rather ingenious fashion.
Come 1980 however, my childhood days in Aylesbury were over, and rehabilitated in Essex, there came a new distraction just round the corner: football. Colchester United and in particular, Ipswich Town's successful UEFA Cup winning season in 1980/81, gave me another popular culture hook to latch on to, away from the cinema, and galaxies, far, far away.
It was a fashion which, by and large, did not swing back the other way until seven years later, when I got round to seeing Return of the Jedi.With the director of the excellent first Star Wars sequel, the venerable Irvin Kershner.