‘Star Wars,’ the Original Series (Part Seven): ‘The Empire Strikes Back,’ Episode V — Parents and Their Children

Heads in the Clouds

Threepio, Artoo, Luke & Leia contemplate their fate at the conclusion of ‘Star Wars, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back’ (1980)

The Millennium Falcon follows the trash dump to freedom (along with the unseen bounty hunter, Boba Fett, hot on its intergalactic trail). Meanwhile, Luke is doing much better in the control department by staying calm and collected. But in the midst of his Jedi training with Master Yoda, which involves levitating rocks and such, he has an eerie vision of a city in the clouds, with Han and Leia in trouble. He can see into their future, and it’s not a pretty one.

To save his friends from further suffering, Luke decides to leave Yoda’s training camp. Yoda counsels against interrupting his lessons, but Luke is determined. As he makes this decision, the Millennium Falcon approaches the Cloud City. Han Solo expects a safe port of call and some kind of warm welcome from his old gambling partner, Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams). There are extra added FX inserted here, which are good for what they are: extra added effects.

The slick and debonair Lando (“old Smoothie” as Han describes him) indeed welcomes Han and his friends to his turf. He extends his hand to Leia and offers to help them and their ship (which used to be HIS ship, by the way). Assured of his cooperation, the band enters the premises under Lando’s protection.

Threepio lands himself in hot water almost immediately by meddling where he shouldn’t. His usual habit of poking his nose where it doesn’t need to go gets the better of him, however, as C-3PO has his head and arm blown off in the bargain (he “thought” he had heard an R2 unit in there….).

Back on Dagobah, Luke is preparing to depart on his X-wing fighter with Artoo. A vision of Obi-Wan Kenobi appears to him, warning Luke of the Dark Side’s power. Despite Old Ben and Yoda’s admonitions and predictions of disaster (“This is a dangerous time for you” and “if you choose the quick and easy path, as Vader did, you will become an agent of evil”), the headstrong youngster takes off after his friends.

Obi-Wan (Alec Guinness) exchanges thoughts with Master Yoda (voiced by puppeteer Frank Oz)

“That boy is our last hope,” sighs Obi-Wan forlornly, as his form slowly fades away in the background.

“No, there is another…” This phrase is cryptically intoned by Master Yoda, a foretaste of what is to come. (In the Loew’s Astor Plaza Theater where I first saw the picture, this casual aside left most viewers baffled. Others with more insight speculated among themselves as to what Yoda meant. As for myself, I had trouble just understanding what the hell the little toad had muttered to himself.)

Back at Cloud City (amidst another round of superfluous FX), Princess Leia is pacing back and forth in her quarters. She voices concern about the missing C-3PO to Han. Chewie, for his part, has gone in search of the unruly robotic butler. He finds the overly curious droid in a junk room, spread out in pieces as the furry star pilot attempts to put him back together.

In the ensuing scene, Lando invites the trio to dine with him, sans the physically discombobulated Threepio of course. Unfortunately, “old smoothie” leads our hearty adventurers straight into the gloved hands of Lord Vader himself, thanks to Boba Fett’s relentless tracking of their whereabouts.

Luke and Artoo are on their way at last! But as Chewbacca wails and carries on in the cell, Han is painfully tortured (vide the unearthly electronic sounds that fill the room). To occupy himself, Chewie tries to rebuild Threepio. He can’t make heads or tails out of the mess, a veritable Leggo set of spare parts.

And what about poor Han? Forever suffering the torments of hell, that’s what! Everything hurts, which will also be a running gag with actor Harrison Ford in the upcoming Indiana Jones series (produced by George Lucas and directed by StevenSpielberg). In just about every subsequent feature after Empire, Harrison will be battered about, poked, punched, pulverized and beaten to the ground. It’s a miracle the actor survives these ordeals. Perhaps being frozen in carbonite isn’t such a bad idea after all! At least he’ll be protected from the elements (and from physical abuse).

Han (Harrison Ford) feels awful after being tortured; Chewie (Peter Mayhew) gives him a helping hand

Luke’s X-wing fighter ship now approaches. There’s a quick wipe to Lord Vader outside the holding chamber. Vader orders that Leia and the Wookiee remain in Cloud City, to which Lando objects. Vader cuts him off with a curt “Perhaps you think you’re being treated unfairly.” Agreeing to Vader’s terms (!), Lando mutters under his breath that the deal he’s made with the Empire gets worse as time goes by. Oh, yeah!

Han is returned to the holding chamber in worse shape than when he left it. While Leia soothes his aching head, Lando returns to his “friends” and informs them that Han is to be turned over to the bounty hunter for delivery to the loathsome bandit, Jabba the Hutt. Jabba wants his prize trophy (Han had squelched on their deal, too, no doubt). Ticked off at his seeming betrayal, Han gathers up what strength he has left to take a poke at Lando’s chin. Before things get out of hand, Lando halts the brawl. He is powerless to prevent what will occur.

Frozen in Time (And in Carbonite)

The freezing facility is made ready for the inevitable. Certainly, the excellent sound effects in this sequence (the work of sound designer Ben Burtt), and in the ensuing lightsaber battle between Luke and Vader, are to be commended. But before Luke’s entry into the fray, Han Solo will be the test subject. The rising smoke and gases from the freezing chamber, along with the red glow, evoke shades of a fiery hell. In fact, the heat from the blast-furnace sets made Peter Mayhew’s Chewie costume stink to high heaven.

The prevailing darkness and flame-red colors fall on the actors’ faces, which give them a hellish glow. Chewie throws a Wookiee fit in order to save his friend Han, but Han looks up at the eight-foot-tall, walking fuzz-ball and tries to soothe his jangled nerves. He charges Chewie with taking care of the Princess. Leia then turns to Han as they kiss goodbye. Their love theme resounds on the soundtrack. Han is taken to the freezing platform to meet his maker.

When Han is being lowered into the pit, Leia cries out, “I love you.” Now, one would half expect a repeat of that hackneyed “I love you, too” phrase, but director Irvin Kershner wasn’t satisfied. Repeating take after take after take, and rewrite after rewrite after rewrite, “Kersh,” as he was fondly called, wasn’t convinced that another “I love you” would do the trick. Finally, in a last-ditch move, Kershner had Harrison do a final take where the ad-libbed line “I know” came out of the actor’s mouth. No one believed the scene was over when Kersh yelled “Cut!” but the line stuck. Not only did it stick, it went on to become a classic. And Harrison’s “Clark Gable meets John Wayne” acting impression became legend as well.

