Star Wars countdown – The Empire Strikes Back

As part of my countdown to the release of The Force Awakens, this week it was time for The Empire Strikes Back. (We’ve tickets to see the new film on Sun 20th, so will be timing our countdown to watch ROTJ on the Saturday night before that.)

ESB is many people’s favourite Star Wars film… I prefer the narrative clarity of A New Hope over this. ESB just doesn’t work as a stand-alone story, despite all the (many) things in its favour.

So, some random thoughts/questions, and then I’ll get onto that structural point.

– Why does the opening scroll say that it’s a dark time for the Rebellion? They’ve just won a major victory. I have to doubt the quality of their strategic leadership… Plus, have you seen this? http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/35008095/star-wars-experts-calculate-cost-of-death-star-and-its-destruction The universe should be in an economic depression of galactic proportions at this stage.

– How does a massive, hairy Wampa sneak up on a Jedi wannabe? There is a lack of natural cover on Hoth… Then, when Luke does free himself and he chops off the Wampa’s arm, why does he not finish the job, and stay in the relative warmth and comfort of its icy home, rather than fleeing out into the (supposed night) cold?

– Where does the Wampa buy his Jedi-foot-glue? That stuff’s amazing! Is there a little corner shop/ general store somewhere outside the Rebel base?

– This is sci-fi world building at its best… Hoth, Dagobah, asteroid fields, a city literally in the clouds…

– We are introduced into this film via Han Solo, and some great action scenes. Straight into the action, without too much boring exposition this time ‘round. Han does a lot of the heavy lifting in this film, and his charisma is one of the reasons why this is many people’s favourite.

AT-ATs can only fire forwards, and lumber around at a glacial pace… So why do the Rebels keep circling and putting themselves in harm’s way? (Just fly behind them and blow their legs away!) What are these Rebel shields that can resist bombardment from space, but are vulnerable from the ground? There are massive inconsistencies in the use of shield technology throughout this scene – both in when it works, and when it fails…

– Ever been tempted to go off the grid and live in the wilderness on your own for years? Yoda may put you off that idea. He’s like an old cat lady who’s lost her cats…

– The training scenes with Luke and Yoda are amazing… possibly my third favourite example of the training montage. Imagine how much my other two favourites – Rocky training on a Siberian mountainside in Rocky IV; Nic Cage doing handstand push-ups as he narrates a letter to his young daughter in Con Air – would be improved by having a Yoda-in-a-bag upon their back…

– (In fact, Nic Cage’s character in Con Air was Cameron Poe. There is a character in Force Awakens called Poe Dameron. Coincidence?)

– Does that asteroid have an atmosphere, comfortable temperature, and gravity? How does the asteroid creature feed? Breathe? Reproduce? It must be so lonely and hungry…

– Am I not giving Luke enough credit in these films? He can fly an X-wing with literally no training, and a couple of days with Yoda and he can take on Vader… Imagine how strong he’d be with, ooh, a full week of training. This does beg the question: what exactly did the Jedis do with the younglings for all their years of teaching?

– Does the Empire have a fast-track recruitment and promotion scheme to replace all the senior officers killed by Vader?

– When Yoda says to Obi Wan, “there is another” – is this evidence of

(a) Obi-Wan having forgotten all about the second of the Skywalker twins, despite having been present at the birth;
(b) Obi-Wan being a massive misogynist;
(c) Obi-Wan fearing that there was insufficient time to train Leia to face the growing threat posed by Vader (really?);
(d) George Lucas making this stuff up as he goes along.

– This is by some distance the most quotable Star Wars film, between Han’s put-downs and romantic replies (“I love you” – “I know”), Yoda’s wisdom (“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”), Vader’s polite barbarism (“Apology accepted“) and Boba’s minimalism (“He’s no good to me dead.”)

– The inconsistency of Han being bound when put into carbonite, then being frozen with his hands held up in front of him, irks me every time…

– Why the theme park funride of death in Cloud City? What possible purpose does that serve? And another health and safety nightmare walkway (see my comments on A New Hope)

– Oh look, the Falcon’s engines have failed… Again. Yawn.

– Why does Leia kiss Luke and Han so much? Is she French?

– Leia definitely kisses Luke on the lips this time, despite the “there is another” hint to her parentage. Ew. Also, ew to everything Lando says when they first arrive, the sleazy little man.

The structure thing

As I said at the outset, this film does not stand alone. You can watch, and enjoy, this without having seen A New Hope, but to see the resolution you have to watch Return of the Jedi. I do not like any film that refuses to give me closure in such a blatant way, and the ending of this film is a definite anti-climax. It starts so energetically with drama on Hoth, has an interesting mid-section on Dagobah, then fizzles out at the end in Cloud City, with the heroes scattered, and the battle lost.

(For me, the film takes a noticeable downward turn once Han is on Cloud City, despite the Luke-Vader showdown.)

The midpoint of the film is Luke’s vision in the dark side cave, which holds up a mirror to his greatest (as yet unspoken) fear – that he will become the thing he is battling against, and give in to the power of the dark side. This resonates with the end of the Vader-Luke showdown, with Luke literally throwing himself to this potential death rather than joining Vader, and also foreshadows that great “I am your Father” revelation… BUT as a midpoint it doesn’t actually change Luke’s behaviour in the second half of the film.

The ever-whingey, “it can’t be done” proto-Jedi decides to bail on his training, against the advice of his mentor, to rush to aid his friends, even though he’s not ready to really help them, ie by defeating Vader. He is again taking the easy path. He hasn’t changed at all.

