George Lucas

‘Star Wars,’ the Original Series (Part Six): ‘The Empire Strikes Back, Episode V’ — Finding Your Roots

Posted on Updated on

Poster art for Star Wars — Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Stuck in a Rut

Inside the asteroid, the Millennium Falcon and its passengers appear to be safe from the Galactic Empire’s battle cruisers and search vessels. Still experiencing problems with the hyperdrive, Han Solo tells Chewbacca to take the garrulous C-3PO, whom he flippantly calls “professor,” out back to uncover what the problem is with their spacecraft.

Rocked by violent shudders, Princess Leia falls into Solo’s lap. He seems to be enjoying the ride. On the other hand, Leia continues to toss curt comments at him.

“Sorry, sweetheart,” Han remarks (in a lighthearted, Humphrey Bogart moment). “We haven’t got time for anything else.” As if all that’s on Leia’s mind is to sit and chat with the “space scoundrel.”

A few scenes later, the Princess is in the midst of repairing one of the valves on the vessel, when she strains her hand trying to turn a lever. Luckily for her, big strong Solo is there to give her aid and comfort. Taking her dainty palm in his, Han makes his move. He plants a kiss on her mouth and the two are locked in a passionate exchange. The space pirate and the Princess, together and alone at last! Or are they?

A kiss in time saves nine: Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) is wooed by Han Solo (Harrison Ford)

“Sir, sir!” cries 3PO. “I’ve isolated the reverse power coupling!” Great news indeed, but not to Han: “Thank you. Thank you very much …” He shows the “professor” the door, but keeps his eye on Leia as she retreats.

In the next scene, we are on board the Imperial Star Destroyer. Admiral Piett enters to inform Darth Vader they are receiving a transmission from the Emperor himself. And Vader’s presence has been requested. Vader orders the Admiral to pull out of the asteroid field for a clear transmission.

Lord Vader (Voice by James Earl Jones, body by Dave Prowse) receives a message from the Emperor

In the revised “Special Edition” of The Empire Strikes Back, the scene with Lord Vader and the Emperor is different from that of the original 1980 screening. For one, the actor who embodied the Evil Emperor in the earlier version (Elaine Baker, with the voice of British-born Clive Revill) has been replaced by Ian McDiarmid, who played the bug-eyed, pock-marked Emperor in Return of the Jedi and in the three subsequent prequels. For another, the dialogue has been extended to include the lines, “Search your feelings, Lord Vader. You will know it to be true,” which, depending on your point of view, either foreshadows Vader’s entreaties to Young Skywalker as he dangles for dear life from one of the destroyer’s walkways, or gives the game away entirely.

Some may feel (as this author does) that echoing those lines at this stage of the drama destroys the power of Vader’s speech later on. The original encounter was more cryptic, more subtle, and less overt, while this bit of dialogue is way too specific. Searching for continuity, perhaps executive producer George Lucas (who assigned the directing duties of Episode V to Irvin Kershner) decided to substitute McDiarmid after the fact. There’s another reason that I can think of, namely his obsessive compulsion to tinker with the product. He just can’t leave well enough alone.

Lord Vader (Voiced by James Earl Jones, body by Dave Prowse) plots with the Galactic Emperor (Ian McDiarmid)

Verily, I tell you, there is indeed “a great disturbance in the Force.”

Bring Out the Welcome Mat

There is a screen wipe to the next scene of the interior of the little creature Yoda’s house. (Luke does not yet realize who this tiny figure is). Puttering about his living room, the wrinkly green alien with the fuzzy exterior and wizened expression tries to distract Luke’s mind from his quest by plying him with chow. But Luke keeps insisting that he take him to meet Yoda. And how does this little fellow know so much about him, anyway?

In exasperation, Yoda lets it escape that because of his lack of patience he cannot teach the boy the ways of the Force. A portentous voice now makes its presence felt. It is Obi-Wan Kenobi, back from the dead. His disembodied tone reverberates inside Yoda’s hut.

“He will learn patience.”

“Much anger in him,” is Yoda’s reply. With every thrust that Obi-Wan makes, Yoda counters with a riposte of his own. “He is not ready. He is too old,” et cetera, et cetera, and so forth. Luke, of course, will have none of this. Why, the very reason he’s on the bog planet Dagobah is to learn all about the Jedi. But after Yoda’s tirade, he appears to soften his stance against Luke.

Luke thinks he can sway the Jedi Master into accepting him as an apprentice.  “I won’t fail you,” Luke persists. Then he adds, “I’m not afraid.” To this Yoda narrows his squinty little eyes before he responds with, “Oh, you will be …. You will be …..”  His voice trails off.

Fear is the ultimate teacher of the young and the naïve.

Luke (Mark Hamill) learns the ways of the Force from Jedi Master Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz)

Back at the asteroid, the Millennium Falcon’s crew is perturbed by a mynock invasion — large bat-like creatures that chew on the power cables. Exploring the crater’s surface, Han and Leia realize they are on unstable ground and without delay flee the asteroid. Just in time, too! For lo, this is no cave, folks, but a gigantic space slug or worm beast! Shades of Frank Herbert’s Dune saga, which Lucas must surely have paid belated homage to in this brief FX sequence.

On Dagobah, Yoda has Luke going through his Jedi training routine — mostly, the physical aspects of same: running, jumping, dodging. You know, a makeshift obstacle course in the bog. In between flips, Yoda fires off a series of sagacious observations about the dark side being quicker, easier, and more seductive. “Anger … fear … aggression.” All that negative “bad” stuff. Luke pesters him with queries, which Yoda brushes off, telling him to clear his mind of questions.

Suddenly, a strange feeling overcomes Luke. The bog grows cold. Death is in the air. Phantoms from the past begin to gnaw at both Master and student. Yoda warns his pupil about this place, which is “strong with the dark side of the Force. A domain of evil it is,” in that reverse cadence of his. He also cautions Luke to go in and explore it.

“What’s in there?” Luke inquires.

“Only what you take with you.”

In this extraordinary sequence George Lucas, along with screenwriters Lawrence Kasdan and the late Leigh Brackett, have successfully recreated that mythological moment where the hero’s journey begins. He must leave the safety of his abode and face up to his greatest fears. It’s Mime telling the young Siegfried to go slay the dragon Fafner. It’s St. George riding to the rescue on his white charger (well, not exactly). The forest is the symbol of the unknown, which is the precise place where Luke must confront his demons — his inner self, to be exact — before his training can continue.

The atmosphere is thick with a primeval mystery. Jungian archetypes prevail and abound. There are huge slithering snakes on branches. A monitor lizard flicks its forked tongue at us. In the episode that follows, Luke enters a dark cave and beheads the formidable figure of Lord Vader. As the smoke clears, it is HIS face that we see, not that of the dreaded Dark Lord of the Sith. What does this say about where the saga is going? And what does it reveal about Luke himself?

Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) confronts his other self in the cave on Dagobah

A quick cut to Jedi Master Yoda, a solitary figure, alone with his thoughts. What must he be thinking? Yoda sighs audibly.

