Catching Up: “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back”

  In a time when sequels are more than commonplace, and seldom ever rewarding, it’s worth it at times to go back and revisit a film that seems to stand the test of time. Revisiting an old film like this will not only remind you of what came before, how effective it was, but will also show how far filmmaking may have strayed. The idea that advancements in technology aren’t always good or the best way to go may begin to enter into it and how you see films will change.

The 20th Century Fox film “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back”, is a sequel that seems to still deliver even after all these years, and countless stories on how great it is and what happens within it.

This space saga stars Mark Hamill (“Regular Show”, “Jake and the Never Land Pirates”), Harrison Ford (“The Expendables 3”, “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues”), Carrie Fisher (“Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce”, “Maps to the Stars”), Billy Dee Williams (“The Man in 3B”, “Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales”), Anthony Daniels (“The New Yoda Chronicles: Clash of the Skywalkers”, “Star Wars Rebels”), David Prowse (“Comic Book: The Movie”, “Ravedactylo: Project Evolution”), Peter Mayhew (“Brreaking In”, “Yesterday Was a Lie”), Kenny Baker (“Casualty”, “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith”), and Frank Oz (“Inside Out”, “Star Wars Rebels”).

The film is directed by Irvin Kershner (“SeaQuest 2032”, “RoboCop 2”) and written by Leigh Brackett (“The Rockford Files”, “The Long Goodbye”) and Lawrence Kasdan (“Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens”, “Darling Companion”).

The film originally opened on June 20, 1980. It would go on to be nominated for three Academy Awards; winning two including a Special Achievement Award, One Golden Globe Award, and three BAFTA Awards; winning one.

Continuing down the road that is the watching of the “Star Wars” saga, we come to the second film in the series, fifth if you view them in chronological order, but you don’t as it’s silly. This one, is sadly another film I’d fooled myself into thinking I saw for some time. It really is a shame I didn’t realize it until now. Can’t say what I’d do, but at least I would’ve been better prepared going into this film as well. Either way, I can now say I’ve seen it all the way through! However, and maybe this is just because it’s a 35 year old film, but I honestly can’t find the reason’s why this film is so highly regarded above even just the other film’s in the original trilogy. Do not fret, or ready those just put away pitchforks, I’ll swing back to this later on.

As with the first film, I was amazed at one thing in particular. The special effects (see below) which may be incredible to witness, and largely responsible for this film’s success, pale a bit in comparison to one other thing. The level of comedy and humor achieved in this film is not what I ever would’ve imagined. I can’t fully say if I felt there was more or less of it than in the previous film, but it certainly made an impression on me.

A few notable instances have stuck with me, and made me love some of the characters more than I did already. R2-D2, more than his friend C-3PO, which I had to reference for the sole purpose of being able to spell his name correctly, had a lot of great and funny scenes. Continuing on C-3PO for a moment more, I screwed up, in that special way only I can do, with his name in my post on “Episode IV”, so I’m rectifying it now! Hopefully, since I’m sure his name will come up at least once more later on, I don’t screw it up again. That’d be embarrassing. Now back to R2-D2! He’s always been this cute little droid, complete with cute little sounds to express whatever he wanted to. It’s within this and his general interactions with anyone, that some pretty natural and funny occurring bits can occur.

One such instance of R2 just being R2 is after he and Luke have crash landed in the Dagobah system, in search of this mysterious being called Yoda. Yeah, I’ll get to him too. Patience. R2’s ejected himself, or whatever, and is trying to get off the ship and falls in the water. Of course that’s funny. But it’s the fact that he while he’s still submerged, he sends up some sort of antennae and is in the process of exiting the water, when he’s eaten. That’s funny and at first sad, but he doesn’t stay eaten. The thing that ate him doesn’t like droids and spits him out. He goes flying! and along the way he emits some sort of wailing sound. I’m not going to try to describe it, you know what it is. It’s what makes him so lovable! I couldn’t help but laugh at his fortunate unfortunate situation.

