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thing of the past | thing to come

What: Star Wars, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, the 1980 sequel to George Lucas's epic. The continuing story of our band of heroes tempted fans with this trailer:

Why: Showing a humility and foresight few would have imagined, George Lucas sought out his old USC film school professor, Irvin Kershner, to direct Empire. Kershner had previously directed such films as the potboiler Eyes of Laura Mars and the espionage spoof S*P*Y*S, none of which would let anyone confuse him with Hitchcock or Fellini. Kershner said no, but his agent insisted. And so, perhaps only to help his protégé, Kershner directed the greatest science-fiction epic ever. The actors, somewhat raw in Star Wars, had now come into their own, showing a range that made even the Han-Leia-Luke (um, ick) love triangle deeply involving. The script by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan was the crispest of the series. Lucas's revelation that Darth Vader was Luke's father blew audiences' minds; if you saw it in the theater on day one like I did, you most assuredly did not see that coming. And oh my, was it pretty. Cloud City, Dagobah, and the ice planet Hoth looked real, and the Rebel battle against the AT-ATs remains unequalled in sci-fi spectacle.

Impact: As the 12th highest grossing film of all time, Empire still can't compete with Star Wars, which is only behind Gone with the Wind on the all-time list. But while Star Wars is the epitome, Empire is the franchise. Star Wars was a closed loop, but Empire doesn't even have an ending. As Luke, Leia, and the droids stare out the window and the Rebel fleet limps off to parts unknown, Lucasfilm challenges you: "You want to know more, right? You really, really do?" We did, and Lucas had the biggest science-fiction franchise in history.

Personal Connection: I've done lots of projects for and around Lucasfilm, working on three Star Wars games and creating a couple dozen puzzles for Star Wars Gamer and Star Wars Insider. My team also ran the Tatooine Parlor at Star Wars Celebration, allowing players to shoot womp rats, play the game Sabacc, and decide who shot first, Han or Greedo. I've enjoyed my relationship with Lucasfilm, as they let me—and hundreds of other creatives—make up cool things for their expansive galaxy. My latest foray commemorated Kershner's passing last week, over on the Wired site, with artist Corey Macourek and I contributing a Star Wars Hanukkah Special. (My biggest contribution to Lucas's empire has nothing to do with Star Wars, though. More on that in another entry.)

Other Contenders: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the brilliant sequel to the original series episode "Space Seed"; "Best of Both Worlds", Star Trek: The Next Generation's indomitable centerpiece; "Toys in the Attic", the most invasive episode of Cowboy Bebop; "Our Mrs. Reynolds", the first impact of Christina Hendricks's Saffron on Firefly; Aliens, which told all other sci-fi horror flicks, "Game over, man!"; "The Girl in the Fireplace", where, on an abandoned spacecraft, Doctor Who falls in love with Madame de Pompadour.


( 10 comments — Agree or disagree? )
Dec. 5th, 2010 10:37 pm (UTC)
I know it's not really an "episode" of anything, but I can't look at any best-of list of space operas without thinking of Galaxy Quest. So I'll nominate it as the best episode of Galaxy Quest.

Good choice on the Firefly ep, not that there are a ton to choose from.
Dec. 6th, 2010 03:31 am (UTC)
Love me some Galaxy Quest. That movie is all about Missi Pyle.

I waffled between "Our Mrs. Reynolds" and "Out of Gas," and broke the tie in favor of the one which had Christina Hendricks. Which is how I would break all ties, if that option's available.
Dec. 6th, 2010 05:35 am (UTC)
I think it's even more about Enrico Colantoni. Basically, it's just good to be a Thermian.
Dec. 5th, 2010 11:35 pm (UTC)
Another great one! (Your Hanukkah Special link doesn't work right as of this writing, though.)
Dec. 6th, 2010 03:28 am (UTC)
Patched. Thanks for the heads-up, Will.
Dec. 6th, 2010 01:52 pm (UTC)
I know I'm in the minority here, but I always, always, ALWAYS preferred the first Star Wars, precisely because:

1.) It actually freaking ended
2.) The idea that Darth Vader was Luke's father always struck me as utterly ludicrous (and got even worse with the Leia-Luke thing in #3: How small is this freaking universe, anyway?)
3.) The hero was the nice guy who was trying instead of the sarcastic rogue who ALWAYS gets the girl in every other damn film. (This is obviously a personal preference...)
4.) The humor was much better handled. In the first film, C-3P0 talks like the protocol droid-out-of-water he actually is. ("Let the Wookie win" is therefore not only a funny line, but it's in his peacemaking character.) Starting in the second, he becomes a broad caricature whose catchphrase is that he cites statistics. By the second film, even "I've got a bad feeling about this" had moved from a fresh joke into the realm of inside tagline.
5.) Leia kicks WAY more ass in the first film; in the second, she's back to being (most of the time) a mere love interest like we've seen a zillion times.
6.) The characters, whose bickering friendship I loved in the first film, wind up separated from Luke for most of the second. Dagobah always bored me. I wanted everyone back in the nearest canteen, playing chess again.
7.) Speaking of which, the scene on Dagobah where Luke fights Darth Vader--AND HE'S REALLY FIGHTING HIMSELF!--struck me, even in junior high, as a cheap easy plot point that hadn't been thought through very well. Are we really supposed to believe that Luke could become Darth Vader? That he's THAT much of an evil asshole, when we've never seen a single ounce of this tendency anywhere on screen? I called bullshit then, and when the Emperor tried to pull Luke to the Dark Side using even blunter means ("Come! Give in to hatred while I zap you with electricity and look creepy as hell!"--heckuva sales pitch you've got there, Pompatine) I knew that no one else could write that conflict convincingly either, because it never made sense.

Mostly, though, I find Emprie irksome because it doesn't end, and because it forces us (for narrative closure, which I'm obviously pretty big on) to watch the third film, which is even flatter and more blunt than the first two, in humor (Ewoks), morality (The Emperor), and gender roles (slave Leia).

I agree, however, that the acting is much better in the second film. Of course, that's because George Lucas didn't write it and didn't direct it. He should have learned from that and stayed away from all the others. Sigh.

Dec. 6th, 2010 03:06 pm (UTC)
I don't think you're in the minority, Dave. My guess is most viewers prefer the original over the sequel. SW fanpeople seem to prefer Empire, in no small part because it doesn't have to introduce everyone over and over--you get tired of that when you're watching it for the 35th time. (See also: Spider-Man v. Spider-Man 2, which has the same dynamic.)
Dec. 6th, 2010 05:13 pm (UTC)
I disagree with your disagreement. :) In my life's experience, I have always been the lone voice defending the first movie against the second. The second gets higher ratings in every movie review book I've ever owned, too.

Oh, that reminds me of another thing: Alec Guinness was the only actor who ever figured out how to be a Jedi and be funny at the same time--wry, detached, above it all and a little weary of dealing with idiots. In the second film, he simply intoned Great Lessons, and by the third film, when Luke was himself a Jedi--self-serious, focused, in command of every situation--they lost that spark entirely. Sigh. Another loss. (Yoda was funny, too, but he was funny like an Ewok is funny: a cartoon character with powers. Obi-Wan Kenobi had a history, a full emotional life, and he never got upstaged by his own special effects, and that's why he's still the greatest of them all.)
Dec. 6th, 2010 08:56 pm (UTC)
My biggest contribution to Lucas's empire has nothing to do with Star Wars, though. More on that in another entry.

You were stormtrooper #38, weren't you! I knew it!
Dec. 6th, 2010 09:03 pm (UTC)
501st Forever!

(Um, no.)
( 10 comments — Agree or disagree? )


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