Money for Your Troubles

In a flash, we are back on board the Imperial Star Destroyer. Vader gives a pep talk to a gathering of bounty hunters, including the inexorable Boba Fett. A “substantial reward” awaits the person who can find the Millennium Falcon. You will note that Boba Fett (originally portrayed by Jeremy Bulloch, with vocals by Jason Wingreen) is now voiced by New Zealand actor Temuera Morrison, the same fellow who physically embodied Boba’s poppa, Jango Fett, in Episode II: Attack of the Clones (and the model for all those clones), as well as Commander Cody in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.

Emerging unscathed from the asteroid field, Han, Leia, Chewie and 3PO find that their ship still lacks light-speed maneuverability (what gives with that darn hyperdrive?). Still, through some clever tactics Han is able to avoid detection by hiding the Millennium Falcon behind one of the huge Star Destroyers.

Chewie (Peter Mayhew), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), Leia (Carrie Fisher) & Han Solo (Harrison Ford) aboard the Millennium Falcon

Alas, the skipper of the Star Destroyer, Captain Needa, has to “apologize” to Lord Vader for losing track of the craft. He meets the same sorry fate as Admiral Ozzel did. Oh, and Vader has “accepted” his apology. What a sweet guy!

Switching back to Dagobah, Luke has resumed his Jedi training, to include levitating the surrounding rocks and other objects (R2 among them). When he attempts to float his downed X-wing fighter out of the muddy lake, Luke loses his concentration and the fighter sinks ever deeper into the slime.

Yoda berates Luke for his defeatist attitude. “Try not. Do. Or not do. There is no try.” The Master’s words are lost on young Skywalker. There’s only one thing to do, and that’s for Yoda to show the boy how it’s done. He brings the fighter out of the swamp and onto dry land (or as dry as this mud-hole can get). The Force is strong with this one! Yoda’s characteristic musical theme resounds prominently on the soundtrack.

Luke cannot believe his eyes. “That is why you fail,” answers Master Yoda, after taking a long, drawn-out breath. “Judge me not by my size,” Yoda scolded him prior to achieving this nearly impossible feat. The jig is up, as it were. Luke now recognizes, from here on end, that he must put up or shut up. If this puny pint-sized runt can do what he just did, then there is hope for this disbelieving whippersnapper. There had better be, or the saga will end before it has begun.

Master Yoda (Voiced and handled by Frank Oz) shows Luke the power of the Force

As the Imperial Fleet begins to break apart, Han and Leia calculate their next move, which is to accompany the discarded trash and float away into deep space. They are unaware of Boba Fett’s craft, which follows the Millennium Falcon as it whisks off to the Bespin mining colony. Han is (or was) friendly with the administrator of the colony, one Lando Calrissian, a fellow scoundrel and shifty space pirate who may provide them with safe haven.

“Can you trust him?” asks Leia pointedly.

“No,” claims Solo. “But he has no love for the Empire, I can tell you that.” Satisfied with himself, Han leans back in his command chair. Leia plants a kiss on the side of his face, sealing the bargain.

Is there true honor among thieves? We’ll soon find out ….

(End of Part Six… To be continued….)

Transcript of dialogue from the original screenplay by Leigh Brackett, revised by Lawrence Kasdan and taken from the novel by George Lucas

Copyright © 2017 by Josmar F. Lopes        

Advertisements

‘Star Wars,’ the Original Series (Part Five): ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ (and How)

Posted on Updated on

Chewie, Leia, C-3PO & Han Solo onboard the Millennium Falcon
Chewie, Leia, C-3PO & Han Solo onboard the Millennium Falcon

Once More unto the Breach!

Having helped Luke Skywalker out in the Rebel Alliance’s plan to rid the universe of the evil Galactic Empire — amid the whizzing of laser-blasters from a swarm of dedicated TIE fighters — Han Solo and Chewbacca step forward with young Luke, C-3PO, and R2-D2 to receive their prize from a beaming Princess Leia in the sequence that closes Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope. THE END.

So that’s it? Is there nothing else? Well …. yeah!

We know from the decades of merchandising and over-exposure that George Lucas, the saga’s originator and one-track-minded filmmaker, had a sequel in mind whereby the characters and situations he originally conceived as a USC film student would continue to undergo new challenges in this fanciful sci-fi world.

Most fans are aware that the full title of the initial Star Wars story, if I may be allowed the privilege of repeating it, was The Adventures of Luke Skywalker as Taken from the Journal of the Whills: Saga One: The Star Wars. That’s a meal and a mouthful in itself! One can hear the studio heads at Twentieth-Century Fox clamoring for a shorter working title; so Star Wars it became, albeit with Episode “X” or “Y” appended in.

The first sequel, known officially as Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, is darker in both tone and mood than its immediate predecessor. The color palette, made up primarily of grays, blues, and blacks, is maintained throughout. Indeed, this shadowy ambiance can be found in the picture’s shifting mise en scène, whether it be in caves, tunnels, corridors, storage rooms, or walkways, or the interior of a runaway asteroid.

More internalized than the earlier feature, Empire is much more preoccupied with re-familiarizing the viewer with its iconic characters than in grinding out the mechanics of the plot. At its core, Episode V is the most organically structured chapter in the entire series in that the characters develop according to the requirements of the constantly evolving story line.

As well, there is a noticeable improvement in the level of understanding between one individual and another. For instance, Han Solo, that tall and handsome rogue of a smuggler — a man who lives by his wits — is utterly taken with Leia’s feisty personality and ability to stand up for herself.

For her part, Leia is equally captivated by the “scruffy-looking” scoundrel, but is reluctant to admit her interest in him, even to herself — a typical Hollywood formula where “hate” means love at first fight. Granted, Han’s lowly station as a brigand may have been a hindrance to the development of a more permanent relationship, as if that mattered in their particular set of circumstances.

In contrast to this squabbling duo (the space-age equivalent of Ralph and Alice Kramden), our hero Luke has begun the process of realizing his full potential via the ability to move objects at will. He desires above all to become a Jedi Knight like his father, Anakin Skywalker, before him — a notion planted into his cranium by none other than Obi-Wan Kenobi.

C-3PO & R2-D2 in the underground rebel base
C-3PO & R2-D2 in the underground rebel base

The subsidiary cast of C-3PO and R2-D2, and, in a comparable sense, both Chewie and Han (and later Lando Calrissian), continue to play the comic relief: manservant and maid, skinny and fatty, what-have-you; an ersatz vaudeville team without the song and dance. Their verbal patter, a running joke throughout the series, is mildly suggestive of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s On First,” yet saturated with high-pitched squeaks, garrulous techno-babble, and inarticulate snarls. In sum, they each take turns playing Laurel to the other’s Hardy (and vice versa).

Another Classic Film-Score Moment

As the picture begins, we hear the Oscar-nominated John Williams fanfare on the soundtrack. This and other motifs were based in part on themes taken from the golden age of Hollywood movie-making, among them Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s score for Kings Row, the opening “Mars” movement of Gustav Holst’s orchestral suite The Planets, Miklos Rozsa’s Entrance of the Charioteers from Ben-Hur, and Elmer Bernstein’s music for Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments.

Words scroll above the screen, the influence of Flash Gordon and Saturday matinee movie serials: “It is a dark time for the Rebellion. Freedom fighters led by Luke Skywalker have established a secret base on the ice planet Hoth …” Lord Vader has become obsessed with finding young Skywalker who he knows to be strong with the Force. As a consequence, “Vader has dispatched thousands of remote probes into the far reaches of space” in order to uncover the boy’s whereabouts.

