Wednesday, June 10, 2015
Summer of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Directed by Irvin Kershner and screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett from a story by George Lucas, The Empire Strikes Back (Star Wars: Episode V) is the story where the Empire tries to find the small band of rebels who had destroyed their most powerful weapon as the group of rebels each go into different journeys where one of them would seek his destiny to become a Jedi. The second part of a trilogy about a civil war between an evil empire and a resistance group, the film plays into characters trying to evade the Empire as its evil leader is trying to pursue the young man who could destroy that empire. Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, David Prowse with the voice of James Earl Jones, the voice of Frank Oz, Billy Dee Williams, and Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi. The Empire Strikes Back is a riveting and intense film from Irvin Kershner.
Set three years after the events of the previous film, the film is a vengeance story of sorts from the point of view of its antagonists in the Imperial Empire led by Darth Vader (David Prowse with the voice of James Earl Jones) as he is trying to hunt down the group of rebels that had managed to defeat them in a big way. Most notably in Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) who has become a top pilot for the rebellion while having the abilities to become a Jedi where his journey would lead him to be trained under one of the Jedi’s great masters in Yoda (voice of Frank Oz). Meanwhile, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) tries to leave the rebellion in order to pay some long-standing debts to a criminal as he is chased by the Empire along with Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), his sidekick Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), and the protocol droid C-3P0 (Anthony Daniels). It’s a film that has a lot that is happening as it shows exactly how angry the Empire is in their pursuit to crush the rebellion. At the same time, it also plays into the sense of hope that the former Republic longs for in the hands of a young man who needs to learn the ways of the Force.
The film’s screenplay not only explores the complexity of what the Empire is trying to do in the aftermath of their major defeat but also into who is really running things where Vader is revealed to be under the orders of its leader in Emperor Palpatine (Elaine Baker with the voice of Clive Revill). While Darth Vader is still a very dangerous and cunning antagonist, the script allows to reveal much more into who he is as he’s not a man that is totally evil as he’s willing to give those who work for him second chances. Even in the film’s climax where he and Luke Skywalker have a battle with lightsabers where Vader offers Luke the chance to join him where it reveals an ambiguity into Vader. The character of Luke Skywalker also becomes more layered in the film but as someone who is more unsure about the ways of being a Jedi as he travels to the swampy planet of Dagobah to meet Yoda with the astromech droid R2-D2 (Kenny Baker). Upon learning who Yoda is and Yoda’s reluctance to train him because of Luke’s lack of patience.
Luke would go through a rigorous training as he would also learn about the dark side of the force where a vision he would have would become the catalyst for the film’s climax. A climax that would involve Han and Leia where their storyline involves the two finally realizing their attraction for one another after years of tension where they seek shelter in a friend of Han in Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) who is an ambassador in a planetary city known as Cloud City. Calrissian is a unique character who is someone that is loyal to Han but is forced to reveal that his city had been taken by the Empire as he becomes consumed with guilt into what Vader is doing. The climax at Cloud City wouldn’t just be a moment where many of its protagonists would come together but also would create a resolution which would bring more motivation to destroy the Empire.
Irvin Kershner’s direction maintains the vast tone of its predecessor by not just setting it into different worlds but also create something that is very dark as it relates to Darth Vader’s pursuit of Luke Skywalker. Shot partially on location in Norway with much of it shot in studios in London, the film has a very broader look in terms of how diverse the galaxy is. The film would begin in a snowy and icy planet where the rebels are in hiding where Luke’s encounter with a monster would play into his evolving powers with the Force. Kershner’s usage of wide shots not only plays into the ground battle between the rebels and the Empire but also in some medium shots and close-ups that add to the sense of suspense and drama. Even in the action where many of the scenes set in space such as the chase between the Star Destroyers and the Millennium Falcon through asteroid fields and such do play into the vast tone of the story.
There’s also some humor in the film as one of the running jokes involves the Millennium Falcon’s attempt to jump into hyperdrive where it is this great attempt at dark humor. The scenes set in the planet of Dagobah where there’s all of these creatures and such play into Luke Skywalker not just being out of his comfort zone but also in a land that is quite damp and desolate which is the last place he would expect to find someone like Yoda. Some of the visual effects that are used aren’t just miniatures and puppets but also in stop-motion animation for the battle scenes in Hoth as it adds a realism to the film. The film’s climax as this sky-based city known as Cloud City isn’t just one of the most chilling moments in the film but it would also feature a moment that is very shocking. Overall, Kershner creates a gripping and exhilarating film that explores a group of rebels trying to escape and defy an evil empire.
Cinematographer Peter Suschitzky does brilliant work with the film‘s cinematography with the damp look of the scenes set in Dagobah as well as the usage of orange lights for some of the exteriors in Cloud City as it creates something that is gorgeous as well as eerie. Editor Paul Hirsch, with additional work by George and Marcia Lucas, does amazing work with the editing with its usage of dissolves, transition wipes, and other stylish cuts to play into the action and suspense. Production designer Norman Reynolds, along with set decorator Michael Ford and art directors Leslie Dilley, Harry Lange, and Alan Tomkins, does fantastic work with the look of the rebel base at Hoth as well as the bridge inside the Star Destroyer Excelsior Class and the rooms inside Cloud City. Costume designer John Mollo does nice work with the clothes from the look of the Imperial uniforms as well as the clothes the main protagonists wear in their journey.
