Friday, May 10, 2013

May the 4th: The Empire Strikes Back

(Originally written for Jedi News)

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…


Episode V

It is a dark time for the
Rebellion. Although the Death
Star has been destroyed,
Imperial troops have driven the
Rebel forces from their hidden
base and pursued them across
the galaxy.

Evading the dreaded Imperial
Starfleet, a group of freedom
fighters led by Luke Skywalker
has established a new secret
base on the remote ice world
of Hoth.

The evil lord Darth Vader,
obsessed with finding young
Skywalker, has dispatched
thousands of remote probes into
the far reaches of space....


Once A New Hope became a phenomenon, everyone was clamoring for a sequel. The good news was that the movie everyone saw was already only part one of a three part story. George Lucas was already refining the second part, and expanding his story and themes to cover potentially an additional six more! The bad news was that directing Hope had work Lucas down to the nub. He wanted to finish his story and thanks to his smart business deals had the money to make it with little interference, but he had no real interest in returning behind the camera for months at a time. So while he still oversaw production, making sure it was still his story, he entrusted his mentor Irvin Kershner to do the day-to-day stuff.

Ironically, though he was promised a high level of creative control in exchange for sheparding one of the most anticipated films of all time, Kershner was adamant that it remain in Lucas’ “Saturday Matinee” milieu. Lucas and Kershner worked with a team of writers and the actors themselves in order to try and make this sequel the best it could be. Thus, in 1980, the world was introduced to The Empire Strikes Back.

The reaction was…extremely mixed. Oh it still made a lot of money, but there was quite a bit of negativity sneaking into the debates. Lucas’ 30’s Serial dialogue was losing its charm with these critics. Flaws in the storytelling were put on the spot and magnified (whether they were there or not). Even the effects seemed hit and miss if you took a poll. The biggest complaint seemed to be that despite Kershner’s wishes, it just didn’t have the spirit of the original.

Of course, time seems to have healed all wounds. Fast forward to today, and Empire is widely regarded not only as a tremendous film but far and away the best film of the Saga, leaving all past and future installments in the dust. The pinnacle of sci-fi/fantasy filmmaking.

My verdict? I definitely wouldn’t go that far at all, but it sits at a fairly comfortable second place both in my personal list and in an honest look at the filmmaking.

It succeeded in being better than New Hope in most ways, and yet there is a fatal flaw: it feels like it’s trying too hard to be better than it has any right to be.

Let me explain.

Kershner uses the same style of filmmaking Lucas used in Hope, but he pushes it a bit farther. Uses the artistic angles just a teensy bit more. Makes the melodrama just a little bit more dramatic. In short, it takes itself a little too seriously than it should. The other films in the Saga know exactly what they are, but Empire tries to rise above it to its ultimate detriment. Oh, it has the Star Wars spirit, but to be honest it has it about the least of all the movies, to the point where when it does show up it feels a tad out of place. Just a tad.

To be fair, it was easy to want to go this route with the point in the story they had to tell here, and honestly it took a lot of gumption to follow up a film like Hope with one like this that went so dark, and while it wasn’t completely successful it deserves a lot of credit for throwing us that curve and not giving us a rehash. And the filmmaking style is, at the end of the day, really good. The effects are better, and hold up very well even today. Once again, not the best-made film in the Saga as many would claim, but its ambition at least lands it a solid second.

And it’s still my personal second favorite, though I think there’s a big gap between what I like about it and what others like about it. I’m on the same page with people who enjoy the sequences on Hoth and the climactic confrontation (more on that later), but it’s when the group splits up that there seems to be a disconnect.

Most people like the Han/Leia romance. I don’t. Actually, the more I watch it the more I hate it. Not only do I just want to punch Han Solo and give him a lecture on how “No means No,” but I want to dope-slap Leia for ultimately falling for it. I know this type of romance has precedent in fiction and does keep in a certain classic feel, but I’ve always hated that kind of story. I respond better to a more equalized and classical style of romantic interaction that the Saga would delve into in later installments. The only thing I think is worthwhile is that one ad lib which is admittedly perfect and completely in character. I just wish we had more than Han being uncomfortably pushy leading up to it.

Most people like Boba Fett. I don’t. To be honest, as a kid it took me about my fifth viewing to even realize he was there, that’s how much of an impression he left on me. He’s not a bad character, but he just doesn’t do anything for me and I can never understand why so many people go so gaga over him.

The Asteroid chase is fairly exciting, but most of that is due to the fact that it inexplicably gets one of the best music compositions of the saga, and the Exogorth (Space Slug) scene, while a fine scene and would fit perfectly in any of the other episodes, is one of those scenes whose silliness defeats the more serious tone the filmmakers were trying too hard to push in most of the film. Bespin, while a fine concept, is just dull and claustrophobic to me, even with the SE opening it up a bit. Lando’s likeable enough and  gets some good material, but loses my interest almost as quickly. Vader gets some interesting character stuff in these middle sections, but only retroactively in light of what we learn about him in later episodes.

So with all that I dislike, why is Empire my second favorite in the Saga? Well, for me, the scenes with Yoda training Luke on Dagobah are so amazing that they carry this film for me. Yoda is my favorite Star Wars character, and not only is this the first time the world has met him, but this also remains some of his best material. A lot of Frank Oz’s virtuoso puppeteering still makes Yoda look real to me.