With that, a number of probes are launched from below the Imperial Star Cruiser. One of them crash lands on the surface of the ice planet. At that same instant, Luke appears. He’s riding a tauntaun — sort of a ram-horned camel crossed with a kangaroo, an excellent example of traditional stop-motion animation perfected by the late Ray Harryhausen (see the following tribute to the artist: https://josmarlopes.wordpress.com/2013/05/08/ray-harryhausen-the-last-voyage-of-an-fx-master/).

Luke Skywalker on his tauntaun, calling into Rebel Base
Luke Skywalker on his tauntaun, calling into Rebel Base

In the process of investigating, Luke and the tauntaun are attacked by a vicious Snow Creature who drags him inside its lair. The extended scenes in the “Special Edition” DVD/Blu-ray show the beast greedily devouring a bloody meal and, to be honest, are pure overkill. To escape the same fate, Luke uses the Force to grab hold of his lightsaber which is just out of reach. When the Snow Creature advances, Luke slices off its arm, much as Obi-Wan Kenobi did to that unruly troublemaker at the Cantina Bar in Episode IV. Incidentally, the Snow Creature is nothing more than a humongous Muppet (portrayed by Des Webb).

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Meanwhile, Han returns to the rebel base on Hoth (in reality, the Scandinavian country of Norway). He and Leia have an obvious attraction for one another, but resist it at every turn. Han knows there is a price on his head, placed there by the loathsome Jabba the Hutt. One would think, after being handsomely rewarded for coming to the Alliance’s aid, that Han would have paid the debt off by now. But noooo!

He bids adieu to the Princess, goading her on with sarcastic asides and false deference to her authority (“Your Highnessness,” “Your Worship,” and so). She, on the other hand, is perturbed at his leaving in the middle of a revolt. They engage in the first of many quarrels. However, underneath the bickering we hear a love theme which telegraphs their true feelings for one another. It will sound again at the end of the picture in full symphonic glory.

Han & Solo have a "lovers" spat
Han & Solo have a “lovers” spat in Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

After Han is informed there has been no communication from Luke, he resolves to look for him in the subfreezing storm. Right on cue, we see Luke running off into the icy blizzard. It’s at this point that Obi-Wan Kenobi’s spirit appears, when the boy is most in need of his services (remember that Ben was “killed” by Lord Vader in their last encounter). We expect the old geyser to go on spouting New Age advice. Instead, Ben charges Luke with a new task: he’s to go to the Dagobah system and seek out Jedi Master Yoda.

Obi-Wan’s image fades away into that of the approaching Han Solo on his tauntaun. With Luke left blinded by the snowstorm and delirious after his vision, Han slices open the frostbitten tauntaun and exposes him to the warmth of its innards. Offhandedly, Han remarks that he was under the impression tauntauns “only smelled bad on the outside.” Whew! Was he ever mistaken!

Fortunately, our adventure seekers are found — how could it be otherwise? There wouldn’t be a series to speak of if these two had perished so soon after the start. Luke’s scars from his encounter with the Snow Creature are clearly visible. In fact, they were the result of actor Mark Hamill experiencing a serious car accident prior to filming. Coincidentally, as a young man Lucas had been the victim of his own near fatal racing-car crash. Taking his star’s condition to heart, Lucas took advantage of the bit with the Snow Creature (he denies the script was altered in any way) in order to utilize the very real disfigurement on Hamill’s face.

We Kiss in a Shadow

While recovering in sickbay, Luke is visited by Han and Leia. To make Solo jealous, she plants a kiss on Luke’s mouth. In fairy tales, it’s usually the prince who gets to kiss the princess, not the other way around. No matter. Chewie chuckles to himself at Solo’s discomfort as Han bolts from the room in pursuit of the Princess.

Leia kisses Luke, while Han & Chewie look on
Leia kisses Luke, while Han & Chewie look on

Alerted to the rebels’ presence by another probe, the inhabitants of the base make final preparations to abandon their stronghold. After saying his farewells, Luke mounts one of the X-wing fighters as he and the other pilots get ready to help the rebels escape.

The battle to end all battles now takes place, with ground troops, fire arms, Imperial walkers (giant mammoth-like land rovers), and Star Destroyers participating left and right and at breakneck speed.

Back on board Vader’s flagship, General Veers (Julian Glover, a dead ringer for rocker Sting) reports they have emerged from hyperspace a tad too soon, thus tipping off the Alliance. Vader is not amused by the news. By the way, the miniature work here and in the battle on the ice is exemplary.

An interesting side note: rebel pilot Wedge replaces Biggs Darklighter, who perished after being fired upon by Darth Vader. As R2-D2 is lifted aboard Luke’s X-wing fighter, his robotic pal, C-3PO, takes the opportunity to express a little motherly concern for the droid and for Master Luke. They do care for each other, you know, but in a most “humanly” fashion, despite being preprogrammed automatons.

The battle rages on! Luke blows up one of the walkers. At the same time, General Veers blasts the power generators to smithereens. Finding themselves trapped below ground Leia, Han, Chewie, and 3PO have no choice but to board the Millennium Falcon in order to make their escape. One thing leads to another, when at last Vader makes his entrance in grand style (in pretty much the same manner as he did in Episode IV) by blasting through an impregnable door (well, not so impregnable). Storm troopers attempt to shoot it out with them, but they manage to avoid annihilation. Their world now comes crashing down around them.

On board the Millennium Falcon, the frustrated 3PO can’t seem to get a word in edgewise, or rather (from Solo and Leia’s viewpoint) he won’t shut the hell up. And that damn hyperdrive can’t seem to function at all, another running joke. To escape the pursuing TIE fighters, Han resolves to lose them in the asteroid field, to wit the chances of successfully navigating are “3,720 to 1.” Luckily for the crew, Han and Chewie are able to maneuver the fast-moving vessel into one of the many craters on the largest asteroid.

R2-D2 & Luke are surprised by Master Yoda
R2-D2 & Luke have a visitor: Master Yoda (right)

Meanwhile on Dagobah, we find Luke and R2 stepping cautiously along the moss-drenched swamp that covers the planet’s surface. This scene may remind viewers of a similar one in Ridley Scott’s Legend, which came a few years later —it certainly seems likely that both scenes were shot at Shepperton Studios in England. There’s even a swamp thing lurking just below the water’s surface that tries to swallow poor R2. He becomes a flying projectile when the creature decides to spit him out. A muddy mess!

One can’t say if this sequence refers to an earlier one in Episode IV, but it definitely calls it to mind. Luke, Leia, and Han are trapped inside a trash compactor. With the walls about to close in, Luke is abruptly sucked down into the compactor’s watery bottom by a tube-like, one-eyed serpent. Thanks to Han’s blaster, he escapes in time to contact R2, who happens to be locked on to a computer mainframe. Good work, R2!

Back at the swamp, out of the blue little Yoda decides to make his long-awaited bow. He’s a most curious and ill-tempered intruder. And he sounds suspiciously like Fozzie Bear, and why not? He happens to be voiced by master puppeteer Frank Oz, the same fellow who gave life to Fozzie, Miss Piggy, and numerous other denizens of Sesame Street.

