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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