Introducing Star Wars – Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

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The Kids

Before starting this movie, I reminded the boys of what happened in A New Hope – that the good guys won, the Death Star was destroyed and Darth Vader had escaped. Then I teased them a bit and told them that in this movie, the bad guys might actually win. With that possibility in their ears, we began the movie.

Again, I read the opening crawl to them and explained that the Rebels had moved to a new secret base on an ice planet and that the Empire is, again, trying to find them. The crawl also tells us that Vader is looking more specifically for Luke Skywalker – the pilot he sensed was strong in the force and who destroyed the Death Star.

Then we descend onto the ice planet Hoth and the boys are somewhat mystified by seeing Luke and Han riding Tauntauns. “What are those? Are they horses?” And then Luke is attacked by a super-scary Wampa and we and thrown into the first conflict of the film. Soon we see a bloodied Luke hanging in the Wampa’s cave and the boys are very concerned. But when Luke uses the force to get his lightsaber and kill the beast, they are elated.

They don’t seem to grasp the urgency of finding Luke in the cold barrens before he freezes though. They also could have done without the sexual tensions in the scenes between Han and Leia. Han was roguish in the first film, but here he starts out very adversarial and angry/rude towards Leia. For altruistic young people, he doesn’t seem like a good guy here.

When Luke has the first real vision of Kenobi’s ghost, the boys are in ecstatic. Not because Kenobi is back, but because he says one word: Yoda. These guys already know and love Yoda!

Anyway, Han saves Luke by cutting open his tauntaun, which the boys giddily squirm over. Then Luke recovers and we move into the big Hoth battle scene. The boys think the AT-AT walkers are supremely cool (which they are). They’re a bit confused by the fact that that snow-speeder ships have two guys inside – one pilot and one gunner. When Luke’s gunner Hobbie gets killed, they ask about 5 times who that was and if Luke got shot. They’re also somewhat confused by the evacuation logistics of the Rebel base, which is what Han and Leia are working on.

So Han, Leia, Chewie and C3PO escape in the Falcon and Luke and R2D2 get in his X-Wing. They’re all supposed to go straight to the rendezvous, but things get complicated immediately. The light-speed-less Falcon is pursued by Star Destroyers and Luke heads for Dagobah like Kenobi told him to.

The boys loved the Falcon in the asteroid field stuff, especially when the giant space worm tries to bite it. Then the Falcon tricks the Empire and heads for Cloud City for help from Lando.

Meanwhile, Luke finds Dagobah and Yoda pretends he isn’t really Yoda. The boys as SO confused by Yoda’s initial ruse. So many questions and things like “But…. HE IS Yoda!!!”. He’s funny though and they love his goofiness as he tries to frustrate Luke.

Then there’s the cave scene, which is confusing to almost everyone who sees it. Both boys are convinced that Vader is really there and that Luke kills him. I have to explain that it’s a dream of some kind that might be trying to tell him… something. Anyway, soon after, Luke ends up leaving even as Yoda and Kenobi basically plead with him not to.

Then it’s the third act and we’re in Cloud City. Han and Leia have been double-crossed by Lando and C3PO gets blown up. The boys are not liking this turn of events, especially when I explain to them that this is all a trap so Vader can get Luke. Han is frozen and I have to assure them multiple times that he is alive in there. But the bigger point is that Vader plans to freeze Luke too when he gets there.

Okay, so now Luke and Vader finally  have their big confrontation and this fight is scary. The boys are definitely feeling the dread as Luke is clearly outmatched here. Then the big moment – Luke gets his hand cut off by Vader. Both boys are so wiggly during the fight scene that they don’t actually seem to see the quick cut of Luke getting maimed. I have to tell them what happened. They catch a glimpse of the shortened arm in the later falling scene.

As Darth Vader is going through his pitch to Luke to join the dark side and then tells him the truth that he is his father, I’m fielding many questions. “If he wants him to join his side, why is he fighting him?” “Isn’t Luke’s dad dead?” “Didn’t Obi-Wan say Vader killed Luke’s dad?” All valid questions, actually. But I reiterate what we know about Vader – he operates only on anger and hatred. We see that he routinely kills his own people if they don’t do what he says. That’s what’s going on here. And it was a teachable moment to talk about how letting anger take over in your heart leads to doing bad things.

So Luke chooses to fall rather than join the dark side and is hanging from an antennae below the city, when he summons Leia and she and Lando, who have escaped in the Falcon. They swing back and pick him up. My 5.5 year old quickly draws some lines and concludes that Leia can use the force! Nice work, kid!

Han has been taken by the bounty hunter (who my 4 year old insists on calling “the bouncy hunter” to be funny) to Jabba the Hutt and Luke and Leia conclude the movie saying they will help Lando rescue him. Oh, and Luke gets a new robotic hand. That was easy.

Overall, this movie proved to be a little more complicated plot-wise for the boys to follow compared to the first one. It’s basically Act I – Hoth, Act II – Running Away / Dagobah and Act III – Cloud City Dual. But the subtext of all of those things gets a bit lost.

The boys did like that we got to know Vader a bit more. We saw him briefly without his helmet, revealing that he’s very scarred. We saw a  projection of the Emperor and heard that he’s interested in Luke too. We also saw lots of Imperial officers look at Vader with a lot of dread. He’s a scary, scary guy.

Once it was done, I asked the boys who won – the good guys or the bad guys? They, rightfully, said that neither side really won here. The bad guys got Han and chopped off Luke’s hand, but everyone is still alive and fighting for the rebellion and each other.

My Re-Watch

My stray observations:

It was very clear to me that much of the plot in this film was influenced by real-life, studio stuff. Mark Hamill had gotten some facial scars after filming the first movie. So they wrote a scene for the beginning of the movie where he gets cut on the face by a monster. Harrison Ford wasn’t sure he wanted to do a 3rd movie after this, so they literally put his character in limbo until they could sort out contract stuff.

It’s also obvious that they’re telegraphing Leia being Luke’s sister with Yoda’s line about there being another hope besides Luke. And yet they still have Leia give Luke a full mouth kiss on Hoth.

The tauntauns are pretty amazingly rendered. They look great. And, of course, so do the AT-AT walkers. Practical special effects can work so well.

I enjoyed noting the Imperial officer stuff more than I had before. You’ve got Vader killing officers and promoting their underlings a few times throughout the movie. I also noted, maybe for the first time, that an officer on the Star Destroyer advocates for the use of AT-AT walkers and then shows up as the walker commander too. And that same actor (Julian Glover) later on plays the foe in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade!

With Yoda, for some reason I felt more than ever before that he was voiced by Fozzie Bear.

My wife brought up the issue of how did Darth Vader figure out that Luke is his son anyway? And it’s a good question, one that isn’t actually addressed very fully in the film. I assume that it’s a revelation he arrived at through the force itself. Or he just put 2 and 2 together that a young, force-strong pilot exists and maybe his kids didn’t actually die 20 years ago. I know this is explained more in the comics and books and stuff, but the movie lets it hang a bit.

Bring on Return of the Jedi! The boys are very excited to finally meet Jabba the Hutt (who’s been talked about since the beginning of A New Hope) and see the Ewoks! I’m thinking more about the Emperor scenes and how they will react to seeing Luke come close to turning to the dark side!

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