Age matters not: “The Empire Strikes Back” turns 40…

40 Years Ago, In A Theatre Not Too Far Away…

This May (no, not May the 4th…the 21st) marks the 40th anniversary release of one of my all-time favorite movies, “Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” (1980).  The film was primarily written by George Lucas and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (who would write many other Lucasfilm projects, as well as “The Big Chill” & “Grand Canyon”), with various other writers taking passes at it.  There was even an early draft by the late film noir screenwriter Leigh Brackett (“The Big Sleep,” “The Long Goodbye”), who died of cancer during production (sadly, much of her draft wasn’t usable, as she wasn’t quite getting the feel what Lucas wanted).  The film was directed by Irvin Kershner (“Eyes of Laura Mars” “Robocop 2”), a former mentor of Lucas’ (from his film school days at USC) who would make the actors and performances a priority over nearly everything else, giving the film both a more operatic yet character-driven feel than its predecessor, the original 1977 “Star Wars” (I’ve never quite warmed up to the Episode IV subtitle, “A New Hope,” which was only added to the original film during a post-“Empire” 1981 rerelease).

The Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, now called the American Cinematheque, where my 13-year old self first saw “Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” in the summer of 1980.   The theatre didn’t look quite this luxe in those days, but compared to the dinky cinemas in my town, it was extremely impressive.

I remember going to see “Empire” at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood (now called the American Cinematheque) in early summer of 1980  I didn’t see it opening day, and that presented a problem.  I was a 13-year old diehard Star Wars geek, but somehow I had to find the strength to wait until my dad went on vacation so that he could take the whole family on the long drive into Los Angeles to see it.  Well, between May 21st and June whatever-it-was, I simply couldn’t wait.  I spent my meager allowance money on author Donald F. Glut’s novelization of the film and I read it cover-to-cover over two days (much of it during the final days of school, when teachers weren’t looking).   A part of me is glad that I read the book first in order to scratch the itch, but a part of me also wishes that I’d waited.  I’m glad that I knew the mechanics of the plot, so that I wouldn’t be struggling to keep up (Star Wars movies were, for their time, considered very fast-paced).   Of course, I also learned of the movie’s “big” spoiler (which is a non-spoiler at this point).  I also realized the film had no real ending, per se.  I just sort of stops.  My then 13-year old self thought that perhaps the “real” ending wasn’t included in the novelization for spoiler reasons, but nope…this movie was going to be a genuine cliffhanger.  After waiting an hour and a half in line, we went in.  My family and I got seats up near the rear speakers of the massive, elegantly-appointed theater.

The lights dimmed, I took a few excited breaths, and waited…


I’m going to detail my own thoughts and feelings about select moments, scenes and characters of the movie (quite a few of them, in fact).  I may miss a few of your own personal favorite moments in trying to describe the overall gestalt of the film.  Apologizing in advance.

