Saturday, September 25, 2010
The Empire Strikes Back (1980) On Further Review
Yes, Empire has always been critically lauded as the best of the original Star Wars trilogy. But just because it's the best of those three films doesn't necessarily mean it's a good film in it's own right, or at least as good of a film as everyone seems to want to remember it as. It has the most serious, somber tone of the original three, but that alone does not automatically make it a great movie. Since this is the middle part of a three act play, almost by definition it has to be of a more serious nature, as this is when the most character develpoment should be taking place. The focus of the middle act should be on the drama, with the action stepping to the side to let the characters grow, change, and evolve. And, while this does happen, just because it's the best of this small group of movies...
The acting by the people portraying the main characters has thankfully improved from the first film. However, there are still many supporting characters, minions of both the Alliance and the Empire, who turn in some of the worst performances, however small, in cinematic history. Take for instance, Han Solo telling some nameless General that he has to leave the Alliance due to Jabba The Hutt having a bounty on his head. The bland, lifeless exchange between the two is indicitive of the emotional void most characters in this universe seem to have. (And if you are a representative of Wookieepedia, please don't write in to tell me the name of the General, let alone the oodles of pointless backstory that has been invented for him by fans with WAY too much time on their hands...you think we're bad for doing THIS site...)
Still, that pales in comparison to my favorite moment in all of Star Wars-dom. As the Rebels begin to evacuate the ice planet Hoth, an anonymous lower official of the Empire reports that information to an anonymous higher official of the Empire, who responds with the most horrendous delivery of the most horrendous line. Whatever era this is supposed to be set in, "Good, our first catch of the day..." is not the type of jargon that is consistent with anything else in this fictitious universe. And the only thing more rigid and wooden than the reading of that line are the trees in the Redwood Forests that feature in the next overblown film in this trilogy (which we'll get to tomorrow). Whenever I watch this film, which is probably once every couple of years, I find myself laughing out loud at that snippet of a scene, even skipping back to play it two or three times more so I can continue laughing at it, before moving on.
Another weakness of the film is a similarity to the problem of the first one, which is the thinness of the plot. Even though the movie runs for two hours, when you boil it down, there isn't a hell of a lot going on. As enjoyable as it is to watch the action sequences (particularly the battle on Hoth at the beginning; the work with miniatures is worthy of Ray Harryhausen), they really aren't doing anything to further the plot, and in fact, run as long as they do to DISQUISE the fact that there really ISN'T much of a plot. The entire original trilogy could probably be told in one film running about two to two and a half hours. The audience had by this time become so enamored with the special effects (which did revolutionize the film industry) that they didn't quite notice there wasn't that much of a story...or maybe it was just a Jedi mind trick...
Speaking of which, what sort of Jedi powers was Yoda using to keep from vomiting uncontrollably while strapped to Luke Skywalker's back as he flipped and somersaulted thru the forests of Dagobah while training in the ways of the Force? One of the greatest assets of the film, Yoda's strength as a character only serves to show the weakness of the others. Due to his being a teacher, a purveyor of knowledge, his impact as a character is the largest in the film. It's unfortunate that the best performance in the film is coming from a MUPPET, leaving the humans behind in the muck of Dagobah in terms of acting. Not to criticize Frank Oz, or indeed any of the Muppet crew; I hold them in the highest regard in terms of performance ability (The Muppet Movie is a favorite film of mine), but the humans should not be getting outshined by a puppet here, even if he is endowing Skywalker with the philosophy of Anger Management 101.
There are some other problems as well, like the character of Lando Calrissian, who seems to exist solely for the purpose of infusing the Star Wars universe with someone other than white anglo-saxons. His "charming" of Leia Organa is rather laughable, and any woman that would fall for some of those lines, such as, "...you truly belong here with us among the clouds...", hardly seems worth going after in the first place. And for someone who's supposed to be "an expert in human-cyborg relations", C-3PO doesn't have the slightest clue as to how humans relate...which might work as a joke once, but after that only serves to make him an incredibly annoying and unnecessary character, who needs to be carried (in this film, literally) by the others.
As I mentioned earlier, I do watch this film occasionally. Why tear it apart? Because as much as I enjoy it, and I do, I'm also capable of looking at it objectively. Most people of my generation have a great love of these films, but that love quite often overshadows the fact that these just aren't quite as good as the rememberance of them is. It is fun, it is enjoyable, but it is not the greatest thing since sliced bread...even if you slice it with a lightsaber.