Han Solo (Harrison Ford) faces the freezing chamber

And, as “frozen in carbonite” Han Solo is taken on his journey back to Jabba, so will Luke be taken to the Emperor as a prize gift from Lord Vader — or so Vader thinks.

In the meantime, Threepio has been jabbering on about Chewie’s lame efforts at putting him back together à la Humpty-Dumpty (it’s a clumsy attempt at channeling the classic nursery rhyme, one might suppose, but so be it). He doesn’t realize that Chewie is more concerned about sparing the life of his buddy Han, who had previously asked him to save his rage for other times. Threepio must have witnessed Han’s stealing a parting kiss from Leia who, in the film’s most passionate exchange, FINALLY declares her ardor for the half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder.

And what does Han Solo remark in return? “I know.” To echo the words of the late Governor Tarkin: “Charming to the last.” In these so-called final moments, Han has gained a measure of nobility that, up until now, his character has rarely if reluctantly displayed. His stature with Leia has risen ten-fold by his noble self-sacrifice. Furthermore, it’s a credit to screenwriters Lawrence Kasdan and the late Leigh Brackett, and also to Kasdan, Lucas, and Kershner’s keen sense of where the Leia-Han romance needed to go: it had to take center stage. At this juncture, you could say it’s the big setup for what will be the ultimate reveal at the end. But that is yet to come, dear fans! “Patience, young padawans! Patience!”

While audiences are still fawning over this sequence, i.e., where Han’s body is frozen stiff in the coal-gray-black carbonite — his expression is a mixture of pain and horror, as well as fierce resolve — we are being distracted from the real crisis. That is, how will Luke Skywalker be able to overcome and resist the Dark Side when faced with such unrelenting power, the power of the Dark Side, which he knows very little of?

As indicated above, John Williams’ love theme rises tellingly in the orchestra as the rectangular carbonite container (reminiscent of the black monolith from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, only sideways) hits the ground with a resounding thud.

May the Military Force Be With You!

Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) eyes the bounty hunter Boba Fett

Vader hands Solo over to the bounty hunter and demands that Calrissian escort Leia and the Wookiee to his ship, the aptly-named Star Destroyer Avenger. When Lando balks at this change in their plans, Vader cuts him off with a terse, “I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further.” Lando shoots a knowing look at the cool bald guy with the radio-transmitting headset (known as Lobot), who silently acknowledges the message: they are planning a little getaway of their own.

With blaster in hand, Luke cautiously wanders the Cloud City’s halls. He catches sight of Han’s frozen-in-carbonite form and the armed escort that accompanies it. Without prior warning, bounty hunter Boba Fett (voiced by Temuera Morrison) shoots his formidable weapon at him while Leia shouts of an impending trap. In true “hero’s journey” fashion, young Luke is heedless of her admonition. Artoo has the door close on him (redolent of a monstrous mouth with teeth) as Luke enters the freezing chamber for the final confrontation with Fate and the dreaded Dark Lord.

Luke surveys the layout of the freezing chamber before he is abruptly greeted by a thrice-familiar voice. “The Force is with you, young Skywalker,” Vader croons in sepulchral tones. “But you are not a Jedi yet.”

Now begins another of those Captain BloodRobin HoodSea Hawk sequences whereby Vader and Luke cross lightsabers in what seems like every nook and cranny in the Cloud City complex. Luke’s blue-shaded lightsaber mixes with Vader’s red-toned one — Akira Kurawawa’s samurai influence runs deep in this and subsequent scenes.

Luke (Mark Hamill) challenges Lord Vader (body by David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones) to a lightsaber duel

In the meantime, Lando is able to free Leia and Chewie from their bonds, only to have Chewie almost choke the life out of him for his seeming betrayal of old buddy Han. He’s saved from his fate, however, by choking out a few breathless phrases that there is still time to save his friend. Oh, good to hear! They make haste for the east platform. Meanwhile, R2-D2 and C-3PO are reunited at last, even if Threepio is a bit worse for wear (and as cranky and complaining as ever).

Vader and Luke continue to battle it out in Edo-era fashion. Vader also exudes over-confidence, as to be expected, but Luke surprises him with some deft maneuvering in and out of the freezing chamber.

“Impressive,” observes Vader, “most impressive.” He takes a few swipes at young Skywalker. “Only your hatred can destroy me,” he bellows, but is that really part of Vader’s plan?

Vader calls on Luke to release the full brunt of his anger. It is the only way the Dark Lord can be vanquished. But Luke manages to fight his way out of a conflict. Losing his balance, Vader plunges into the outer rim of the pipes surrounding the freezing chamber. There is a brief pause in the action, enough for Luke and the audience to catch their breath.

Luke jumps in after Vader. He snoops around the reactor room — again, the superb sound effects in this next sequence are tops in their field. From nowhere, Vader re-emerges. Undeterred, the Dark Lord throws everything at Skywalker that isn’t nailed down (and then some!). Luke impotently swats at the oncoming objects, one of which breaks open a window. He is then sucked out of the room and thrown onto a platform in another of those omnipresent Forbidden Planet moments, with Luke holding on for dear life — literally on the edge! The look is all there, down to the triangular shaped doors, in another of George Lucas’ nods to his sci-fi past.

Back to Lando and company: he cautions everyone to leave Cloud City at once before the Empire takes over operations. Panic ensues, of course (in one more of those “expanded” scenes — completely uncalled for, in my opinion). Artoo is able to open the hanger door where the Millennium Falcon is housed. While Threepio hurls a series of comical one-liners at his mechanical playmate (having mostly to do with the inoperative hyperdrive), Lando and Leia manage to board the Millennium Falcon in time to make their escape.

Trust Your Feelings!

In the same instant, Luke and Vader are back at it. The Dark Lord duels it out with the novice Jedi Luke to the edge of the platform, where Luke nicks Vader’s right arm with his lightsaber, a nice move. It looks like he made a dent in the bout, until that fateful moment when Vader slices Luke Skywalker’s right hand off with his lightsaber.

