Star Wars Episode V Synopsis

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In 1980, cinemas worldwide blew up with the release of Star Wars: Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back. Directed by Irvin Kershner and based on a story by George Lucas, the sequel to A New Hope resumed the story three years after the events over Yavin IV. The movie had a complicated production that saw costs go from $8 million to over $30 million but exceeded $401 million in box office earnings. The story was told in a far grittier tone than in the original release, widening the scope of the Star Wars universe.

Bottom Line Up Front

Luke Skywalker and the Rebel Alliance are hiding from the Galactic Empire. When imperial forces strike, they must run to fight another day. Skywalker wants to complete the path of the Jedi but must choose his destiny when the safety of Leia Organa, Han Solo, and Chewbacca is at the mercy of Darth Vader.


The Rebellion’s triumph over the Death Star sent a resounding message to the galaxy. The losses of personnel incurred into the Galactic Empire were unprecedented. The imperial military still held a significant edge over the fledgling resistance fleet. The attrition caused by the battles in the space over Scarif and Yavin IV impeded the Alliance from using the momentum gained by the Death Star’s destruction. Instead, its goal was to survive long enough to rebuild its ranks.

The Yavin IV Evacuation

The Yavin IV Evacuation

One day after the triumph over the Empire, Rebel General Jan Dodonna communicated the evacuation of Yavin IV to his troops. The destruction of the Death Star bought time and stalled imperial efforts to retaliate. However, the Empire knew the Rebel base’s location. A strike was considered imminent.
The Alliance concentrated the bulk of its fleet at the moon to speed up the transfer of crucial equipment. Parallel to the dismantling of the base, scout parties set out across the galaxy in search of a suitable location to relocate the bulk of Rebel forces.

Echo Base

After over a year on the run, the Rebellion settled for Hoth. Located on the Outer Rim, the planet endured extreme temperatures as low as -76ºF/-60ºC at night. Thick glaciers and ice plains covered most of its surface, but these were not on display due to the constant layers of snow. While this environment was extremely hostile, it suited the Rebellion’s needs. There was no native intelligent life in Hoth, which diminished the chances of imperial informants reporting its position.

Rebel engineers carved out a large section of a glacier to form what became Echo Base. The installation centered around two hangars. The main one aimed primarily to host supply ships and other bulky vessels. The auxiliary hangar, in turn, could only hold smaller craft such as snowspeeders or X-wing fighters. In total, it could host thirty GR-75 medium transport ships, sixty starfighters, and ten snowspeeders.

A series of artificially built corridors linked the hangars and the base’s facilities. Echo Base had seven underground floors. At its peak, it hosted 7500 military and support staff.
The base had extensive defensive work done to allow Rebel forces to stall an imperial attack long enough to evacuate. A large shield generator protected the area from orbital bombardment, together with a v-150 ion cannon that allowed for counterbattery fire and made the space over Echo Base dangerous for large ships such as star destroyers. An intricate system of trenches, defensive turrets, and outposts sprawled in the direction of the ice fields.

Echo Base’s construction took 18 months to complete. Alliance soldiers and commanders not involved with the Hoth base were unaware of its location.

Hunt for the Rebel Base


The loss of the Death Star caused an internal rift in the Empire’s upper echelon. After the death of Grand Moff Tarkin in the space station, Darth Vader had no significant competition for power as Emperor Palpatine’s right-hand man. As the most senior authority under the leader, he was singled out as the culprit for the worst military defeat in the Empire’s history.

During a private conversation with Vader, the Emperor shared his concerns about the pilot who destroyed the Death Star. He hinted that the connection between this Rebel and his enforcer was strong.

The Empire failed to stop the Rebel evacuation of Yavin IV and could not track down the evading fleet. Darth Vader led a massive reconnaissance operation under the codename Project Swarm. Thousands of Viper probe droids were dispatched across the galaxy to search for the Rebel hideout.

While this effort was ostensibly to track down resistance forces, Vader had become obsessed with the idea of finding and capturing Luke Skywalker. This personal stake made the Sith Lord seek a parallel solution, getting in touch with several elite bounty hunters with offers of handsome rewards in exchange for capturing the Rebel pilot.