A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy, Far, Far Away…

First, there was that familiar blast of John Williams’ iconic music, which I half-expected, even back in 1980.  Having bought the original “Star Wars” soundtrack three years earlier (the gatefold LP album with John Berkey’s Death Star battle poster included).   I couldn’t imagine this movie opening without the crawl or Williams’ music, as both had already become iconic by this point.  This was also the very first time a Star Wars movie opened with a chapter and subtitle, in this case “Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back.”  Mind you, 1977’s original “Star Wars” wasn’t called “Episode IV: A New Hope” in those days… it was just “Star Wars.”  The “New Hope” chapter/subtitle was added during the movie’s rerelease in 1981, a year after “Empire” was released.  As a result, many of us were left scratching our heads in those days when we saw “Chapter V” on the screen.  Where were the other movies?  Why wasn’t this movie called Episode II?  That became clear much later on, of course, but not in the summer of 1980.  No matter.  The opening crawl, with its bright gold text, brought waves of cheers in the audience…
After seeing Imperial star destroyers ‘dispatch thousands of probes into the far reaches of space’ (per the opening text crawl), we see the snow planet of “Hoth” in a sweeping helicopter shot combined with Phil Tippet’s amazing stop-motion animated “tauntaun.”  Riding atop the beast is, of course, our hero, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).  Luke and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) are patrolling the frozen wasteland, setting up perimeter sensors to warn the Rebels of approaching Imperial forces.  Luke sees a “meteorite” hit the ground (which turns out to be an Imperial droid), and goes off to investigate.  Almost immediately, he’s mauled by a giant “wampa” ice creature (a horned Yeti) and dragged off.   As with the original movie, “Empire” begins with both immediate peril and action, but of a different sort.  Rather than an army of stormtroopers boarding a rebel starship, we have a lone hero attacked by a snow monster.  “Empire” would go down a very different path than its predecessor.
We follow Han’s tauntaun back to the new Rebel base (“Echo base”), where we see a large icy hangar full of ships, including the Millennium Falcon, which is being worked on by a none-too-pleased Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew).  We then follow Han deep into the Rebel command center.  The command center is instantly recognizable by officers hunched over consoles and a large, illuminated situation board, much like the Rebel base on Yavin IV from the previous movie.  There’s even another protocol droid, like C3PO (as we saw aboard the Tantive IV in the first movie), which gives the movie a very subtle visual continuity with its predecessor.  This attention to minor details adds greatly to the tactile reality of this universe (seeing reused technology, ships, droids, etc).  Like 1977’s “Star Wars,” everything in this frozen base looks reused, repurposed, and real.  There are even numerous shots of base staff members walking around carrying boxes and heavy equipment, as if they’re still setting up the place (just as Luke and Han were seen setting up perimeter sensors earlier).  Director Irvin Kershner, working closely with George Lucas, does a seamless job of maintaining overall visual continuity with the previous film’s ‘lived-in’ universe.
Wanted man and friend of the Rebel Alliance, Captain Han Solo (Ford), makes his final report to the base’s General.  He’s leaving, because Jabba the Hutt has put a price on his head.  This is a nice continuity carryover from “Star Wars” that a lesser sequel might’ve just as easily ignored.  Ford’s Han Solo is allowed much more dimension in this film, as are all of the characters, who evolve beyond their original two-dimensional archetypes.  Han is no longer just a rogue space smuggler; he’s thrown in with the good guys, but his past has caught up with him.  Dodging increasing threats from Jabba’s bounty hunters, Han has to leave.  He is genuinely regretful when he tells Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), “Well your highness, I guess this is it.”   Afraid to show vulnerability, Leia coldly rebuffs his heartfelt goodbye with “That’s right.”  Angered at her chilliness, Han retorts with “Well, don’t get all mushy on me.  So long, princess!”  The character interactions of this film positively crackle with romance and heart.  As much as I loved the original “Star Wars”, “Empire” would elevate these same beloved characters to operatic levels.
In the first of several scenes that have a Tracy/Hepburn, Bogart/Becall vibe to them, Han tries to get Leia to confess “her true feelings” for him.  Leia’s growing attraction to Han is so obvious now that it begins to crack through her practiced, hardened exterior (this is the same young leader who lost her entire home planet in the previous movie, so her caution against deeper relationships is understandable).  They carry their argument out of the command center, even as busy personnel pass them in the cramped, icy corridors.  Leia, unconvincingly denying her attraction to Solo, says, “I’d just as soon kiss a wookiee,” to which Solo angrily retorts, “I can arrange that!”   It’s a scene right out of a 1940s noir romance, much as the original film riffed on late 1930s Saturday afternoon matinee serials, such as “Flash Gordon” and “Buck Rogers.”   Lucas and company clearly realized that their audience was growing up, and actor-friendly director Kershner was just the man to bring more romance into the mix, without too much ‘mushy stuff’ that might put off younger kids.
When asked by C3PO (Anthony Daniels) if he knows where “Master Luke” might be, Han realizes that his young friend hasn’t checked in.  Han temporarily shelves his plans to leave, conferring with base personnel before realizing Luke may be in trouble, as night approaches Hoth (making the already frozen planet even more deadly, hence its use as a ’secret’ base).  Much as he rescued Luke during the battle of the Death Star,  Han is determined to save him once again, but with none of the prior reservations that we saw in the first film.  Mounting his ride, Han is warned “your tauntaun will freeze before it reaches the first marker,” to which he grabs the beast’s reigns and barks, “Then I’ll see you in hell!”
Major growth in the character of Luke Skywalker (Hamill) during the scene in the wampa ice beast’s lair.  Luke is hanging upside down, his feet somehow encased in the lair’s icy ceiling.  The wampa (largely unseen in the original version that I saw) is approaching from the other side of the cave.  Luke, looking around this icy would-be meat locker, notices his lightsaber laying a couple of meters beyond his grasp.  We now see Luke’s largely untapped Force power beginning to manifest into telekinesis.  Rolling his eyes into his head, Luke calmly reaches for his Jedi weapon…which tremors, shakes…and then leaps right into his open hand.  Luke quickly ignites it, instantly severing the approaching wampa’s arm.  This is both a callback to the first film (when Obi Wan Kenobi severed a nasty cantina patron’s arm) as well as a bit of foreshadowing to Luke getting his own hand lopped by none other than Darth Vader later on.   Star Wars movies are all about those severed limbs…
As in the previous movie, Obi Wan Kenobi (Sir Alec Guinness) reaches out to Luke from the afterlife, this time as a visible “force ghost” (as they are called these days in fandom).   Luke is battered from the wampa’s attack and freezing to death from the encroaching Hoth night, but the only thing Obi Wan offers his former pupil is “You will go to the Dagobah system.  There you will learn from Yoda, the Jedi Master who instructed me.”   With that bit of cryptic ‘help’, Kenobi vanishes, replaced by the sight of Solo on his tauntaun, riding to the rescue.  This scene marks the second time Solo has saved Luke’s life in the Star Wars trilogy.  The greedy mercenary of the previous film is completely gone now; Han is a bonafide hero, no matter his shady past.  As Han’s tauntaun succumbs to the cold, he uses Luke’s lightsaber (for the first and only time) to split open the creature’s still-warm carcass and stuff his weakened friend inside of it for warmth, before he starts building an emergency shelter.  Once again, Ford’s Han gets the best line as he guts the tauntaun; “I thought they smelled bad…on the outside.”  
Leia , C3PO, R2D2 (Kenny Baker) and Chewbacca are in the hangar waiting for Han to return with Luke, unaware of their status.  Night is falling fast, and it’s getting simply too cold to leave the hangar door open.  Major Derlin (a pre-“Cheers” John Ratzenberger) insists to Leia that “the shield doors must be closed.”  Reluctantly, she agrees.  Once again, this scene reinforces the natures of the heroes in subtle ways; C3PO tries to be comforting (as a protocol droid would do by default), R2 calculates the odds of survival (as a robot mechanic might), and Leia, as leader, has to make the tough call which might very well condemn both Luke and Han to death.
