Paul here, below if have a quick mini-Podcast with my final thoughts on Star Wars Episode VIII The Last Jedi. Having seen the movie for a second time now, I feel like I can judge the film on it’s own merits and not the hype. Basically, I quickly go over my general feelings about the films quality, if I had to give it a letter grade what would it be, and where does this movie fit among the other Star Wars films. I think you guys will enjoy it as a more focused follow up to our full Episode from last week where we dove right into the film. Enjoy! Listen here on on iTunes:
It’s Paul, today we have the next piece of our series of articles looking back at The Star Wars Saga with Episode V The Empire Strikes Back. Our guest writer today is Marc Rodolfo who is a Incredible wordsmith. He’ll also be writing our Return of The Jedi article which I’m excited for you guys to read, (it’s one of my favorites from the entire series of articles). Without further ado, please enjoy our article on arguably the best Star Wars film: The Empire Strikes Back…
Star Wars Episode V The Empire Strikes Back Written by Marc Rodolfo
The Darkside of Dagobah: Reflecting on The Empire Strikes Back
Empire…Empire…Man…If you tell me that A New Hope truly made you a Star Wars fan, I simply, and unequivocally, don’t believe you. And I mean, a true fan. I’m sure you liked A New Hope. I am sure you thought it fun and interesting and if pressed you may even admit you WERE a fan. However, it was Empire that truly made you a fan. Empire that turned you from a fair-weather Storm Trooper (puns!) to a Darkside lovin’ Darth Vader. This is how it was for me and for the purposes of this article, for you too.
What follows is a piece written with an unmitigated love for the best Star Wars film ever…and yes, I am going to be THAT stubborn and say it will be better than Episode VIII and Episode IX and any A Star Wars Story movie that is bestowed upon us in the future. Because this is Empire and Empire changed the essence of Star Wars. Empire took a franchise that was supposedly created for the enjoyment of children and made it for everyone.
It’s funny, I don’t really have a nostalgic story for Empire like I do for A New Hope and, as you will see in the next article, for Return of the Jedi. All I truly remember is that I went to the movie theater and I saw the movie. I don’t remember who I was with. I don’t remember if it was at the old General Cinema in Shopper’s World or the new AMC “A Lesson in Excess” Theater. I don’t remember the trailers or the ticket. I don’t remember if I got popcorn or soda. I don’t remember anything except for the movie. All that mattered was Empire. Yes, once the auditorium lights dimmed and the excited voices drifted off into soft murmurs and then to silence and the opening crawl accompanied that oh-so-familiar theme, I was back: enraptured in a universe that the previous chapter didn’t quite prepare me for…
And as the opening preamble drifted upwards and the camera panned down towards this new planet, the hushed silence of the theater began to echo the icy azure aerospace of Hoth. Soon though the silence would be broken by a roar, a flash of a lightsaber, mumblings about someone called Yoda, and the incoming Imperial onslaught of the AT-ATs. Those AT-ATs…I mean, the Death Star was huge, sure, but it never really gave a menacing presence. It was just a giant steel ball after all; a “small moon.” But these new machines, these new tanks, looked like giant mechanical camels or elephants or something and slowly, they stalked towards their tiny prey, not unlike a monster in a slasher flick.
And then, we got Vader. The last we saw of him he was spinning away into the eternal blackness of space. But now he was back, on the ground, and cutting rebels down left and right. Sounds of lasers, explosions, and the whirring of a red lightsaber pervaded the once tranquil theater. We were all on the edge.
Empire started with a bang and continued throughout with more and more revelations: “I am your father!” (Notice he didn’t say Luke first?) Force ghosts. Removable hands. Immovable Hans. Betrayals and backstabbing. Cities in the clouds. And an ending…an ending that tipped us over that edge.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Yoda. But let’s face it-Yoda was a risk. In a complete tonal shift from the maturity of the movie, we got a seemingly goofy puppet with a weird backward voice. We all complain about Jar-Jar, but if Yoda wasn’t putting us on and pulling a fast one, he would have made no sense in that movie. Luckily for us, it was a ruse; it was a test for Luke to see if he had the patience to start his training. It was then that Yoda quickly went from just another Star Wars muppet, to the wizened Jedi Master we know today. It was from Yoda we learned the true extent of what “the force” was capable.
More than a “bad feeling about this” (a cliche that is uttered over ten times throughout the movies and is even mocked in Rogue One), more than intuition, more than mental connections, the force was a strength that awed even the most skeptical of us (Han Solo-lookin’ at you). It was Yoda that made us all, and I’m admitting it, actually try to move things with our minds. Yoda who taught us even the smallest of us can have strength and power as well as wisdom. Yoda that taught us the path to becoming a Jedi was found in patience and virtue. Yes, our little Buddhist monk quickly became a fan favorite.
The Empire Strikes Back is one of those rare near perfect films. It brings back old characters and introduces new ones that quickly became fan favorites. It is the movie that cemented the Star Wars fandom and expanded it from a somewhat claustrophobic space opera (Episode IV was really only Tatooine and the Death Star) to a vast open wide space epic. From tundra to jungle and cave, from space to cloud and sky, each of Empire’s set pieces is as epic as the next and each moment is as memorable as the last. It is the Star Wars movie that created a universe.
Here’s the next in our series of articles looking back at the Star Wars Saga. Today we look back at the one, the only, the ORIGINAL, STAR WARS EPISODE IV A NEW HOPE. This excellent article is written by our very own Ryan McDonald and it is not to be missed. With respect to all of my other fantastic writers, I think this may be my favorite article in our Star Wars series. Enjoy!