Makeup designer Stuart Freeborn does excellent work with the look of Emperor Palpatine as well as some of the alien creatures that appear in the film. Visual effects supervisors Richard Edlund, Brian Johnson, Dennis Muren, and Bruce Nicholson do phenomenal work with the visual effects from the look of the AT-AT Walkers with its usage of stop-motion animation to the design of the scenes in space. Sound designer Ben Burtt does superb work with the sound in not just the sound of the droids but also in the creatures and other aspects in the sound. The film’s music by John Williams is incredible for its bombastic orchestral score that includes some lush and soaring string arrangement pieces as well as some low-key orchestral moments to play into the drama.
The casting by Bob Edmiston, Irene Lamb, and Terry Liebling is marvelous as it features notable small roles from John Ratzenberger and Bruce Boa as a couple of rebel military leaders, Julian Glover as General Veers who leads the attack at Hoth, Michael Culver as Captain Needa who tries to capture the Millennium Falcon, John Morton as Luke’s gunner at Hoth, Michael Sheard as the Imperial Admiral Ozzel who would make a fatal mistake at Hoth that angers Vader, Kenneth Colley as Ozzel’s replacement Admiral Piett who would be the one to find the rebels at Hoth, Denis Lawson as rebel pilot Wedge, and Jeremy Bulloch, with the voice of Jason Wingreen, as the bounty hunter Boba Fett who is tasked to capture Han Solo for a major reward. Clive Revill is terrific as the voice of Emperor Palpatine with Elaine Baker as the character in physical form as it displays a figure that is truly evil.
Alec Guinness is superb as the late Obi-Wan Kenobi who appears as a spiritual guide of Luke through the Force while Frank Oz is fantastic as the voice of Yoda that is an alien figure who would teach Luke the ways of the Force and show him that nothing is impossible. Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker are excellent in their respective roles as C-3P0 and R2-D2 as the two droids who both endure separate adventures with Daniels being the comical protocol droid who complains about what is happening to him while Baker brings a more whimsical yet low-key approach to his role as he would play a crucial part for the film’s ending. David Prowse is great as Darth Vader as he maintains a dangerous presence with James Earl Jones providing the voice that would show glimpse of the humanity that makes Vader a very interesting antagonist. Peter Mayhew is amazing as Chewbacca as Han Solo’s Wookie sidekick who often brings some comical commentary to Han’s attempt to woo Leia while being the guy that everyone can count on.
Billy Dee Williams is brilliant as the smooth-talking Lando Calrissian as an ambassador of Cloud City who is an old friend of Han while being forced to work with the Empire over Han’s capture. Carrie Fisher is remarkable as Princess Leia Organa as a top rebel leader who copes with her feelings for Han while dealing with the chaos that is surrounding her as she tries to keep things calm. Harrison Ford is incredible as Han Solo where he brings in some charm and humility into his anti-hero character that is being chased by the Empire while dealing with his feelings for Leia. Finally, there’s Mark Hamill in a sensational performance as Luke Skywalker as he displays not just an immaturity and naiveté in his training as a Jedi but also a determination to prove himself to become a Jedi.
***The Following is Based on the 1997 Special Edition and its Subsequent Revised Editions***
The 1997 Special Edition and its subsequent revised versions of the film not only featured new visual effects and remastered sound design by Ben Burtt along with additional edits by T.M. Christopher. What George Lucas does in this edition aren’t a lot of new things as it’s only a few subtle changes with new effects for the scenes in Cloud City as well as a fully-realized look of the monster that would attack Luke early in the film. The one big change that is most evident in the film that would emerge in later editions is the Emperor Palpatine character as he would be played by Ian McDiarmid in a 2004 revised version as McDiarmid would play the character in Return of the Jedi and its prequels. Another change is in the character of Boba Fett as the 2004 revised version would feature a new voice by Temura Morrison who would play the role of Jango Fett in 2002’s Attack of the Clones and the many storm troopers in 2005’s Revenge of the Sith. While it is a different version than the original film, the revised versions is able to at least maintain some of the heart of the film’s original story and its dark tone.
***End of Special Edition/Revised Versions Tidbits***
The Empire Strikes Back is a magnificent film from Irvin Kershner. Armed with a great cast, sprawling visual effects, and a thrilling story that is dark as well as raising the stakes. It’s not just one of the best sci-fi adventure films ever made but also a standard into what blockbuster cinema is and more. Even as it’s revised editions don’t do much to deter some of the elements of the original films. In the end, The Empire Strikes Back is an incredible film from Irvin Kershner.
Star Wars Films: Star Wars - Return of the Jedi - The Phantom Menace - Attack of the Clones - Revenge of the Sith - The Force Awakens - (Episode VIII) - (Episode IX)
Related: Holiday Special - Caravan of Courage - The Battle for Endor - The Clone Wars - Fanboys - The People vs. George Lucas
Star Wars Anthology Films: Rogue One - (Untitled Han Solo Film) - (Untitled Star Wars Anthology Film)
George Lucas Films: (THX 1138) - (American Graffiti)
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