Yoda is more comical here than elsewhere in the series, so enjoy it while you can, folks: it is only an act. You see, Master Yoda is a most studious follower of the Force. He may pretend to be cranky and irritable, but his purpose has been well defined by the screenwriters. He’s the High Lama of the Jedi Order, charged with teaching young Skywalker the ways of the Force.

Rising in the Ranks

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Lord Vader has a completely different set of priorities. He too may appear to be calmer and more resolute in this episode than he was in the previous one. Nevertheless, Vader’s displeasure at the ineptitude of the Imperial Cruiser’s crew has grown by leaps and bounds.

Having botched the surprise attack on the rebel’s base on Hoth, Vader handily disposes of the “clumsy as he is stupid” Admiral Ozzel in the same way he tried to teach Commander Motti from Episode IV a thing or two about the Force’s power: by making him choke to death.

Admiral Ozzel & Captain Piett have a face-to-face with Lord Vader
Admiral Ozzel & Captain Piett have a face-to-face with Lord Vader

In that earlier encounter, Governor Tarkin prevented Motti’s demise with a sharp rebuke, but not here. There is no Tarkin to restrain Vader’s wrath: he was blown to kingdom come, if you recall, along with the first Death Star. In this sequence, however, the ambitious Captain Piett is forthwith promoted to admiral in Ozzel’s stead. And, in a later scene, Captain Steeka falls to the floor to breathe his last after losing track of the Millennium Falcon. “Apology accepted,” Vader notes in a contemptuous aside.

No matter how one takes this kind of action, the dreaded Dark Lord of the Sith delivers an ultimatum to the recently promoted Piett: “Don’t fail me again,” he intones, all the while pointing a gloved finger at the admiral. Wow! How’d you like to work for a boss like that? Vader makes Donald Trump’s tossing off of his signature “You’re fired!” phrase on The Apprentice seem like child’s play.

All we can say is this: the revolving chain of command on board an Imperial Star Cruiser was plenty tough during those long ago and far away Empire days….

(To be continued…)

Transcript of dialogue from the original screenplay by Leigh Brackett, revised by Lawrence Kasdan and taken from the novel by George Lucas

Copyright © 2016 by Josmar F. Lopes

‘Star Wars,’ the Original Series (Part Four): Changes in Altitude

Posted on Updated on

Star Wars: Episode IV Logo (dvdactive.com)
Star Wars — Episode IV: A New Hope Logo (dvdactive.com)

The “Hope” of the Hopeless

As the first film in the original series, Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope (1977) provides the basic introduction to this fantastic, at times slow-moving world of the future.

It’s creaky in spots (I’ll give you that), enlivened by the occasional fly-by or Imperial star cruiser roaring overhead. Yet despite the almost insurmountable obstacles the project faced in coming to the screen (see the judicious “making of” features on the latest Blu-ray/DVD re-releases), the finished work represents a huge leap forward — an allegorical jump into hyperspace, if you will — in the art of movie-making, an oftentimes lyrical ode to gee-whiz, can-do rugged individualism. (Reader Alert: Prior knowledge of the film’s plot may be required in order to follow the story outline below.)

After a brief skirmish on board a diplomatic ship — a fracas that ends before it even begins — we find ourselves on the outwardly lifeless desert planet of Tatooine. Mundane chores are the themes of the day as we are introduced to one of the saga’s chief protagonists: the restless Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), in this modern reinvention of the hero’s journey from classical mythology.

This was a deliberate choice on the part of its creator, writer, director, and producer, a visionary filmmaker named George Lucas. Deliberate in the sense that Lucas’ depiction of routine, commonplace occurrences of daily life would soon find themselves clashing with, and be far outweighed by, the necessities for survival (think Naked and Afraid with clothes on).

Consequently, the entire middle section of the movie drags — that is, up until the last third, where the ever-popular video game portion of the program happily takes over. A lively, fast-moving, and uninterrupted flight of programming fancy, this rapid-paced conclusion does, indeed, offer a new hope, a new outlook, and a new vision, at events that are still to come; a prescient and farsighted forecast into a technologically advanced future where all things are technically possible.

In line with this view, it’s only right that the first figures to be introduced onto the screen are the robotic butler C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and his little droid companion R2-D2 (Kenny Baker), with another Threepio unit (clad in silver, not gold casing) seen directly behind them. This is followed by the entrance of Rebel Forces in heavy duty helmets with enormous visors — ostensibly in the shape of makeshift, inverted chamber pots resting on their noggins.

Rebel Alliance preparing for battle (Star Wars -- Episode IV)
Rebel Alliance preparing for battle (Star Wars — Episode IV)

Imperial Storm Troopers burst in, and a fight ensues aboard Princess Leia’s flagship. The Rebels race down a long corridor, blasting away with their laser weapons as they go. As Artoo and Threepio cross the line of fire, we see the huge black frame and hear the heavy-breathing apparatus of the series’ main heavy, the formidable Darth Vader — voiced by James Earl Jones, body by Dave Prowse.

(Note to the wise: This entrance is repeated, in like manner, in Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, as Vader penetrates the Rebel’s hidden base on the ice planet Hoth.)

This leads to a quick shot of Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) feeding Artoo the stolen plans for the dreaded Death Star, which the Galactic Empire has been building in outer space lo these many years.

An irate Darth Vader orders one of the Storm Trooper commanders to “tear the ship apart until you’ve found those plans and bring me the passengers! I want them alive!” Now, now! Temper, temper! We feel his pain and anger. It seems that underneath that Nazi-style helmet lies an emotionally-wasted, angst-driven Anakin Skywalker (or Starkiller, if you go by Lucas’ original intention for that surname).

This is hardly the manner in which a follower of the Dark Side should act, but then again we’re only at the beginning of the story. At this rudimentary stage, it makes perfect sense that Vader is not in complete control of his emotions; that will surely change as the saga deepens and develops. Besides, this initial outburst makes Vader’s character all the more potent, especially after he chokes the life out of one of the Rebels with his bare hand (his left to be exact, i.e., la sinistra = Italian for “sinister”). Vader casually tosses the dead Rebel aside. So much for the future value of one’s life!

Next, we hear the Princess Leia theme for the first time (courtesy of composer John Williams), but it doesn’t last long, as the princess herself is brought before Lord Vader to face the music. Leia insists she was on a diplomatic mission to Alderaan, her home planet, while Vader points an ominous, black-gloved finger at the girl and shouts, “You are part of the Rebel Alliance and a traitor – take her away!”

Again, Vader’s voice soars to a crescendo of impotent rage and fury at the petite, five-foot-nothing Leia. Talk about a height advantage, this guy is impatience personified. I wonder how he would react if he knew that little Leia was, in reality, his own daughter! (Ah, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves …) The princess is banished forthwith to one of the Death Star’s many prison cells to be, how shall one put it, “interrogated.”