Following the loud, metallic clanging of the closing shield doors, Chewbacca steals the scene with an agonizing cry for his friends.  Later on, with his head leaning against the landing strut of the Millennium Falcon, he lets out a pitiful whimper of despair.  That the character can elicit so much emotion is a tribute both to the remarkable physical performance of the late Peter Mayhew as well as the beautifully organic sound design of Ben Burtt, who made Chewbacca’s verbalizations from sounds elicited by bears, walruses, and other creatures.  When Chewbacca lets out that agonized wail, it is a genuine performance, not just a sound and costume effect.   The moment works only when all of those elements are combined.  Star Wars is filled with characters who work as separate pieces combined into whole beings through physical acting, voiceovers, sound effects, costumes (Darth Vader, the droids, Chewbacca, etc).  Like all of the characters of the original Star Wars trilogy, even a being like Chewbacca is elevated to the next level in this film.
Early the following morning, a search party of snowspeeders finds Han and Luke, immediately returning them to Echo base.  As Han, Leia, Chewbacca and C3PO watch from outside the medical bay, the injured Luke, surrounded by medical droids, is submerged into a ‘bacta tank’ to accelerate healing of his wounds (the ‘injuries’ to Luke’s face also serve to subtly explain away Hamill’s slightly different look, following a devastating car accident in early 1977).  The scene of Luke’s rejuvenation in the tank is done entirely without dialogue.  When I saw the film, I had no idea what a ‘bacta tank’ did exactly, nor did I care, but even my 13-year old self knew exactly what was happening.  So much information of the Star Wars movies is communicated entirely through visuals, and after a while, the audience begins to intuitively understand the visual language of this universe.
Another critical advancement for the characters comes in the following scene in the medical bay, as Chewie, the droids, Han and Leia check in on a recovering Luke.  As with any good cinematic/television hospital ‘visiting hours’ scene, the moment is as much about the visitors as the one being visited.   Leia and Han continue their romantic taunting/bickering in front of Luke (“I just think you can’t bear to let a gorgeous guy like me out of yer sight,” “I don’t know where you get your delusions, laser-brain”), as well as the droids and Chewbacca (also the first time we hear a Wookiee laugh).  The scene is punctuated by a moment that, thanks to a bit of retconning in the next film, now feels contextually creepy.  As Han’s teasing of Leia escalates, she grabs Luke’s face and plants a big wet one right on his lips!  Luke plays along, putting his hands behind his head and smugly grinning.  One has to remember that no one knew (apparently not even George Lucas, according to late producer Gary Kurtz) that Luke and Leia were going to be twin siblings.  At this point in the story, Luke and Leia were still a potential love connection in the eyes of the audience, despite her obvious attraction for the roguish Han.  “Return of the Jedi” came along three years later and made this once humorous, flirtatious scene more disturbing than anything else.  A real shame.  I still think there’s a “Return of the Jedi” in some alternate universe where a more mature Jedi Luke simply realizes that Leia loves Han and graciously stands aside to let nature take its course.
Following the destruction of a spidery, snooping Imperial probe droid outside of Echo base, the Rebels realize the Empire knows of their location and they prepare for the inevitable.  Out in space, we see a fleet of massive Imperial star destroyers… as they’re slowly being overshadowed by something even bigger.  Soon, we see the source of the massive shadow, as a freakishly huge super star destroyer fills the screen.  This insanely-scaled vessel is Darth Vader’s new ride, and it’s a monster.  Despite the ship’s dizzying size, we don’t see much of its interior, save for a main bridge, Vader’s private meditation chamber, and a holographic conference chamber.  Nevertheless, the super star destroyer exterior reinforces the sheer terrifying might of the Empire (even minus a Death Star).  This scene also marks the first time we hear John Williams’ darkly bombastic, oppressive “Imperial march” in the Star Wars universe.  At the Egyptian’s 70mm screening back in 1980, the scale of this scene, as well as the Dolby rumbling of the starships, was even more impressive (this was the same theater where I’d seen “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” three years earlier).
The Imperial fleet emerges from hyperspace over Hoth, as Darth Vader (David Prowse/voice of James Earl Jones) realizes that “the rebels are alerted to our presence.  Admiral Ozzel came out of light speed too close to the system.”  Vader calls Ozzel (Michael Sheard), and after getting his image on the view screen outside of his meditation chamber, he remotely force-chokes the admiral to death in front of his men, including his soon-to-be successor, newly minted Admiral Piett (Kenneth Colley).  This is another Star Wars first… a remote force-choke.  This scene serves to underscore Vader’s obsessive pursuit of Luke Skywalker, with the Sith Lord coming off as even more ruthless than previously seen.  While Vader was certainly a very memorable villain in the previous movie, he was seen as little more than a henchman to Governor Tarkin; in fact, Vader only had about 8 minutes of screen time.  But “Empire” puts Vader firmly in the driver’s seat of the story, with the Emperor watching only from the sidelines.
Vader orders a ground assault on the Rebel base, and what follows (less than a half hour into the film) is the kind of large action set piece typically reserved for an action movie’s climax; a herd of all-terrain armored-transports (AT-AT walkers) engage a squadron of Rebel snowspeeders.  Once again, Phil Tippet, Dennis Muren and the other wizards at Industrial Light and Magic pull off a dizzyingly choreographed battle that is even more riveting and technically well-executed than the Death Star assault of the first film.  Speeders weave through the legs of the Empire’s mighty machines and dodging laser blasts.  It’s a battle that defies expectations as, ultimately, our heroes don’t win the day.   Hey, they didn’t call it “The Empire Strikes Back” for nothing…
Despite the Rebellion being forced to evacuate Echo base as the Empire (eventually) destroys their power station, small victories are won against the Empire; the base’s ion cannon gets off a few massive EMP shots against the orbiting star destroying, temporarily crippling their power systems long enough for evacuating rebel transports to escape into deep space.   There is also the comical David vs. Goliath moment as Luke and his copilot Dax use their snowspeeder’s tow cables to tangle the legs of the giant walker and trip up the machine.  Lasers are fired into the AT-AT’s vulnerable points and it’s destroyed.  Soon after, Luke is shot down by another walker, and his copilot Dax is killed.  Escaping his downed craft, Luke uses his own magnetic harpoon and pulley cable to zipline his way up to the underbelly of an AT-AT.  Using his lightsaber, he cuts open an access panel and tosses a grenade into ‘the belly of the beast.’   He then detaches his harpoon and falls into the snow, watching the monstrous walker explode from within and collapse to the ground.  While our heroes are still forced to retreat, it’s an honorable loss.  This is one of the great lessons of “The Empire Strikes Back”; a smart and strategic retreat can still be a victory.
Our heroes our divided following the evacuation from Echo base.  With most of their evacuation transports already launched into deep space, Leia and C3PO are forced to flee with Han Solo aboard the Millennium Falcon, which is still in need of some repairs.  With the romantic friction between Han and Leia taking a temporary backseat to survival, the ship flies right into a fleet of orbiting Imperial star destroyers, as Han does some wicked maneuvering to escape the massive vessels and their TIE fighters.  One of the more memorable moments in the pursuit comes as Han flies dangerously close between two rapidly closing star destroyers, causing a near-collision between the behemoth warships.  As we saw on Hoth with the AT-ATs, the Empire’s deliberately intimidating, elephantine forces are sometimes at a disadvantage against the Rebellion’s zippier, more resourceful approach.  The relatively small, shaking confines of the Falcon’s cockpit set also serves to underscore our heroes’ vulnerability.   Things are made even worse when Solo tries to jump the ship into light-speed (“Oh yeah?  Watch this…”), only to hear the ship’s engines comically winding down and conking out.  Once again, Ben Burtt’s sound effects perfectly punctuate this aural symphony.