Key Characters (Roles and Motivations)

Luke Skywalker

Luke Skywalker

A talented Force-sensitive pilot. Skywalker destroyed the Death Star over Yavin. Brave yet impulsive, he rose through Rebel ranks and served as leader of Rogue Squadron in Hoth.

Leia Organa

The Princess of Alderaan. One of the most senior Rebel leaders. Fearless, stubborn, and incredibly smart, Organa acted as the political commander at Echo Base.

Han Solo

A smuggler reluctantly serving as a Captain in the Rebel Alliance. Despite Solo’s affection for Leia, the two often clashed.



A Wookiee warrior. Chewbacca was the co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon. He stayed with the Rebellion following the Battle of Yavin.

Darth Vader

The imperial enforcer. One of the most feared men in the entire galaxy. Relentless and cruel, the Sith Lord was obsessed with finding the pilot responsible for destroying the Death Star.


An ancient Jedi master. Yoda had been living in exile since the fall of the Galactic Republic. Eccentric but wise, Yoda trained many of the greatest knights of the Order before its collapse.

Key Events

Routine at Echo Base, Hoth


Three years passed after the Battle of Yavin and the destruction of the Death Star. The Rebel Alliance’s headquarters had been calling the planet of Hoth home for almost a month. They had settled on a routine. Its members took turns riding tauntauns on long reconnaissance missions around the base perimeter to scout for any potentially threatening activity. This native species was well-adapted to the extreme temperatures faced on the planet’s surface and could endure long hours outside.

Luke Skywalker was running one such patrol on the icy planet. What first seemed like another uneventful day in Hoth took a turn when the Rebel witnessed a bright object crashing into the snow from the sky. Despite suspecting it to be just another meteorite, Luke reported to Han Solo that he would investigate to be sure. Before he could approach the crash site, Skywalker was knocked unconscious.

Back at Echo Base, Han Solo was alarmed by the news that Luke had not come back. He and Chewbacca had been preparing to leave the Rebel Alliance. Solo had grown frustrated with the constant threat of bounty hunters in his wake, on orders from Jabba The Hutt. He was struggling with unrequited feelings for Leia Organa. Due to the low temperatures, the base had to be shut off from the outside world every night. Risking his life, Solo elected to ride a tauntaun out to Luke’s last known position in hopes of finding his missing friend.

Skywalker regained conscience, hanging upside down. The creature that assaulted him was a wampa, a large and vicious carnivorous mammal local to Hoth. Planning to eat the wounded pilot later, the beast dragged Luke to its cave. It planted his feet on the ice that coated the ceiling. His lightsaber had fallen off his belt.
Short on time and options, Skywalker struggled but succeeded in retrieving his weapon using the Force. As the wampa neared, he ignited the blade and used it to cut off the ice sheet on the ceiling to free himself. His captor rushed toward him, but Luke severed its right arm with a swift strike. Despite his wounds and the cold temperatures, he darted into the cold evening that was fast approaching.

Without his tauntaun, Skywalker had no option but to walk back to Echo Base. Not long into his trek, he faced a heavy blizzard. Weak and disoriented, Luke collapsed into the snow. As his consciousness began to fade, he had a vision of Obi-Wan Kenobi before him. The specter of his old mentor told him to seek the help of a Master Yoda in Dagobah to complete his training as a Jedi Knight. Skywalker fainted shortly after.

After a long search, Han Solo came across his friend close to nightfall. Luke on the snow was mumbling the words Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Dagobah. The harsh temperatures killed Solo’s tauntaun. Maintenance woes plaguing the Rebel Alliance’s local fleet of snowspeeders made matters worse. These atmospheric ships were fit for service during daytime in Hoth, but their equipment could not withstand the cold after sunset. Technicians at Echo Base had been working to adapt the snowspeeders to allow all-weather flight, but work was still in progress.

Stranded for the night, Han had to find shelter for the pair. He used Luke’s lightsaber to cut open his dead tauntaun and shoved his friend inside it. The thick hide and residual warmth helped shelter Skywalker from the blizzard until Solo could fashion a more suitable shelter for the night.