And to bridge the two characters, the scene between R2 and Yoda was absolutely hilarious! It was also quite adorable. Sorry if it isn’t supposed to be, but it was, and it’s what makes these two characters so memorable (apparently) and lovable. I have a new love for them both. The scene, to get back too it, involves Yoda finding what appears to be a flashlight, but Luke calls his “lamp” and wanting to keep it. Luke says he needs it and ever loyal R2 proceeds to try and take it back. Yoda won’t have any of it and a min-struggle ensues. It’s funny! This, of course, comes after we first meet the little green guy pretending to not be who it is that Luke’s searching for. Just for kicks, I’ve included it! Duh. Before I did I watched it and still loved it! Enjoy!

Oh, Yoda! Love Yoda even more!! I just can’t stop smiling at how funny Yoda is in this film. I truly never thought he was that funny. Adorable for a little green puppet? Yes. Funny? Well, there are some surprises after all. I think this film benefits from finding characters that could be so funny and it never once coming off as forced. It just flowed. Both Yoda and R2 had moments that were organic and if they involved other characters, allowed for them to respond organically as well. For Yoda, much like R2 in general, his scenes never ceased to be funny, or at least a bit amusing, in this film. Even when he’s showing concern for a choice Luke is going to make he manages to get me to chuckle. One bit, which I just remembered writing down, involves a classic line, that was nominated by the American Film Institute (AFI) as one of “AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movie Quotes” . Yoda says to Luke, “Try not! Do, or do not. There is no try.” I think it’s just because Yoda is Yoda and said the line. If anyone else had said it, it probably wouldn’t mean as much. It’s why we love Yoda.

The last moment that I loved the most, of so many funny ones, involved Han Solo replying to Chewbacca, “Laugh it up fuzzball.” If I recall correctly, it’s after Leia calls Han a name in response to something he says and Chewbacca laughs at him for it. Every so brief, but oh so funny! If only the other film’s could’ve been as funny. That would’ve been something. I’ll take what I got.

What I got includes a surprisingly and emotionally rewarding film. I was first surprised by this when it was decided to close the doors on Han, when he was still out looking for Luke. This turns out to be a really tough choice for Chewbacca. It was sad, and it’s actually shown quite well. That brief moment actually had me quite sad and moved. I, once again, didn’t think that it was possible to make him such a sympathetic character. Of course, there’s also the whole carbon freezing Han scene which only serves how deep this relationship and bond is between them. With only past stories and other small indicators we learn so much about these two, and believe it. We don’t need much convincing.

Luke has his vision of his friends and decides to end his Jedi training. While we don’t see any of the time between films, not only do we know there’s been a lot of it, but we see through the characters how they’ve all changed and grown to trust each other. That right there, is important too. It not only moves the story and the characters forward, but it shows how much the actors did themselves. The chemistry is there and I can enjoy not only seeing them each again, but enjoy the way they’re all able to work together and want to be there for one another. You certainly can’t say that, mostly, about any of the characters in the prequel trilogies. That mess, in that group of films, is just tragic. Somehow I think it’d be tragic even if the actors that played them were different. It all comes down to the writing.

The writing and the chemistry once again are what allow for another emotional component to come into play. What started out as mere feelings between Han and Leia, has definitely grown. It’s still about feelings and wondering if they other does or doesn’t love them, but you can tell, even if they can’t. You first see this in small ways as each are working together and then as they’re saving each other, and ultimately, you hear it from Han. Granted, he’s also about to be frozen, so it was a good enough time as any. The separation clearly pained them. If only the same consideration could’ve been given for the overly forced, but necessary relationship between Anakin Skywalker and Padme. Then I might’ve actually cared about what they were up to at any given time.

Even in the encounter between Luke and Vader, and after their duel, there seemed to be something of a response emotionally. Yes you were getting this big, unbeknownst to Luke, father son argument, but I can see how at first (back in 1980) it might look like that. It does only because I know what’s going to happen. I could be searching for something that’s not there. Although,with this sequence of events I discovered that any shock, awe, or what have you, was completely lost on me. I could watch Luke find out over and over about his father, and it would never register in me. It’d just be a classic and memorable scene where Luke screams, “”Noooooooooooo!” and has ugly cry face. It’s still a bit more than I think we got before. In the first film, everything was really just approached with baby steps. There was uncertainty all around, and everything was just taking shape. In that way, it makes sense why emotional depth may have been lacking.

