Saturday, January 7, 2012

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

Molly with Han Solo frozen in sweet, sweet chocolate. He was eaten just after this review.

Alright. I know I'm in the minority on this one and I routinely take crap for it, but here it goes: The Empire Strikes Back is the weakest of the three original Star Wars movies.

That isn't to say it is bad. I mean, it's still Star Wars, though decidedly less fun than the other movies.

So before I get flayed, here are my three primary reasons why it is a weaker movie:

1. Incoherent Story Pacing:
Star Wars had a basic story of rescue the princess and destroy the Death Star. These were pretty tangible and easy to track for the plot. Empire separates the characters and builds to separate stories to follow: A) Train as a Jedi and B) Escape the Empire. On the whole, this wouldn't seem bad except that jumping back and forth between the two build such different levels of excitement and theme that is sometimes jarring. Holy shit! It looks like the end for Han and Leia! Things couldn't possibly get any worse and--oh... there's Luke doing a handstand with a puppet on his foot who talks like he is reciting ASL literally talking vaguely mystical. So, it causes pacing problems with the movie, as opposed to everyone in the first movie sticking together. And, when they aren't sticking together, they are at least all trying to achieve different goals of the same objective.

 But secondly, this break and attempt to tell two different stories causes problems with the timing of the movie. How long does it take to train to be a Jedi? It seems like it would be a long and arduous training, especially with Yoda's hard on for teaching patience. So, how long did Luke train with Yoda to get the new powers that he employed by the end of the movie? My gut would say at least weeks. However, you have to compare this to the pacing of Han Solo's escape from Hoth. He left Hoth and immediately went into an asteroid field, to be flushed out and hide in the Imperial garbage and then flew directly to Bespin where he was almost immediately betrayed by Lando. Since the Empire was there before Han, one would think that there would be no real reason to stall Han's capture too long--just enough for Vader to arrive personally. So by that time frame, I would say that maybe Han was on the run for a day or two at the most. With this timing, we have to assume then that Luke's Jedi training lasted less than this time (since he then needed to rush to Bespin to free his friends). So, Luke learned a shitload of Jedi powers with probably less than a day's training. Now, I don't know much about the Force, so maybe the power-learning is rather front-loaded, but it still seems off to me. So the pacing of the action to training is awkward and it also makes trying to figure out how much time really passed just as bad.

Then again, Han's fleeing was hindered by the fact that he couldn't fly to light speed. So it's possible that travel time was extended and it took him roughly 10,000 years to fly to Bespin without being able to go to light speed.

2. Vader Become a Farce:
 I know, I know. All of the fanboys who love Vader love this movie, but for me, this movie breaks his character even more than removing his mask in the third movie to find that the menacing evil of the galaxy looks like mashed potatoes. I loved Vader in the first movie. He was a religious zealot, but he was properly leashed in a military structure. Grand Moff Tarkin kept him in check and stopped him from making too much of an ass of himself. I -loved- that dynamic. I mean, really, think about the scene from Star Wars when they are discussing the completion of the Death Star and how militarily obsolete Vader's views really are:

Admiral Motti: Any attack made by the Rebels against this station would be a useless gesture, no matter what technical data they have obtained. This station is now the ultimate power in the universe! I suggest we use it!
Darth Vader: Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the potential of the Force.
Admiral Motti: Don't try to frighten us with your sorcerous ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient Jedi religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you enough clairvoyance to find the rebels' hidden fortress...
Darth Vader: (starts Force Choking the shit out of him) I find your lack of faith disturbing.
Grand Moff Tarkin: Enough of this! Vader, release him!
Darth Vader: (releases him) As you wish.

What this scene illustrates is that Vader is a religious zealot, but is still under the command of the military structure. And I love this scene. Not because Vader uses cool Force Choke powers, but rather because it shows how he is archaic and out of place in this structure. Not to bash religion, but really, think about a real-world equivalent of this scene:

(sitting on an Aircraft Carrier in the Gulf)
Admiral: With us positioned out here, we can use the aircraft to control the air space and control the sea of our less technologically advanced enemies, giving us full control and power over this sea zone.
Naval Chaplain Who Has Somehow Found His Way Into the Meeting: Yes, but the power of this aircraft carrier pales in comparison to the power of Christ.
(sighs and eye rolls from around the command room)
Admiral: (speaking diplomatically) Yes. That may be true, however, it is not really applicable in this situation. Now, if you don't mind, we really need to get back to planning the strategic assault and conquest of the enemy ports.