Of course, I think the main reason this one sticks out to so many people can be summed up in five little words:

“No, I am your father.”

If you weren’t spoiled by everyone and their mothers misquoting this line for years, it packs a major wallop to first-time viewers. It changes literally everything. I also think it’s quintessential of Lucas’ style.

First off, this twist didn’t exist until part-way through the drafting stage of the screenplay. And yet it makes so much sense and feels like it was built up to this all along. This is Lucas’ greatest gift: he can make stuff up on the fly and fit it into the story so seamlessly that it feels like it was the master plan.

But moreso than that, look at the scene. Really examine the dialogue and the performances in that scene. Take that scene out of context and it’s the most ridiculous thing you have ever seen in your life. The cheesiest of lines, overacting to the worst degree. And yet, seen in context, once you’ve gotten into the story and have been following it, it becomes one of the most memorable and heartwrenching scenes in cinema. That’s the Star Wars spirit. It’s corny as hell, but if you let yourself get invested it takes you for a glorious ride. Empire forgets that too often to truly be the best, but when it does remember like with that scene, it is truly fantastic.

It was at this point that many of Lucas’ collaborators were excited to explore further down the dark path. But Lucas was realizing very quickly that the storyline needed to be brought back into the light. How did he fare in this quest? Well, meet me next week…

Favorite Lines
·         “Thought I would leave without giving you a goodbye kiss?” “I’d just as soon kiss a Wookiee!” “I can arrange that! He could use a good kiss!”
·         “Oh, switch off!”
·         “Your Tauntaun’ll freeze before you reach the first marker!” “Then I’ll see you in hell!”
·         “R2 says that the chances of survival are 725 to 1. Actually Artoo has been known to make mistakes... from time to time... Oh dear oh dear... “
·         “You will go to the Dagobah system. There you will learn from Yoda, the Jedi master who instructed me.”
·         “And I thought they smelled bad on the outside!”
·         “Laugh it up, fuzzball!”
·         “Why you…stuck up…half-witted…scruffy-looking…NERF HERDER!” “Who's scruffy-looking?!”
·         “Sir, I am fluent in 6 million forms of communication. This signal is not used by the Alliance. It could be an Imperial code.”
·         “His is as clumsy as he is stupid.”
·         “You are in command now, Admiral Piett”
·         “Sir, Rebel ships are coming into our sector.” “Good. Our first catch of the day.”
·         “Right now I feel like I could take on the whole Empire myself!”
·         “Shut him up, or shut him down!”
·         “Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1!” “Never tell me the odds.”
·         “You’re saying coming here was a bad idea…I’m beginning to agree with you. Oh, R2, what are we doing here? It’s like…something out of a dream…or…I dunno, maybe I’m just going crazy.”
·         “Chewie, take the professor into the back and plug him into the hyperdrive!”
·         “Away put your weapon, I mean you no harm! I am wondering…why are you here?” “…I’m looking for someone…” “Looking? Found someone you have, I would say, hmmm?”
·         “Ohhhh, hehe, great warrior. Wooahh, hehe, wars not make one great.”
·         “How you get so big, eating food of this kind?”
·         “Mine! Or I will help you not!” “I don’t want your help. I want my lamp back. I’m going to need it to get out of this slimy mudhole.” “Mudhole?! Slimy?! My home this is!”
·         “Sir, I don’t know where your ship learned to communicate, but it has the most peculiar dialect.”
·         “The Force is strong with him. The son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi.” “If he could be turned, he would become a powerful ally.” “Yess…he would be a great asset…can it be done?” “He will join us or die, Master.”
·         “Ready are you? What know you ‘ready’? For 800 have I trained Jedi. My own council I will keep on who is to be trained.”
·         “This one, a long time have I watched. All his life as he looked away. To the stars…to the horizon…never his mind on Where. He. Was…hmm? What he was doing.”
·         “I won’t fail you. I’m not afraid.” “Ah…you will be…you will be…”
·         “I have a bad feeling about this…”
·         “No time to discuss this in a committee!” “I am NOT a committee!”
·         “The cave is collapsing!” “This is no cave…”
·         “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.” “Vader…is the dark side stronger?” “No…no no…but the easier, more seductive.” “How am I to know the good side from the bad?” “You will know when you are calm…at peace…passive…a Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense. Never for attack.”
·         “That place is strong with the dark side of the Force. A domain of evil it is. In you must go.” “What’s in there?” “Only what you take with you.”
·         “There will be a substantial reward for the one who finds the Millennium Falcon. You are free to use any methods necessary, but I want them alive. No disintigrations.” “…as you wish.”
·         “No! No different. Only different in your mind. You must unlearn what you have learned.” “All right…I’ll give it a try.” “Try not! Do! …Or do not. There is not ‘Try’.”
·         “Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? And well you should not, for my ally is the Force. And a powerful ally it is. Life creates it…makes it grow…its energy surrounds us…and binds us…Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you. Here, between you…me…the tree…the rock…everywhere. Yes! Even between the land and the ship.”
·         “I don’t…I don’t believe it.” “That…is why you fail.”
·         “Apology accepted, Captain Needa.”
·         “Will they die?” “…Difficult to see. Always is motion is the future.” “I’ve got to go to them.” “Decide you must, how to serve them best. If you leave now, help them you could…but you would destroy all for which they have fought and suffered.”
·         “Why you slimy, double-crossing, no-good swindler. You’ve got a lot of guts, coming here after what you pulled…hahahahaha! How ya doin’, you old pirate! So good to see you! I never thought I’d get to see you again! Where ya been? Hahaha…what’re ya doin’ here?”
·         “Told you I did, reckless is he. And now, matters are worse.” “That boy is our last hope.” “No…there is another.”
·         “You look absolutely beautiful. You truly belong here with us among the clouds.”
·         “That was never a condition of our agreement, nor was giving Han to this bounty hunter!” “Perhaps you feel you’re being treated unfairly?” “…no…” “Good. It would be unfortunate if I had to leave a garrison here.” “…This deal is getting worse all the time…”
·         “Wait…wait! Oh my! What have you done! I’m backwards! You flea-bitten furball! Only an overgrown mop-head like you would be stupid enough to-”
·         “I love you…” “…I know.”
·         “Calrissian, take the princess and the Wookiee to my ship.” “You said they’d be left in the city under my supervision!” “I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further.”
·         “You’ve learned much, young one.” “You’ll find I’m full of surprises.”
·         “Impressive….most impressive…”
·         “Well don’t blame me, I’m an interpreter. I’m not supposed to know a power socket from a computer terminal.”
·         “There is no escape. Don’t make me destroy you. Luke, you do not yet realize your importance. You’ve only begun to realize your power. Join me, and I will complete your training. With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy!” “I’ll never join you!” “If you only knew the power of the dark side. Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.” “He told me enough! He told me you killed him!” “No, I am your father.” “….No…no…That’s not true…that’s IMPOSSIBLE!” “Search your feelings. You know it to be true.” “..NOOOOOOoo..noooo….” “Luke, you can destroy the Emperor. He has foreseen this. It is your destiny. Join me, and together we can rule the galaxy as father and son!”