Vader makes an offer that Luke must refuse

Luke will remember this encounter for the rest of the series (and what remains of his screen life). Indeed, this is the pivotal episode in the hero’s journey where the confrontation with one’s parent reaches mythical proportions. In both Classical and Norse mythology, we have copious parallels to consider: in Siegfried’s chance encounter with the Wanderer (or Wotan) in Wagner’s Ring cycle; in Oedipus’ slaying of his father Laius from the Greek tragedy by Sophocles; and in Orestes’ murder of his mother Clytemnestra to avenge her killing of his father Agamemnon.

Luke’s conflict with himself has also reached a climax, in typical Greek fashion, with the discovery of his true origins. Left with no defenses and suffering an open wound on his hand (emblematic as well of Amfortas’ unhealed wound via the lance held by the magician Klingsor), Luke holds on for dear life with his left arm. Vader, sensing his quarry is trapped (and knowing of his true origins), plays psychological mind games on him. In fact, messing with another’s mind is part of the routine (i.e., that “old Jedi mind trick” gimmick).

Conveniently, Vader suggests a way out of Luke’s predicament by offering to complete his training. In getting Luke to trust his intentions by making them sound reasonable and acceptable, Vader uses reverse logic to validate his offer. In other words, the ends justify the means; it all sounds so logical and doable, but it really isn’t.

So what does Vader offer? In essence, Vader reveals his plan to usurp the Evil Emperor by bringing Luke to his side — to the power of the Dark Side, that is. First, he claims that with their combined forces, both he and Luke can end “this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy.” I’ll bet! But Vader’s plans go much deeper than that.

Lord Vader emphasizes the “power of the dark side” to Luke Skywalker

Fortunately for film fans, Luke imagines himself capable enough to reason this out. “I’ll never join you!” he blurts out. Atta boy, Luke!

Now comes the big reveal! Realizing that he must level with the young man, Vader tells Luke the thing he longs to hear but wishes he never heard. “Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.”

“He told me enough,” Luke counters roughly. “He told me you killed him!”

“No. I am your father.”

Luke cannot accept this knowledge (or rather, he refuses to swallow the bait). Knowing who the messenger is, he cannot possibly be receptive to the message. Can you blame him?

In response, Luke hurls a mighty and repeated “No!” to Vader’s metallic visage. But Vader presses the matter further by proposing a father-son union. By joining with him, they can depose the Emperor. It is Luke’s destiny. Together, they can “rule the galaxy as Father and Son.” This does not sit well with Luke’s plans. In defiance of his parent, Luke releases his grip on the platform — and on life as he’s come to know it — and floats down the long garbage chute (similar to the one where he, Leia and Han had fallen into in Episode IV: A New Hope).

Consequently, Vader is left empty handed. What must he have felt at that moment? Did he expect this kind of reception from his young recruit? Did he search his feelings, as the Evil Emperor had earlier advised him, or did he not heed his master’s word? To be exact, Vader poses the same message to Luke: “Search your feelings; you know this to be true!” One wonders, too, if Luke bothered to heed his advice.

There are many avenues to explore in not only Luke and Vader’s troubled and unrealized relationship, but also in Vader and the Emperor’s long association as slave and master, and as pupil and mentor. In reality, if Vader was “happy” with his current situation, why would he want to destroy it by killing the hand that feeds it, i.e., the Emperor (and with Luke’s help no less)? Was it ruthless ambition, lust for power, or unnatural selection? Or was it a case of “destroy or be destroyed”? By firing the first shot, he may have tried to avoid a problem before there was a problem to resolve.

Luke hangs on to what he can, which amounts to a few metal rods of support in open airspace. He keeps asking himself why Old Ben (Obi-Wan) never told him about his father. Calling out telepathically to Leia, the Princess forces Lando to turn the Millennium Falcon around so they can rescue Luke. Hesitating at first, Lando is convinced to help Luke out after Chewie bares his teeth in his direction. Upon arriving at Cloud City’s base, Lando goes through the top hatch and drags poor Luke to the safety of the cargo hold.

TIE fighters are in hot pursuit as they try to dodge their attack. Too, Vader is back on his flagship Star Destroyer to view the chase from his vantage point. In like manner, Vader calls out telepathically to Luke, who is in sickbay convalescing.

“Luke, it is your destiny….”

“Ben, why didn’t you tell me?”

The Millennium Falcon is being tracked by the Star Destroyer, and Lando and Chewie are STILL trying to jump into hyperspace (deactivated beforehand by the Imperial crew at Cloud City). Providentially and despite Threepio’s claims of “delusions of grandeur,” Artoo is able to reactivate the hyperdrive which blasts the fast-moving Millennium Falcon beyond Vader’s reach.

R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) tries to put C-3PO back together again

In an instant, the ship has disappeared from view. Vader is left on the deck of the Star Destroyer to brood and pace back to his quarters. This brings relief to the furrowed brow of Admiral Piett, who believed that he would be the next victim of Vader’s unappeasable frustration with how badly things have turned out.

Aboard the Millennium Falcon, Leia takes Luke to his bunk and plants a kiss on his lips for encouragement. The ending is a cliffhanger encased in true cliffhanger fashion. Rebel spaceships abound throughout. Lando vows to regroup on the planet Tatooine to find and bring back Han. In sickbay, Luke is being fitted with his new bionic hand. With feeling restored to his pulse, he approaches and embraces Leia. The two look out into the endless reaches of outer space as the Millennium Falcon takes off on its mission to rescue Solo.

Juxtaposed against the original New Hope ending, where, facing the viewing audience, the entire crew is rewarded for their bravery, the same cast members (minus Chewie and Han) are seen from the rear, their backsides turned to those same viewers in contemplation of their future. What does that future hold for our intrepid companions?

(End of Part Seven)

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 © 2018 by Josmar F. Lopes     

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

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 temperamental 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 conveniently 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 fashion). “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 and handsome 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 Threepio. “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 roving 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 Galactic 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 cultured 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 one of his former USC professors, 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 Master 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 snappy 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 nasty 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 tribute to in this brief FX episode.

On Dagobah, Yoda has Luke going through his Jedi training routine — mostly, the physical aspects of same: running, jumping, dodging, back and front flipping. You know, a makeshift obstacle course in the bog. In between flips, Yoda fires off a series of sagacious remarks 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, ordering him to clear his mind of questions.