With the Falcon’s hyperdrive down and the TIE fighters still in close pursuit, Han is forced to take his malfunctioning ship into a dangerously dense asteroid field in a desperate attempt to shake the Imperial forces.  Much like the AT-AT battle on Hoth, this is another sequence where the overall quality of late-1970s visual effects took a massive leap forward.  The Falcon and TIE fighters perform an incredible aerial dance through hundreds of bits of rocky cosmic debris, with a few TIE fighters smashing against asteroids.  Temporarily eluding pursuit, the Falcon eventually finds ‘safe’ harbor within a deep asteroid crater on “one of the big ones.”   J.W. Rinzler’s amazing book, “The Making of The Empire Strikes Back” (2010) chronicles the meticulous shooting of his sequence, which required many separate strips of film to be repeatedly run though an optical printer (over many hours) just for a few seconds of onscreen action.  Some of the larger asteroids were matte paintings (done by Michael Pangrazio), and many more were physical models (including potatoes), floated on animation stands and carefully recorded by computerized motion-control cameras.  With computer-generated imagery (CGI) being the new standard for most visual effects, reading about the painstaking creation of this phenomenal sequence is like reading about late 19th century automatous dolls, zoetropes, or some other ‘lost art’ rarely practiced these days.  Even today, the asteroid chase sequence has a tactility largely missing from most modern CGI space sequences.  The individual elements of this sequence are mostly physical objects in three-dimensional space, not just pixels on a 4K computer screen.
Meanwhile, Luke Skywalker is in his X-wing fighter, where he and R2-D2 splashdown in a murky swamp on the bog planet of Dagobah.  This is the world where Luke was told he would find the Jedi Master Yoda, who would continue his training. Setting up camp, Luke plugs R2 in for a charge, and surveys this foggy, mysterious surroundings, adding, “There’s something familiar about this place. I dunno, I feel like–“   “Feel like what?” asks an unseen observer.  Spinning around with his blaster drawn, Luke confronts a green, gnomish creature with long pointed ears.   The creature seems to delight in mischief, sorely testing the few remaining shreds of Luke’s patience.  Reluctantly, Luke accepts the imp’s offer of help to find the “great warrior” Yoda…
The Falcon is stopped for repairs inside the asteroid crater, with Leia repairing a complex piece of machinery deep within the ship as Han walks in and gently tries to help her turn a stubborn handle.  She angrily shirks him off.  Taking a page right out of Bogart’s book, Han lays on his roguish charm super-thick, noticing that her hands are trembling.  He tells her that she likes him because he’s a “scoundrel” (her word).  She unconvincingly counters, “I happen to like nice men.”  He quietly nods, “I’m nice men.”  Before she can fully answer, they’re locked in a passionate kiss, which, of course, an unwitting C3PO walks in on and utterly ruins.  The flustered Princess Leia runs off.   This scene is romantic perfection; probably the last thing one expected to see in a Star Wars sequel in 1980, which is yet another way “Empire” smartly and purposefully defied expectations (unlike 2017’s “The Last Jedi” which defied expectations just to defy them).   Once again, Lucas and Kershner really knew their target audience; kids like my then-13 year old self, who were feeling those first pesky hormonal stirrings…
The scene in Yoda’s hut was one of the reasons I regretted reading the novelization first; I would’ve loved to have been as surprised as other audience members when they learned that the mischievous imp is, in fact, the Jedi Master…and that Yoda has been testing Luke since he splashed down in the swamp. Luke has failed Yoda’s tests miserably, returning offers of help with anger and impatience.  It’s a startling lesson in prejudice, as Luke erroneously assumed this “Jedi Master” would be a heroic-looking, Shaolin warrior-monk (“Wars not make one great,” as Yoda observed earlier).  Remember, audiences in 1980 had never seen “Yoda” before.  I  knew of Yoda from the novelization, but I have to admit, I was a little surprised to hear him sounding a teensy bit like Fozzie Bear from “Sesame Street.”  But what amazed me most about this new character was how lifelike the puppet was; his eyes were deep and expressive, his lips would curl, and his claw-like fingers were very articulate.  Even the look on Yoda’s face dramatically changes the moment his true identity is revealed (“I cannot teach him…the boy has no patience”).  The performance is nothing short of astonishing; his features soften, his eyes narrow… he looks instantly wiser.  Frank Oz’ masterful puppetry and vocalizations created a fully realized being every bit as real as Sir Alec Guinness’ Obi Wan Kenobi in the previous film (for which Guinness was rightfully nominated for an Oscar).  It was also an interesting choice to have Yoda speak with an anastrophe cadence that made him sound like a being from a different era.  Very fitting, as he is one of the last surviving remnants of “the Old Republic”…
A short but significant scene as newly promoted Admiral Piett (following the force-choking death of his superior, Ozzel) makes the nearly fatal mistake of walking in on Darth Vader, just as his helmet is being placed back upon his briefly exposed head.  We catch a fleeting glimpse of a grotesquely scarred and discolored scalp that speaks to his violent past.
The interruption of Vader’s privacy was indeed necessary, as we learn the Emperor himself is demanding to make contact with him.  We see Vader move into an immense holographic imaging chamber, where a ghostlike, larger-than-life image of the Emperor is projected before him.  Uncharacteristically humbled, Vader is down on one knee before his “master.”  They speak of converting their “new enemy” Luke Skywalker to the dark side of the Force, a plan suggested by Vader as an alternative to killing the boy.   As you can see in the image above, this scene was filmed three years before actor Ian McDiarmid would be cast as Emperor Palpatine in 1983’s “Return of the Jedi,” (the actor would later reprise the role in the Star Wars prequel trilogy and 2019’s “The Rise of Skywalker”).  In the original 1980 version of “Empire” (before the 2004 Special Edition DVD),  the Emperor was achieved using an alignment of a chimpanzee’s eyes, a woman’s mouth, and the voice of actor Clive Revill (1973’s “Legend of Hell House”).  The disparate elements were filmed in front of a black background and seamlessly combined.  The character was also referred to simply as “the Emperor,” though the name Palpatine was used in the 1976 novelization of the first “Star Wars” movie (ghost-written by longtime sci-fi novelist Alan Dean Foster).  I must admit, I liked the creepy visual of this combination image, but Revill’s vocal performance lacks the gleefully sinister quality of McDiarmid, who instantly made the role his own.
In the asteroid cavern, Leia is keeping watch as Chewbacca and Han continue repairs to the ship. A flying bat-like creature attaches to a window, briefly scaring the bejeezus out of Leia, who rushes to tell Han, “There’s something out there!”  Donning breathing gear they go outside to investigate (even as a 13 year old kid I wondered why they didn’t need spacesuits).  In the moist, soft-floored cave, Han discovers that the flying ‘mynock’ are attaching themselves to the ship, possibly chewing on the power cables.  Han takes out his blaster and fires at the winged nuisances.  As one of his bolts hits a cave wall, the entire cave begins to tremor.  Before long, Han realizes they’re inside of a giant living creature.  Leia and Chewbacca rush aboard, just as Han powers up the ship and takes off.  Using the Falcon’s slender profile, Han barely manages to slip through the creature’s slowly closing jaws just in time.  The head of the giant ‘space slug’ is then seen briefly exiting the crater as it makes one final, futile lunge at the fleeing spaceship.  The slug’s head was achieved using a low-tech hand puppet that works perfectly.   Yes, it’s an utterly ridiculous scene that feels more Baron Munchausen than Star Wars, but over the years I’ve come to appreciate both its simplicity and audacity.
Out of the pan and into the fire, as the Falcon flees the asteroid field into the waiting forces of the Imperial starfleet.  Once again, Han tries to use the hyperdrive, but it fails.  In a wildly desperate act (very similar to his screaming after the Death Star stormtroopers in the previous movie), Han turns the Falcon around and makes a kamikaze run directly into the conning tower of one of the star destroyers.  The gambit pays off, as the Falcon is too close for the destroyer’s weapons to get a fix on the small, fast-moving target.  Suddenly, the Falcon disappears from sight, even from sensors. In a very unorthodox tactic, Han has attached the Falcon to the back of the destroyer’s conning tower… a radar blind spot (this I learned from the novelization before I saw the film).  The destroyer’s Captain Needa (Michael Culver) is at a loss to explain their prey’s disappearance, but bravely (and foolishly) agrees to “apologize personally to Lord Vader”
“Apology accepted, Captain Needa.”   That went as predicted.