Biggest “What Do You Mean It’s For Kids?!” Moment
The graphic evisceration of Han’s Tauntaun.

(On a scale of 1-6 where 1 is the best)
Personal: 2/6
As a Film: 2/6


  1. I've seen way worse eviscerations of animals than with the Tantaun. I honestly don't see anything wrong with that moment.
    On another note, the reason why Boba Fett is a cool character has to do with his similarity with the ''Man With No Name'' in A Fistful of Dollars. At the same time, he is overrated, and I prefer his dad and Cad Bane.
    I disagree with your thought that somehow ''Empire'' has the least Star Wars feel. If I had to pick a film that feels the least Star Wars, it would have to be by far Revenge of the Sith.

    1. It's pretty graphic for a PG kids film, is all I'm saying.

      As for Sith, I'll agree that the final act has lost most of the Star Wars feel, but only because it has to tell that horrible part of the story. The rest of the film, from the Battle of Coruscant to the Death of Grievous, is pure Lucas magic. Empire, on the other hand, has it less throughout because as I said it felt like it was trying too hard to escape from it. Once again, this doesn't make it a bad movie, I keep saying it's second best and certainly the best made of IV-VI. I'm also not saying I hate it; I still say it's my second favorite.

      However, there's a reason why so-called "fans" who show time and again that they don't get Star Wars usually cite Empire as their favorite, and I think it has a lot to do with what I explained here.

    2. PS on point 1: All of the "What do you mean it's for kids?!" sections are purposefully exaggurated for comedic value. To be honest, as much s each film has a moment, the only ones I'd be really concerned about for the majority of the target demographics are Owen and Beru in "Hope" and the final act of "Sith."

    3. You forgot the line ''You have failed me for the last time Admiral.''

    4. I didn't forget it, it's just not one of my personal favorites. If it's yours, awesome. But these are all just mine.

  2. your main criticism is that it tries to be too good?

    1. Pretty much. It is good, second best overall and best of IV-VI, but it tries too hard. It doesn't revel in its serialness the way the others do, and that's destracting. The other five feel like they love being Star Wars films, but this one feels like it'd rather you forget. Most of the time, anyway.

    2. Beyond the fact that I think complaining that they tried too hard is just a bit odd, I think you're overestimating how set in stone the whole "Star Wars" feel was by this point. This was only the second film in the franchise after all, and all it really does as a film is expand upon the original and take many of its ideas and themes to their logical endpoint. I don't think it hates being a Star Wars film or anything like that, and the fact it's the least serialized of the films really shouldn't be a detriment against it.

    3. But by the simple fact that this was a serialized space opera from day 1, it puts the least serialized at a disadvantage when compared to the rest. It overcomes in other ways, but it's still a legitimate observation.

    4. Keep in mind that "the rest" at the point it was made was just the first film. The fact that it decides to go in a somewhat different direction and do different things than the original shouldn't be held against it.

    5. Yes, and I give them credit for that, but it's the particular direction they decided to go that, at the end of the day, sets it apart for the worse.

      There's also the fact that people who claim to be fans but don't understand Lucas' vision rally around this film, and while that was hardly the intention there's a reason this happens and it has nothing to do with George.

    6. But in what way is this direction a bad one? It's more like an actual film and it goes in some darker directions- I don't see how that really "sets it apart for the worse".