Star Wars EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE written by Ryan McDonald
Unfortunately, I can’t remember the first time I saw Star Wars, (I can remember the copied VHS tape I had) but I really can’t remember the exact moment I saw it. I feel ashamed being as Tim called me in his Phantom Menace article, a “Star Wars Guy”. I wish I had some great “blown away” story about seeing it as a kid and it changing my life forever. What I can always remember though is, how it felt, or should I say how Star Wars makes me feel. Having watched Episodes I to VI in a single day (ladies, I’ll post my phone number in the comments) I know if someone had never seen a single Star Wars movie, I would definitely have them start with Star Wars Episode IV New Hope. A New Hope has a timeless quality to it that makes it feel brand new every time I see it and I keep getting sucked down the rabbit hole again and again every time I watch the movie.
I think what gives the movie this unique quality is how you’re just immediately thrown into this world. Most movies that take a place in a fictional universe tend to take up a lot of screen time, or even whole movies, setting up the history of the world before they can tell story they actually want to tell. I think George Lucas brilliantly began the Star Wars saga in medias res, with what would later learn was the fourth movie, right in the middle of a chaotic shoot-out between the Rebels and the Imperial army. He has you follow C-3PO and R2-D2, two seemingly unimportant characters as they escape from this conflict, unintentionally find Luke Skywalker and along the way uncover Princess Leia’s secret mission for R2 to find the mythic Obi-Wan Kenobi, thus our first steps into this larger world.
Let’s highlight Princess Leia Organa for a minute here. In my opinion she’s truly the first female bad-ass in science fiction movies. One moment I absolutely fucking love, is when one of the imperial Stormtroopers finds her during the aforementioned shoot-out and says “there’s one, set for stun” like she’s just some defenseless little thing who poses no threat, so I’ll just stun her and BOOM she just blows him away. She seems to have this stigma of being a damsel-in-distress. Yes, the fact that she did have to be rescued and the “help me Obi-Wan Kenobi” message doesn’t really help my case here. I love that she was hurling insults as Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin took her prisoner, tortured her and eventually blew up her home planet. She would later go on in the trilogy to have some truly great moments, like killing the Al Capone of the Star Wars universe, Jabba the Hutt. Princess Leia was a trailblazer in film. I think future sci-fi heroines like Ellen Ripley or Sarah Connor owe Leia some kind of gratitude or at least their creators do.
Leia’s rescuers are our two heroes, Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. Han was what every fan wanted to be, smooth, all the best lines, coolest ship and he had the best partner-in-crime ever, Chewbacca. Luke was who every fan actually was, the kid stuck in a rut, longing for more. Luke gazing off into the binary sunset on Tatooine with John Williams’ music doing what it does best is the epitome of that Star Wars feeling for me. I whole heartedly believe that a huge part of the success of these films is the Incredible music of John Williams. He’s carved out some of the best themes in movie history, but his music for the Star Wars Saga, is the playbook on how to score anything. Literally every character, moment and scene has some kind of musical acknowledgement. They never felt repetitive or feel copied and pasted from one scene to another, they just felt right. Williams is so fucking good he even makes the background music in the Cantina bar scene memorable.
Speaking of the Cantina, let’s talk about something I never saw before in any sci-fi movie, a dive bar. Filled with every awful looking creature you can think of: yeti-thing, thirsty-rat, butt-face, satan-guy etc. they’re all just hanging out, drinking like regulars you would see at any dive.
One of these scumbags makes the fatal mistake of messing with Luke and attacking old Ben Kenobi resulting in Ben cutting its fucking arm off. The band stops playing and all the patrons are just staring at Ben, Luke and the severed arm on the floor, only to immediately go back to what they were doing, the band continues to play, not giving the slightest shit, CLASSIC DIVE BAR, I love this place.
I obviously can’t talk about A New Hope without mentioning is main antagonist, the one, the only Darth Vader. Without the influence of the prequels, we only knew Vader as the half man/half machine Imperial Commander, who could strangle people with his mind and stuck to his belief in the long forgotten Force. To me, Vader is at his coldest in this installment, strictly business, trying to locate that damn Rebel Base. The only tiny crack we see in his armor is when he sees Obi-Wan for the first time in very a long time. What I love is just how much I felt their history, in the way these two characters felt each other’s presence in this moment. I love how the shot lingers on Old Ben as he walks down the quiet Death Star corridor then comes to a slow stop. We see Vader standing there with his lightsaber drawn, just waiting for him and of course, that breathing.
Their duel that follows is barely a duel really and I don’t think it was meant to be either. Their dialogue during this scene is almost unnecessary; the sound of the lightsabers, Obi- Wan’s facial expressions, Darth Vader’s body movements and the lack of music does it all, you know shit just got real.
Obi Wan sees Luke and the gang escaping, that stirring force theme whispers its way into the foreground again, he holds his lightsaber up to his face, closes his eyes in moment of Zen and Vader takes him down. I remember being full-on panicked when Old Ben died “what the fuck are they gonna do now?”
A New Hope’s final act is Luke in his X-Wing with his fellow Rebel pilots, against Darth Vader and his TIE Fighters in a dog fight along the crevice of the Death Star. Han, who bailed earlier, shows up just in time to knock Vader out of the fight and give Luke a clear path to destroy the Death Star, stopping the Empire…for now.
When I saw the Death Star explode in theatres during the 1997 Special Edition re-release, I think the entire audience reacted as if something had actually blown up inside the theatre, everyone screamed and immediately began laughing and clapping when the scene ended.
The movie of course ends with a medal ceremony for Luke and Han (not for Chewbacca though? I call bullshit) bestowed upon them by Leia and the Rebel alliance leaders. The recipients turn and face the audience as they are applauded to one final reprise of the Star Wars theme and cut to stars in space…and cut to me buying hundreds of toys, making friends who also love these movies, seeing every episode after with these friends and feeling it every time.