My daughter and I watched Star Wars together a few months ago, and she is aware that there’s a new sequel coming out. The other day she came home and told me that she and her friends had played “Star Wars” at recess. I grilled her, very carefully, to try and determine whether any of them had made The Big Reveal during the game. I decided that the time to watch The Empire Strikes Back was now. I saw this in a theater during its first run, when I was thirteen. (Someone had already made The Big Reveal during an eighth-grade graduation party at which toy light sabers had been present.) At the time, I was still reading science fiction pretty regularly. I brought home a making-of magazine I bought at the theater, and read and re-read it obsessively. I know I’ve seen the movie at least once since then, but probably on broadcast TV, on a poor-quality set, and possibly not even the whole thing. I didn’t expect it to hold up perfectly thirty-five years and four more sequels later, but I was hoping it wouldn’t be too bad.
My not-quite-live blogging:
The opening credits are really pretty exciting. I can imagine being very ready to see the sequel, in 1980, and watching the beginning with huge anticipation.
The text starts scrolling up the screen, and my daughter says, “Episode V—this is episode 5!”, and I pause the movie and explain to her.
The movie really looks nice. The shots of the ice planet (no idea what its name is), of the repair hangar, very nice. The cinematography and editing, other than that, are nothing special. The dialogue is terrible. The score is over the top (and too loud for my daughter’s somewhat sensitive ears). The plot is pretty much non-existent. But the art direction is carrying the film.
Harrison Ford looks really, really, incredibly young. He’s playing his character from American Graffiti, if that character were in his element, and his element were a spacecraft hangar.
Why does Han go get Leia to bring her to her ship? She describes this as an uncharacteristically chivalrous thing to do. Possibly one of the rebel officers had asked him to do it. But I feel like he did it because that’s what a man in an old movie would do at this point. He’d make sure the high-status woman gets where she needs to go, just because, and he’d go take her himself, because old-fashioned standards of “gentlemanliness.” A lot of the movie so far has been pantomiming actions from older movies. It feels a little like Casablanca in space.
When the second guy gets strangled by Darth Vader’s Force powers, the one who isn’t on a viewscreen, my daughter doesn’t understand what’s happening.
Ugh. A scene I found romantic at thirteen is actually about Han Solo forcing his attentions on Leia, by backing her against a wall, and her slipping away as soon as she possibly can.
Dagobah doesn’t look as chilly and damp as I remember it being. With my old DVD player, I used to turn on the TV’s “theater” mode when I watched movies, but the Blu-Ray player has a “cinema” mode, which gets turned on automatically and has usually worked well. I turn on the TV “theater” mode and it looks a little better, but my daughter asks me to turn it off.
Yoda looks like Samuel L. Jackson. I’m sorry, but he does.
This sequence does not wear well. I remember being very, very impressed by it as a thirteen year old. I’m not an aficionado of martial arts movies, but having seen Kill Bill (which makes use of those tropes), I can recognize that Yoda is a similar character to Tarantino’s Pai Mei. I can recognize that all his little annoying habits are forms of traits traditionally given to such characters. But I can also recognize that this seems “off” and more than a little tone-deaf. It could hardly help being a little silly in modern times. Tarantino intensifies the silliness and turns it almost into camp, though a very serious—and violent—kind of camp. This, though, is just wrong.
“There is no try. There is only do, or not do.” This could be a filmmaker’s credo, I suppose. The film either works, or it doesn’t. You don’t (usually) get credit for having good intentions. These movies are coming very close to not working, and soon will go over that cliff.
For years, I’ve shrugged off people who say that Luke is annoying. But he is. He’s rude to Yoda and dismisses him as a silly old man, far beyond what you’d expect from an “average” callow young man. There’s nothing here that suggests a budding Jedi Master. There’s not even anything that suggests the fairly thoughtful young man of the first movie, the one who was kind to the droids and open to the possibility that Ben Kenobi was more than he seemed.
A whole lot of the film from this point forward does not wear well.
In the scene with the bounty hunters, my daughter asks who they all are. I didn’t remember this being in the movie at all, had no idea what a bounty hunter was, and was surprised when I saw The Return of the Jedi by the whole Jabba/Boba Fett thing. Power Rangers apparently has a bounty hunter, but if they’re true to form, it doesn’t really make sense and isn’t explained.
Han and Lando discuss the latter’s having settled down and turned into a respectable businessman. It occurs to me that this scene could have been picked up out of The Empire Strikes Back and dropped into The Big Chill, and when the closing credits roll, I’m reminded that Lawrence Kasdan co-wrote the screenplay (with Leigh Brackett).
Chewbacca (now reassembling C-3PO) is an engineer?
When Luke walks into the room where Darth Vader is waiting for him, things pick up. The not-wearing-well part of the movie would seem to be over. I suppose people have picked this over many times by now, but Luke is there to rescue his friends. He sees Vader and unsheathes his sword turns on his light saber. Why? He doesn’t ask what Vader wants, or wait to see whether he’ll be attacked. Presumably, he thinks he can kill Darth Vader on his own . . . why? Because he has the awesome superpowers of the Jedi knight? Again, it feels like the movie is being driven by a framework from some other story: this is the part where they fight. Why did he walk into that room in the first place? There was no reason for him to think he could help his friends by going in there? Why didn’t he leave when he saw they weren’t there? Why didn’t he ask Vader where they are? But okay, this is an exciting scene and looks cool.
I’m now waiting for The Moment. My daughter has been fidgeting a bit. She’s seen a few movies that are two hours long or longer, but mostly kids’ movies. The Wizard of Oz is pretty long, for example, and she got a little bored toward the end, anyway; I had to remind her to pay attention when the Wicked Witch was about to get it onscreen. I stopped the movie at a couple of points for snacks, and when Luke confronted Vader she was sitting on the floor and I could only see the back of her head. What her reaction was, when The Line was said, I don’t know, but she was very still.
Doesn’t Calrissian have more than eight security officers? Why are there so many stormtroopers running around freely and shooting at things?
There are too many plot turns that depend on the droids’ not being listened to when they know what they’re talking about.
Trying to find a comparison for Luke’s rescue by the Millennium Falcon, I settle on Ishmael’s rescue by “the deviously cruising Rachel” in Moby Dick.
Not crazy about the final shot, not sure why.
As the closing credits roll, I ask my daughter, “Were there any surprises in that movie?” She says no. I say, “What about Darth Vader being Luke’s father?” She answers . . . , “You told me that already.” I. Do. Not. Remember. That. When? “When I was two.” After many minutes and much discussion, I do remember that a clothes store gave us a tie-in activity book, three or four years ago, for some kind of graphic novel about a Jedi middle school. And that it described little kid Luke and Leia (almost wrote “Laura,” ha!) as brother and sister, and probably even mentioned that their dad was Darth. Which is weird, and I might have even explained it to her in some way. But, so, that was disappointing. I reminded her that Darth Vader is still the bad guy.