As soon as the sun appeared over Echo Base, Rogue Squadron launched its snowspeeders after its commander and Solo. They were located by Rogue 2, the callsign of Rebel pilot Zev Senesca after Han managed to establish communications via his commlink. The two were rescued shortly and brought to Echo Base, with Luke still unconscious. Despite surviving the harrowing night, Skywalker required medical care.

The Evacuation Begins

After Luke regained consciousness in the presence of Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Leia Organa, the former smuggler and his co-pilot set out to investigate a mysterious new signal picked up by Rebel electronic intelligence officers. The pair came across a Viper probe droid. They quickly realized the transmission was the machine relaying data to the Empire and dispatched it with blaster fire.

The destruction of the probe droid did not matter as much as its presence. Han Solo and Chewbacca knew that it detected life forms other than those native to Hoth. They also figured the signal was the probe relaying its readouts to the Empire. Upon returning, they reported their findings to General Carlist Rieekan, a senior Rebel commander at Echo Base. Left with no choice, he ordered his troops to begin evacuation protocols immediately.

Troops scrambled to load critical equipment onto the transport ships to accelerate their departure. Now fully recovered, Luke bade farewell to Han Solo and Chewbacca, who once more were leaving the Rebel cause to resolve debts to a Tatooine crime lord, Jabba the Hutt.

The Empire Strikes

The Empire Strikes

Aboard the star destroyer Executor, acting as its fleet flagship, Darth Vader collected reports from the ship’s captain, Admiral Kendal Ozzel. The officer dismissed the probe droid’s findings as simply smugglers, but Vader overruled his assessment. He ordered the imperial fleet to make haste for Hoth. Admiral Ozzel then planned a surprise attack, with his ships arriving at the very edge of the planet’s orbit. He figured this would have significantly cut down the Rebel Alliance response time. It would also have set his fleet up for orbital bombardment to soften the enemy defenses.

The Rebel headquarters at Echo Base detected the approaching star destroyers. General Rieekan rose the base’s shield to deny long-range fire while his forces continued the evacuation procedures. General Maximilian Veers informed Darth Vader of Ozzel’s failure during a transmission. The Sith Lord lost patience with his Admiral and killed him using the Force. His second in command, Captain Firmus Piett, was appointed the new leader of the fleet.

General Veers kicked off Darth Vader’s alternate plan. An assault force comprised of heavy AT-AT (All Terrain Armored Transport) walkers, supported by the smaller AT-ST (All-Terrain Scout Transport), landed immediately outside the shield’s perimeter on Hoth’s surface. This group, led by Veers himself, was to crawl towards the shield generator and fire on it directly using the main cannons on the walkers. The Empire could then bring all its firepower to bear on the Rebel transports. Back at Echo Base, Leia Organa issued the final orders for the Rebel forces. Infantry set up defensive positions to stall the imperial advance. Air support would come from Rogue Squadron’s T-47 speeders, under its commander, Luke Skywalker.

The Rebel transport fleet prepared to leave in groups of three ships to minimize the time shields had to be down. The base’s ion cannon would try to use this opening to attack the star destroyers. After exiting Hoth and following different routes, all forces were to rendezvous at a pre-arranged point beyond the Outer Rim territories.
Despite staunch Rebel resistance, the imperial assault force gradually overwhelmed the many outposts between the ice plains and Echo Base. The Empire’s walkers were virtually impervious to the laser weapons in the defenders’ arsenal.

The snowspeeders of Rogue Squadron began to suffer losses to the heavy weapons on the AT-AT. Luke Skywalker proposed an alternative plan. The T-47 speeders were two-seater ships designed for handling cargo and had a harpoon and tow cable system fitted to the rear. During modification into the combat-capable snowspeeder standard, the tow remained. Skywalker’s idea was to disable the AT-AT walkers by tripping them using the cables.

While setting up for an attack,  Skywalker and his gunner Dak Ralter were hit from the rear, killing the latter. After struggling to control the speeder, Luke performed a forced landing in the snow. Rogue Squadron’s commander managed to jump out of the crippled ship just before a walker crushed it under its front foot. Finding himself directly beneath the imperial behemoth, he used a hoist gun to reach the exposed underbelly. Skywalker cut an opening with his lightsaber and threw a thermal detonator inside, which disabled the AT-AT.

