Friday, May 21, 2010

... Why you stuck up, half-witted, scruffy-looking Nerf herder!

PhotobucketThirty years ago today, May 21, 1980, was a pivotal day in the life of every young fella born in the '70s -- the day Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back hit theatres. It's fair to say most boys (and lots of girls) of my age would never be the same. Wampas! AT-ATs! Yodas! Bobas! Landos! These were the things that buzzed around our brains for weeks and months afterwards.

Sadly, though, I can't quite remember my 9-year-old self's experience of actually SEEING "Empire" in theatres. I know I did, but for some reason, it's all tangled up in the kazillions of times I've seen "Empire Strikes Back" since then. I don't know for sure, but I suspect I've seen it more than any other movie. It's my favorite "Star Wars" movie, of course. Isn't it everybody's?

Thirty years on, "Empire" works because it's the best pure movie of the entire six-film epic. I'll always love the original "Star Wars" despite its hokier bits, and even the rather daft Ewoks don't sour me on "Return of the Jedi" (which I vividly do remember seeing in a packed cinema in 1983). And as for the "new" trilogy -- it's not as bad as all that, but it's a lot more soulless and plastic, I think.

PhotobucketBut "Empire" -- well, many an armchair critic have already pointed out its merits. There's a scruffier side to "Empire" that the glossier other five movies lack -- it's there in Han Solo's snarky bantering with Leia, with the rogue Lando Calrissian, with sinister bounty hunter cameos, with Darth Vader's seemingly wholesale slaughter of unworthy henchmen. And "Empire" had the guts to end on an unashamed downer of a cliffhanger, with no promise things would be set right. (They would.) "Empire" had all the boy's own adventure fun of the original "Star Wars," but just coloured in with a little more intensity, a little more reality. Why that's lacking in George Lucas' later movies, I don't know.

PhotobucketPerhaps it was his script collaborators like Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett, or "Empire's" director Irvin Kershner. "Empire Strikes Back," from its glacial Hoth vistas to its soggy Dagobah gloom to its oh-so-'80s Cloud City disco skyline, is rich and full. It's so full that an entire generation of us kids saw a heck of a lot more to it than Lucas ever intended; we'd create worlds around it, guzzle down comics and action figures and nostalgia items for another 30 years to fill it out more. You'd see a lizard-man Bossk get about 1.4 seconds of screen time, buy the action figure and make up an entire cosmology around him. That's interactive entertainment in the pre-iPad age.

Nothing is ever quite as cool as it is when you're 9 years old, so maybe that's why nothing quite measures up to "Empire" for me. Without "Empire Strikes Back," it's hard to imagine growing up in the 1980s. So for that, George, Irvin, and everyone else, thanks for the awesomeness. (As Han Solo would say, "I know.")


  1. Okay, I know this is from your point of view... but "fellas"? Come on, man - throw us Star Wars chick geeks a bone would ya. I had just as many action figures as most of you boys and lost all my weapons in the dirt mounds in my back yard as well. Of course, my Princess Leia action figure was already turned to the dark side, girls just didn't get any good "bad girl" parts back then. :0)

  2. I remember my theater trip to see Empire. We saw a matinee months after the release- we were among a few people in the theater. We were all into the toys by then, and my dad teased us with calling lightsabers lifesavers (like the candy- haha) so every time one came on screen we had to point it out to him. The cave scene freaked me out.
    I have a great tape of my younger brother giving a review of Empire, including great deconstruction of Luke pulling his hand in his sleeve and Han getting a pizza as they sent up the fake-carbonite.
    We are a lucky generation!
    And I saw Jedi in the Del Oro- packed theater. Second day. Good times :)

  3. Hey, I mentioned women in the second sentence!

  4. I don't remember seeing Empire in the theater, but I vividly remember A New Hope. T'was with my pa, and immediately after I begged him to buy me R2D2 and c3PO action figures. Then we went to see a Toronto Maple Leaf Game at the Gardens. I don't remember the game, but I do remember playing with the action figures!

  5. I don't come around here often enough... That post made me smile.... I wonder where my R2D2 cookie jar is these days? Hmmm....