- Han's poor tauntaun freezing to death in the first act. Necessary, yes, given that its body saves Han's and Luke's lives — but still heartbreaking.
- Poor Threepio has it pretty rough in this film. First he's ignored (more often than usual), shot and deactivated, and the only one who goes out of their way for him is Chewbacca. Threepio's basically The Friend Nobody Likes.
- Poor Dak Ralter. Not only is he killed before he can get off a single shot at the Empire, but Luke is forced to abandon his body to the incoming walker to save his own skin. The entire outcome of the battle definitely qualifies, as it is the Despair Event Horizon for the Rebel Alliance. In the Expanded Universe, the defeat was so complete that some in the Empire actually believed the war to be over.
- The same goes for Zev Senesca, aka Rogue Two. Most will remember him as the pilot who rescues Luke and Han from the frozen tundra, only to meet his end at the hands of the Imperial walkers shortly thereafter, and Luke can only watch as their speeder erupts into a fireball.
- Han being frozen in carbonite. Especially Chewie's reaction. He swore to protect Han but was told by him that the only way to help was to take care of Leia. And a couple of times it cuts to Leia's face during/after Han is frozen in carbonite. She's staring down at him and is obviously trying not to cry. Particularly sad if you are watching for the first time and don't know if they will be reunited or not.
- The reveal that Darth Vader, whom Luke Skywalker thought killed his father, is his father. It takes him a moment and a Breaking Speech from Vader for the crushing realization to sink in.Luke: No... no! ...that's not true! ...that's impossible!Vader: Search your feelings, you know it to be true.
- The way this scene is often framed in Pop-Cultural Osmosis is in a condensed form. When recited by someone who has not seen the film, they often believe that Vader says in a dull monotone, "Luke, I am your father," to which Luke responds with a Big NO. But that isn't actually what happens. Vader says "No...I am your father," placing stress upon the "I", clearly intending to toy with Luke's emotions so he can be turned to the dark side. And Luke doesn't simply respond with a Big NO (although that is part of his response). His face twists in despair and anguish and he begins basically sobbing. When he does respond with a Big NO, it sounds genuinely pained. Mark Hamill really sells it.note
- Luke's devastation after this revelation. All he can say as Vader calls out to him through the Force while he and the others try to evade capture is "Ben...why didn't you tell me?"
- What drives this scene home is that this is the part when you realize that the saga is more than just an epic tale, it's ultimately the tragic tale of a very dysfunctional family.
- Vader on the outside is a ruthless warrior who enforces the Empire's will without mercy, and tortures his son and his friends. But on the inside, he's just a father desperately trying to get his son back.
- Watch the scene between Vader and the Emperor again: Vader just learned his child, his beloved wife's child, whom he thought had died in her womb because of him, is still alive, and Palpatine coldly talks about killing him. Is that such a wonder that Anakin pleads for converting Luke instead?
- After seeing the prequels, the sight of Yoda living in hiding on Dagobah, after all the Jedi had been wiped out by Vader and the Empire.
- Also who didn't feel at least a little bad for Vader after Luke and co. escape on the Falcon at the end? Compared to his usual reaction he just looks sad and lonely, and even plaintively looks back out the viewport once their gone. Keeping the prequels in mind, he had just lost his last connection to Padme. When he's trying to get Luke to side with him, Vader has his arm outstretched. When Luke decides to take his chances and lets himself fall to the depths of Cloud City instead. Vader's arm suddenly drops as if to show him giving in to despair at the sight of losing his son.
- The closeup on Leia's face as Hoth's door closes, shutting Han and Luke out for the night. The woman lost her entire planet and now she's having to abandon her closest friends to the cold that would most likely have killed them. Chewie's reaction is also pretty heartbreaking as he howls in grief, worried that he lost his buddy forever.
- The final scene of the film. The heroes are beaten, but still hold out hope and then the reprise of "Han Solo and the Princess" hits and this time it's filled with such longing and heartbreak, just listening to it can bring tears to your eyes. Imagine how shocking and demoralizing the film's ending must have been for the original 1980 audience. The end of A New Hope was incredibly triumphant and simple - the good guys won. By comparison, despite its attempts to remain optimistic, the ending of Empire was shockingly grim in a way that few fans could have possibly prepared for (even with a title like "The Empire Strikes Back"). Nowadays, having a dark middle chapter in a trilogy be significantly grimmer is commonplace, and audiences can tolerate it because 1) it's expected, 2) the wait for sequels is shorter, and 3) the internet exists to whet the appetite for discussion and details. Waiting 3 whole years for Return of the Jedi in an internet-less world must have been torturous. Many fans believe the shock over the film's Downer Ending is partially responsible for the initial mixed reception.
Tear Jerker / The Empire Strikes Back