“Luke, I am your father…” And with that, CINEMATIC HISTORY was made.
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, the second Star Wars feature to be released & the fifth in terms of internal chronology, premiered on May 21, 1980, kicking off the Summer movie slate that year. Like its predecessor, ‘Empire’ draws elements from several mythological stories & Old World religions. It also borrows ingredients from 1930′s film serials such as Flash Gordon, a childhood favorite of Lucas’, that similarly featured a city afloat in the sky. Set three years after Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, this film is bolder, brasher & more exacting in design & scale.
Frankly speaking, it’s sweeping story-arc does laps around A New Hope; puts it to bed, really. The opening sequence alone, assault on Hoth by Imperial Walkers, still triggers my draw to drop each & every time I have a viewing party. The sheer spectacle of it all…just brilliant; doesn’t get better than this.
Directed by Irvin Kershner, the screenplay, based on a story by George Lucas, was written by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan. Of the six main Star Wars films, Episode V is considered to be the most morally and emotionally ambiguous and the darkest episode of the Star Wars Trilogy.
Its rich & complex plot is as follows: The Galactic Empire, under the leadership of the villainous Lord Vader, is in obsessive pursuit of Luke Skywalker & the rest of the Rebel Alliance. While Vader hunts a small band of Skywalker’s posse across the galaxy, namely unlikely hero Han Solo, Princess Leia Organa, the Wookie copilot Chewbacca & two loyal Droids, young Skywalker studies the ‘Force’ under the tutelage of banished Jedi Master Yoda. But when Vader seizes Luke’s friends, the Rebel hero must decide whether to complete his training, becoming a full JEDI KNIGHT or confront Vader head-on, alongside the brutal truth hidden from him since birth.
Following a difficult production schedule & extreme on-location conditions, the completed Episode V became the most popular chapter in the Star Wars Saga & one of the most highly-rated films in history; and with good reason; it truly does have everything a fickle audience demands: grand adventure & spectacle with a cast that inhabits each role with fervor, a rousing love story & a climax that has every filmmaker out there trembling in their boots, thinking, how can I possibly top this? An EPIC TWIST, that not even the light-sabber dueling actors knew about until the final moment leading up to “roll camera” sounded. ‘Empire’ quite simply, is THE mythology of our time. A filmic heritage that will be passed down from generation to generation. A tale of Father & Son, entrapped by a star-scape of sheer chaos, each on a journey of redemption & hope.
It’s been said a film is only as good as the ANTAGONIST it employs, and boy do we get one here; with his towering stature, booming voice & twisted, mechanical inner-workings; Darth Vader is deservedly ranked as the third-greatest movie villain of all time in the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest heroes & villains. Furthermore, Wizard magazine selected the ending of The Empire Strikes Back as the greatest cliffhanger of all time.
The blockbuster’s ‘prize’ booty is staggering: At the 1981 Academy Awards, Empire won the Oscar for Best Sound, in addition to the Special Achievement Academy Award for Visual Effects; Oscar nominations for Best Art Direction, Set Decoration. The maestro, John Williams was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Music, Original Score. In addition, he was also awarded the BAFTA Film Award for his compositions: the Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music. This Epic Space Opera also received nominations for the BAFTA Awards for Best Sound and Best Production Design. Williams’ film score also received the Grammy Award and the Golden Globe Award for best original soundtrack; received four Saturn Awards, including those for Mark Hamill as Best Actor, Irvin Kershner for Best Director, Brian Johnson and Richard Edlund for Best Special Effects, & the film was also presented with the Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film; Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation & nominated for the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
When all is said & done, George Lucas took a number of risks with Empire, namely centering the story around a pint-sized, pea-green ‘Muppet’ that SHOULD have looked & sounded ridiculous; a disaster in the making; and yet was pulled off brilliantly by Frank Oz & Henson with regal elegance & a pinch of gravitas to boot, cementing Yoda as a cinema ICON for the ages.
On a final note, while revisiting the ill-executed Prequel Trilogy back-to-back late last week (the first 5 hours of which, were NEAR-CRINGE-WORTHY), I couldn’t help but think, what with a modest budget & puerile optical effects, such MAGIC Lucas & Co. administered, then gave to us on a silver platter more than thirty years ago. And for that, I thank he & his team of chimera-wizards for making my childhood, along with so many of ours, such a phenominal & wondrous time; a TIME that sadly, will never come again.
“Try not! Do, or do not, there is no try.” – Yoda’s pointed statement to young Skywalker. —-> Words to live by WORD.