Suddenly, a strange feeling comes over young 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 sentence structure 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 and comfort 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). It’s Arthur being goaded into battle by Merlin, by wielding Excalibur before him. The forest is the symbol of the unknown, which is the precise place where Luke must confront his demons — symbolically, 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 perceive, 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 and visibly. A sign of his frustrations?

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 Threepio find that their freighter still lacks light-speed maneuverability (what gives with that darn hyperdrive, anyway?). 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 the boggy Dagobah, Luke has resumed his Jedi training, to include levitating the surrounding rocks and other objects (a cantankerous Artoo 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 who sulks beside the lake. There’s only one thing to do, and that’s for Yoda to show the boy how it’s done. He brings the fighter plane 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 realizes, 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 young 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 will 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        

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

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 / space fantasy 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” and “Y” and “Z” 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 the production. Indeed, this shadowy ambience can be found in the picture’s shifting mise en scène, whether it be in caves, tunnels, corridors, storage rooms, or walkways, or the eerie 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 not only according to the requirements of the constantly evolving story line, but to their own individual needs and desires (not to mention the mountain of problems each of them are faced with).

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 solely by his wits — is utterly taken with Leia’s feisty personality and ability to stand up for herself (and for others).

For her part, Leia is equally captivated by this “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 (who continues to exert an influence on Luke in a more metaphysical rather than personal realm).

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, Han’s former partner and fellow smuggler 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 comic 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). This amiable banter is played strictly for laughs, which, in the larger scheme of this installment (and in the next one, Episode VI: Return of the Jedi), is there to relieve the tension that slowly builds from one sequence to the other.

Another Classic Film-Score Moment

As the picture begins, we hear the Oscar-nominated John Williams fanfare on the soundtrack. This and other leading 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, Buck Rogers, and other 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 enters the scene. 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 the crash, 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 Jedi 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 scar-faced troublemaker at the Cantina Bar sequence in Episode IV. Incidentally, the Snow Creature is nothing more than a humongous Muppet monster (portrayed by Des Webb).

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Meanwhile, Han Solo returns to the Rebel base on Hoth (in reality, the Scandinavian landscape 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 (he is repeating a pattern he set in the earlier film). They engage in the first of many lover’s 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 Old 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 hallucinatory vision, Han slices open the frost-bitten tauntaun and exposes his buddy 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. As a matter of fact, they were the result of actor Mark Hamill experiencing a serious real-life car accident prior to filming. Coincidentally, as a young man George 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 (although he denies the script was altered in any way to accommodate the situation) 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, making up for the furtive one she gave him when they made their escape in the Death Star’s airshaft. In fairy tales, it’s usually the handsome prince who gets to kiss the beautiful 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 their fellow revolutionaries escape.

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

Back on board Lord 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 to their presence. 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 little droid and for Master Luke. They do care for each other, you know, but in a most “humanly” fashion, despite being preprogrammed, thinking-on-their-own 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 Threepio 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 at that). 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 Threepio 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 Artoo 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 one of the movie studios in England, where both features were filmed. There’s even a swamp thing lurking below the water’s surface that tries to swallow poor, unassuming Artoo. 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. If you recall, Luke, Leia, and Han were trapped inside the Death Star’s trash compactor. With the walls about to close in on them, Luke was abruptly sucked down into the compactor’s watery bottom by a tube-like, one-eyed serpent. Thanks to Han’s blaster and to the closing walls, he escapes in time to contact Artoo, who happens to be locked on to a computer mainframe. Good work, R2-D2!

Back at the swamp, out of the blue little Yoda decides to make a nuisance of himself in 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 and director Frank Oz, the same fellow who gave life to Fozzie, Bert, Miss Piggy, and numerous other denizens of Sesame Street and Muppet movies.

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 whole purpose as a mentor has been well defined by screenwriters Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan. He’s the High Lama of the Jedi Order, the Wizard Merlin to young King Arthur, charged with teaching young Skywalker the wise ways of the Force.

Rising in the Ranks (or Not)

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Lord Vader has a completely different set of priorities than the wizened Yoda. He, too, may appear to be calmer and more collected in this episode than he was in the previous one. Nevertheless, Vader’s displeasure at the ineptitude of the Imperial Cruiser’s commanding officers 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 remember, 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 darkly, all the while pointing a gloved finger at the admiral. Wow! How’d you like to work for an “understanding” boss like that? Vader makes Donald Trump’s tossing off of his signature “You’re fired!” phrase from The Apprentice seem like child’s play.

All we can say at this point 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

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 opening 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 a bit — 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 technologically possible.

In view of this analysis, 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 fire-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 perilously cross the line of fire, we see the huge black frame and hear the breathing apparatus of the series’ main heavy, the formidable Darth Vader — voiced by James Earl Jones, with 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 Alliance’s hidden base on the ice planet Hoth.)

This leads to a quick cut 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 getting-to-know-you 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 are lost 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. Transports are the principal means of conveyance used by the shady and secretive Jawas, hooded little creatures with flashlight-like eyes and Alvin the Chipmunk voices.

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 Threepio 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. Ah, those two! They enjoy a bubbling, argumentative relationship that has carried them near and far, from one end of the galaxy to the other.

The huge transport lumbers across the desert surface, slowly but steadily, with deadening 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 (2009), 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 and cleaning (Uncle Owen barters with a belligerent Jawa for their ownership). Audiences unfamiliar with the original script may be perplexed at the mention of Biggs’ 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 someday be “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. George 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, even as part of the deleted scenes. 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. With Luke and Threepio in hot speeder pursuit, they eventually meet up with Old Ben, who rescues them from the nomadic Sand People (commonly referred to as Tusken Raiders). With this, the group retires to Old Ben’s abode. This send-up of Cowboys vs. Indians, and the mountainous Far West terrain, will remind viewers of those Monument Valley locations so favored by director John Ford (and, by implication, Lucas himself).

At the mention of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Old Ben makes this observation: “Now that’s a name I’ve not heard in a long time. A long time …” A smiling, bewigged Sir Alec Guinness in a one-size-fits-all robe plays a smiling, bewigged Uncle Ben Kenobi, aka Obi-Wan. Old 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 ….”