On Dagobah, Luke is continuing his training with Yoda, doing a series of gravity-defying superhuman athletic moves, with the diminutive Jedi master (literally) on his back the entire time.  Yoda urges Luke to free himself from burdensome questions, and open himself to the positive energy of the Force.  Yoda also cautions the impatient young Skywalker to beware of the temptation of the “quicker, easier, more seductive” dark side of the Force.  As a nearly exhausted Luke stops for the day, he feels something something nearby is not right…
A nearby cave is “strong with the dark side of the Force… a domain of evil” where Luke must go to face his fears.  Strapping on his blaster holster and lightsaber, Yoda cautions, “Your weapons!  You will not need them.”  But Luke, being young and headstrong, ignores the sage advice.  Once in the cave, he encounters a dreamlike vision of Darth Vader.  Drawing his own lightsaber, Luke engages in a slow-motion duel with Vader, eventually beheading the armored Sith Lord.  The severed head rolls on the ground, coming to a stop, and splitting open to reveal Luke’s own face staring up at him (!).  This is a profound moment, and seeing the severed head of himself carries multiple meanings that are interpretable however one wishes.  Is Luke his own worst enemy when he acts impulsively?  Will he succumb to the Dark Side?   Is there more to his own story than he’s been told?
Before ‘floating away’ from the Imperial fleet with a dumping of space garbage (once again, using refuse for refuge…like the compactor scene in the first film), Han sets a course for a ‘tabanna’ gas mine on the planet Bespin.  Once there, Han hopes to reconnect with an old friend, Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams).  Han tells Leia that his old pal Lando is “a gambler, card-player, scoundrel…you’d like him.”  Unaware that Vader has contracted multiple bounty hunters to locate the Millennium Falcon, Solo and the others find themselves facing a hostile greeting in the skies over “Cloud City”, a beautiful hovering metropolis high in the atmosphere of the gas giant planet Bespin.  After repeating his identity to a security patrol, the Falcon is finally granted permission to land.   Seeing the Falcon approaching the dawn-lit clouds over Bespin still takes my breath away a bit…even after 40 years and countless viewings.
The Falcon has landed.  Han, Leia, Chewbacca and C3PO disembark after being escorted to landing platform 327 (the same number docking bay the Falcon was pulled into at the Death Star a few years earlier…not a good sign).  We meet the caped, mustached Lando, who seems to regard Han with some bitterness.  As Lando approaches, he quickly raises his fists…and then grabs Han in a laughing bear hug (!).  Lando asks what Han is doing in the neighborhood.  Han tells him he needs repairs, to which Lando asks, “What have you done to my ship?”  Han retorts, “Your ship? Hey, you lost her to me fair and square.”  The tension is broke as the ‘old friends’ are reunited.  The music is joyful as Lando takes the group on a walk through his ‘city in the clouds.’   Han and Lando laugh over old times as they continue their tour.  C3PO is distracted by the sight of another protocol droid like himself and is rudely rebuffed.  Hearing an R2 unit, C3PO then wanders into a small control room where an angered offscreen voice demands, “Who are you?” before blasting C3PO into pieces. Hearing the faint sound of the blaster, Chewbacca looks back in C3PO’s direction…before rejoining the others.   Once again, C3PO ‘going to (literal) pieces’ is another recurring joke throughout the Star Wars film, recalling the 1977 film where he lost an arm on Tatooine, as well as the prequels where he was seen in various stages of completion.
Back on Dagobah, Luke, still continuing his training with Yoda, is now levitating various objects simultaneously with the Force while doing a single handstand (with Yoda perched on his foot, no less!).   Luke’s deep concentration is shattered when he hears a sloshing sound and notices his floating X-wing fighter submerging completely into the swamp.  The objects fall, including Yoda and R2.  Looking at the last bubbles of his submerged ride, Luke exclaims, “We’ll never get it out now!”  A disappointed Yoda counters, “So certain are you? Always with you it cannot be done!”  Shaming Luke in attempting to levitate his sunken X-wing fighter out of the swamp,  Luke offers to try.  Yoda admonishes, “Try not.  Do.  Or do not.  There is no try.”  Luke slowly raises his hand, and the fighter begins to move a bit…before sinking back into the murky swamp.  Out of breath, Luke turns to Yoda and admits defeat, “I can’t, it’s too big.”  Yoda then delivers an elegant speech on the nature of the Force: “Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship.”   So help me, Yoda’s speechifying is second only to that of Star Trek’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard.
With a dispirited Luke stepping away to sulk, Yoda has his “hold my beer” moment, as he shows Luke how it’s done. Taking a deep breath, the old Jedi reaches his clawed hand in the direction of the swamp.  Bubbles break the surface, and the fightership emergences, covered in thick moss all over its hull.  Luke turns around and is about to say something (an apology?) but is struck mute by the awesome sight of his ship lifting fully from the water and gracefully, soundlessly coming to rest on dry land.  Touching the nose of his formerly submerged ship to make sure it’s real, the stunned Luke turns to Yoda and says, “I don’t…I don’t believe it.”  To which Yoda nods and says, “That is why you fail.” 
Chewbacca, looking for C3PO, finds the droid’s remains in a Cloud City blast furnace and manages to take the pieces from the rapacious hands of the Ugnaughts (small creatures who work maintenance within Cloud City).  Chewbacca brings the pieces back to Han and Leia’s luxurious guest suite, where they’re all met by Lando who apologizes for intruding.  Flirting with Leia (who doesn’t trust the smooth city administrator), Lando offers to take them all for “a little refreshment.”  On their way to dinner, Han asks Lando how he’s kept their city and mining operation off of the Empire’s radar.  Arriving at the banquet hall, Lando answers Han’s question by opening the door… Darth Vader is there waiting for them, along with Jabba the Hutt’s hired bounty hunter Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch, voiced by Jason Wingreen).  Han instinctively fires his blaster at Vader, but the Sith Lord effortlessly uses the Force to yank the pistol from his hand.  “We would be honored if you would join us,” the Dark Lord smugly proclaims.  Feeling guilty for his betrayal of Han and Leia, Lando apologizes, “I had no choice, they arrived right before you did.  I’m sorry.”  Han bitterly responds, “I’m sorry too.”   It comes as little surprise that the too-smooth Lando would betray the Rebels, because the character is in a similar place that Han was in the first film…that cusp between selfishness and selflessness.   Lando is a morally shady man who is about to discover his own dormant heroism.
Vader tortures the captive Han (in an attempt to psychically draw out Luke) while Lando and Boba Fett wait outside the chamber.  Lando is deeply disturbed by what’s he’s hearing, while the Mandalorian Boba Fett is only interesting in securing his bounty and nothing else.  One wonders if Lando looks at Fett’s impassive mask and sees a reflection of his own soulless deeds coming back to haunt him.
Vader’s psychic taunting of Luke succeeds, as Luke prepares to leave Dagobah and help his friends at Cloud City.  Yoda and even the force-ghost of Obi Wan Kenobi try desperately to prevent him from leaving but are unsuccessful.  Obi Wan tells Luke, “It is you and your abilities the Emperor wants.  That is why your friends are made to suffer.”  Luke promises them he will return to Dagobah and complete his training.  As his X-wing flies off into the stars, Yoda shakes his head, telling Obi Wan, “Told you I did.  Reckless is he.  Now, matters are worse.”  A resigned Obi Wan says, “That boy is our last hope.”   Yoda cryptically replies, “No…there is another.”   According to Lucas, the ‘other’ was always intended to be Luke’s twin sister, Leia. According to the late producer Gary Kurtz and J.W. Rinzler’s aforementioned book, “The Making of The Empire Strikes Back,” the ‘other’ was going to be another Jedi knight elsewhere in the galaxy.  Without judgment, I’m inclined to believe the latter position, as it makes Leia and Luke’s big wet kiss earlier a lot less creepy.
Held in a security cell at Cloud City, Chewbacca is being tortured by loud noises which abruptly stop.  Feeling a moment of relief, Chewbaccas wanders over to the pile of C3PO parts and begins putting the protocol droid back together.  Attaching the head to the shoulders, he flips the switch and hears the last moments of C3PO’s existence, “Stormtroopers?  Here?  I must warn the others! Oh no!  I’ve been shot!”  After awhile Chewbacca begins fine-tuning the droid’s eyes and other systems, and in a welcome bit of comic relief, Chewbacca chuckles as he realizes C3PO’s head is on backwards.  When the protocol droid begins complaining, Chewbacca casually flips him off, preferring the silence.  Moments later, they’re joined by Leia and eventually an exhausted Han, who has been electronically tortured within an inch of his life: “I feel terrible,” is all he can muster.  Soon Lando appears with two of his guards, to tell them that Han is to be turned over to Boba Fett and Leia and Chewie will have to remain on Cloud City.   Han uses what little strength he has to deck Lando across the chops.  Lando allows it, feeling perhaps that it was deserved on his part…
