Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Star Wars - Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

In the previous post, I waxed disgustingly nostalgic about the original “Star Wars” film. Enough of that – and some retreating before getting to Episode V.

“Star Wars” retold (remember – it is historic – a long time ago) the story of a Rebellion seeking to overthrow the despotic rule of the evil Empire. There are two parallel plot lines, one involving the Rebel’s need to destroy the Death Star before it is unmercifully unleashed on the unconverted freedom fighters. The second is the development of the loyal friendship collectively binding Solo, Skywalker, Organa, the Wookie and the Droids. It is evident that this group will form the guiding “core” of the Rebellion in future episodes. Oddly, this band of misfits is quite complementary to one another – Skywalker possesses the inherent skills for Jedi mastery, yet lacks the confidence; Solo is the confident pirate that is a country unto himself, at least superficially; Organa is confident and bold, but exhibits a diplomacy that neither Skywalker nor Solo possess; Chewbacca is the gentle giant, easily scared, but quick to defend; the Droids possess an infinite quantity of artificial intelligence, yet possess a few human-like emotions.

The significant portion of “Star Wars” necessarily involves the immediate forging of an instructor-apprentice relationship between the veteran sage Obi-Wan Kenobi and Skywalker. After the murder of Uncle Owen and Aunt Berue, Luke begins Jedi training in earnest, and slowly begins to learn some of the truth about his father, Anakin. Ole Ben is careful to reveal only portions of the truth to Luke, mindful of the power of revenge and hate that would have inevitably bubbled to the surface had Luke understood that Anakin was “murdered” by Lord Vader.

This band of rebels rescues Princess Leia, with a sacrificial assist from Obi-Wan, and then retreats to Rebel headquarters for planning the decisive confrontation with the Imperial forces. The Death Star is vulnerable, but requires evasiveness and pin-point precision shooting (the wamp-rats in Beggars’ Canyon can attest). The battle scene is quite impressive, even today, as the undersized X-Wing fighters take flight against the Death Star. After one failed attempt, and the sacrifice of other rebel lives and ships and a significant assist from Solo (nuts to Vader), Skywalker successfully fires a missile into the bowels of the Death Star, setting off a chain reaction of destruction. Much of the Empire and its machinery evaporate in a matter of moments, an explosion unlike any other seen on film.

The Rebels celebrate – but the celebration is short-lived.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away

Episode V

The Empire Strikes Back

It is a dark time for the Rebellion. Although the Death Star has been destroyed, Imperial troops have driven the Rebel forces from their hidden base and pursued them across the galaxy.

Evading the dreadful Imperial Starfleet, a group of freedom fighters led by Luke Skywalker has established a new secret base on the remote Ice world of Hoth.

The evil lord Darth Vader, obsessed with finding young Skywalker, has dispatched thousands of remote probes into the far reaches of space....


The Rebels have fled to the snow and ice covered Hoth. Immediately, Lucas throws the viewer a curveball with the new environmental elements, providing a wonderful vehicle for introducing new exotic animals and machines. Luke and Han are tauntaun jockeys exploring the area around the base. Luke and his tauntaun get smacked around like a hackey-sack. The viewer is clued in to how Luke’s Jedi training has advanced – willing the impaled light saber from the ice to his hand, yet, Luke still requires the aid of Ole Ben to reach a familiar face – Han appearing from the snowy mist. Unfortunately, a second tauntaun must bear the ultimate sacrifice for Luke to survive. Ummmm – tauntaun squishin’s – bet it tastes like haggis.

Another significant battle ensues on Hoth, with the Imperial’s using gi-normous AT-AT’s to attack the Rebel base. The small, but evasive, Rebel ships are able to defeat the Imperial forces, and narrowly escape Hoth to fight another day.

Soon after, Luke departs for a new world – Dagoba – to meet his new mentor, the pointy eared Jedi Master Yoda. Meanwhile, Han, Leia, Chewie and the Droids seek safe harbor in Cloud City and Lando Calrissian. To preserve his own economic and political viability, Lando betrays Solo et al., turning them over to Vader. Despite not yet completing his Jedi training, Luke senses his friends are in trouble and flees Dagoba to rescue them and confront Vader.

Han is subjected to a carbon freeze, and then turned over to Boba Fett, the bounty hunter seeking a reward from Jaba the Hutt.

Luke confronts Darth Vader in a intense light saber battle, full of thrusts and perrys absent from the battle between Vader and Kenobi in "Star Wars". Vader corners Skywalker, and reveals the hidden truth about Anakin Skywalker and his conversion to the dark side of "the Force". Luke's faith in the Force is tested, but does not yield to Vader's offer to rule as Father and Son. Luke refuses and falls perilously seemingly to his demise.

All the while, Lando is seeking redemption, marshaling what remains of the core to the Millenium Falcon and out of Cloud City. In a foreshadow of what will be revealed in Episode VI, Leia senses Luke's struggle and demands that the MF is positioned to rescue her friend.

Thus, the scene is set for the final installment charting the adventures of Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie and the Droids.

This is my favorite film in the entire series. I was nearly 8 years old when this film debuted, and I had a greater appreciation and imagination, and was immersed in the entire mythology of the emerging series. The snow and ice of Hoth was an interesting contrast to the darkness of deep space that dominated "Star Wars" and indicates the ability of Lucas to appeal to all the senses in varying ways (one can argue endlessly whether that ability is now diminished). Introducing new life forms and machines obviously broadened the merchandising of the Star Wars brand, but also gave the viewer another context to view the battle between the Empire and the Rebels, removed from space and planted on terra firma (or firm firma, as the case was).

Yet, with all the light and vegetation abundant in "Empire", the film is admittedly the darkest of the original three films, and was the least successful because of this conscious plot line. Yet, the film is truthful to the human mind, generally, as each of us struggle with right and wrong, and the degrees of gray in between. Luke successfully navigated the landmines placed in front of him, but not without great struggle and doubt. And as a result, Skywalker began to understand Kenobi's warning that a Jedi must control his emotions and tame his fears.

With Vader still lurking, and the Empire still rebuilding, the Rebellion is regrouping to make another charge. But first, Luke must rescue his friend and partner in crime - Han Solo.

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