      And the implication of that last remark seems to be that people who praise this film and dislike the others are somehow people who only "claim to be fans" and "don't understand Lucas' vision", which I find a tad presumptuous. Also I'm getting just a bit tired of the "Lucas as lone genius" idea that kinda goes against how filmmaking works as a process.

    7. I'm not presuming, they've proved it beyond a shadow of a doubt by the way they give George Lucas none of the credit for his own damn vision. Yes, he had a lot of help with the final product, nobody disputes that, but it's still his story and his overall vision, and NONE of this would be here without him. He's no god, and he's no saint, but getting his vision out there, as uncompromised as possible, while spearheading the teams that reinvent the way movies are made and giving back as often as possible deserves a hell of a lot more respect than he's getting.

    8. Undoubtedly, but in the process of trying to give him that respect you've marginalized most everyone else that was important in making the films what they are- as evidenced here by your dismissal of Kershner's contributions as "the day-to-day stuff". If that's all Kershner was entrusted to do he would've been hired as an AD or something and not as the director.

      I don't disagree that Lucas deserved more respect and grace than a lot of fans tend to give him nowadays, but that respect shouldn't come at the cost of the recognition of other valuable contributors- people like Kershner, Kurtz, Kasdan, Brackett, etc. The first film came about because of Lucas, but it was the combined efforts of all of them (Lucas included) that made it what it was.

    9. I'm not marginalizing anyone's involvement, just trying to put things in perspective. We'll never know for sure who exactly did what since we weren't there, but what is clear based on everything people involved had said is at the end of the day it was Lucas' vision driving almost everything, even on days when it was the last thing he wanted to do.

    10. Actually, most all the evidence I've read suggests that he was pretty distanced from Empire and didn't have a ton of involvement in it beyond scripting.

      But regardless of how true that is, the fact is when you talk about Star Wars and its strengths you generally only mention Lucas and how it's all "his vision" and don't bring in other contributors. Again, here you describe Kershner as doing the "day to day stuff" (which is again, the AD's position and not the director) and when talking about his direction just basically go "what Lucas did but more". It's not so much putting things in perspective as much as it is you don't acknowledge who else has really added to what Lucas already did.

    11. Kersh wanted to go close to Lucas, but also put his stamp on it. You've said before about how Empire uses shots the others don't. That's not true at all, it simply uses more of them and pushed a little farther. That's what I was talking about. Kersh tried his best, and he did a damn good job as a veteran should. But it was a little too much sometimes. It went just over what it should have been and thus has a harder time fitting in with the complete saga.

    12. I don't think I've ever argued that Empire 'uses shots the others don't', but regardless you're still arguing that the film's major flaw is that it's "too good". That's a viewpoint I can't understand, much less get behind.

    13. No, the major flaw isn't that it's too good, it's that it tries too hard to be something it's not and thus loses a lot - not all, mind you, but a lot - of the sense of fun that makes Star Wars so great.

    14. Figures I just wrote a good couple paragraphs of analysis on the film, accidentally pressed refresh and lost the whole thing. Ugh.

      I'll post an actual reply later today.

    15. Allright, actual reply:

      Well, I think the issue there is that the discrepancy between the films is being exaggerated slightly- Empire in the end isn't as dark as people make it out to be (though it's certainly darker than the first), but the first is also not as light as people tend to think- think about how much of it is drawn from Spaghetti westerns as well as Flash Gordon serials, and how so much effort was put into making it feel very real and gritty. It's a happy movie, to be sure, but also one that is very clearly a 70s film (Empire is too, even though it came out a year late). Point being that there certainly is a difference between the two films, but it's more a progression and not a sudden turn into left field.

      What I've always found particularly brilliant of the film is the way it breaks down the simplistic morality of the first film by simultaneously giving us a humanized bad guy and a good guy who betrays the heroes. That, coupled with Luke's central struggle in searching for his true self, makes the whole film a rather nuanced and poignant study in identity and self. The Dark Side as presented in Empire isn't some evil thing that evil people use, but rather the lurking possibility inherent in all of us that we must someday face in our lives. Anakin faced it years ago by giving in and losing himself to the mask of Vader, and now Luke faces the same struggle and fears losing himself in a similar path.

      So in effect, Empire is actually a much smaller movie than the original- while we started in a story about empires and rebellion and magic and war, here we get basically just the inner struggles of the characters as they search for themselves in the chaos of the rebellion- Luke faces down the realization that his worst enemy is in actuality his own father, and both Leia and Han find themselves questioning their own wants and desires as they find parts of themselves they didn't know existed. Even Lando faces the struggle between his friends and his life and ends up having to betray one to protect the other.

      It's why I've often disliked the idea that the films follow a structure of the first film being light and fun, the second being dark and depressing, and the third being fun again and wrapping everything up. It's on a surface level true (Empire is indeed a darker film than the original, and Return is much more light-hearted), but it ignores a lot of things about the film and a lot of their aims and goals. A better way to put it would I think be that the first film establishes this group of characters, the second studies and challenges them, and the third takes their behavior and actions to the logical endpoint.

      So looking at it that way, I don't think Empire is losing anything the first film had- it's just pushing it in new directions and finding the challenges and struggles that these characters can face and overcome- 'cause in the end, they do overcome their demons, with the real resolution of the film being the ever-so-understated "Father?" "Son..." moment towards the end. The characters, having started on their journey and faced the demons that haunt them, manage to stand up to them and discover who they are in the process.

