If we were following trends, this movie would definitely be PG-13. Didn't stop me from watching it with the kids! PG!
DIRECTOR: Irvin Kershner
I've said everything I can say about the Special Editions! I can't beat this horse anymore. The special editions are dumb; let's look at the actual movie. I might say that this is the greatest science fiction film of all time, so the review itself is going to be hard to write. I hate to sound gushing and the reason that this movie works so well is incommunicable. Also, this is one of those universally loved movies. Add to that the fact that it is hipper to say that you like The Empire Strikes Back over A New Hope. It's so dark and moody. The best thing I had going for me was that I forgot how good this movie is.
A weird element to this blog is that I've been rediscovering my love for Star Wars. I've been a Trek guy for a while and I'll probably always be a Trek guy. But my kid likes Star Wars. My co-workers like Star Wars. Disney is making new fun Star Wars movies. Diving deep into the Star Wars universe makes a bit of sense right now. As part of this blog, I've had to look at the philosophy shift of George Lucas. I can't wrap my head around the guy he was before Star Wars and the guy he was afterwards. From his perspective in 1979 to 1980, he was a guy who had a few hit movies under his belt. I've called him hungry in previous reviews and he just wants to make the best movie that he can possibly make. I can't help but make comparisons to Joss Whedon and his first Avengers movie. Whedon had the advantage of having limited cult success on television before becoming a filmmaker, so he already had earned his reputation. Lucas had American Graffiti and the first Star Wars film. I can just think of a guy who doesn't want to drop the ball while he's successful. I know that THX-1138 is more of a student film, but it also doesn't have the pull as the rest of his oeuvre. This is the story of a filmmaker who has a healthy amount of fear, so he did the most natural thing he could do: he asked for help. Perhaps this is the beginning of his paranoia and the birth of the new Lucas. He didn't direct the most successful film in the franchise. Yes, his name is all over this movie and he gets the most credit for practically everything Star Wars. But he didn't get to direct the best movie in the series. What can that do to someone? He becomes Mr. Star Wars after this, only popping his head out to remind the world that he made the greatest science fiction franchise of all time. That and Indiana Jones.
Considering that we live in an era where gritty tonal shift is the watchword, it is so bizarre to see that The Empire Strikes Back figured that out before everyone else. Everyone always ties the second movie in a franchise to Empire because it works so well to the point where we get frustrated at the comparison. The one thing that most studio execs don't really understand is that Empire is that it is a smaller and different movie from A New Hope. It is a complete redefinition of what the franchise should be. In fact, the movie only takes the best part of a sequel and runs with that. Kershner doesn't have to establish his characters and setting, but that's the only advantage he has. He is telling a whole new story with these characters. Yes, Han has to pay back Jabba and Darth Vader is mad about the destruction of the Death Star. But very little is actually beholden to the story. The joining of the Rebellion is such a background thought. The story starts with a reverse structure to A New Hope. The entire first film was trying to get Luke to the Rebellion. The second film spends the opening sequence trying to get our protagonists away from the Rebellion. They are fragmented and the movie is about disjointedness. It is in this separation that the characters actually get legs (except Threepio...pun intended.) Han goes from archetype to compelling lead. Leia isn't a victim in this one. I'd like to think that Carrie Fisher's contribution to the script probably helped with this. Luke loses much of his whininess and the idea that he really isn't ready to take on a leadership role is explored. In some ways, this is a criticism on adolescence. Luke's overconfidence is exposed to him and he rejects it. I can't think of a better allegory for growing up. But this can only exist because the movie is smaller. It is character driven.
But that doesn't mean that the movie doesn't get action and excitement. I honestly get a little bored with A New Hope. Yes, the Battle of Yavin is awesome, but it doesn't hold a candle to my love of the Falcon in an asteroid field. Right now, John Williams's score for this section is blaring in THX in my head. I also have to applaud my print of the movie. The star field and the blackness of space makes this scene look absolutely gorgeous. I also love the escape from Hoth more than I like the Death Star escape. As dark and brooding as this movie is, it doesn't forget that spectacle is supposed to be fun. I honestly feel like the movie takes brass knuckles to my emotions as Luke struggles on Dagobah and Han gets put into carbon freezing, but that is all balanced with the adrenaline that comes tow cables and minochs. This is pre-production, pacing, directing, and editing all coming together into a perfect storm of a movie. The movie is great. Add to this that Kershner seems more like an actor's director. Lucas has always been weak at giving his actors something to work with, but Empire breaks the mold because the performances are rich, deep, and nuanced. The most famous Han Solo line is "I know." That line comes from a place of trust that I don't think Lucas has by himself. Perhaps that is why a lot of the Indiana Jones movies really work. It comes from collaboration.
I put this on Facebook, but I want to point out a character that I love more than other characters. I love Yoda. But I don't love the Yoda that everyone else loves. I don't love wise, old Yoda who is strong with the Force. I'm a big fan of backwoods hillbilly Yoda. I want a movie with that guy again. Yeah, there's no reason to ever see goofball Yoda, but he's a funny character. But Goofy Yoda actually is very telling of where the franchise was at the time. Goofy Yoda was playful and a muppet and who cared? The puppetry on Yoda is outstanding. He crawls into a bin and starts to throw stuff around. It's really well done. Yes, he looks like a puppet. But I prefer the tangible puppet to the constantly shifting CG that is the new Yoda who can do flips and lightsaber tricks. The reason that it is so marvelous that Yoda lifts the X-Wing out of the swamp is because you know that this is a level of Force ability that we haven't seen before and that it is just the tip of the iceberg from this little puppet. Having Yoda do flips and having Darth Vader crushing things with his brain kind of cheapens that moment. Williams delivers a majestic score during this part because it is a display of majesty. He's tired of failure and distrustful versus this all-knowing sage who is kind of a Mary Sue. With a character as powerful as the prequel Yoda, why isn't he on the front line of every fight? I watched a bit of the Clone Wars miniseries and series and I don't understand that dynamic.
Regardless, this movie really does deserve to be labeled the best science fiction movie ever. I think if I really sat down with notes, I could write a book about this one. Rather, this movie speaks for itself. Every time I underestimate how good it is and it always knocks my socks off.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.