Deep in the underbelly of Cloud City, like hell to the upper city’s heaven, Han, Leia, Chewbacca and the remains of C3PO are escorted to a steaming carbon freezing chamber, where Han is to be encased in solid carbonite and given to Jabba the Hutt as payment.  Han is allowed a final farewell to his friends, telling an enraged Chewbacca to save his strength and take care of the Princess.  Turning to Leia, they kiss one final time as the music swells.  Pulled apart by the stormtroopers, Leia says, without hesitation, “I love you!” Ford delivers that famous (ad-libbed) line, “I know.”   The humor punctuating the heavy drama is both in character and fitting; it never comes off as glib or inappropriate.  The performances, combined with the beautiful warm-to-cool lighting of cinematographer Peter Suschitzky (“Dead Ringers” “Naked Lunch”) creates cinematic perfection.  According to Rinzler’s book however, shooting the scene was a nightmare; the lead actors didn’t get along particularly well (you’d never guess from the caliber of their performances), the smoke on the set was noxious, and the heat of the lighting was deeply unpleasant.  Whatever it cost in both money and nerves, I’d still insist that it was worth it.
With a hibernating Solo now encased in a slab for transport to Jabba’s palace (see: “Return of the Jedi”), the carbon freezing pit is reset for the arrival of Luke Skywalker.  Vader hopes he can lure Skywalker into the pit, freeze him and take him to the Emperor for conversion to the dark side.  Han Solo’s fate seemed up in the air.  Back in 1980, I assumed Harrison Ford would want to return for the next Star Wars movie, but that assumption was by no means assured.  In the 1980s, Ford was a rapidly rising star, with starring roles in 1981’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (also produced by Lucas and written by Lawrence Kasdan) as well as the 1982 cult classic “Blade Runner”, 1985’s “Witness” and many others.  It didn’t help that there were rumors Ford was asking for his character to be killed off (a wish that was finally granted in 2015’s “The Force Awakens”).
On cue, Luke arrives at Cloud City, where his futile attempt to rescue his friends sees him locked in the carbon freezing chamber.  The room is darkened… until the warm orange lights come up, and Vader’s breathing is heard.  Lightsabers ignite.  The duel begins.   I know there are lightsaber battles in other Star Wars films that have far more dazzling choreography (“The Phantom Menace” comes to mind), but none of them ever again had the heart or impact of Luke facing Vader in Cloud City.   There is no music for much of the early battle either, with the sabers’ humming creating an odd music of their own.  Sound designer Ben Burtt and composer John Williams both contribute invaluably to the aural Star Wars universe, and part of their success is the sound mixing team’s intuitive understanding of when to mix them and when to leave them each some space.
Boba Fett takes Solo’s slab aboard his oddly designed ship, Slave One; a gorgeous combination of miniature and matte painting.  I remember there was a lot of buzz about Boba Fett the year before the movie’s release.  Introduced as a cartoon character in the infamous 1978 “Star Wars Holiday Special” (a CBS TV abomination that took a wicked piss in the franchise’s well), the character’s action figure was also available as a proof-of-purchase mail order figure (I still remember sending away for mine).  Boba Fett was also making shopping mall appearances with Darth Vader (not Jeremy Bulloch, or Dave Prowse, just some cosplayers hired by the Lucasfilm publicity department).  I remember going to my local mall in October of 1979, and trying desperately to take Polaroids of the visiting Darth Vader and Boba Fett (if I had a nickel for every Darth Vader cosplayer I’ve met at conventions since then…).  Once again, we had little-to-no idea exactly what role Fett would play in the film, but we were assured he had a “major” role in the story.  After 40 years, all I can say is that the Lucasfilm publicity/marketing teams were absolutely brilliant at drumming up interest in the pre-internet age.
“No… I am your father!”   Once again, the shock value of this moment has waned a bit in the 40 years since it was first released, before the entire civilized world came to know that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father.  Yes, I already knew that big spoiler from reading the novelization beforehand, but seeing it play out in 70mm in an epic L.A. theater in June of 1980 was a lot different than sneaking in a few more pages from my paperback copy while the teacher wasn’t looking.
“Nooooooo!”   Still one of the greatest twists in the history of cinema.   Luke is soundly defeated by Vader; losing his right hand to the Dark Lord and left with the choice to join his father or die.  Luke leaps from a precipice into a cylindrical abyss, preferring certain death to joining his ‘father.’  Blown out of a maintenance chute into the underside of Cloud City, he’s left snagged and dangling from a weather vane.  Actor Mark Hamill truly gives this scene his all.  This is his single best performance as Luke Skywalker.
After failing to rescue Han from Boba Fett, Lando discovers his inner hero and joins Leia, Chewbacca and C3PO, doing his best to help them (and his staff) escape from Cloud City before the Empire can send additional troops.  Reuniting with Luke’s stray astromech, R2-D2, the group flees Cloud City aboard the Millennium Falcon.  While still in atmosphere, Leia senses a defeated Luke’s telepathic call for help as he dangles beneath Cloud City.  She and Chewbacca order Lando to turn the Falcon around.  Still seeking redemption after his earlier betrayal, Lando also isn’t prepared to argue with a 7 ft. 4 inch wookiee.  Leia’s psychic connection was no doubt meant to give credence to Lucas’ insistence that she was ‘the other’ all along, but I still say it makes her earlier flirtations with Luke kinda gross…
Cloud City was one of the few planetary ‘locations’ in the original trilogy that wasn’t a ‘real’ place.  Tatooine was shot in real-world deserts (Tunisia, Death Valley), Hoth was shot in Norway, Endor was shot in the California redwoods.  Even the exterior shots of Yavin IV were shot in Guatemala.  But Cloud City was created almost entirely with soundstages, matte paintings and miniatures.  Yet for me, it seemed as ‘real’ a place as any other in the Star Wars universe.   As a sucker for beautiful sunrises and sunsets, this is the Star Wars ‘location’ I most frequently visited in my imagination.  Guess I’ve always had my head in the clouds (hehe…).
As they draw closer to the underside of Cloud City, Leia and Lando spot someone dangling from a weather vane.  Leia tells Lando to open the top hatch.  Lando should be very familiar with where to find the top hatch, since the Falcon used to be his ship.  For details on how Lando lost the ship?  Check out 2018’s “Solo: A Star Wars Story”, and don’t listen to the its naysayers…it’s a solid little movie.  I’m still hoping Disney Plus will do a future Lando Calrissian standalone movie with Donald Glover.  Maybe it could detail the story of exactly how Lando “conned somebody” out of Cloud City?
Gorgeously detailed miniature of the Falcon (notice the cockpit lights) hovering under Cloud City, as twilight falls over Bespin during Luke’s rescue.  Lando opens the top hatch, pulls Luke in, and Chewie flies the ship the hell out of Dodge just as Imperial TIE fighters close in.  There is literally never a dull moment in this film, I kid you not.
As the Falcon tries to elude the tractor beams of Vader’s star destroyer, Luke reaches out to his ‘father’ and hears his plea to surrender, “Son… come with me, it is the only way.”  As Lando and Chewie struggle to fix the defunct hyperdrive, R2-D2 beeps that the city’s central computer told him the drive was fixed but purposefully deactivated.  Going to an open maintenance outlet, R2 plugs into the ship and reactivates they hyperdrive!  Within seconds, the stars turn into phosphorous streaks as the Millennium Falcon bursts into supra-light speeds!  Darth Vader, failing to acquire Luke or the Millennium Falcon, quietly leaves the bridge of his ship; too dispirited to force-choke an admiral.   I still remember watching this scene at the Egyptian.  As Vader watched the Falcon slip away, a guy sitting in the row ahead of us turned around and said, “Anyone want to be admiral now?”   Gotta love an L.A audience!
Reunited with the rebel fleet, Luke is aboard a medical frigate getting a new bionic hand installed, as Lando and Chewbacca prepare to leave for Tatooine to look for Han.  Luke, Leia and the two droids watch as the Millennium Falcon, under command of her first owner, flies off into the galaxy to find Han.  The hopeful music swells and… cut to the end credits.