    16. You make a lot of good points, though you can still have that delve into the characters wants and needs while still embracing the fun parts you put in there because, hey, it's Star Wars. That was Empire's mistake: it kept the fun bits but it felt like it rarely wanted to address them for long. They were muted.

      As Yoda said, "There is another..." There is one film that not only matches Empire's brilliant dive into character motivations and development, but also lets its fun and funny moments take center stage when they need to making it truly the best-made of the Star Wars films. But you'll have to wait a few weeks to find out (and I don't think it's the one you think I'm going to say)...

    17. Again, Empire is the second film in the franchise. What was codified as "Star Wars" by this point really wasn't much, and I think you're overestimating the amount to which being "fun" was a crucial part of the films.

      Plus, you know, I always found Empire fun as hell, so maybe it's a subjective thing.

    18. I never said it wasn't fun. Just not quite as fun as the rest. And I find you're underestimating how much the spirit of Star Wars was present from the beginning.

    19. I'm not denying it was present, but you seem to be treating it as if it's set in stone, and something that goes further in a different direction is the worse because of it.

      And again, "not quite as fun as the rest" is still a very subjective remark.

    20. Well, then I guess I can't find the right words to explain it, then.

    21. Okay, let me see if this makes any more sense.

      The others have a sort of tongue-in-cheekness to them that Empire does not. This isn't a bad thing per say, but it does single Empire out, and not in a positive way. If you have six movies where one takes itself more seriously than the rest - and it's not the first made - then it does kind of count against it in the end. Not much, not enough to say it's anywhere close to being bad or even worse than the rest, but still a legitimate con.

    22. When judging the film on its own merits, you can't take into account the films made afterwards- especially in this case when we know that the original plan for ROTJ wasn't as "tongue-in-cheek" as it ended up to be (though I think that's a poor choice of words, as the films are generally pretty sincere).

    23. But we're not talking about the film on its own merits, we're talking about how it fits into the overall saga. And while the rest of the Saga takes its story seriously, there's always a ton of fun little gags that have no place in a truly dramatic piece. Empire has these too, but far far less.

      Again, if Empire was the first, or if the ones that came after we're more like it, it wouldn't be quite as glaring.

      We're long past the point where any of these films can be judged as anything but parts of the story of Star Wars.

    24. Having 'fun little gags' doesn't make it just inserts comedy in a largely dramatic piece.

      And it's completely damaging to a film to judge it on the merits of what comes afterwards because the film itself has no way of knowing what comes afterwards. Empire is building up to a finale that ultimately didn't happen and was rejigged to become Return. So the fact that the later films weren't like Empire is in no way Empire's fault and it's a bit silly to criticize it for something it has no control over. A film should always be able to stand on its own two feet and be judged by its merits as a single film made in a particular time and place. To judge it based on anything else is in the end damaging to its intent.

    25. No, I'm sorry, you're wrong. Empire is a SEQUEL. That means it is a continuation of an already established story. It's job isn't to be its own thing, it's job is to tell the next part and return people to the world. I would never- NEVER- have anyone watch Empire without at least seeing Hope first if not I-III (being chronologically first in the story, though you can argue showing them after as well for the sake of preserving the twist). Godfather 2 isn't meant to be seen without seeing 1 first; Vito's backstory works fine, but the "present" stuff makes little sense without what's come before. Dead Man's Chest doesn't work without establishing the characters in Curse of the Black Pearl. Batman Returns, Spider-Man 2, Spy who Shagged Me, and so on, and so on, and so on. The only exceptions could be the James Bond films- they're relatively self-contained, and yet even they build on what's come before.

      I also object to your tone here. You're fighting me as if I've been saying Empire was terrible. Far from it. It's just trying a little too hard, and even if the others were never made, I'd get that feeling, just not as strong.

    26. I apologize for my tone, then- didn't mean to come across fighting.

      And it may be a sequel, but film sequels are intended to still stand on their own so they can still be marketable to audiences that hadn't seen the original (it wasn't until about the mid-80s and the dawn of home video when that started to change). Most of the films you mention could still be watched independently, but just work *better* if you've seen the original.

      Regardless, though, it still doesn't mean Empire should be judged on the basis of what comes afterwards. Judge it in terms of Star Wars, okay, fine. Judge it in terms of Return or the prequels and it starts to be damaging towards the film.

    27. So what you're saying is that Empire is only a good movie if we pretend no Star Wars movie was made after it so let's do that in order to preserve perfection? That's what it sounds like, and I hope I'm mistaken.

      By the way, Episode IV is called "A New Hope." Star Wars is the series name, and stopped being the single title to the 1977 film since the rest were guaranteed to be made.

    28. I call the films by what they were called when theatrically released. Just a quirk I have.

      And no, I'm not saying Empire's only good if we take a revisionist view of history, I'm saying it doesn't make a lot of sense to judge it on grounds that didn't exist when it was made. It'd be like criticizing Phantom Menace because it's not as serious as Revenge of the Sith.

    29. But it is something to take into consideration when looking at the overall story. To me, it's like chapters in a book. Sure, you can judge chapter 4 while ignoring chapter 7, but it seems silly to keep them separate. There just happens to be a longer time between chapters in this case, and we got to see them as they were being written.