Echo Base Falls

Echo Base Falls

After overrunning most of the Rebel defensive lines, the walker commanded by General Veers was in the range of the Echo Base shield generator. Direct hits from the AT-AT cannons made short work of the equipment. Its destruction caused wide-reaching panic among Alliance forces on the ground. Unable to stop the imperial firepower, most troops began to retreat in panic towards Echo Base. Many died before they reached it.

The shield’s destruction was the cue for Darth Vader to land at Hoth. The Sith Lord led the stormtrooper assault into Echo Base’s command center, while other detachments swarmed into its main entrances. Han Solo and Chewbacca helped Leia Organa escape before imperial troops could reach her. They planned to deliver her to a Rebel ship, but a crumbled corridor forced a change of plans.

With R2-D2 and C-3PO in tow, the group made way to Solo’s Millennium Falcon instead. The ship was in disrepair and initially failed to start. Its onboard weapons fended off incoming stormtroopers until the Falcon took off, just as Vader and his detachment arrived at the hangar.

Surviving Rogue Squadron members returned to the main hangar and boarded their fighters. They escorted the transports out of Hoth in pairs and headed for the rendezvous point. The Alliance lost seventeen of the thirty GR-75 freighters during the evacuation.

In Pursuit

Leaving Echo Base was just the beginning for the Millennium Falcon. The imperial fleet on Hoth’s orbit attacked the ship. Han Solo made a series of evasive maneuvers against the TIE fighters and star destroyers in pursuit, hoping to reach the point where a jump to light speed was possible.

To his disbelief, when the crew attempted to activate the hyperspace procedures, the hyperdrive malfunctioned. Unable to outrun the pursuers, Han Solo flung the Millennium Falcon into a nearby asteroid field in hopes of buying time to repair the hyperdrive. Imperial fighters attempted to give chase, but these either crashed or broke off. Darth Vader recruited bounty hunters to hunt down the Millennium Falcon. Solo landed in a cave while imperial ships waved through the asteroid field after the Millennium Falcon.

The imperial fleet continued combing through the asteroid field, with one of the star destroyers lost. Darth Vader initially insisted on searching further, but transmission from Emperor Palpatine forced him to leave to get a clear signal. His master mentioned the emergence of a new enemy capable of destroying the Empire but told him he could be turned to the dark side and become an asset. Vader assured Palpatine he would bring Skywalker around or kill him otherwise.

Han Solo began to doubt the safety of this hideout when mynocks attacked his ship and went outside to investigate. He realized what was supposed to be an asteroid was the belly of some being and commanded an immediate take-off. The Millennium Falcon narrowly exited the mouth of the beast, but this put them in the Empire’s sights once more. Outnumbered and outgunned, Solo performed a last-ditch maneuver. He made a frontal attack run on a star destroyer, braked sharply, and attached his ship to the back of the bridge.

Out of sight now, they relied on Han’s experience in the imperial naval academy to make their next move. For safety purposes, star destroyers emptied their garbage chute before making a jump to hyperspace. Solo released his ship from the command bridge and floated with the debris for masking. Unbeknownst to him, bounty hunter Boba Fett had spotted them and followed from a distance.

Search for the Master


After escorting a group of transports past the Empire’s blockade, Luke Skywalker and R2-D2 broke away from the group. Instead of heading to the rendezvous point designated by Leia, he set course to the Dagobah system. In this place, according to his vision of Obi-Wan, he was to find a famous Jedi Master by the name of Yoda. They found poor weather at the destination, which led to Luke crash-landing his ship into a swamp while attempting an approach. A small and strange creature greeted him in the marshes. Skywalker said he was looking for a Master Yoda the local claimed to know.

He took Luke to his home. After the young pilot’s insistence on meeting the Jedi, the green creature complained about Skywalker’s lack of patience. They heard Obi-Wan Kenobi’s voice saying he could learn this. Luke realized he had been speaking to Yoda all along. The old Jedi questioned whether Luke’s lack of patience would make him stop his training before its end. Yoda worried about him falling prey to fear and the dark side. Nonetheless, he agreed to train him.