Laurence E. MacDonald, in his book The Invisible Art of Film Music: A Comprehensive History (1998), notes that the above inscription harkens to a “time and place of the story” that “are mythic rather than futuristic.”

“I haven’t gone by the name Obi-Wan,” Ben 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 and friend, Anakin Skywalker: “An elegant weapon for a more civilized time.” I’ll bet! “Civilized,” as Old Ben politely puts it, is a bit of a stretch and, as it turns out, a matter of opinion.

Just then, the dastardly appellation of Darth Vader gets thrown out as the individual 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 learning more about becoming a Jedi knight and 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 Ford’s classic Western saga, 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 later employed the talents of Cushing’s old friend and partner Christopher Lee, in Episodes II and III of the series (as Count Dooku)  — 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 “sorcerer’s ways” and “sad devotion to that ancient religion,” meaning the Force), 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 officers. Vader is loathe to release the helpless commander, but does so nevertheless.

Getting back to Tatooine, Luke resolves to join forces with Obi-Wan. They Landspeed their way off to Mos Eisley, a notorious spaceport and haven for smugglers, pirates, and criminals with prices on their heads. The pair, along with their trusty droids, are looking for a way off the planet via a freighter pilot they can trust. Their mission is to fly straight on to Alderaan and rescue Princess Leia (so they think).

In the thrice-familiar Cantina Bar sequence, Luke is pestered by several of the local inhabitants. He serves as witness to Obi-Wan’s skill with the lightsaber as the old gent slices off a malefactor’s arm. This attracts the unwanted attention of Storm Troopers nearby. Shortly afterward, Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford), their “pilot,” introduce themselves to Ben and Luke. Haggling over the price of their venture, Han finally accepts their offer. Now all the adventure seekers have to do is sell their Landspeeder.

Not wanting to regurgitate every nook and cranny of the plot, we move on to an inserted scene with Han Solo 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 vicious 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 money.

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 (Paul Blake), an aptly chosen moniker for such a loathsome smuggler. In the previous scene, Greedo gets blown away by Han Solo in the Cantina Bar at the Mos Eisley spaceport. What a way to go!

In the revised version of this particular sequence, however, 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.

We’re Off and Running

We shift to a brief bit where Lord Vader is planning to interrogate Princess Leia. After another visual wipe, the gang of five escape the spaceport with the Storm Troopers firing their blasters at them. Luke makes a snide remark to Han about the dilapidated state of the Millennium Falcon, the freighter ship that will take them to their destination.

As the boys battle the Imperial Star Destroyers, their ship finally makes the belated jump into hyperspace. This gag, where the Millennium Falcon manages to have oodles of problems avoiding space combat, amid its inability to escape its pursuers, will become a running gag in future episodes.

Chewbacca, Luke, Obi-Wan & Han Solo on board the Millennium Falcon

A scene change takes us back to the Death Star, where Governor Tarkin meets the pugnacious Princess. Their dialogue is clipped and brusque, with Leia getting the better of the confrontation with her caustic wit and faux “charm.” However, Tarkin tricks her into revealing the location of the Rebel base on Dantooine (a sister planet of Tatooine, most likely), which is too far for the Empire to seek and destroy. Instead, Tarkin instructs his men to open fire on Alderaan, Leia’s home planet, putting all of its inhabitants at risk.

The destructive force of the Death Star is equivalent, in this prime Nixon-era / Vietnam War example, to what U.S. bomber planes did to the North Vietnamese, the Cambodians, and the Laotians. The plan was to bomb the enemy into submission (via the retaliatory aftermath of the surprise 1968 Tet Offensive), or at the least to bring the enemy back (in the early 1970s) to the bargaining table for more “talks.” The mantra spouted by the Nixon Administration was “peace with honor,” in the midst of endless bombing raids that accomplished little in the way of actual gains on the ground. (In many documented instances, the bombing only prolonged the conflict.)

The grand demonstration of the battle station’s immense power results in Alderaan’s explosion. On board the Millennium Falcon, Obi-Wan has a momentary falter in his step. He steadies himself as best he can, rubbing his forehead and resting his weary form onto a seat. He senses the cries of terror of millions of silenced voices (an after effect of being “linked in,” as it were, to the Force). While Luke practices his lightsaber lessons (with intermittent snipes at hokey religions by the non-conforming Han Solo), Artoo risks a game of holographic checkers (or chess, if you prefer) with the mighty Chewbacca. Upon learning that Wookiees are “poor sports” at losing, Threepio councils his friend to let Chewie win.

When the Millennium Falcon re-emerges from hyperspace, the crew sees nothing but debris where the planet Alderaan should be. The worst appears to have happened. Even more troubling is that the Millennium Falcon is now caught in the battle station’s tractor beam. Unable to break free, and with TIE fighters buzzing around from all angles, Han and the crew have no choice but go with the tractor beam’s flow by making a forced landing within the large moon-shaped Death Star’s innards.

In the meantime, Tarkin is informed that the supposed Rebel base on Dantooine is deserted. Incensed at Leia’s treachery, Tarkin orders her immediate termination. Back on board the Millennium Falcon, Vader’s men report the freighter appears to be abandoned, but Vader, in tune with his extrasensory perception, feels that something is amiss, a “presence” he hasn’t felt since …. He departs before completing his sentence.

Of course, we know that Vader has been feeling the presence of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Amazing! That sixth sense of his, albeit corrupted and twisted by the Dark Side, can still detect his old nemesis — even in the outer reaches of space.

Emerging from their hiding places below deck, Luke, Han, Chewie, Obi-Wan, and the two droids chatter among themselves. Lucky for them! As two of the Storm Troopers enter the freighter, they are overpowered by Han and Luke, who assume their guise and places. Blasting their way (noisily, one might add) from the Forward Bay into the Command Office, Luke and Han are able to determine Princess Leia’s whereabouts with Artoo’s aid. However, Old Ben needs to disable the tractor beam’s hold on their freighter in order for them to make good their escape. Ben saunters off into the hallway to do the deed.

This leaves the two comrades in arms (more like friendly rivals) discussing the merits of rescuing the Princess, and the ensuing reward it entails. Threepio is nearing his wits’ end as he asks Master Luke for instructions on what to do. Following their lead, Han and Luke escort their “prisoner” Chewie close to the area where Leia is being held. Chewie pretends to put up a fight, which gives both Luke and Han the opportunity to fire their blasters in the direction of the two guards. Finding her cell, Luke frees Leia from her prison and informs her that Obi-Wan is with them.