The End.

Special Editions (1997, 2004, 2011, 2019….ongoing?)

In February of 1997, I was now a 30 year old adult, and I was eagerly awaiting the release of the Special Edition of “The Empire Strikes Back.”  Having seen the first movie’s Special Edition a month before, it was terrific to see it on a movie screen again, though some of the new ‘fixes’ were a bit jarring… the new computer-generated Jabba the Hutt looked terrible (the 1997 version, not the improved version for the 2004 DVD release), and the extra creatures populating Mos Eisley spaceport were downright distracting.  But nevertheless, it was great to see the film on a large screen again, as it was meant to be seen (however altered).  I was hoping “Empire” wouldn’t be too dissimilar from the version I so loved (and owned on letterboxed laserdisc, along with the other two films).


Going with a friend from work who’d never seen the films on a big screen before (blasphemy!), we took in Empire redux on a Saturday morning matinee (talk about full circle, right?), to be followed by a long diner chat about the movie afterward.  Well, “Empire” was less altered than its predecessor, though once again, some of the changes were pointless.  There were extra live-action shots of the wampa snow creature added to the scene where Luke escapes its lair.  The extra shots depict the creature chewing on a large severed animal’s limb.  The pacing of Luke’s escape from the wampa’s lair seemed a bit less urgent, too.  Personally, I liked it much better when you barely saw the creature; it was far more suspenseful.  The new suit didn’t look bad per se, though it didn’t quite match the original.   This new wampa footage wasn’t as egregious an offense as Greedo shooting first, but it didn’t do the movie any favors, either.


In the 1997 version, I was a bit surprised to still see Clive Revill’s Emperor in the holographic chamber scene.  Ian McDiarmid was long established in the role at this point (14 years) and I thought for certain that Lucas would’ve shot a quick redux of this moment in order to match continuity with “Return of the Jedi.”


Well, for the movie’s 2004 DVD release, Lucas did precisely that.  Not only did he reshoot the sequence with McDiarmid’s Emperor (a plus, in my opinion), he added some additional dialogue that seemed to indicate that Vader didn’t realize Luke was his son until that very moment (“How is that possible?”).  I’ve always assumed that Vader and the Emperor both knew exactly who Luke’s true father was, and it remained kind of a creepy, unspoken secret between them.  But the 2004 version of the Special Edition took the implicit and made it a bit too explicit.   Once again, not nearly as offensive as Greedo shooting first (thus altering Han’s redemption arc), so it got a pass.