Paradox in Paradise

Artoo and Threepio in Tatooine (starwars.wikia.com)
Artoo and Threepio in Tatooine (starwars.wikia.com)

We revert back to the Tatooine Desert, where the blue sky contrasts with varying shades of red sand, a sight straight out of Sir David Lean’s epic Lawrence of Arabia (a model for Lucas’ vision). Artoo and Threepio have split up and gone their separate ways. With that, there’s a brief glimpse of Threepio shouting to a lone desert transport: “Hey! HEY!!” But instead of being rescued, he winds up inside the transport, a victim of his own insipidness.

This smacks of a similar incident in Lawrence of Arabia, where the title character and Farraj, one of his native servant boys, reach the Suez Canal. On the other side of the ridge, a British soldier shouts at them: “Who are you? WHO ARE YOU?” That soldier was none other than director Lean himself, in a brief bit. I seriously doubt that Lucas was the one who provided the voice of the guy in the desert yelling “Hey” (glad you asked: it was Anthony Daniels), but it’s a nice touch nonetheless.

Artoo happens to be held in the Jawas’ desert transport, where he meets up with other abducted droids, all rather bizarre looking. One of the captured robots reminds us of a walking gas pump, while another bears a startling resemblance to Pixar’s Wall-E (were you watching, John Lasseter?). It’s here that Artoo reunites with his old buddy, Threepio, who is overjoyed to see him.

The huge transport lumbers across the desert surface, slowly but surely, with the music mimicking that same lumbering quality. It could be a stand-in for Terry Gilliam’s gigantic traveling-circus wagon, last seen in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, but in point of fact it’s hard to predict what was on Gilliam’s mind at the time, it being entirely unpredictable at best.

At last, we are introduced to our hero Luke, a geeky, cheerful lad of post-adolescent age who’s stuck on his Uncle Owen (Phil Brown) and Aunt Beru’s (Shelagh Fraser) cheerless farm. This is where we hear the name “Biggs” mentioned, just before Luke takes the two droids back to his place for proper grooming. Audiences unfamiliar with the original script may be perplexed at the mention of his name, a character that doesn’t appear until the last 15 minutes of the picture and is promptly never heard from again.

Biggs Darklighter (listal.com)
Garrick Hagon as Biggs Darklighter (listal.com)

In case you were wondering, Biggs Darklighter (played by Garrick Hagon) is Luke’s childhood pal, recently returned from the Academy, wherever or whatever that is (it ain’t Starfleet, that I can assure you). According to established Star Wars movie lore, Lucas has stashed away Luke and Biggs’ scenes (along with those of their friends Deak, Camie, and Fixer) in an off-sight vault somewhere, possibly in area 51. The rumor this so-called “lost footage” would be someday “restored” in subsequent revivals of the saga has been lingering for well on three decades without substantiation.

It’s my learned opinion, fellow sci-fi fanatics, that if maverick filmmaker Mr. Lucas ever had plans to release this lost footage in the first place, he surely would have done so by now. Still, the rumor persists and continues to be one of those ongoing paradoxes associated with the series from time immemorial. Perhaps with the Disney Studio’s acquisition of the financially lucrative franchise we may yet be treated to this innocuous little side episode. Until then, let’s hope it’s worth the wait!

Uncle Ben’s Converted Lightsaber

"Help me, Obi-Wan." (hollywoodreporter.com)
“Help me, Obi-Wan.” (hollywoodreporter.com)

Meanwhile, after showing Luke the holographic message uploaded by Princess Leia, a suddenly impatient Artoo decides to go off on his own to seek out somebody called Obi-Wan Kenobi. “Now that’s a name I’ve not heard in a long time. A long time …” A smiling, bewigged Sir Alec Guinness plays a smiling, bewigged Old Ben, aka Obi-Wan. Ben unwittingly echoes the sentiments of the film’s focus in the aforementioned declaration, in a slogan that defines the very crux of the drama that will appear in every Star Wars manifestation hereinafter:

“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away ….”

“I haven’t gone by the name Obi-Wan,” he tells the guileless Luke, “since, oh, before you were born.” That’s good to know! And we’ll be learning a heck of a lot more about this mysterious stranger in long-flowing robes in the flicks to come. Right now, Old Ben’s got his hands full with two pesky droids, the presence of trigger-happy Tusken Raiders (vicious walrus-like creatures), and an excitable teenager clamoring for adventure.

Soon the conversation gets around to Luke’s deceased father and Ben’s participation in the so-called Clone Wars as a (gasp!) Jedi Knight. As proof of his assertions, the old man hands Luke a lightsaber, claiming it once belonged to his old companion, Anakin Skywalker: “An elegant weapon for a more civilized time.” I’ll bet!

Just then, the dastardly appellation of Darth Vader gets thrown out as the malefactor responsible for the death of Luke’s pater. “Vader was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force,” Ben insists. Aha, now we’re getting somewhere! Ben tries to recruit the reluctant Luke into joining him on his quest, but the boy’s got troubles of his own — especially after he finds his aunt and uncle burned to crisp by the Galactic Storm Troopers (in a clear homage to John Ford’s classic Western, The Searchers).

The scene shifts to a conference room in the interior of the Death Star. To lend his feature an air of legitimacy, Lucas decided on casting British-born thespian Peter Cushing as the iniquitous Governor Grand Moff Tarkin. A bit worse for wear, the thin and wan Mr. Cushing still makes for a sinister villain. In a similar move, Lucas employed the talents of Cushing’s old friend and partner Christopher Lee, in Episodes II and III — two Hammer Horror veterans with a long and honorable lineage in filmdom.

"Your lack of faith is disturbing." (dvdactive.com)
“I find your lack of faith disturbing.” (dvdactive.com)

Prior to Darth Vader’s convincing display of telepathic powers (in response to Commander Motti’s putdown of the Sith Lord’s “sad devotion to that ancient religion”), Governor Tarkin is, for all intents and purposes, the featured bad guy. His commanding presence attempts to put order to the endless bickering carried on by his Galactic cohorts. Vader is loath to release the helpless commander, but does so nevertheless.

Not wanting to regurgitate every nook and cranny of the plot, we move on to an inserted scene with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Jabba the Hutt — or more correctly, a digitally enhanced Jabba (or “DEJ”) speaking in Huttese. To these eyes, there is something unreal about this CGI-created slug. British-born actor Ian McNeice, who portrayed the Baron Harkonnen in the Sci-Fi Channel’s excellent adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune, was hired to stand in for the repugnant Hutt. This scene, while easily dispensable, does serve to explain why Jabba had it in for Solo: he owes him quite a lot of moola.

Also making his screen debut is the notorious bounty hunter Boba Fett, who is part of Jabba’s advance guard, to include the green-skinned creature known as Greedo, an aptly chosen moniker for such a loathsome smuggler. Greedo gets blown away by Han Solo in the Cantina Bar sequence at the Mos Eisley space port. What a way to go!

In the revised version of this sequence, Greedo is made to fire first, thus negating the effect of Solo’s wanting to gain the upper hand in their brief encounter. Hey, a smuggler’s got a right to protect himself, right? Think of it as an intergalactic re-creation of the “stand-your-ground” law.

 Victory is Its Own Reward!

All in all, in a comparison to the later trio of movies — Episodes I, II and III, to be exact — there’s a palpable realism and solidity to the early pictures that are most welcome here and completely missing further on; a feeling of sturdiness, of real physical structures surrounding the all-too human figures that no CGI-created atmosphere can beat or replicate.

