ILT’s inebriated Star Wars special continues with Luke skipping Dagobah Jedi school, despite Yoda and Obi-Wan dropping some fairly heavy truth bombs…
The Empire Strikes Back
Dir: Irvin Kershner
Original Release Date: 21 May 1980
Part Two of a Star Wars SceneKid series special.
Upon continuation of my inebriated-influenced Star Wars SceneKid special on another mile-a-minute Friday night in Vancouver, it dawned on me that the 1980 sequel to A New Hope was going give me a significantly tougher time when it came to selecting a specific scene to discuss. The original theatrical version of The Empire Strikes Back, everyone’s least favourite as a child, more often than not goes on to be the film we all recognise as the crowning jewel of the franchise once we reach adulthood. A sort of cinematic rite of passage if you will. Irvin Kersner’s descent into darkness – ballsy in writing, structure, and tone, something George Lucas also deserves credit for – comes together as beautifully now as it ever did, forever verging on perfection.
From a pedantic perspective there is the odd moment of potential uncertainty and inconsistency within the plot, but never enough to draw one out of proceedings. The quality of the technical achievements, dialogue (for the most part) and concurrent character depth is such that the overall layers produced by the steadily narrowing point of the duel story arc are each as engaging and climactic as the last. This resulted in virtually every scene becoming iconic, and thus, analysed more than thoroughly over the past three decades. Now this of course is in no way a negative – it’s simply a sign of a great movie – but it does make the life of a humble blogger/fanboy/wannabe critic just a tad problematic (not by much) for about half an hour or so (probably less), as I actually have to stop writing for a moment and, you know, put some thought into proceedings.
My conclusion in this case was that I should pick up where I left off following my first SW piece, ‘Binary Sunset‘, focusing and expanding on Luke Skywalker – the central protagonist of the original trilogy – and the concurrent themes associated with his character. In the name of consistency, the highly emotional tone of the binary sunset sequence seemed a suitable trait to pursue also. In the end I settled on a scene that resonated appropriately in an emotional sense (none too difficult given my increasingly tipsy state), while likewise tapping into the aforementioned underlying aspects of both Mr. Skywalker and the film as a whole. That scene is Luke’s departure from Dagobah.
The final step before the parallel paths of our heroes merge at Cloud City, Luke’s hurried preparation for his journey to rescue Han, Leia and co. from the clutches of Vader, or so he hopes, is a well-balanced mix of character development and intriguing exposition. Conveyed via a tense three-way exchange with Yoda alongside the apparition of Obi-Wan, both of whom beg Luke to stay, the sequence revisits and reassesses the characteristics and themes surrounding Luke back when he gazed across the dunes of Tatooine. In defying his masters’ plea to avoid an obvious trap and instead become stronger before dancing and dicing with the dark side, we see Luke’s somewhat reckless abandon for the here and now in favour of what the future holds ever present as his motivation.
Whereas the boy on the desert planes controlled his urge to shape the future through restraint and frustration, until he had no other choice, the boy in the swamp is driven by fear and determination, willing to take matters into his own hands and sacrifice himself regardless of any design the powers that be may have for him, light or dark. To Luke, without those he loves there is no future to be had. His primary purpose therefore is to protect that future, first and foremost, at all costs, which, as Yoda and Obi-Wan attempt to point out, has the potential to drive him into the darkness and extinguish any hope the galaxy may have had of true salvation. This, of course, is exactly what the Emperor wants, and it makes for engaging contextual dialogue between three generations of heroes, as Luke’s actions all but force Yoda to admit that the young Jedi is essentially the necessary tool required to murder the fuck out of the Sith, a responsibility that should come before all else, but that Luke is not yet ready to bear without risking everything in the process. Such a gamble was of course previously taken, and lost, by the very man he knows he must now face if he is to have any hope of saving his friends.
Deep stuff, right? One of many direct but profound, rapidly paced scenes during the film, and one that is certainly less discussed than numerous other iconic moments; such a brief but crucial turn of events and expert conveyance of exposition really does help to sum up just how good the vast majority of the writing is throughout Empire, with Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan’s final script evidently both benefitting from, and greatly enhancing the numerous drafts and ideas that came before it.
The human performances here are essentially a vessel for the unfolding of multiple developments across characters and plot alike (Alec Guinness wasn’t overly keen on returning and, indeed, seems to have been phoning it in a bit), but Mark Hamill (who, let’s face it, basically is Luke Skywalker) does still emit that genuinely earnest charisma that makes Luke so likeable and relatable. We know what he’s doing is insane, but Hamill has us rooting for him all the way in the face of authority and adversity. John Williams’ tingling, perfectly measured score enhances matters, forming from, as well as helping to dictate the emotions of the characters and audience respectively. Within it, the themes surrounding Luke come full circle as the music recalls the overtures of confliction felt way back during the binary sunset, prior to Luke making, at that time, like he is again about to here, the biggest decision of his life.
Further major support is provided by way of the technical quality on display, front and centre of which crosses over with the performances in the form of our old friend Yoda. Operated and voiced by the legendary Frank Oz (for which he really should have received a Best Supporting Actor nod), the little green puppet stole the show long before this, his final scene, with a fine culmination of realistic delivery, stemming from humorous wisdom and solemn back-to-front declarations aplenty. While HD continues to cleanse the fuzzy, youthful memories of such a character – a factor all too apparent at times as Yoda stands illuminated a little too clearly against the Blu-ray backdrop – he will still never not be the primary point of focus each time he is on screen. His strained tone and detailed physical emotional reactions, as he tries in vain to change Luke’s mind before soon realising such efforts are futile against his headstrong apprentice, are as moving and altogether impressive now as they were in May 1980.
Drenching the moment in wonderful symbolism is the manner in which the stationary X-Wing bathes the swamp in white light while Luke remains on the ground, before fading along with Obi-Wan as the young Jedi ascends into the atmosphere, shrouding Yoda in darkness as Obi-Wan laments their situation, “That boy is our last hope…”. “No”, utters Yoda, looking up as the darkness around him turns to crimson beneath the X-Wing’s departure, “There is another”. As a first time viewer – heart racing, questions abound. Years later, it’s just as powerful, and a fitting climax to Yoda’s involvement in Empire.
No clever ending this time…just, what a scene, what a fucking film.