Star Wars: Darth on parade

On to #2, or #5, which as you may know is called The Empire Strikes Back.

Not the satisfying simple story of A New Hope, and that can be bad news for an adventure story; plus we’re now dealing with a trilogy and the second film pretty much has to get Our Heroes deeper in trouble.  But it’s never dull, there’s more money than ever to pour into the backgrounds and special effects, and there’s some very good bits.

It’s something of a chess game between the heroes (now divided in two parties) and Darth Vader.  Move, countermove, with the strategic goal changing or unclear.  Seen that way, some of the characters’ dumb decisions make more sense: sometimes people make bad moves.  Still, in general the Rebels seem to be quite a bit stupider this time around.  They don’t have a clear plan (much less a war-winning idea) unless it’s “get somewhere safe for awhile”, and even that rather taxes their skills.

More precisely Obi-Wan, though dead, does have a plan: get Luke trained as a Jedi.  Unfortunately, this is the sort of thing that movies don’t do well… all they can really do is show key moments… study, practice, and spiritual awakening aren’t very cinegenic.  A book could describe Luke’s struggles much more convincingly.

The Force is essentially treated as magic, and I’m going to start sounding like a Kevin Smith movie if I worry too much about how it works.  Some creators can get away with completely unexplained magic (Neil Gaiman has a gift for this), but in general, narrative demands that we understand what the limits are– otherwise every use of magic comes as a cheat.  So far Lucas plays– well, more or less fair, in that major uses of the Force are foreshadowed by earlier ones.  

It’s not exactly a deeper movie, though it’s more complicated.  It’s a bit more bruising, as some bad things happen to the heroes and they’re not resolved… but then, it’s really part 1 of a two-part story.  So, more on that later.

On to scene by scene observations…

  • The romantic banter is pretty embarrassing.  The writers should have  studied screwball comedy.  Han doesn’t come off as a lightly bantering rogue; he sounds like an egotistical dick.
  • “The chances are 725 to 1″… you’re a help, C3PO. 
  • Han, why not ride up right next to Luke?  It’s very theatrical to walk the last bit of the way, but you know, you have to drag him that much farther.
  • The initial scene, though full of adventure, is completely disconnected from the rest of the movie… we’re not even going to stay on Hoth. 
  • Darth’s voice has lost that British edge; he just articulates very precisely.
  • There’s no nonsense this time around about Vader being “the last of your religion”, someone an Imperial general might mouth off to.  He’s entirely in charge.
  • The Walkers… come on.  A victory of set design over common sense.  Any number of things could topple these things.
  • X-wings have hyperdrives?  I guess so!
  • When you have these pretty models you want to show them all off; but surely space fleets will be more like WWII naval battles, in which enemy ships rarely actually sighted each other. 
  • I also don’t buy tiny little asteroids zipping by the big ones.  A belt this dense couldn’t last for long.
  • The bickering is cute– I like Han being sometimes a step ahead, sometimes a step behind events.  The romantic bickering, still stupid.
  • The first scene with Yoda is still hilarious.  (Though the joke would be entirely spoiled if you already know who he is from the prequels.)
  • Han’s kissing Leia is decidedly retro.  No means no, dude.
  • Vader’s conversation with the Emperor doesn’t cohere with the prequel either.  Or with the Big Reveal later in the movie, for that matter.  Neither party has any need to hide who “Anikin” is.
  • Lots of fog = can’t see the studio floor!
  • Leia is supposed to be feisty, but she’s really kind of a bringdown.  She represented an advance 30 years ago– she does pick up a blaster rifle now and then.  But by today’s standards she has to spend too much time as a passive love interest / kidnapping target.
  •  So what does Mr. Asteroid Worm live on?  Oh never mind.
  • If I’d managed to move the ship with the Force but not lift it out, I’d be pretty stoked.
  • Vader believes in fear as a motivator.  How’s that work out for you, Darth?
  • When the Falcon lands, it activates little tiny jets.  Why, when it’s almost infinitely maneuverable?  They’re obviously not strong enough to slow the vessel.
  • “Don’t give in to hate”… huh, Obi-Wan?  Impetuousness, maybe.
  • It’s dramatic and all, but why design the carbonite sandwich to leave 1/3 of the victim hanging out of it?   If nothing else, you won’t be able to stack your victims.
  • I can buy Han foolishly believing that Lando will help out.  But it looks like Obi-Wan was right– this was not a smart move on Luke’s part.  The story isn’t so much the Empire striking back as the Rebels striking out.
  • The light saber duel is about a thousand times better than Obi-Wan’s in the last movie.  Somebody hired a fight choreographer.
  • Hint to heroes: don’t disengage the light saber while walking around searching for the bad guy. 
  • I’m not sure how to take Lando.  He does one nasty betrayal, then suddenly turns into a good guy.  I can’t work out a psychology for him such that his actions make sense.
  • Luke seems to deal pretty well with losing his arm… perhaps light sabers neatly cauterize the wound.  He has an awfully snivelling reaction to learning about his father, though.
  • Three times the hyperdrive doesn’t kick in.  Look, this isn’t rocket science.
  • Uh oh, this looks like bad news for Admiral #3.  No wait, he survives for now.
  • The final shot of the galaxy is neat, but I’m afraid an actual galaxy seen from that distance would be an enormous disappointment.  We see bright images of galaxies because we expose the film for hours at a time.  Look at it this way: the Milky Way is so dim that we can barely see it in these days of omnipresent street lights, and we’re in it.