When Luke’s old buddy Biggs re-emerges onscreen, his usefulness is made evident in vouching for his friend’s superior piloting skills. Once that business is out of the way, we’re off to outer space and video-game land, the first of many such happenstances. Let’s take a closer look at one of them: an earlier encounter that takes place aboard Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon spaceship.

Luke attempts to master the Jedi art of stretching out with one’s feelings by covering his sights with a helmet, while preventing a floating “seeker,” a chrome baseball-like automaton with built-in antennae, from hitting him with its blood-red laser beam. If this isn’t a precursor to virtual reality games (or a similar apparatus in the still-to-come Harry Potter series), I don’t know what is.

General Dodonna (2nd from right) in the briefing room (pyxurz.blogspot.com)
General Dodonna (2nd from right) in the briefing room (pyxurz.blogspot.com)

We fast-forward to Rebel Base Headquarters, where the leader of the group, General Dodonna. gives a mid-seventies reenactment of the Saint Crispin’s Day speech — you know the one, the rallying cry that Shakespeare’s Henry V gave his troops before the English victory over the French at Agincourt. Dodonna’s discourse, unfortunately, is not all that inspiring. In fact, it’s chock full of techno-babble. But he concludes it with the famous line, “And may the Force be with you,” which is certainly not the last time we’ll be hearing this popular catchphrase.

The good general does look incredibly like veteran filmmaker-actor John Huston. Incidentally, the fellow who played him, a guy named Alex McCrindle, even manages to capture “some” of Mr. Huston’s voice mannerisms and cadences, although the resemblance ends there. Perhaps it’s another of those “art imitates life” moments we hear so much about. We do know that Huston made his residence in western Ireland at the time of the Stars Wars shoot. In addition, outside of the desert sequences in Tunisia, the bulk of movie was shot at Pinewood Studios in the UK. If Huston wouldn’t come to the mountain … well, then, why not take the mountain somewhere else?

No matter, the speech has the desired effect of getting the journeyman star pilots to perform at their best. And, most important of all, both Luke and Han Solo are reunited at last and go on to save the day. Han even gets a chance to redeem himself in the eyes of his friend (and the gorgeously bedecked Princess Leia) in the Throne Room sequence. Ta-da!!!!

The Throne Room sequence (nydailynews.com)
The Throne Room sequence (nydailynews.com)

By the way, the additional scenes inserted by Lucas for the 1997 “Special Edition” re-release, in the digitally enhanced realm, add little to the film’s overall structure and content. On the contrary, these so-called “improvements” tend to favor the original uncluttered productions, which are parsecs removed from the upgraded versions.

If anything, they prove how much better the earlier films were as opposed to these bowdlerized and patently ersatz enhancements.

(To be continued)

End of Part Four

Transcript of dialogue from George Lucas’ original Star Wars screenplay was taken from the Public Version of same

Copyright © 2014 by Josmar F. Lopes    

‘Star Wars’ – The Original Series (Part Three): A Film Saga by Any Other Name…

Posted on Updated on

Obi-Wan Benobi (Alec Guinness) businessinsider.com
Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) businessinsider.com

What’s in a Name?

The characters of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda represent the positive mystical aspects of the Star Wars films. More precisely, they are two exalted high priests (one hooded, one hairy and a little green around the gills) of the old Jedi order. The negative aspects of this decidedly unglamorous duo (the Yang to their Yin) fall to the evil Emperor (the former Senator Palpatine) and his intimidating protegé, Lord Vader.

With the years, our perception of the three original films in the trilogy has indeed changed. To be clear, it’s been colored significantly by the fluctuating political scene, as discussed in our previous posts. We, the good ole U.S. of A., are now the Empire (or, if you so choose, the equivalent of a modern-day Roman Empire), a concept that producer, director, and writer George Lucas was in favor of challenging in the late seventies to early eighties.

We have become our own worst enemy, in the sense of the classic cartoon-strip character, Pogo Possum, who used to say as a running refrain: “We have seen the enemy, and the enemy is us.”

To recap, the first film in the series was shot on location in the desert of Tunisia in North Africa — Tatouine, to be exact (which also happens to be the name of the planet where Luke Skywalker lives), and along the Arizona desert near Yuma. Desert sagas from Lawrence of Arabia to Khartoum influenced the look and clothing worn by the characters. The saber wielding Jedi Knights of yore were modeled on samurai warriors and Akira Kurosawa movies, purportedly the Japanese master’s The Hidden Fortress.

Both the timeliness and timelessness of the films are what strike the viewer as unique, and that also makes them essential classics of the science fiction-war picture genre. They can mean many things to many people, at different times and in different places.

Luke confers with Yoda
Luke Skywalker confers with Master Yoda

For example, let’s take our young hero Luke (Lucas) Skywalker, the naïve, innocent, geeky, short of stature, but big of heart teenaged adventure seeker. Full of boyish enthusiasm and an overabundance of bravado, Luke is itching to break out of the boring, hum-drum life on his Uncle Owen’s “farm.”

Mark Hamill, the actor who played Luke, fit the profile of the gung-ho future fighter pilot to perfection. It’s been noted that his character’s name is derived from the ancient Greek word leukos, which means “light.” Somehow, I can’t quite picture Luke or any Jedi Knight’s apprentice wielding a leukos-saber against his or her foe, can you?

To get back to a more “biblical” connotation, there’s always the Evangelist Saint Luke of the Gospels, who, according to accepted knowledge, was a physician before he converted to Christianity. He was also a follower of Saint Paul, another well-known Evangelist and a prolific letter writer, at that.

So where does all this leave our friend, Young Skywalker (whose original name happened to be Starkiller)? Among the immortals, one hopes …

Here are a few more examples:

Han Solo (“solo” = by himself, alone, acting on his own), played by Harrison Ford and always acting unilaterally in his own self-interest, is a “scoundrel,” according to Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher). His name may have been derived from Han, a variation of the German form of John, as in Johan or Johann. Maybe even Johannes, as in Johannes Brahms (“Check out Brahms … He’s good too,” hinted Gary Oldman in Luc Besson’s Leon, the Professional).

Han Solo & Chewbacca (glamorama.cl)
Han Solo (Harrison Ford) & Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) (glamorama.cl)

Solo’s close friend, colleague, and partner in intergalactic crime, is a creature called Chewbacca, or Chewie for short. He (it?) belongs to a race of towering fuzzballs known as Wookiees, whose name may have come from a possible ad lib found in Lucas’ earlier sci-fi actioner THX 1138 (“I think I ran over a Wookiee back there”).

Now, the “Chewie” part probably refers to his carnivorous diet and razor sharp teeth. Incidentally, Wookiees are the best star pilots in the galaxy (but don’t tell them that, or they’ll get a swelled head). GGGRRRRRRHHHHHH!

Princess Leia Organa (aka Fata Morgana, or Morgan Le Fay of fabled times), spunky, feisty, self-sufficient, and, of course, lovely to look at. She sports dual side braids that make her look as if she’s wearing cinnamon rolls over her ears (thank the New York Times for that description). She may even evoke fondly remembered memories of Lady Galadriel from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy (another excellent film series, I would add), although Leia happens to be about a foot shorter.