I mean, really, Grand Moff Tarkin was right to call Vader down and stop him. And Admiral Motti was right to make fun of Vader. I mean, yes, the Dark Side of the Force is really powerful. I'm sure Vader could have transported down to Alderaan and Force Choked the entire planet's population to death. However, it would be a rather time consuming endeavor. Just blowing up the planet with the Death Star really was the much more efficient path to take. Though, I suppose, hearing that Vader went and spent 6 months on Alderaan personally Force Choking every single inhabitant of that planet would also be rather intimidating to the rest of the galaxy. But more in the religious zealot way rather than the military might way.

But anyhow, Vader didn't have a leash in this movie. So he's constantly strangling people and making immediate promotions. It just became farcical. I preferred him as mystical and powerful, but at odds with a military structure. Now, he's just killing admirals who forget to say please and thank you. And really, this illustrates the idiocy of the officers in the Empire. The best position to have is the one just below the current General. Invariably, he'd fuck up and Vader would choke and kill him and immediately promote you. Your next move? Resign your commission and get your pension at General pay level and sit nice and pretty on some Outer Rim planet.

3. No Love for Blondie:
This is a personal, but very real beef of mine. Growing up with nearly albino-white blond head of hair, it became a signature trait of my childhood. So, whenever we would play games with a group of kids, I'd become the defacto blond character. Do you know how much it sucked playing Super Friends with your friends and having to ALWAYS be Aquaman? Do you know how terribly limited children's school yard imaginations are to create problems that also involved, at the very least, a nearby lake? So, when we got to play Star Wars, it was fine being the blondie. I got to play Luke. Sure, others rushed and argued over who was Han. But I had a blaster AND a lightsaber. And, if a girl was playing with us and got the be Leia, then Luke got the girl.

But that changed with Empire. Now the gaggle of Han Solos would get to smooch the girl on the playground. As consolation, if there was a really young or really short kid playing, he'd get to be my Yoda. But that was hardly any consolation.

Now, none of this is to say that Empire is a bad movie. But it is also an incomplete one. Star Wars had a beginning, middle and end. Return of the Jedi had a beginning, middle and end. Empire just felt like middle throughout. There was no overarching story that covered a grand scale and it just feels a little flat.

What I did like about Empire, however, is that characters continued to develop. Luke and Leia both come a bit more into themselves during their journey. Han remains static, however, and Vader develops, but, as I mentioned, is almost farcical now as a character.

But the absolute best part of Empire Strikes Back? The fact that it lends us the best worst nerdy joke ever:

How warm is it inside of a Tauntaun?
Luke warm.

Molly: (As usual, Molly is sitting next to me at my computer as I type this. Because of her age, her review will be in Q&A form. I'll transcribe it and reformat it when we are finished.)

Chuckie: So, what did you think about The Empire Strikes Back?
Molly: I liked it.

Chuckie: What did you like about it?
Molly: Um, the last part where the guy was still alive even though they chopped off his arm. When they were in the fight.
Chuckie: What guy was still alive?
Molly: Lucas.
Chuckie: Who chopped off his hand?
Molly: Dark Vader.
Chuckie: Why were they fighting?
Molly: Since they were on other teams.
Chuckie: So, did Dark Vader tell Lucas anything important while they were fighting?
Molly: Yes. That he was actually his father.
Chuckie: Do you believe him?
Molly: Well, kind of. But maybe actually Dark Vader's a good guy and I just don't know.

Chuckie: Don't you think that a father can be bad and a son can be good?
Molly: Well, no.
Chuckie: Why not?
Molly: Well, I just don't think it.
Chuckie: Does that mean if I was bad, you'd have to be bad too because your my kid?
Molly: (shakes her head)
Chuckie: Why not?
Molly: Since I don't want to be bad. And other people might be good. And since I was bad, I might be mean to you.
Chuckie: Then don't you think that maybe Lucas is good even though his father is bad? They can be different?
Molly: Kind of, but then they won't like each other.

Chuckie: Fair enough. Alright, so tell me about the movie. What was it about?
Molly: Um, all the star wars.
Chuckie: Wait. What? Can you be more specific?
Molly: Well, on the ice cold planet an ice bear tried to eat Lucas. And he used that thingy to try to grab it.
Chuckie: Wait. Thingy? You mean the Force?
Molly: Yes. He used the force field.
Chuckie: Okay. Then after he got his light saber, what did he do?
Molly: He got out and saved himself. Then he went to see that little guy.
Chuckie: Little guy?
Molly: Yoda something. They didn't tell us his last name.
Chuckie: Why did he go and see Yoda?
Molly: He went to learn how to be a master.
Chuckie: A master of what?
Molly: The force field.

Chuckie: Okay, but meanwhile, what was Han Solo and Princess Leia doing?
Molly: They went to a city in the clouds where Dark Vader was waiting for them.
Chuckie: What happened then?
Molly: He trapped Han Solo and put him in the sand box thingy so that he'd be in there forever.

