A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 70 – Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back

Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back – May 9th, 2010

I am of mixed feelings about this movie. On one hand, it’s a truly fantastic movie. On the other, it will always be tinged with the broken hyperdrive running gag. “Okay, then they’ll go into hyperspace. It looks so cool!” And then? Nothing. Sad trumpet sound. Wah-waaaaah. Over and over. Thank goodness it’s fixed by the end of the movie, but it was a long wait.

It’s strange. I really do enjoy this movie, but I won’t usually watch it unless I can put the next movie in afterward. It’s tough to watch on its own. Likely that’s the curse of being mid-trilogy. At least this movie is still good, as opposed to that one that never got made. You know, it would have been Episode II?

But let’s talk about what makes this a good movie. Before I get to the plot and the drama and the overall story arc, I’m going to talk about Han and Leia and their interactions. Since Luke is off on Dagobah, Han needs a new straight-laced foil, and Leia steps right in, providing a love interest as well as the knight to his rogue. It’s a great dynamic and makes for snappy dialogue and some good tension. I love that Leia is written in such a way that she’s competent and sharp-tongued and adamant about her beliefs and she’s also thoroughly sympathetic. Sure, Han comments on her attitude, but he obviously likes it. He likes her, sharp tongue and all. I love that. She’s a fantastic character, especially in this movie, and I love her.

What else makes this a good movie? Well, for one, it’s able to start off on Hoth, with the rebels hiding out in their snow caves, take us through a battle and evacuation there – not to mention Luke’s encounter with the native wildlife and the tauntaun sleeping bag Han makes for him – then send Luke off to Dagobah to meet Yoda and do his whole Jedi thing while Leia and Han and Chewbacca and C3PO land on an asteroid, almost get eaten by a giant salamander, go to Bespin and meet Lando, then get caught by the Empire. And then we get everyone back together again for the big climax, with the obligatory lightsaber duel and space fight. The movie takes all of that, and that’s a lot to go through really, and manages to feel cohesive. Luke spends half the movie doing handstands and levitating shit and it doesn’t make the pacing feel weird. It all works. It’s also not a movie with the same sort of climax as the first and third ones have. There’s no grand battle between huge forces. There’s no whole world at stake here. Planets aren’t being blown to smithereens. The tension is all on a different scale. And that works too. That’s fantastic.

And then there’s the big secret reveal, which not even the actor in Vader’s suit knew about until after the fact. I love that. I love that there was tension there, and mystery, and this huge revelation that totally changed the way you looked at the events of the previous movie, and how you see Darth Vader’s actions, and Luke’s reactions to him in turn. It was a wonderful twist and the timing of it, right after Han’s been frozen and everything else is all in chaos, is perfect. Unfortunately, it does mean that the movie ends on a rather uncertain note. Sure, technically the good guys got away (mostly) and the Empire didn’t have its unconditional victory. But Han’s in the hands of Boba Fett. Luke’s just had his whole world turned upside-down. The Empire is still dangerous. The Rebellion is still at risk. Very little got settled in this movie, really. Which is why, I’m sure, I like to watch the next one right after. Good thing it’s not long until tomorrow.

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May 9, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

May 9, 2010

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

I’ve talked a lot in my reviews about MMS – Middle Movie Syndrome. I’ll probably talk about it again in the future. Perhaps I have implied that it is a bad thing. If so then this, the quintessential example of a middle movie and perhaps the best movie to illustrate the symptoms of this syndrome, is proof that it is not. Many people (myself included) consider this movie the greatest of the Star Wars films. I’ll be going into the reasons for that as I go forward in this review. But at least part of what makes this movie work and what makes it more epic and impactful, is that it is very solidly and consciously a middle movie. It’s all about setting the stakes for the climax of the series and getting the heroes in further and further over their heads.

Let’s think about this for a second: The movie starts with the Rebels spectacularly losing a battle on Hoth, involves Han ad Leia being chased by Vader throughout the whole film, and ends with Han encased in carbonite and Luke missing a hand. It goes from bad to worse, then to even worse. And it’s full of mysteries and foreshadowing for the third movie. I remember extensive debates in my family and amongst my second-grade peers regarding the whole “Vader is Luke’s father” revelation, and whom the “other” that Yoda mentions is. (I thought that the other hope was probably Han.)

Recollections of a second grader watching this movie: there’s a scene where the Emperor tells Vader that the son of Skywalker must not be allowed to become a Jedi. Vader suggests that he would make a great ally and the Emperor says “Yes… he would be a great asset.” I thought at the time that an Asset must be what you called an evil Jedi. Made sense to me. Oh, and like most every kid my age I remember the hours I spent during recess periods trying to move things using the force like Luke did when he pulls his light-saber on Hoth. Hanging upside down on the jungle gym and reaching out with my hand. For some reason it never worked.

I also got most of my Star Wars action figures around the time this movie came out. I remember I had the little rebreather contraption that Han wears in the asteroid. I always got frustrated when my sister would play with them because she would get the guns mixed up. I knew exactly which little plastic weapon went with each figure. I remember mailing away proofs of purchase from a bunch of figures to get the sort of bug-headed bounty hunter by mail. I had Vader’s tie-fighter with the pop-off wings and my most prized possession in the whole entire world was my At-at walker. It had a control in the body you could use to tilt the head and flashing lights and sound effects when you pushed the trigger to fire the guns. It was also fully poseable. Possibly one of the coolest toys ever made.

I love Frank Oz’s performance as Yoda. It’s so much more playful and personal than the all-digital of the second and third prequels. Sure his motion is limited and constrained by the fact that he’s a muppet, but he still has such a range of emotion. It’s quite impressive.

Another great thing in this movie is the deft direction of Irvin Kershner. He clearly has a better feel for working with actors than Lucas does. A couple examples: there’s a bit right before the Hoth battle when Luke is saying goodbye to Han and he pauses just before leaving. He almost says “thank you” but hesitates, nods, then leaves. There’s no dialog at all, but you get a whole conversation just in the looks that Mark and Harrison exchange. Another example is the infamous moment when Leia tells Han “I Love you” and he says simply “I know.” It was a ad-lib on the set the day of filming because the like Harrison was supposed to deliver simply wasn’t working. It’s a combination of great instincts on Harrison’s part and confidence on Irvin’s to allow him to say something so essentially Han Solo. You know if Lucas were directing he would have been wed more to his own vision and his ham-fisted dialog.

In general the Han/Leia dynamic is just fun to watch. Especially once Lando shows up. The old smoothie. It’s this great combination of snarky standoffishness and later real tenderness. Like everything in this movie it’s driving the plot while having a good time doing it.

Oh, and one more of the many, many reasons that the prequels don’t fit with this series? I totally think that Vader should have had a total outburst when he’s in the carbonite freezing room with Han, Chewie and Leia. I men, that’s his childhood friend/home-built robot C3P0 all in pieces on Chewie’s back! He should be all like “What have you done with my robot! Give him here – I can fix him. (I always feel better when I’m fixing things.)”

May 9, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | 2 Comments