    30. Except that in a book chapters are presented as the part of a single story where as Star Wars was presented as a single story that was gradually expanded to three parts and then twenty years later gained an additional three parts. Chapters in a book usually don't tell a complete story, whereas each Star Wars film does.

      (the chapters in a book metaphor is more applicable to TV shows than it is film, anyways)

    31. Except in this case. Only Hope is self-contained because they weren't sure they could make more. From Empire on, there was the knowledge that there was more to the story. Even if Jedi changed from what Empire was initially building up to, Empire was still building it up. Empire has to make sense to Jedi just as much as Jedi has to make sense to Empire, as the other four have to make sense to each other and these two. It makes absolutely no sense to me to take it out of the context of the overarching narrative because it loses so much that way.

    32. But the very fact that they changed so much about Return breaks the idea that Empire "has to make sense" to it. I'm not saying you can't take into account what the sequels do and how Empire fits into the franchise as a whole, but you can't judge it as a film based on those because those are things that plain don't exist when it came out (just as it'd be unfair to complain about the original film because Vader isn't the important villain).

    33. Sure you can. Anyway, let me repeat myself. I would say the same things even in if stopped at Empire. The fact that the remaining four owe more to Hope than Empire in tone merely makes it stick out more, but the feeling would still be there. Compared to Hope, Empire takes itself a little too seriously for the tone set before, and given what this whole thing was based on and meant to be, that works against it. Again, NOT AT ALL ENOUGH TO MAKE IT BAD, EVEN COMPARED TO THE OTHERS, but it's something to note.

    34. You can, but it's not fair to the film.

      And I still think when compared to the first film it's not as big a disparity as you make it out to be- it's more serious, yes, but that's not in itself a bad thing and makes sense when you think of it working as primarily a character piece about these characters' inner struggles. It's still got 3PO and Yoda's early scenes to lighten it up a bit (though I will admit shooting up 3PO is possibly the darkest the series ever got until ROTS) and is at its heart no worse than what Star Wars set out- it's the old B-movie serials done in the 70s (in this case 1980), with all the intricacies that implies.

    35. There's still an imbalance. It's slight, but it's there. And it's more than fair to point that out.

      I think you're missing the point here. The point is that if this is the worst thing I can say about the movie objectively, then that's good for the movie.

    36. Again, it's not as much an imbalance as it is a natural progression for the film to take. Yes, it doesn't have the tone of the first film. But it's not the first film, it's its own separate movie out to do new and interesting things with what has already been set out.

      And you're right that it's a minor point- I just don't think it's an objective flaw is all.

    37. It's a matter of perspective. You're focusing on the individual parts where I'm attempting to keep the big picture in context. You keep saying it's its own film, but it's not. It's a Star Wars movie in the Star Wars series. Yes, it can do things differently and give new things. It's practically encouraged to. But it still has to fit into the universe and there's still a line that can be crossed. Empire doesn't cross it, but it toes it constantly (by contrast, Sith crosses the line for a moment, but because it's a moment and it keeps a safe distance the rest of the time, it's not quite as glaring).

    38. Really? Sith's entire third act is supremely dark. If you're gonna criticize Empire for being largely serious I'd think Sith would have to come under the same criticism.

      And again, "Star Wars series" was all of two movies by now, meaning that what made something "Star Wars" was still being codified and formed. Empire doesn't reject or drastically change anything that had already happened, it just adds new things to it. It's more serious than the first film had been, but I'm still not seeing why that's a flaw.

    39. It's not two movies anymore. It hasn't been two movies in at least 30 years. You can no longer think of it as just two movies and I'm not convinced you ever really could.

      As far as Sith is concerned; I don't know why, seeing as you're not wrong about parts being more serious, but I don't get the same feelinga about Sith. It'll be something to think about and look for when I rewatch it in preparation for its entry.

    40. But at the time it was made, there were only two movies. Just as I wouldn't criticize the Hartnell era of Doctor Who for doing a lot of things the show hasn't since, I wouldn't criticize Empire for doing things that Return and the prequels ended up abandoning.

    41. Umm...nobody abandoned anything. I never said anything was abandoned. Nothing was abandoned. All I said was that Empire took itself a little more seriously than a silly space opera should. It was telling a serious part of the story, so it had to be careful to keep the right balance for its unique milieu, and it didn't do that as well as it should have.

    42. Abandoned was probably a poor choice of words- I was just meaning that Empire had some ideas and concepts that Return later dropped and there are some things it does that the later films don't.

      Again, I don't see the issue with 'taking itself seriously'...especially since Star Wars is as a whole markedly sincere about its premise. It's one of the most endearing things about it.

    43. You can be sincere while still recognizing and embracing the fantasy and absurdity. Empire has the elements, but doesn't embrace them. It feels like it's trying to be good in spite of its setting rather than try to be good within its setting like the rest.

      But, really, we're just repeating ourselves here. You and I just won't see eye to eye on this. Let's just shake hands and agree to disagree.

    44. Well, I'm actually curious on this point- why do you feel Empire doesn't embrace its fantastical setting? What gives you that impression?

    45. It's hard to explain. It's just, when I watch the movie with a critical eye, something about the way it presents itself comes across as more it doesn't want to be what it actually is and what the rest like being. I'm not saying that the filmmakers intentionally wished they weren't waisting such good material on a kids movie, but...that's kind of the attitude that comes across to me at certain points in the movie.