Princess Leia
Princess Leia

The Organa portion of her surname could be a hint of her “organic nature,” or that “back to the land aesthetic” so favored in the 1970s. I like to think it came from her adopted dad, the late Senator Organa (he and his planet were blown to smithereens, you will recall, in the first Star Wars feature). He’s played by the tall and handsome Jimmy Smits. But of course, we won’t know that until we arrive at Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. “Patience, young padawan, patience …”

Darth Vader (Dark Father, or even Der Fuehrer), voiced in sepulchral tones by James Earl Jones and portrayed under the mask and cloak by British bodybuilder and physical fitness trainer Dave Prowse, was originally named Anakin Skywalker. Now, Anakin is a variation on the name of a race of giants found in the book of Genesis (there’s that biblical reference again). Someone had the nerve to suggest that Lord Vader’s face mask, or breathing apparatus, was “inspired” by the front grille of a ’56 Chevy. “I hope so, for your sake!”

Ben Kenobi (Uncle Ben) or Obi-Wan Kenobi (the one and only), played by the redoubtable Sir Alec Guinness, has the most impressive sounding lineage of the lot. We know that “obi” is the Japanese word for sash, which is used to tie one’s kimono. Along those same lines, the “wan” part may imply the honorific term “san” attached to most Japanese names (as in “Joe-san,” for example). Hah, and “OB” could also be a shortened form of Old Ben, which Luke likes to call the wizened geyser at various points in the story.

Finally, there’s our metallic buddies, the Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy of droid-dom, R2-D2 (or is it Artoo Deetoo?) and C-3PO (Threepio, if you don’t mind). R2 sounds more like a “whistling Hoover vacuum cleaner,” as one wag described him. Supposedly (now I haven’t been able to verify this, so don’t quote me) the little droid got his name from some sound editor’s shorthand for “Reel Two, Dialogue Two,” from Lucas’ American Graffiti. That may well be, but I wouldn’t bet the ranch … Skywalker Ranch, that is.

As for Threepio, well … he’s more of a butler than a robot, and a prissy little snit at that. For a protocol droid, he certainly has a lot of ennui. He’s good at math, of that we are more than certain. But he’s been known to be wrong … from time to time … Oh, dear, dear, dear …

And there we have it. These play-on-words and fancy put-ons on top of put-ons are both fascinating and delightful, but do not necessarily add to or detract from our enjoyment of the trilogy as a whole. The best one can say about them is that they’re plain old fun!

(End of Part Three)

Source and Suggested Reading:

• “The Names Came from Earth” – Eric P. Nash, The New York Times, January 26, 1997

Copyright © 2013 by Josmar F. Lopes

‘Star Wars’ – The Original Series (Part Two): War and (Sometimes) Peace

Posted on Updated on

Another Day, Another Director

Imperial Battle Cruisers
Imperial Battle Cruisers

The Star Wars movies began their slow galactic ascent into our collective subconscious on May 25, 1977, with the initial release of the enticingly titled Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope.

I can remember glancing up at that enormous Panavision widescreen and being thoroughly enchanted, as well as confused, by the receding letters on that vast, blue-black star field. I distinctly recall wondering to myself, “Where the hell was I for the first three installments?” I was not alone in that regard.

In fact, the next chapter in Twentieth Century-Fox’s financial juggernaut, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, followed soon thereafter on May 21, 1980, with the last entry taking another three years to complete, before Episode VI: Return of the Jedi was readied for release — again, on a lucrative 1983 Memorial Day weekend and on May 25, just like the first entry.

Each picture featured three different directors: Mr. Lucas for the first; the veteran Irvin Kershner (Return of a Man Called Horse, Never Say Never Again), a former film and photography student, for the second; and Richard Marquand (Jagged Edge, Eye of the Needle) for the third. Kershner and Lucas were fellow alumni at the University of Southern California (USC) Film School, where he was tapped for this directing assignment. Director Marquand, on the other hand, was a writer and producer previously associated with TV shows, commercials, and mini-series in his native England.

Politically, things were not so far advanced. When the original Star Wars epic premiered in May 1977, Democrat Jimmy Carter had already been sworn in as the 39th President of the United States — the proverbial “New Hope” for North America, politically speaking — just as the public outcry against the abuses of the Watergate scandal had toppled Republican Richard M. Nixon (the Evil Emperor) from power.

After the affairs of Nixon and his equally nefarious cronies were over and done with, democracy was supposedly salvaged by a more benign figure (Yoda in human guise?), one who was not only completely outside the established Washington mainstream but straight out of the jilted backwater of a sleepy little town called Plains, Georgia — the proverbial “mud hole” of the Dagobah system, about as long ago and far, far away from the D.C. limelight as the planet Tatooine was from our home planet Earth.

James Earl Carter was a genteel, born-again Christian — a peanut farmer, if memory serves me, and the former governor of Georgia. In retrospect, he wasn’t quite the sort of leader the country required at the time in order to confront the burgeoning Soviet arms buildup and advancing Red menace. Then again, neither was Obi Wan Kenobi, nor Luke Skywalker for that matter. Appearances can be deceiving.

The Vietnam War had officially come to an end not two years prior. Yet Americans were still unable to come to grips with that disastrous episode in our history and its overpoweringly socio-political aftermath. The veterans of that unpopular exchange were not even granted a victory parade until a full decade or so later.

California Dreamin’

Imperial Walkers (The Empire Strikes Back)
Imperial Walkers (The Empire Strikes Back)

With all that in mind, a young Southern California movie-maker named George Lucas slowly emerged as part of the new “advance guard” of a Vietnam-driven generation of film directors that spawned the likes of Francis Ford Coppola, John Milius, Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone, Paul Schrader, Martin Scorsese, and Brian de Palma.

Though likely not the first of the breed, Lucas was perhaps the most adventurous of the bunch to have used the Vietnam War-metaphor (by way of classical mythology) as the principal underlying theme of his films; by showing what a hopelessly outnumbered band of courageous guerrilla fighters and their surprise tactics could do to undermine the efforts of a much larger, more unwieldy, and vastly superior Imperial Force — a reference to the United States of America, I would imagine.

It was supposed to have been a foregone conclusion in the 1960s that the U.S. could defeat any foe at any time or place; we would triumph in any military campaign against allegedly weaker, albeit undersized, enemy opponents such as the runty North Vietnamese, as the generals and military types of the era so pompously pointed out (forgetting the harsh lessons that the Korean campaign taught us).

Little did we know how wrong they truly were. The subsequent films in the Star Wars lineup, then, went on to serve as prescient lessons in hubris, humility, lost causes, and old-time religion.

Darth Vader (The Empire Strikes Back)
Darth Vader (The Empire Strikes Back)

Lucas envisioned his fable as a pure morality tale of mythic proportions. It was destined to become a combination New Age Nibelungenlied and coming-of-age story starring a boyishly blond, teenaged Siegfried (our young friend, Luke Skywalker) for the “me” generation. Darth Vader was the Wotanesque father figure, with Jedi masters Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi playing the all-knowing, all-wise, behind-the-scenes architects of it all (Loge and Erda, respectively).

