Sunday, May 02, 2010

30 Years of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK - part 2

While THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK would contain some surprises along the way, the first big revelation came during the opening crawl. This was a sequel, the first sequel, to a movie simply called STAR WARS, yet this new movie announced itself not as STAR WARS 2, or even STAR WARS - Episode II, but STAR WARS - Episode V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Say what?

Time magazine dug into this mystery before the film's release and found out some tidbits that I'm going to share in full here, not only for the accurate hints of what lay ahead for the STAR WARS saga, but for insights into what didn't.

"[George] Lucas has begun his space saga in the middle, and both pictures are the centerpieces of a projected nine-part series. The remaining movies, fore and aft, have not yet been laid out in detail, but Lucas has a framework, a kind of history of what happened in that galaxy long ago and far away. A preview:

"For years the universe was governed by a republic, which was regulated by the order of Jedi Knights, who bore a vague resemblance to Japanese Samurai warriors. But eventually the citizens of the republic 'didn't care enough to elect competent officials,' says Lucas the historian, and so their government collapsed. A sorcerer, a bad counterpart of Yoda, blocked all opposition and declared himself Emperor. He was not seen in Star Wars: Episode IV, but he makes a brief appearance in The Empire.

"The Emperor subverts Darth Vader to his side, and together he and Vader betray the other Knights, nearly all of whom are killed in their trap. Ben Kenobi escapes, and after a fierce struggle he does such injury to Vader that forever after Vader must wear a mask and that noisy life-support system. The fall of the republic and the rise of the empire will form the first of Lucas' three trilogies.

"The second trilogy, which opened with Star Wars: Episode IV, centers on Luke Skywalker, who will be seen as a child in Episode III. The Empire continues the Skywalker story, and Episode VI, the next film to be made, which will be called Revenge of the Jedi, will end it, with either Luke or Darth Vader walking away from their final bout. The last three episodes involve the rebuilding of the republic.

"Only two of the main characters will appear in all nine films, and they are the robots, Artoo Detoo and Threepio. Says Lucas: 'In effect, the story will be told through their eyes.'"

Now, not only were people speculating on what would happen in the next movie, but what happened before the first one, and what will happen way down the line. Of course, there was no way of knowing back then, that Lucas' plans for a third trilogy would fizzle, with him retroactively claiming he never had plans to film a third trilogy. There was also no way to know that the first of the prequels wouldn't appear until 1999, or that it would not have any of the excitement, adventure, and especially the fun, of either Star Wars: Episode IV, or Star Wars: Episode V.

I always liked the notion that the movies were meant to be viewed from the perspective of the droids, and early expanded universe material implied that both R2-D2 and C-3PO had been around for some time, and had gone through a succession of owners, together, as C-3PO's designation of them being counterparts to one another would imply. None of this early expanded universe material implied that R2-D2 was once little more than an accessory on a royal starship owned during her time in office by Luke and Leia's mom, or that he didn't meet C-3PO until finding him being assembled by a little kid who would later be Luke and Leia's dad, and Darth Vader. If someone had told me this theory back in 1980, I would have thought they were an idiot. Of course, neither of the droids, particularly poor C-3PO had much to do in the prequels, removing their status of eyewitnesses to galactic history as it unfolded.

As for the title. When the original STAR WARS was rereleased in 1977, the opening went from the STAR WARS logo falling back into space followed by the opening crawl, which looked like this:

In 1981, when STAR WARS was rereleased, the opening crawl appeared in an altered form which also answered the question of the movie's subtitle, which had not been thought up by the time THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK was released. That crawl looked like this:

It certainly did not have that ring to it that "The Empire Strikes Back" or "Revenge of the Jedi" had to them, or that sense of promising a good time. "A New Hope" was about as ho-hum as it gets, and people who were there to see Episode IV during it's first theatrical release still refer to it simply as "Star Wars."



Dave Lowe said...

"People who were there to see Episode IV during it's first theatrical release still refer to it simply as STAR WARS."

I'm one of those people and included in the membership is that warm, happy, smug and arrogant...loving Star Wars before it was an episode number feeling.

Michael Jones said...

I hope to make this a Starwarsian month (or at least week) as well. I gave you a heads-up too.

John Rozum said...

I'll bet you still have your membership card, too, Dave.

Michael, thanks for the heads up. I'm looking forward to what you post this month, no matter the frequency. Everyone else should take a look at Michael's blog as well. I will include a link in a future post here too.

Robert Pope said...

In the summer of '77 I was ten and also am a member of that most desirable club. I cannot recall WHERE I read it, but I know I read an article (Famous Monsters? Starlog? Help?) alluding to Ben and Vader's duel that ended with Vader in a molten pit, hideously scarred and in need of the breath mask. Needless to say, the decades-long wait for the movie showcasing both Vader's extermination of the Jedi (he didn't get to "hunt down" anybody!) and the aforementioned duel was about as unfulfilling as you could get.

John Rozum said...


I'm sure I read the very article of which you speak, though I can't pin it down any better off the top of my head. There is a FM article that used a picture of Vincent Price from "House of Wax' to illustrate what Vader might look like sans helmet, which I will post later this month, but I don't think that was the first genre magazine mention of Vader's lava pit fall.

I actually mostly enjoy "Revenge of the Sith" of the prequels. The opening sequence felt closest to the spirit of the original films, and made me wish there'd been as much care in the other two prequel movies.

There were many missed opportunities though. The Clone Wars didn't seem to be much of a war for one thing (and with the tv series, still don't). Biggest of all though was that with three movies to do so, they never bothered to develop any of the Jedi as characters, merely as action figures, so that when the time came that they started getting wiped out, there was no sense of loss.

There was also that obvious bit of last minute business of trying to iron out all of the continuity problems with the prequels and the original trilogy by shoe-horning in all of the connections. I was waiting for Yoda to tell Obi-Wan, "From now on, Ben, your name shall be." As it stands the whole business of Kenobi not having gone by the name "Obi-Wan" since well before Luke was born, is unaddressed.

Robert Pope said...

Good points all. "Revenge" was certainly the best of all the prequels, but certainly had more than its fair share of troubles (my wife was considerably agitated by how Padme could have gone from the adventurer/heroic posture of "Attack of the Clones" to basically being such a limp rag that she more or less dies of (to quote Lucy Van Pelt) "heart pop."
And yes, NONE of the jedi were developed enough to shed a tear over...!