After an intense physical regimen, Skywalker was to walk unarmed into a cave supposed to be haunted by the dark side of the Force. Luke ignored Yoda’s advice and took his lightsaber in. Inside the cave, he met a vision of Darth Vader, who he engaged in a duel. When Skywalker decapitated this vision, the face behind the helmet turned out to be his own. According to Yoda, it showed how emotionally fragile Luke was to feelings such as anger and hatred. Without control over them, he could fall to the dark side and become a Sith like Vader.

Luke’s frustrations came up once more when R2-D2 pointed out the X-wing had sunk further into the swamp. Yoda invited him to try and use the Force to raise it, but Skywalker objected over the ship’s size. The master reminded his apprentice that this was inconsequential, which prompted Luke to say he would try to lift it. Yoda reprimanded him, stating there was only doing or not doing. After failing, Luke dismissed his teachings but was proven wrong when Yoda brought the ship back to the surface using the Force.

Old Friends in Important Places

The Millennium Falcon required repairs to its hyperdrive so that Han Solo could take Leia to the Alliance’s rendezvous point. In search of a destination that would not be under the imperial grip, Han elected to approach an old friend in Bespin. Solo figured he would find shelter and help with the repairs there. The Falcon and its crew met Lando Calrissian at the landing pad. He offers to repair the Millennium Falcon and host its occupants in Cloud City. Leia was hesitant to trust Lando, particularly after a dismembered C-3PO appeared in their quarters.

The next day, the Rebels were invited to lunch by Calrissian. However, they saw Darth Vader, Boba Fett, and a detachment of stormtroopers by the table. Lando revealed the Empire had arrived before them and forced him to comply. The fugitives are taken prisoner, with Solo and Organa subjected to torture.

Leia thought they wanted her dead, but Lando revealed to her that Vader was using them as bait to attract someone by the name of Skywalker.

Cloud City Rescue

Cloud City Rescue

In Dagobah, Luke sensed his friends in danger and lost his focus. Yoda insisted he finished the training before proceeding. Despite warnings that departing now could jeopardize everything his friends were fighting for, the young Jedi disregarded this and prepared to leave aboard his X-wing.

Yoda and Obi-Wan reminded Luke he was not ready to face Darth Vader yet, and that if he indeed did so, he would not have any help. As the X-wing flew away towards Bespin, the old master voiced his concerns over Skywalker’s recklessness and informed Obi-Wan that he was not the only Force-sensitive one ready to fight the Sith.

The Empire placed Han Solo in a carbon freezing chamber. Darth Vader intended to trap Luke Skywalker there and take him to the Emperor. To test its functions and assure the survivability of the process, he allowed Boba Fett to use it first on Solo. Han and Leia shared a passionate kiss. The Empire froze him in carbonite before her, Chewbacca, and C-3PO.

With Solo’s vital signs steady, Boba Fett took custody of him. Darth Vader ordered troops to escort the remaining Rebels to his star destroyer. Calrissian argued this was not part of their deal, but his protest fell on deaf ears.

Luke Skywalker landed in Cloud City aboard his X-wing. While sneaking through the halls, he saw the carbonite block containing Han Solo towed by Boba Fett. The bounty hunter spotted Skywalker and opened fire, forcing him to seek cover. Luke then ran into Leia, Chewbacca, and Lando, under the custody of stormtroopers. The princess attempted to warn him that this was a trap.

With the help of Cloud City security forces, Lando and the Rebels overwhelmed the troopers and attempted to rescue Han Solo. However, as Boba Fett’s ship had departed by the time they reached the landing platform. The group had to fight a wave of incoming troopers. Calrissian commanded the evacuation of Cloud City, anticipating an imperial invasion. They then successfully made their way to the Millennium Falcon, formerly owned by Lando, and departed under fire.