Chuckie: Alright, so tell me a little about the characters in this movie. Tell me what happened during Lucas Skywalker's character arc in this movie?
Molly: He changed.
Chuckie: Wow. Good answer. How did he change?
Molly: Um, since he started with two hands and ended up with one.
Chuckie: (laughs)
Molly: (interrupts) But he got a robot hand at the end, so even though he had two hands at the end of the movie, his character was still changed.

Chuckie: Good point. Tell me about the other characters.
Molly: Well, there's Princess Leia. She's a princess of the galaxy.
Chuckie: Did her character change or grow?
Molly: Well, she kissed a lot of guys in the movie.  But she told Han Solo that she loved him right before he got frozen in the sandbox. But she kissed Lucas before that, so I think she was just confused.
Chuckie: So, by the end of the movie, she wasn't confused anymore and knew who she liked.
Molly: Yeah. She liked Han Solo.

Chuckie: What did you think of Dark Vader in this movie?
Molly: He was mean.
Chuckie: Do you think that they overplayed his character without having reigns on him and essentially made him into a cartoonish characterization that is a bit over the top instead of keeping him a darkly mysterious figure who plays his vast power closer to his chest?
Molly: I have no idea what you just said.

Chuckie: Alright, which did you like better, Star Wars or The Empire Strikes Back?
Molly: Star Wars. I loved that movie. Especially where they yelled "Utini!"

Chuckie: So, what didn't you like about Empire Strikes Back?
Molly: Hm. That he chopped off his hand.
Chuckie: When we were watching the movie,  you told me that Dark Vader chopping off Lucas's hand was a dumb idea. Why did you think it was a bad move?
Molly: Because when you chop something with a light saber, it becomes more powerful, like Ben.
Chuckie: I'm not sure if that's exactly how that works.
Molly: Well, you still shouldn't be chopping off people's hands. It's rude, especially because it's his own kid. But, Daddy, I don't think that he wanted to. I think that he had a master who told him to do it but he didn't want to, but he had to follow his rules.

Chuckie: Wow. Very astute.
Molly: What does stoot mean?
Chuckie: It means you were very clever in thinking that Dark Vader was following a master's orders.
Molly: Oh.

Chuckie: So, how would you rate the movie?
Molly: With stars and suns.

Chuckie: Okay, how many stars would you give the movie?
Molly: Fifty million.
Chuckie: Out of how many?
Molly: Out of one star.
Chuckie: So, the movie is fifty million times better than the absolute best?
Molly: I think so. And suns, Daddy.

Chuckie: Alright, so how many suns would you give the movie?
Molly: Thirty five and a hundred and forty five.
Chuckie: Out of how many?
Molly: Out of two.

Chuckie: So, who do you think would like this movie?
Molly: Wait! How about the moons.

Chuckie: Sorry. How many moons would you give this movie?
Molly: Forty five and fifty hundred and forty five and a hundred more.
Chuckie: Okay. Out of how many?
Molly: Hm. Out of X.
Chuckie: "X"?
Molly: Yes.
Chuckie: As in a variable "X"?
Molly: What's a variable mean?
Chuckie: It means that it can potentially be any number, but is often solvable to a single number, set or range.
Molly: What's a range mean?
Chuckie: It is a span of numbers that it can be within.
Molly: Yes. That's what I meant.

Chuckie: So, who do you think would like this movie?
Molly: Um, most of all, I think Edison and Pop Pop.
Chuckie: Why do you think they'd like it?
Molly: I think she's grown up enough to really enjoy it.

Chuckie: Who was your favorite character in the movie?
Molly: Princess Leia.
Chuckie: Why?
Molly: Since she's a girl and she's a princess.

Chuckie: So, do you think that grownups or kids would like this movie more?
Molly: Grownups. Well, I think because Pop Pop likes it and I just think that. I think more grownups would like it.

Chuckie: Alright. Is there anything else that you wanted to say about The Empire Strikes Back?
Molly: It was a sad ending because he cut off his arm and that was his dad that did that to him.

So, that's our review. Molly liked the move, but not as much as Star Wars. She was also a lot more distracted during this movie. The pacing really is a lot slower than the others, especially for a kid. While Molly chatted up every possibly theory as we watched the first one, she was looking for distractions during this one.

Of course, I like it, but it is my least favorite of the original trilogy. That isn't really a bad thing though when you consider the relativity of it all though. It's like saying that oral sex is my least favorite sex out of the three options. Although it gets the "least favorite" title, I'm still a big fan.

Molly thinks that it was still a good movie. She gives it fifty million stars out of one star, thirty five and a hundred and forty five suns out of two and forty five and fifty hundred and forty five and a hundred more moons out of X. You can solve for X at your leisure. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks, we'll have a good chance to sit and enjoy Return of the Jedi.

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