In the 1997 Special Edition, I was also pleasantly surprised to see additional shots of Cloud City, both extending the Falcon’s approach to the city as well as a few establishing shots later on.  As a big fan of the art deco-inspired virtual location, I wholeheartedly approved of these changes, as they nicely added to the overall scope of Cloud City.  There was, however, a weird little change made to a live-action shot as Han & Leia are being led to their dinner with Darth.  They pass a window where you see a CGI elevator going up the side of a CGI building…in the very next shot of that exact same window, the transparent window now has the original set’s opaque artwork.   A minor nit, but it’s just…weird.  It’s as if the animators just forgot that they’d changed the wall into a window…?


Perhaps my biggest beef with the “Empire” SE (in all versions, from 1997 through 2019’s 4k remaster) is the addition of Vader returning to his star destroyer from Cloud City.  The scene employs a few alternate, unused takes from aboard the Death Star II in “Return of the Jedi” (in fact, you can still see Admiral Jerjerrod greeting Vader as he disembarks).  These pointless shots only serve to slow down the Falcon’s escape from Cloud City.  In the original 1980 version we knew Vader returned to his ship with one line of dialogue, “Bring my shuttle!”  That was all we needed.  We assumed his stormtroopers just brought his damn shuttle.  Now we follow his shuttle from the landing platform all the way into the star destroyer docking bay (I’m surprised it didn’t stop for gas and directions along the way).  This ‘fix’ serves no purpose other than to siphon off some of the adrenaline from the Falcon’s escape.  I know a lot of oldster fans like myself say this, but I’m still holding out hope that Disney might someday release the unaltered versions of the Star Wars original trilogy on Blu Ray…

Meeting a few Stars of Wars…

Over the years at various conventions, I’ve had a few opportunities to get up close and personal with some of the Star Warriors.  Here’s a few memorable encounters I’d like to share…

Actor David Prowse, “Darth Vader” himself.  This was from a meet-and-greet at San Diego Comic Con in 2006.  He still looked frightfully fit, too.  I was a fan of his work in “A Clockwork Orange” (1971) and “Space: 1999” (1976) as well.  The photo I asked him to sign was, of course, from “The Empire Strikes Back.”
Actor Kenny Baker (“R2-D2”) from a convention in Pasadena, California in 2004.  While I didn’t actually meet him at this convention (only snapped a pic from afar), I would meet him two years later at San Diego Comic Con 2006, where I also met David Prowse (above).  Baker and I got to talking about his roles in “The Elephant Man” (1980) and “Amadeus” (1984) and somehow I just forgot to take a photo (!).  At any rate, I very much enjoyed our brief but memorable chat.  Was sad to hear when he passed away in 2016.
Peter Mayhew, the “mighty Chewbacca,” was a true gentle giant.  Everything about this man seemed larger than life, including his big heart.  Before his passing in 2018, Mayhew was active in Chase Masterson’s “Pop Culture Hero Coalition” charity, which raises awareness of child bullying.
My glimpse of “Lando Calrissian”, actor Billy Dee Williams (think he spotted me? ). This was taken at 2015’s “Star Wars Celebration” in Anaheim, California (across from Disneyland).  I got an autographed photo of him from “The Empire Strikes Back” (of course), though I’ve enjoyed other performances of his over the years, including “Mahogany” (1975) and “Brian’s Song” (1971).  Didn’t talk much, but hey…who cares, because he’s Billy Dee Williams, right?
Also had the chance to meet the thoroughly delightful “General Veers” as well, actor Julian Glover, whom I’ve been a fan of from “Space: 1999” (1975), “Doctor Who” (1979), “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (1989) and many other roles.  He was very kind, and had a wonderful self-deprecating humor when seeing his own picture from Doctor Who (“Oh, I was so young…take it away!”).  This photo was taken in 2016 at a Doctor Who convention (“Gallifrey One”) in Los Angeles.  We stayed in the same hotel, where my wife and he shared an elevator and a nice quick chat.

Sacred Jedi Texts.

If you’re a Star Wars fan and haven’t yet read J.W. Rinzler’s “The Making of The Empire Strikes Back” (or any of his “Making of” Star Wars books) then you’ve got to log onto or and order a safe-distance delivered copy as soon as possible.  Rinzler’s books are the definitive sources on these films, covering everything from preproduction art to post-production publicity.


Most of my current insights into these films comes directly from these books or from speaking with the actors themselves.  They are indispensable reading.  As Darth Vader might say, “It is useless to resist! It is the only way…”

More Than The Sum Of Its Parts.

After 43 years of movies and TV shows, and “The Empire Strikes Back” remains my single favorite piece of Star Wars entertainment, and that’s a high bar these days, especially given the better-than-cinematic quality of Disney Plus’ “The Mandalorian” streaming TV series.  This is one movie I can plug into the Blu Ray player just about any time and instantly lose myself in its character and images.  Yes, 1977’s “Star Wars” rewrote my DNA when I first saw it at the tender age of 10, but “Empire” reaffirmed that “Star Wars” was no fluke…and that it could even be surpassed.


Remember, if you don’t already own the Star Wars movies on DVD or Blu Ray, you can stream them from Disney Plus (in 4K), Amazon Prime Video, or even premium YouTube (Prime and YouTube have downloads currently available for only $9.99 US).  To my readers, I once again wish you and all of your loved ones good health and strength during the current coronavirus pandemic.  For the time being, please practice safe-distancing, wear masks in public, and avoid unnecessary outings as much as possible.

May the Force be with us all.

Movie Images: Lucasfilm/Disney, author

22 Comments Add yours

  1. firewater65 says:

    My favorite movie of the franchise. I have a couple of years on you, but a similar relationship with Star Wars. Great write.

    1. Thank you! 🙏

  2. Harsimar says:

    Reading this reminds me yet again, of how influential Star Wars is and will continue to be. I can only imagine, how exciting it must have been to experience the original trilogy in theatres.

    Have you read the novelization of Revenge of the Sith ? It improves considerably on the film and makes Anakin’s turn much more believable.

    1. I have the audiobook and in fact I was planning on starting it tomorrow. 😉

      And yes, seeing the original trilogy theatrically was special; you really felt like you were watching a cinematic revolution. Not even exaggerating.

      1. Harsimar says:

        I like it more than the film to be honest! There’s also a sequel written by James Luceno which tells us how Vader came to terms with his suit and his new identity. Also, what happened to some of the other Jedi who survived Order 66. While not as good as the ROTS novelization, it is also one of my fav SW books. I’d recommend reading it after ROTS.

        Haha wish I could say the same for the Disney trilogy.

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