As Lucas re-imagined it, each character had his or her own mythic archetype attached to his or her actions, brilliantly conceived and commented upon by author Joseph Campbell (The Hero of a Thousand Faces) and subsequently discussed at length in his now-classic television interview series, The Power of Myth (1988), with PBS journalist and former JFK speech writer, Bill Moyers.

By the time of the second feature, The Empire Strikes Back, a change in U.S. administrations had signaled a complete reversal of political fortunes. It was Memorial Day again in May 1980, and, with the presidential election only a few months away, it appeared that Jimmy Carter might be going up against former actor and governor of California, Ronald Wilson Reagan, a Western-like cowboy figure riding to the rescue, in big white Stetson hat and big white horse.

Getting back to Star Wars, Luke Skywalker was now a full-fledged knight of the Jedi realm, and equipped with a new light saber (including several upgrades) as the symbol of his power over earthy matters. The technologically inferior and seemingly incapable Ewoks, along with metallic androids C-3PO and R2-D2, contribute, fight back, and eventually win the day for the Rebel Alliance. Three cheers for that!!!

Wicket, one of the Ewoks (Return of the Jedi)
Wicket (Warwick Davis), one of the Ewoks (Return of the Jedi)

Soon, young Luke discovers that he has his own personal challenges to face, and against the far greater power of the Emperor himself, that traditional black-hooded bogeyman — a latter-day Grim Reaper, but without the sickle.

Sticking with this main point, the decidedly low-tech Ewoks are there in order to help conquer the high-tech soldiers of the Imperial Forces. After all, the inferior and illiterate Barbarians of Northern Europe ultimately defeated the Roman Republic, so why not the hapless little Ewoks?

The Vietnam analogy wins out in the end, though, with the Ewoks obviously representing the Vietnamese (both the North and the South) fighting for their territory — and on their land.

(End of Part Two)

Copyright © 2013 by Josmar F. Lopes

‘Star Wars’ – The Original Series: A New Hope for Sci-Fi Cinema, As the Empire Strikes Back Yet Again

Posted on Updated on

Strategic Defense Initiative — Oh, Baby!

President Ronald Reagan (AP Photo)
President Ronald Reagan (AP Photo)

On March 23, 1983, former President Ronald W. Reagan announced, in a major address to the American people (and everyone else), his proposal for a new missile defense system that would, in essence, enable the free world to thwart all future aggression from the Soviet “evil empire.”

This system, hailed as a “formidable technical task,” would be designed to “intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies.” Upon hearing this bold assertion, then-Massachusetts Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy fired off a fierce rebuttal to the president’s rhetorical remarks, labeling them “misleading Red Scare tactics and reckless Star Wars schemes.”

The press quickly picked up on the connection and, for better or worse, President Reagan’s grandiose directive has been forever linked with the popular sci-fi space opera; only later did it acquire its official (and less stratospheric sounding) moniker, the Strategic Defense Initiative — or SDI for short.

Fast forward two months later to Memorial Day 1983, in the Big Apple, where I and thousands of my fellow New Yorkers were lined up four deep, outside the Loew’s Astor Plaza Theater between Broadway and 44th Street, for the premiere unveiling of Return of the Jedi, the highly awaited final installment in the original George Lucas-produced Star Wars trilogy.

We were eagerly anticipating a major announcement of our own, i.e., the long-awaited news as to whether the evil Darth Vader was or wasn’t Luke Skywalker’s father, as he had so apocryphally pronounced at the end of The Empire Strikes Back some three years earlier.

The only thought going through our minds at the time was this: had we heard Lord Vader correctly? Was it possible that a large segment of the movie-going public had been fooled — somehow swayed, via “Jedi mind trick” or other magical means — into thinking the all-powerful Sith Lord had declared, in that solemnly intoned, basso profundo voice of his, courtesy of James Earl Jones, a (gasp!) paternal connection to Young Skywalker?

“No, no … That’s not possible,” Luke cried in horror and disbelief. Heck, I was ready to cry along with him! I searched my own feelings for the veracity of that claim.

Alas, it was too good to be nothing but the truth. We learned, on that hot and humid May afternoon, that Darth Vader had once been Anakin Skywalker, a trusted ally, a Jedi Knight, and erstwhile follower of the Force; until, one fateful day, he turned away from the light, to become … music, maestro, if you please … the dreaded Dark Father and Lord of the Sith. Yikes, yikes, and triple yikes!!!

Star Wars -- Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (20th Century Fox)
Star Wars — Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (20th Century Fox)

Regardless of what we had heard, Vader’s last-minute repudiation of the detestable Dark Side — not to mention his ovation-inducing elimination of that repugnant old fogey, the red-eyed Emperor of the Galactic Republic and former Senator Palpatine (to music of a highly operatic nature, no less) — both cheered and consoled us to no end.

“Force” to Be Reckoned With

For science fiction and fantasy film fans, May 25, 2012 marked the 35th anniversary of the start of the first series of films collectively known as the Star Wars saga. And in solemn commemoration, the more recent announcement that George Lucas — founder, creator, and steadfast protector of LucasFilm Limited, as well as Skywalker Ranch and the accompanying Industrial Light and Magic (ILM for short) — had sold the rights to the money-making franchise to the Disney Studios, along with the chance for filmmaker J.J. Abrams to direct additional entries in the continuing Star Wars saga.

As Sting would say, “Be still my beating heart …”

After so many showings, repeat runs, and return engagements — in digitally enhanced “Special Editions,” naturally — the series has lost none of its staying power or appeal with the young, the old, and the restless (now middle-aged). Interestingly, both men and women seem drawn to it, as if the seductiveness of the Force itself had taken on a life of its own.

The series has been analyzed to death by shrinks, thinks, and cliques from every walk of movie life. One reason for this continued fascination stems from the over-use of the multipurpose catchphrase, “May the Force be with you,” which has always sounded prophetically like a postmodern twist on that old, medieval apostolic blessing, the Roman Catholic “Peace be with you” — itself a variant on the Jewish-Arabic greeting Shalom (or Salaam) aleichem and its pop-culture equivalent, the oft-repeated salutation, “Live long and prosper,” from Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek universe (thank you, Mr. Spock).

The fact that the three original features represented a proto-mystical “trinity” of sorts — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (or “Force,” if you prefer) — is another subliminal aspect of the series’ marked influence on popular culture, and on our collective subconscious.

Despite the semi-serious, pseudo-religious connotations inherent in the above sayings, the films initially had a hard time shaking off their Saturday afternoon serial roots. To be fair, creator, writer, producer, and director Lucas more fully exploited this connection as the executive producer of the Indiana Jones series, another popular action-adventure anthology.

Young George Lucas
Young George Lucas peering into a Panaflex camera

Lucas was most fortunate in that the story lines for Star Wars were initially conceived in the late 1970s, when America was fast approaching the forefront of a new and highly advanced technological era, what we might graciously term the beginning of the Computer Age.

More importantly, though, and in view of its largely classical and mythological adherence to antiquity, the series was no doubt influenced by ongoing political concerns during the time period in which it was made.

In this and subsequent posts, we will explore some of these concerns, as well as revisit the original series for some clues as to where the Star Wars franchise may be headed. But in order to do that, we will need to determine where the series has been and what we have learned from it.

(End of Part One)

Copyright © 2013 by Josmar F. Lopes