      But that's more of a personal take on it. Objectively, there is a more somber tone throughout Empire's running time that the others only have at certain parts, and while they deserve credit for trying something different and still making a great movie, it does kind of hurt it in the long run now that everything is said and done.

    46. The more somber tone I agree with, though I again don't think it's any worse than what ROTS ended up doing- I'll be interested to hear what you have to say about that when the time comes.

      And hrm. Regarding the first paragraph, I don't know what's giving you that impression, because it's definitely not the feel I ever get from it. I guess we'll just have to disagree on that point.

    47. Quickly affixing to my first point- I do feel Empire has a lot of moments of levity that break up the more serious parts, especially as almost the entire Han & co. sections are treated as basically comedic until Vader arrives in Cloud City.

    48. You know what I just realized? It has to do with color.

      Hope, while slightly muted thanks to 70's film quality, still manages to bring a lot of color into it. Jedi is even more vivid and I-III take the cake.

      Empire, by contrast, is intentionally and noticably draped in muted, dull colors throughout.

      People associate vivid colors with kids fare and more muted and realistic with adult stuff. That's where it comes from. That's what gives me those impressions.

    49. Hm, interesting.

      What about the portions on Hoth and Cloud City? Those are bathed in whites and generally pretty well-lit. The swamp I'll grant you (no filmmaking magic on earth could make a swamp look anything other than muted and dull), but even the lower depths of Cloud City are marked by harsh and vibrant blues and oranges (contrasting colors for contrasting forces) with that deep orange being the pervading color for most of the planet. In the SEs it goes even further with the city being redone almost like the prequel Coruscant, with sunlight streaming in everywhere.

      (I (coincidentally enough) was thinking about Empire's usage of color when trying to add to my analysis on May 4th, so it's fresh in my mind)

      (this conversation is, weirdly enough, also reminding me of Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which is an absolutely darling French film I highly recommend and is completely bathed in vibrant colors from start to finish. Same with Young Girls of Rochefort, from the same director and 10 times as charming. Man, I wanna rewatch those now...)

    50. There's still a muted quality. Hoth's white is still very monochromatic, and even the bright red of the carbon freezing chamber is a dull, muted red compared to something like, say, Mustafar which is RED. If that makes any sense.

      But Dagobah even seems more vibrant in Jedi. The fire from Yoda's kitchen is warmer and more vibrant in Jedi than in Empire somehow.

  3. While I like TESB, it has always been my least favorite of the SW films. Nilbog hits the nail on the head about it trying too hard. My own problem with the film is the uneven pacing, it just really bogs down in the middle. Also the passage of time for Luke and the MF is never really made clear in the film, but I think Lucas stated it was 3 months that Luke trainned with Yoda and the MF getting to Bespin with no hyperdrive.

    1. Really? 3 months? I don't know whether that's too long or too short.

  4. I love your reviews of the saga (I can't wait for the rest) for once I see reviews of the saga that are clean, honest, and NOT make me want scream in anger and frustration. MTFBWY!!!!

    1. Thank you so much. That makes this all worth it.

    2. For the record I too prefer to watch the Star Wars saga in the intended order (all six as one big movie)and I can't really pick which of them I prefer. There is at least three aspects of each film that each stands as out above the others IMO.
      Episode I: Qui-Gon Jinn, Young Obi-Wan, and their relationship.
      Episode II: Jango Fett, The Clone Wars battle, and Yoda's lightsaber duel.
      Episode III: Best story, Anakin, and Palpatine.
      Episode IV: The One that started it all, The Throne Room, and the film can be watched on it's own without watching the others.
      Episode V: The Imperial March, Luke vs. Vader, and "I am your father".
      Episode VI: Vader's Redemption, The end scene, and Young Anakin's Ghost (as it should be)

    3. I can think of a lot of moments in all that I like better, but those are all spectacular choices.

  5. Before I read it I thought it was just a few days the way the film presents the passage of time. If one of the PT films had been that unclear on the amount of time passed, the internet crowd would complain nonstop about it, but since it is a OT film, the so called best SW film it gets a free pass.

    1. Yeah, I hate what it's come to represent, but I can't help but love it anyway because it's Star Wars, dammit, and still a well-made film in spite of it all.

    2. I think it gets a free pass because in the logic of the film it doesn't matter at all how long he's there. What matters is what we see him learn and experience, so whether we're seeing all that he was taught or merely snippets of a longer journey doesn't really make a difference in the end.

    3. You're right in that, in the end, it doesn't really matter. But if Empire gets a pass, they all do.

    4. Not really my point- I'm just saying that the ambiguity in time isn't really a flaw against the film since the clarity isn't at all needed.

      Of course, I don't think the prequels ever had any ambiguities or discrepancies in time, so it's a moot point anyways.

    5. No, but if they did you can bet the haters would be all over it like cheese on pizza, while ignoring this. And it's worth bringing up that, at the time Empire came out, haters WERE all over this. Just proof that this attitude was there at the start and is just as ridiculous now as it was then.

    6. I'd rather not play the game of "oh, but you *know* people would be hypocritical and ignorant". It's awfully presumptuous and tends to be a bit rude.