In this film, the action sequences, not to mention the entirety of this universe, are once again brought to life by the effects company Industrial Light & Magic (ILM). The first film allowed ILM to pave the way and show us what was possible with new digital effects. We are all no doubt grateful for this as some of our favorite scenes were made possible. In this film, ILM seemed to step up once again, but it went a bit further. Credit for that is in that the action sequences were expanded and had a bit more going for them.

I think in this film, my favorite sequence is actually towards the beginning. Vader has successfully, after three long years and seemingly little action on the part of the Rebels, found their new hiding place. As his men begin to swarm their base and the ice planet Hoth, the rebels start to evacuate and a big battle ensues. It’s in this battle and the one that occurs at the same time in space, that we see ILM at work. They bring what we saw before, but with the inclusion of the AT-ATs and other flying ships (or whatever), plus a whole planet, there’s a whole lot more to deliver on. And I believe this was achieved! Even if the AT-ATs looked strange as hell walking around, I never got distracted for too long by this. Whilst watching this sequence, and the rest of the film, I began wondering what it must have been like to see this film in theaters in 1980, or in fact any of the other times that Lucas decided to show it in theaters again. I was just so amazed at how big this sequence was, at how good it looked, even for being this old and no doubt remastered. The size and the scope just had me glued the entire time. I guess this is a perk of seeing this battle in sequence as I was finally seeing this film in its entirety. And then, of course, all the other notable sequences that occurred through out. The dedication to detail and realism is astounding. If only we got more and more filmmakers and designers to approach films this way today.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten everything I was able to like and marvel at out of the way, I have a question left to ponder. Why is it that so many people regard this film as the best in the series, let alone the original trilogy? What makes this film so much better? Even back in 1980, it was regarded as such by critics, and has only grown in strength since. I just can’t fully see why that is. Maybe it’s the simple fact that I haven’t been exposed to it enough times, which I’ll have to take as I obviously couldn’t be exposed to it in the same way as people who saw it in theaters at the start of the ‘80s. I feel that I’ve noticed the changes in this film from the last, some I may have in fact laid out above, but I actually feel that more of these are simply because the people behind this film wanted to stick with a method of filmmaking and production they knew would work. And so, we have a film that holds up quite well after all these years, and does make me wonder why we constantly turn to super heavy CGI filled movies.

Even outside of this franchise, other film’s from, at least the ‘70s and ‘80s relied on practical effects and practical makeup. I think of the little indie film, “The Evil Dead”, and how it used a lot of practical effects to achieve its scares. Would that film have been as interesting and effective if it hadn’t used practical effects? Maybe, but I honestly don’t know. That’s a bit harder to figure out. I mentioned this in my “Episode IV” post, but it certainly is fitting to mention again. This film and the rest of the original trilogy have a well known legend or myth, something surrounding it. Much like with “Jurassic Park”, another film that used ILM to create its world, this one is one that somehow just becomes a part of your childhood. I can’t even begin to estimate how I heard about any of these films, or even “Jurassic Park”. They just showed up and never left. I’m discovering, with two young nephews in my life, that today’s kids just seem to know about all sorts of things that one would think they wouldn’t know about. Particularly when they haven’t been formally exposed to it. They do. I’m still surprised over the fact that so many of today’s kids know about zombies and watch “The Walking Dead”. Mind you, most of that’s another thing for another time. The point being, I think I’ve grown up constantly hearing about these films. I’ve seen bits and pieces of the films, individual scenes, and heard them discussed so much, even in other films like “Scream 2”, it’s pretty much hard to avoid references to these films. And so, the downside with this film watching experience, I’ve been led to believe something entirely different than what I got, and I just plain got a different film. Not a bad film, but one that couldn’t completely wow me like it might my nephews when they get around to watching it themselves. They’ll probably want to go to space or become a Jedi. Something. We’ll see.

While I can only imagine what people thought of sequels a long time ago, I know now they’re usually met with trepidation. Some are just pure fun and build to a conclusion still a long way off, and others are just unwanted and unneeded. The ability to go back and see what others have done, to achieve a film sequel that’s still being called many great things, is where optimism in this medium and industry resides. Without this, I think more people would turn away, as it sort of seems they do from time to time. Too many sequels, not enough thought put in and you’ve got burn out. Hopefully, with this new trilogy, the creatives behind the films, and the spin-offs won’t rush things. If they do, it’s the late ‘90s and early to mid-2000s all over again.

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