The Truth Surfaces

Luke wandered into the dark carbon-freeze chamber. As it lit up, he saw Darth Vader above him. The young Rebel lunged against the Sith Lord, who repeatedly blocked his attacks. Despite Skywalker’s aggressive technique, his lack of training put him in an inferior position before the experienced Vader.

When Darth Vader struck back, Luke was disarmed and gradually retreated into the freezing pit. The Sith turned the machine on, believing he had successfully trapped him. Skywalker managed to jump out before being trapped and reclaimed his weapon.

In what seemed to be a brief triumph, Luke disoriented Vader and kicked him over a platform. The imperial enforcer engaged him once more when he descended. He flung several objects towards Skywalker, eventually breaking a window and depressurizing the room. Luke was sucked outside into the reactor shaft but held onto a catwalk.

Darth Vader ambushed Skywalker and launched a series of heavy strikes. These proved too much for the untrained Rebel, who found a lightsaber blade against his throat. Refusing defeat, he drove it away and attempted to wound Vader’s shoulder. The Sith Lord once again went on the offensive and severed Skywalker’s right hand together with his lightsaber.

As Luke shrieked in pain and attempted to hold onto the rails, Vader attempted to sway him to the dark side. When the Rebel refused, the Dark Lord revealed himself to be Anakin Skywalker. Shocked by the truth, Luke flung himself down the reactor shaft before catching a weathervane at its bottom over the clouds. He cried out for Kenobi and Organa.

At the Millennium Falcon, Leia sensed Luke in danger and ordered Lando to turn back. Using a hatch at the ship’s ceiling, she brought the wounded Skywalker aboard and flew away from Cloud City, with TIE fighters in pursuit. Inside, Luke called out for his father, only to hear Darth Vader’s plea to join him once more.

The Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive continued to show problems, with a star destroyer preparing to use its tractor beam and reel it in. R2-D2 ran diagnostics and found that Cloud City technicians fixed the hyperdrive. Imperial troops had turned it off, however. The astromech droid managed to reactivate it, and they jumped into hyperspace.

Without Han Solo, they reached the pre-arranged Rebel rendezvous point beyond the Outer Rim. Luke made it to the infirmary of an EF76 escort frigate, where he was fitted with a robotic right hand by a medical droid. Lando and Chewbacca bode farewell to them and set off aboard the Millennium Falcon to rescue Han Solo.


Question: Why did George Lucas not direct The Empire Strikes Back?

Answer: Lucas was exhausted after directing A New Hope. He only provided the story for The Empire Strikes Back.

Question: How long is Star Wars Episode 5?

Answer: The movie has a runtime of 2 hours and 4 minutes.

Question: Who betrays Han and Leia in Star Wars Episode V?

Answer: Lando Calrissian. He was an old acquaintance of Han Solo from his smuggler days.

Question: How old was Luke in The Empire Strikes Back?

Answer: Luke Skywalker was 22 years old during the events depicted in the movie.

Question: Did the original Empire Strikes Back say Episode V?

Answer: Yes. Unlike A New Hope, originally only Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back always featured the episode number in its name.

The Future

Hoth was a stark contrast to the triumph at Yavin. The Rebels had suffered heavy losses during the battle and the evacuation and were without a permanent main base once more. Forces across the galaxy did not have orders beyond surviving. It reflected the Alliance’s state.

Luke’s defeat at the hands of Darth Vader forced the aspiring Jedi to reflect on his troubles. The criticism and advice given by Masters Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi resonated with him. He was deeply troubled by the revelation that Darth Vader was his father, Anakin Skywalker. Luke felt a degree of betrayal from his mentors as both withheld this information from him.

The loss of Han Solo weighed heavily on his friends. Leia Organa became desperate to retrieve her lover. The betrayal at Bespin pushed Lando Calrissian to embrace the Rebel cause. Together with Chewbacca, he began engineering a plan to rescue Solo from the Tatooine crime lord.

For Darth Vader, the conflict with his son overshadowed the victory on Hoth. The Sith Lord had failed to persuade Luke to join his cause. The Emperor’s words about the young Skywalker destroying both had impacted Vader deeply. Despite defeating Luke in battle, he did not capture him as intended, setting up for an inevitable clash in the future.

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