At that same instant, Vader lets Governor Tarkin know that Obi-Wan is on board the Death Star. “I must face him alone,” Vader intones ominously. Switching back to the detention area,  the three are united at last, but the pleasantries are short-lived as their presence has drawn more Storm Troopers. Blasting their way into the area, the self-reliant Leia takes matters into her own hands by blowing an opening in the detention area’s wall. She slips through the opening, along with Luke, a reluctant Chewie, and Han. But not before Han has the final word.

“Wonderful girl!” he yells out. “Either I’m going to kill her or I’m beginning to like her.” I don’t think today’s #MeToo movement would have approved of that comment, but so be it.

Plunging down a long chute, the four adventurers land onto a huge pile of garbage. This is where Lucas injected a dose of those old Saturday-matinee Flash Gordon serials into the mix. At first, something snaky and slimy slides around at the bottom of the trash pile. And then, it strikes, grabbing onto young Skywalker and dragging him to the bottom. Firing their blasters does no good. Luke breaks through the surface again, gasping for air. Thrashing around in the muck, he is once more submerged by the monster’s tentacles. As the chute starts to tremble and groan, the beast disappears. Luke bobbles back up to the surface, relieved to be free of the menace.

The garbage masher scene, with Leia, Han & Luke

What more could happen to our friends? No sooner said than the walls of the chute start to close in. It’s a real Indiana Jones moment, something Lucas and Spielberg would take extra care to reintroduce when they eventually got around to making those features. Our intrepid heroes try placing a long pole between them and disaster to keep the walls from collapsing, but to no avail. Luke tries to communicate with Threepio, who does not answer his distress calls (the droids have been hiding from some snooping Storm Troopers in the Command Office). Both the garbage chute and the Command Office keep miscommunicating with each until, finally, Artoo is able to shut down the garbage masher walls.

The comic banter and wry sarcasm of this and many other scenes are bandied about in the style of the Marx Brothers, or better yet the Three Stooges. Add to the formula the asides of the fey C-3PO (who gets louder and more acerbic as the series progresses) and the incomprehensible squeaks and squeals of R2-D2 (in the best tradition of Laurel and Hardy), and you have yourself a merry old time at the cineplex.

After their tribulations, the hearty (and still lively) group continues to make their escape. There are more slapstick shenanigans in the back-and-forth routine of Han trying to chase after his pursuers, only to find more pursuers than before; he then tries to outrun them in the opposite direction, and vice versa.

Finding themselves separated and balancing precariously in one of the central core shafts (as well as being constantly shot at), Luke uses his Trooper disguise’s utility belt to swing a la Tarzan to safety, with Leia clutching for dear life and giving him a kiss on the cheek for good measure. It can’t get any better than that!

Old Soldiers Never Die

We cut to Old Ben in the narrow passageway leading to the tractor beam’s switch. Vader is there, too, waiting to bate his old mentor. Meanwhile, Threepio is in a panic because he can’t locate the gang. Moving back to Obi-Wan and Vader, both adversaries trade barbs at each other in a snail’s paced recreation of Errol Flynn (as Robin Hood) dueling with Basil Rathbone (as Sir Guy of Gisbourne). Their lightsabers cross as the two combatants clash every which way. Note that Alec Guinness, as Old Ben, is slower and more methodical than the larger and swifter Lord Vader (Dave Prowse) — deliberately so, I would imagine.

Obi-Wan Kenobi (Old Ben) versus Darth Vader, in a duel to the death

In a flash, we see Han and Chewie with Luke and Leia gathered at the Main Forward Bay. They are searching for the entrance to the freighter. At that moment, Vader and Obi-Wan waltz (or rather, glide) into view, still flailing their brightly-colored lightsabers at each other (royal blue for Ben, and fiery red for Vader). At that moment, Old Ben catches sight of Luke who calls out his name. Pausing from the battle, Ben raises his lightsaber high and, with hands clasped, lowers his weapon. Vader takes strategic advantage of the moment and strikes Ben down. However, there is nothing left of Ben except his hooded cloak. Where did the old bloke go?

Luke is shocked at Ben’s sudden death. He cries out, “No!” in a solemn preview of what will come in the next installment. The fun has started to turn serious. Leia, Han and Chewie start blasting away to cover Luke’s escape into the Millennium Falcon. But before they can enter the freighter, Han charges Luke with sealing the front door shut, which collapses on the other Storm Troopers and Vader as they approach. Luke suddenly hears Ben’s disembodied voice, urging him to “Run, Luke! Run!” He does so, and makes good his escape.

With Han and Chewie at the controls, the Millennium Falcon is able to make a clean getaway out of the Death Star. Looks like Old Ben came through after all! He saved his comrades from certain death, if not a terrible punishment. Luke is saddened at his friend’s demise. Noticing his discomfort, Leia comes over and wraps a blanket around him — a gesture she will repeat in the next entry, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, upon Luke’s eventful encounter with the Dark Lord.

But the intrepid band is not out the woods yet! Han summons Luke to the Falcon’s gun port so they can take potshots at the oncoming TIE fighters. This is where the show really starts to move in the direction of a massive video game. Some of the fun, dialogue and action of days gone by are recaptured in this homage to 1940s war movies. Yee-haw!

Of course, the boys are successful in wiping out the enemy. But, alas, we return to bad old Governor Tarkin, who seeks reassurance from Vader that a homing device has been successfully planted on the Millennium Falcon. Hmm, so it was too easy for the gang to escape. What’s in store for them now, we wonder?

Victory is Its Own Reward!

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

Moving on to the conclusion, Leia is suspicious of their quick getaway, but Han’s only interest is in getting paid for his efforts. This leads to her storming off in a huff. Han remarks to Luke as to whether or not Solo and Leia can make it as a couple, to which Luke gives a curt, “No!” However, in reality Han has other plans in mind besides paying back Jabba the Hutt.