    7. Except that, as I've said, there's concrete proof that the same kinds of arguments being made against I-III now were being made against IV-VI when they came out. And there's concrete proof that the arguments are blown way out of proportion if they aren't wholly wrong.

    8. Doesn't mean predicting what others will say isn't still presumptuous and rude.

      Plus I don't see how bringing up past criticism of the films suddenly makes later criticism totally invalid. Yes, of course people have made the same complaints about two different sets of films, but it doesn't make the complaints 100% right or wrong (plus, though I'm at a disadvantage for not actually having seen some of the reviews and videos that get bandied about as "proof", but the arguments I tend to hear thrown at each trilogy tend to not correlate extremely well).

    9. You can make educated guesses based on logic and history.

      And bringing up past criticism does negate present ones in this case because it's the same damn thing. So either they're all good, or they're all bad. You can't have it both ways here. I'm sorry, but you just can't.

      I'm trying to bring perspective that gets lost with either nostalgia and/or overly critical thinking.

    10. Um...yes, you can. The same criticism applied to two totally different movies may apply to one and not the other (though for my own sake, could you do me a favor and perhaps link to one of the sources that trashes Empire so I can see the kind of connection you're making?)

    11. We're not talking about two totally different movies, though. We're talking about a relatively consistent series.

      I'd link if I wasn't replying by phone. Go to my links, find "A Certain Point of View," and look up Starlog's Empire review. There's no real internet archive of this stuff, so I have to trust the accounts of people who lived through it, but this guy actually found an old copy from a reader.

    12. That's your argument, then- that the series has stayed relatively consistent. That's what people who dislike the prequels are arguing against.

      And thanks for the lead, I'll try and dig it up and give it a look.

    13. Here are some quotes from the Starlog review of TESB.

      “Han Solo maneuvers the Millennium Falcon into a hole in an asteroid to hide while he makes repairs. Princess Leia sees something outside the ship. They go out to investigate — wearing only oxygen masks. No spacesuits. They explore the inside of the tunnel they are in, walking around the ship — walking?!!”

      “What we are seeing may look like spaceships, but they move like supersonic fighters and flying aircraft carriers. Impressive, yes. But reminiscent of Battlestar Galactica.”

      “All the chasing and racing is very exciting, but it doesn’t seem to have a larger purpose. Where before we were made aware that these events were one small part of a larger rebellion, now it seems as if everything revolves around Darth Vader versus Luke Skywalker. The focus has been narrowed. The rest of the battles are therefore trivialized by comparison, and the sense of epic is weakened.”

      “Structurally, the film is flawed by its need to imitate its predecessors “formula” of fast-paced cross-cutting. We cut back and forth between Luke and Yoda on Dagobah and Leia and Han in the asteroids, and the time sense of both sets are events is distorted. How long were Han and Leia fleeing? How long is Luke studying?

      “Why not stay with Han and Leia until they leave the asteroid and head for the Bespin system, then cut to Luke arriving at Dagobah and stay with him until he leaves?”

      “Because the film now runs at such a fast pace throughout its entire length, it can’t build to an additional peak of excitement at the end when Luke finally confronts Darth Vader. It’s an exciting fight, yes — but we’re already at our peaks, we can’t get any more excited — and darn it, we should.

      “The fight should be a climax, and it isn’t, and that’s one of the reasons why we’re left feeling just a bit unsatisfied.”

      What is the point this scene is supposed to make?” “So why does Yoda give Luke his ship? He’s denying him a reason to learn. Having the fighter handed back to him so easily is definitely not going to teach Luke patience.” “If Yoda is truly a Jedi master, then after he has raised the X-wing fighter out of the swamp to show it can be done, he should drop it right back in and say to Luke, “When you believe you can do it, then you will.” And then the next time we cut back to Luke and Yoda, it would be enough to see the fighter out of the swamp again, cleaned off and Luke grinning like a man who’s just discovered he can run the four-minute mile in three and a half. It would get applause from the audience.”

      “He isn’t a hero because he hasn’t demonstrated his ability to grow–and that’s what heroism really is: discovering that you can master what looks like an impossible challenge.” “If Luke doesn’t learn anything, then he can’t grow. And if this isn’t about growth, then it isn’t a story. In fact, it isn’t even a very good chapter.”

      “An author or filmmaker chooses the specific incidents that he believes best tell his story. That the authors of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ chose to portray these incidents suggests that they may not fully believe in the power of the Force themselves.”

    14. Yeah, those are all really stupid complaints (especially points 3 and 9, which are beyond silly).

      And if that's the kinda criticism you're talking about in relation to the prequels, I totally agree with you (I've long thought complaints about the individual structure or plots of the films have been absolutely ridiculous). But then that's not the kind of criticism I think is legitimate.

    15. On this, we totally 100% agree. It's a May the 4th miracle!

  6. I know some of the haters have complained that the series has stayed consistent. Some wanted the PT films to be a more grown up and mature version of Star Wars than the OT films are. While many franchises have grown up with their fans, this has lead to mostly negative results (ie turn off many newcomers). Lucas decided to keep the series targeted at familes and kids, which some of the older fans didn't agree with, which I think is one of the sources of the hate.

    1. Yes exactly. As I've said many times, that approach works fine for something like Harry Potter, but it doesn't have to all the time, and certainly not here.