You’ll need the balls of Han Solo if you’re going to take on the whole Empire yourself

super empire strikes back

Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1994)

I remember it well: I was an ignorant young child of about six or seven years old, doing pretty well on Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back for SNES until hitting a wall in the Battle of Hoth level – or hitting the legs of the Imperial Walkers, more likely. There I was, shooting a million laser blasts into the things, and getting absolutely nowhere.

It really could have been a million laser blasts I fired as well, because I didn’t do anything else as a child except play games. Only a child could have that level of patience and determination. Thoroughly defeated, I asked that font of gaming knowledge, my older brother, for some help. And he told me that I had to use the tow cable to bring the big daddies down, just like the movie. To which I replied in utmost shock: “There’s a movie?!?”

My world was turned upside down, and I was introduced to the Star Wars Special Edition VHS tapes later that night. The proper diehard neckbeards will scoff at the Special Editions of course, but I was enthralled. I think every fan remembers their first exposure to Star Wars. These days, it seems to be a rite of passage for parents to show the films to their kids.

And little wonder, when there’s entries in the series as good as Empire Strikes Back. I would also imagine that these parents, if they have any love for their kids, skip over the likes of Phantom Menace and The Last Jedi as they bring their children through the Star Wars odyssey.

Talk about a series hitting its stride, though – this is where the Imperial March was heard for the first time; it’s where Luke met Yoda and started becoming versed in the ways of the Force, including my all-time favourite Star Wars scene of Yoda lifting the X-Wing out of the swamp. And of course, it’s got Darth Vader at his absolute best, with probably the most famous twist in cinematic history.

The one who really steals the show in ESB, though it hardly needs to be said, is Harrison Ford as Han Solo. If he doesn’t have the most screen-time out of any character in the film, then it must be pretty close, because the man just throws out ten out of ten in every scene he’s in.

One of the classic sequences is when he leads the escape in the Millennium Falcon through a highly dangerous asteroid field. Beta males would have written off the Falcon mere seconds in, and even when turbogeek C-3P0 comes in to admonish Han’s daring and give some nonsense calculation of odds, Han dismisses the droid with an excellent putdown: “Shut him up or shut him down!” It could only have been delivered by Harrison Ford.

This is all happening against some of John Williams’ very finest work as well. Even if you somehow don’t rate the famous asteroid field sequence, then there’s Han’s inimitable “I know” response to Leia, shortly before he becomes frozen and sold into bounty. This was Ford’s own suggestion as well.

So, not only does he play it cooler than carbonite, and not only has that one improvised line of his tempted millions of men into doing the same thing to their girlfriends, but this was also Ford’s subtle way of being non-committal to the next film, in case he eventually decided that it was all beneath him.

That’s what the top dogs do, you know. You’ll never be able to tie them down. He doesn’t just look great spitting out the usual George Lucas hammy dialogue either, he’s a master of the non-verbal stuff as well. Has anyone or anything in cinema been more expressive than a Harrison Ford stern-look-with-pointed-finger combo?

Also, it’s been 40 years but I still want Han’s blue coat that he wears on the icy planet Hoth. I think the actual one sold for over a million quid a couple of years back, which I’m not saying is out of my price range by any means but they could have at least told me that the auction was on.

Nevertheless I did pick up a blue number just like it in Penneys, so as long as I carry a handgun with me at all times then I’ll always be able to live out my Hantasy. My one is faux-suede, which might mean that water doesn’t affect it, I’m not sure. Either way, I take absolutely no chances with the rain, and I’ll check and memorise the weather for the next couple of days before wearing it anywhere. I wonder is it snowproof?

I suppose you can already tell that I’m a Han fan, and any chance I was offered to play as him in the Super Nintendo game, I gleefully took. Of course, Luke is still the main man, so you’ll be playing as him a lot more often, with the odd pinch of Chewbacca here and there.

The first and foremost thing to recognise about this game is that it’s considered one of the hardest games on the system, bar none. I suppose when you grow up with a game and play it from a young age, you have a lot more patience with it and find yourself willing to get further.

Perhaps as a result of that, I never actually found ESB to be impossible, merely pretty damn hard. It’s got some unfair spots for sure, more than one blind jump, and enemy bosses that take so many hits you’ll wonder if you’re using a plastic lightsaber.

The game also keeps up with some of the excellent use of Mode 7 from Super Star Wars, used to recreate the famous battle sequences. In ESB, this includes that rendition of the Battle of Hoth that stumped me all those years ago.

Playing out a battle like that on your SNES is crazy, and the only real liberty taken is with the graphics, and I suppose the framerate at times. But it ticks the boxes – you’ll be taking down AT-STs and AT-ATs, and yes, you’ll be using the tow cable once you know it’s there.

The SNES version of the battle obviously got pretty eclipsed by even Shadows of the Empires only a few years later, and you might have a giggle at it today. But having a sequence like this faithfully reproduced as best as possible on your Super Nintendo is what elevated this game, and indeed the rest of the trilogy, to the level of top-notch licensed games.

This game hits all of the classic scenes of the movie, and you’ll visit all the same locales. I would criticise it a bit by saying that there’s a bit too much snow in the early stages, similar in fashion to how there’s too much water in the Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire remakes, I suppose. It doesn’t help that some of those opening levels are exceedingly difficult and that things actually get a fair bit easier as you go on to the swamps of Dagobah, then the sunset luxury of Cloud City before that final showdown with Vader in the Carbonite freezing chamber.

The music is terrifically rendered as well, although I wish there could have been a bit more of it. It’s funny, but also a bit hokey when the very first level has the Imperial March blaring – we’re only having a little walk up the snowy mountains to check out an asteroid, you know. But the bombastic Asteroid Field tune from the movie is in the game, doubling as the title screen music, and it sounds the business.

In terms of improvements from Super Star Wars, the lightsaber looks a lot better, there’s more levels here, I actually find the difficulty to be more manageable, and the controls are slightly better. There’s even a password function this time round, so you won’t have to beat it all in one teeth-gnashing session.

That’s the Empire Strikes Back then, with great gameplay, graphics and sounds making it one of the strongest licensed games to this day. You could complain about the difficulty, as a lot of other weaklings often do. But wise up, that’ll make you look like a drip. You wouldn’t catch Harrison Ford letting himself down like that, would you?

13 November 2020

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