When Luke’s old buddy Biggs re-emerges onscreen (in one of those previously cut scenes us fans are still waiting for), 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 second of many such happenstances. Let’s take a 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 re-enactment of the Saint Crispin’s Day speech — you know the one, the rallying cry that Shakespeare’s Henry V gave his battle-weary 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 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 plays him, a guy named Alex McCrindle, even manages to capture “some” of Mr. Huston’s familiar 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 the movie was shot at Elstree and Shepperton 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 journeymen star pilots to perform at their peak. Speaking of journeymen (or journey-boy in this instance), Luke runs into Leia. He can’t help mouthing off to her about Han’s selfishness and egotism. Leia brushes away his comment by implying that Han’s got to “follow his own path. No one can choose it for him.” Well, she’s right about that. Luke wishes Old Ben were still with them. (And you know what? He might just get that wish after all.)

As Luke is lifted into his X-wing fighter plane (with the ubiquitous R2-D2 going along for the ride), he hears Ben’s voice again, intoning some needed encouragement: “The Force will be with you.” And also with you, Old Ben! Amen to that. The next sequence is probably the most exhilarating of the entire picture, and the most complicated in terms of special visual and sound effects. From this sequence alone an entire industry was born: Industrial Light and Magic, or ILM for short.

Sound effects expert Ben Burtt (a former teaching assistant at USC Film School) wanted everything in Star Wars to sound real and relatable: the motors, the equipment, the flybys, the planes, the engines, the explosions. This obsession with reality came into its own in this fascinating interplay between the outgunned and outmanned Rebel forces versus the invincible space armada amassed by the Galactic Empire.

Between shots of the approaching Death Star and the fired upon X-wing fighters, the sense that the Rebels are in for the fight of their lives never lets up. This whole episode places movie audiences smack-dab in the middle of the action, as if instead of outer space the U.S. Pacific Fleet (which, by the way, the Star Destroyers closely resemble) were on hand to swat away those annoying Japanese Zeros (except in this case, the fleet is represented by the bad-guy Empire, with the good guys being the Zeros). Battle cruisers, single engine jobs, high-speed chases, downed space-crafts, direct hits — all the heavy FX artillery has been brought out to bring the first part of Lucas’ story to a satisfactory finish.

Despite Vader’s deadly aim and his success at picking off one X-wing fighter after another (in the mode of World War I’s infamous air ace, the Red Baron), the Dark Lord is no match for the Force (or for Obi-Wan’s disembodied advice to the wet-behind-the-goggles Luke), along with Han Solo’s last-minute riding to the rescue. Finding the Death Star’s weak point, Luke launches a full-scale attack just as the battle station is locked and loaded. The end result: Kablooey!!!

But most important of all, both Luke Skywalker and Han Solo are reunited as friends who save the day. Han gets a chance to redeem himself in the eyes of his comrades (and the gorgeously bedecked Princess Leia) in the Throne Room sequence. This is especially significant, since it appeared to everyone that Solo was about to abandon the Rebel’s cause by taking the reward money and run. Ta-dum!!!!

The Throne Room sequence (nydailynews.com)

The Throne Room sequence (nydailynews.com)

On a final note, the additional scenes inserted by Mr. Lucas for the 1997 “Special Edition” re-release, in the digitally-enhanced realm we’ll have you know, add little to the film’s overall structure and content. On the contrary, these so-termed “improvements” tend to favor the original’s cleaner, uncluttered productions, which are parsecs removed from the upgraded versions.

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

(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 (Revised – 2018)    

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

Obi-Wan Benobi (Alec Guinness) businessinsider.com

Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) businessinsider.com

“The Cost? No Man Knows ….”

The price tag for George Lucas’ epic science-fiction/adventure flick has been variously estimated at between $10 and $15 million U.S. dollars. It’s part of Star Wars lore and legend that, prior to studio head Alan Ladd Jr.’s interest in rescuing the production for Twentieth Century-Fox, several other studios had passed on the project, to include Universal (which had earlier released Lucas’ American Graffiti) and United Artists.

Originally, the budget had been placed at about $3.5 million. According to film critic and writer Charles Champlin, in his book George Lucas, the Creative Impulse, “inflation had doubled [the budget] to $7 million even before production began. It was then $9.5 million and the film went $3 million over budget because of the high cost of creating a nonexistent world. The eventual cost of the effects was $2.5 million, still extremely modest by the standards of that day and this.”

In Guy Haley’s Sci-Fi Chronicles: A Visual History of the Galaxy’s Greatest Science Fiction (2014), the picture had out-sold most other blockbusters of the period. “When released in May 1977, Star Wars was a huge hit, earning $460 million in the United States and $314 million overseas, and beating Jaws to become the world’s most financially successful film. (Adjusted for inflation, it remains one of the top-five movies of all time.)”

The subsequent installments in the series also did exceedingly well: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) earned a whopping $721 million; and Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983) took in approximately $679 million at the box office.

As Han Solo would say to the young hotshot Luke, “Great, kid! Don’t get cocky!”

What’s in a Name?

The characters of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda represent the positive mystical aspects of the Star Wars franchise. 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 their opposite number: the evil Emperor of the Galactic Empire (i.e., 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 Galactic Empire (or, if you so choose, the equivalent of a modern-day Roman Republic), a concept that producer, director, and screenwriter George Lucas was in favor of debating 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 (created by cartoonist Walt Kelly), who used to remark as a running refrain: “We have seen the enemy, and the enemy is us.” Be mindful of ourselves, the films seem to be saying, for we, too, may one day undergo such challenges to our status quo as may render us helpless.

To recap where we stand, the first film in the series was shot on location in the desert of Tunisia in North Africa — the Tatouine Desert, to be exact (which also happens to be the name, or close to it, 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 individual characters. The saber wielding Jedi knights of yore were also modeled on samurai warriors and Akira Kurosawa movies, purportedly the Japanese master’s The Hidden Fortress (1958), which Lucas recalls from his early viewing days. Even the story of the first feature, A New Hope, had its derivation in the plot line of Kurasawa’s film, with samplings of The Seven Samurai (1954) strewn about. Certainly the concept of a ragtag bunch of misfits, few in number and facing impossible odds and overwhelming challenges, is made clear from the outset.

Both the timeliness and timelessness of the Star Wars films are what strike the viewer as unique, which 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 over-abundance of bravado, the rambunctious Luke is itching to break out of the boring, hum-drum life he’s been leading 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, we can’t quite picture Luke (or any Jedi knight’s apprentice, for that matter) wielding a leukos-saber against his or her foe, can you? It wouldn’t do.

