‘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the Evil Emperor in the earlier version (Elaine Baker, with the cultured voice of British-born Clive Revill) has been replaced by Ian McDiarmid, who played the bug-eyed, pock-marked Emperor in Return of the Jedi and in the three subsequent prequels.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 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 by solely 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 manner).

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

He bids adieu to the Princess, goading her on with sarcastic asides and false deference to her authority (“Your Highnessness,” “Your Worship,” and so). She, on the other hand, is perturbed at his leaving in the middle of a revolt (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 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