How much more daring would it have been for him to have stayed on Dagobah, and really knuckle down in a focused way, knowing that the clock was ticking against him, rather than rushing off at the first hint of trouble. Imagine the increase in tension that could have been built in by this. Sure, rushing off makes him a great friend. But it also makes him an idiot, and not someone worthy of the label “Jedi”. I’ve spent longer writing this post than he’s spent learning the ways of the Force!

Overall, ESB is a compilation of “scenes we’d like to see” from the Star Wars universe, rather than a film /story in its own right.

  • Space battles? Check.
  • Lightsabres? Check.
  • Revelations about parentage? Check.
  • Training montage? Check.
  • Quotable dialogue? Check.

And yet…

Still, at least it doesn’t have little furry Ewoks in it, solely to shift some merchandise. Next week, Return of the Jedi!

 

Photo: flickr.com/photos/randar/14430050919

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Author: Al Lane

Writer, Poet, Daydreamer

18 thoughts on “Star Wars countdown – The Empire Strikes Back”

  1. Okay, so you can write poetry that stirs the imagination and touches the heart… and NOW we can surely see that you are a talented film critic as well. Is there no end to your writing options? 🙂 I am looking forward to your take on the new film.

    1. I know what you’re saying, but if I had to write an economics paper for my PhD, you can bet I’d write it on the economics of running a bar in Mos Eisley (live band, cleaners on standby to take out the bodies, a range of illegal alcohol), rather than on the trickle down effects of bankers’ bonuses… 🙂

  2. I had to avoid reading this until I’d had time to sit down and watch it myself. So, yes, pretty much agree with all your points. Empire was my least favourite of the original trilogy when I watched them as a kid because of the subdued ending. The proper structure of the 2nd film should be: cut the incessant fleeing & asteroid stopover, go straight to Bespin where Han is frozen, Luke stays on Dagobah, Lando rescues Leia & Chewie and they rendezvous with the rebel fleet AND THEN the film ends with the excellent rescue mission to Tatooine with a fully trained Jedi Luke. Much more satisfying 🙂
    Having said all that, despite the wonky story arc, I realised that it’s actually a very good film. Plot holes are minimal (here’s another one for you: flying from Hoth to Dagobah to Bespin in a small fighter with no refuelling? Really?) and there’s strong emotional content (even Yoda & Chewie perform well showing mischief, angst, pain etc.). And there’s proper lurve.
    My main gripe with the plot remains the half arsed way the father-son angle was shoe-horned in. It makes no sense when viewed from the point of view of Ep IV: let’s hide the boy on Anakin’s home planet and name him Skywalker. Doh!
    It’s been the best part of a decade since I watched the original trilogy and I have to say that I actually enjoyed Empire a bit more than New Hope, maybe because I’d forgotten many little details (whereas I know every tiny scene of Ep IV). Empire just felt fresher.
    So, Jedi on Friday or Saturday depending on family schedules. I’ll be at the same cinema as you on Sunday with my 16 year old daughter (who has half-heartedly watched IV & V with me). Can’t wait!

    1. I love your amended story arc suggestion… That way, when Luke appears on Tattoine claiming to be a Jedi Master, he really (sort of) would be, rather than talking out of his backside. (Spoiler alert for my next post… 🙂 )

      As for hiding him and calling him Skywalker, have you seen the youtube video called “What if Ep 1 was good”? Well worth checking out. He makes a great point about how Owen Lars should have featured in the prequels as a friend of Obi Wan, to give a decent reason for taking Luke in.

      Can’t wait for Sunday!

          1. Just watched the youtube vids – totally, totally agree that Obi-Wan should be the central figure in these films. Anakin should be the pawn & victim, not the focal point.
            Not so sure about Owen being a pilot though; yes, by all means have him crop up in a scene or two but in Ep IV he’s such a humourless farmer that I can’t see him having had anything other than a dull, working youth. There’s no twinkle in the eye when Luke says he wants to go off to the academy to learn to fly spacecraft. So he should always have been a dull, reliable farmer.
            But overall, that guy had a much more focused and believable story than the actual Lucas scripts. To be honest, with a bit of re-writing and editing the prequels would hold together much better. But with Kenobi as the central figure losing everything they would be pretty damn good.

  3. Oh yeah, 2 other things I meant to mention: the scrolling text at the beginning says that the rebels are led by Luke but it should say Leia; and the Wampa glue is just clear ice… but how did they get the water up there to make it? It would have been easier for the Wampa to piss in a small hollow in the ground, stick Luke’s feet in it and wait for it to freeze.

    1. Great visual with the Wampa..
      “Stop wriggling, Jedi!”

      Hadn’t spotted the scroll text. Good point. It’s all a bit blah blah background anyway… My wife’s still never read a word of any of the scrolls, and she seems to enjoy the films just fine!

  4. I must say that one of the things that struck me, rewatching all the movies, is that in all of them, the female characters are pretty strong and prominent. There is a female general, a female senator, a female rebellion leader…

    Considering the first movie came out in 1977… it was pretty forward for its time! 🙂

      1. yes, but if you look closely, there were female fighters already in the return of the Jedi, very unconventional for the society of the time!
        As for the kickass female lead… you may just get what you’re asking for! Patience, young Padawan 😉

          1. I agree 🙂
            I had understood you were referring to her. But she’s not quite a leader yet, is she?
            I just didn’t want to spoil anything for anyone 🙂

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