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 the Apostle Paul, another well-known biblical evangelist and firebrand, as well as a prolific letter writer, at that.

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

Here are a few more examples of names and their meanings:

Han Solo (“solo” = by himself, alone, acting on his own), played rather charmingly by the roguish Harrison Ford (who loves to channel the vocal mannerisms of big John Wayne). Always acting unilaterally in his own self-interest, Han is a “scoundrel,” according to Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher). His name may have been derived from Hans, 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 woolly 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 heard in producer-director Lucas’ earlier sci-fi actioner THX 1138 (“I think I ran over a Wookiee back there”).

Now, the “Chewie” part most probably refers to his carnivorous diet and razor sharp teeth. Incidentally, Wookiees are tremendously strong and fearless, and fancy themselves 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. Leia 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 action-adventure series, we would add), although Leia happens to be about a foot shorter.

Princess Leia

Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher)

The Organa portion of her surname could be a hint of her “organic nature,” or that “back to the land aesthetic” so favored by many in the 1970s. Remember: that was the start of the burgeoning environmental movement. 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 (i.e., Dark Father, or even Der Fuehrer), voiced in sepulchral tones by stage actor James Earl Jones; and portrayed, under the burdensome mask and cloak, by former British bodybuilder and physical fitness trainer Dave Prowse (A Clockwork Orange, The Horror of Frankenstein), 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,” to put it politely, by the front grille of a 1956 Chevy. “I hope so, for your sake!”

Ben Kenobi (Uncle Ben) or Obi-Wan Kenobi (the one and the 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,” or “Yoshi-san,” for instance). 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 emits sounds more in line with a “whistling Hoover vacuum cleaner,” as one wag described him. Supposedly (now we 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-type than a robot, and a prissy little snit at that. For a protocol droid, he certainly has a lot of pent-up ennui. He’s good at math, though — of that we are more than certain. And so is Artoo. 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 puns, 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

Another Day, Another Director

Imperial Battle Cruisers

Imperial Battle Cruisers

The Star Wars movies began their slow, intergalactic 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 as the first entry.

Each picture in the series features a different director: Mr. Lucas (THX 1138, American Graffiti) 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 Irvin was tapped for his directing assignment. Director Marquand, on the other hand, was a writer and producer previously associated with TV programs, 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 (Master Yoda in human guise?), one who was not only completely outside the established Washington, D.C. 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, Carter 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. To have been a Vietnam War veteran during those troubling times was not looked upon with pride or distinction. It was more in the nature of their having worn a Red Badge of Discouragement for serving in that conflict.

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 began to slowly emerge as part of the new “advance guard” of a Vietnam-driven generation of film directors and writers 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 hit-and-run 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, one 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 any 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 had taught us).

Little did we know how wrong they truly were. If prior to 1977 the so-called New Hollywood had been obsessed with the social consequences of the Civil Rights movement, women’s liberation, the sexual revolution, film noir and its application of paranoia, distrust and feelings of dread, then the subsequent films in the Star Wars lineup 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)

George Lucas envisioned his fable purely as a 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.

In conjunction with this narrative, there needed to be music of a similar bent, although Lucas eschewed the use of electronic or “concrete” music. John Williams, whose Hollywood and television career had been established as far back as the late 1950s and well into the 1960s, was chosen to sonically represent the director’s vision: “Many film composers can write small orchestral pieces or various kinds of indigenous scores,” Lucas stated, “but there are few with the talent to create the full-on, old-fashioned movie score for a large orchestra that I envisioned.”

As both Lucas and writer Charles Lippincott indicated in the liner notes to the original Star Wars soundtrack, what George “had in mind was a musical background that would create the same kind of atmosphere that the scores of Erich Wolfgang Korngold had accomplished in the swashbuckling epics that had starred Errol Flynn.

“George felt that since the picture was so original and so highly different in all of its physical orientation — creatures unknown, places unseen, and noises unheard of — that the music be on a fairly familiar emotional level … Rather, he wanted a dichotomy to his visuals, an almost 19th Century romantic, symphonic score against these yet unseen sights.”

Politics Rears Its Ugly Head 

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 started to appear that Jimmy Carter would 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 proverbial white horse.

But to leave the bitter Vietnam War experience behind would take time. The decade-long conflict in Southeast Asia remained a sore spot for many filmmakers just getting over Nixon and Watergate. The bombing of Laos and Cambodia, for instance, was a tactical maneuver that lasted from March 1969 through May of 1970, a total of seven years from the Star Wars premiere. As recorded in Jonathan Kirshner’s powerful study of Hollywood’s Last Golden Age: Politics, Society, and the Seventies Film in America, “almost four thousand B-52 sorties dropped over 100,000 tons of bombs on Cambodia,” including a half-million tons on Laos alone, along with “another quarter-million tons of bombs secretly in February 1970.”

This massive upscale in the size and scope of the war — an operation designed to demonstrate the U.S.’s “credibility” — became a demonstration of misguided power and resolve. Lucas would incorporate this buildup in military firepower and might into several of his subsequent Star Wars installments, as embodied in the ongoing work of completing the first Death Star in Episode IV: A New Hope, as well as the reconstituted and “fully operational battle station” known as Death Star II (sort of a “sister star”) in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.

Getting back to Star Wars itself, 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 — those little cuddly-bear types with twitchy personalities and hair-trigger tempers — 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, our young hero Skywalker will discover that he has his own personal challenges to face, and against the far greater strength 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 present an interesting twist to the usual downtrodden situation: in order to help conquer the high-tech soldiers of the Imperial Forces, these scrappy little fighters harass and pester their foes to submission by sheer tenaciousness. 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 will win out in the end, though, with the Ewoks obviously representing the united Vietnamese front (both the North and the South) fighting for their territory — and on their turf.

(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

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 was this: had we heard Lord Vader right? 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 had 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 comfortably middle-aged). Interestingly, both men and women seem drawn to it, as if the seductiveness of the Force itself has 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 multi-purpose 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 creator-producer 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 saying, 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 (with direction by colleague Steven Spielberg), another popular action-adventure anthology.

Young George Lucas

Young George Lucas peering into a Panaflex camera

Mr. 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 geopolitical 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