Tuesday, October 16, 2007

5. The Empire Strikes Back (Kershner, 1980) [LE]

He's his father? He's his father? Can you believe he's his father?!

Apparently at some point I told Yoggoth that this film was "overrated," and yet funny how it comes in at number five on my list and number six on his. Maybe that's just a testament to my overall low opinion of the '80s. Hell, it's possible that The Empire Strikes Back is actually the best film of the decade, but, as Yoggoth so expertly stated, it's hard to tell, because it's almost impossible to judge the first three Star Wars films as separate entities in and of themselves. Lucas, big bonehead that he is, has made it even more impossible thanks to the whole prequel business.

Part of me wishes that Lucas had just stopped at Star Wars and moved on. Yeah, that's right, even though I will freely admit that, as the conventional wisdom goes, Empire is superior in many ways to Star Wars, still by opening the floodgates for Ewoks and Jar Jar Binks and "Hold me like you held me on Naboo" and all that silliness, he diluted the power of the first film. Spielberg made the right call in leaving the Jaws sequels to someone else; now you can judge Jaws completely on its own as a Spielberg movie and not even think of the sequels as being spun from the same cloth. Lucas took a gamble that seemed to pay off big at first, but increasingly came to look like a mistake. In other words, he really screwed himself by raising the bar too high.

It's like Oasis. Definitely Maybe was a perfect little blast of rock 'n roll euphoria, but everybody figured it was a one-shot deal. Then when they came out with (What's the Story) Morning Glory, everybody thought, "Wow, they're doing ballads and orchestrations and stuff we never even thought they'd be able to do. Maybe they can do anything!" And then Be Here Now was like the bloated regurgitation of everything they'd already done and they had nowhere else to go and they basically laid a big fat fart on everybody's expectations. And now they just keep releasing albums even though the magic is totally gone in every possible way and you just want to scream out to Noel Gallagher "Please, Noel, stop, for the love of God!!"

So when Empire Strikes Back came out and it was better than Star Wars, I think all the fans just assumed that Lucas would be like the Beatles and that every movie would be better than the last. Hey if you can do it once, you can do it again, right? He he. I remember my father coming out of the theater after seeing Return of the Jedi. "Another death star? They went back to Tatooine? God what a letdown." But Lucas had been asking for it by making Empire so rewarding. And I'm partially of the mind that if an artist can't deliver on the whole story, then he shouldn't even bother to expand it.

And yet, and yet...Empire is so good. Yoda lifting the X-wing fighter out of the swamp, whispering to Luke "That is why you fail"; Vader kneeling before the Emperor, discussing a potential new ally; Obi-Wan's ghost suggesting "There is another"; Leia telling Han "I love you" before Han is frozen in carbonite, and Han responding "I know." Imperial walkers. Cloud City. "I am your father." Come on, buddy, was it really that hard to come up with this stuff?

Apaprently so. But just because Lucas never delivered on the promise of The Empire Strikes Back, can you really hold that against the movie itself?

Probably not.


ninquelote said...

I think Lucas was one of the first people to realize the difficulty of neatly ending a story without being a cop-out or just plain lame. It's always easier to make the cliffhanger ending than it is to wrap up the story. That's why the "happily ever after" ending is so popular. It lets you make up your own ending, which is always the best.

Off the top of my head, I can't think of any true trilogies before 'Star Wars'. After all, 'Star Wars' is commonly referred to by us film savvy types as "The Trilogy". (Sorry LOTR, you don't even come close).

Since 'Star Wars', trilogies have been a dime a dozen, all copying Lucas's same format:

-The first movie is for the most part stand-alone. If it doesn't do well, studios could cut it off there and try again in a decade or so.
-The second movie has more action, more special effects, more sex, improves the story line ten fold, and has the cliff hanger ending that leaves us wanting so much more we are tearing our hair out to be the first in line for the exciting conclusion.
-Part three has expertly made trailers, internet hype by the ton, and is for the most part, a huge let down.

This has been the formula for every trilogy I can think of:
The Matrix
Spiderman (from what I hear, but I will reserve judgment until I see the third one)

Again, I think 'Empire' completely deserves to be on your list, and could only be there because of the set up it was given by the original, the way 'Revenge of the Sith' is only good because of the original.

herr zrbo said...

First off, they didn't travel back to Tatooine in Empire. Didn't happen, nope. Didn't go back there till the "let's not talk about them" prequels.

Second, what do you mean by "Lucas took a gamble", what gamble do you mean? I think you got too tied up in your Oasis comparison and never got finished your thought. Was the gamble that he chose a new director? Or do you mean the cliffhanger?

Little Earl said...

Zrbo: Wasn't Tatooine where Jabba the Hutt lived? I was referring to Return of the Jedi, not Empire. Also, by "gamble" I meant Lucas' decision to extend the storyline hoping that he could maintain the quality (hell, in his mind, he probably thinks he DID maintain the quality). And I don't believe I got too tied up in my Oasis comparison.

Ninquelote: How about the Godfather "trilogy"? I like how everybody just tries to forget that Coppola ever made the third one. I wonder if there's a way to make a trilogy that doesn't fall prey to your schema. Maybe you'd have to write out the whole thing before you even start to make the first movie? I think that's what Peter Jackson did with LOTR, and, to be fair, I don't think the movies deviated too far from each other in quality. I mean, I'm not that impressed with the LOTR trilogy, but I'm not impressed for other reasons, not because the third movie was a "letdown" or anything.

ninquelote said...

I did forget about the Godfather trilogy, but wasn't that completed some time in the '90's or something? I'm sure I missed a couple other ones also (TMNT anyone).

As for the LOTR, that was originally conceived as two really long movies and Jackson lobbied to get that story cut into three parts instead, so, yes, you're right; there were inherent problems from conception on that one.

But I still think the third one was boring with only one or two watchable sequences. Part two might have been just as bad for you, however.

herr zrbo said...

LE: Wow, what am I smoking? I completely forgot about the whole opening sequence of Jedi where they go visit Jabba on Tatooine. How could I forget?? Maybe I was trying to forget that awful, awful "re-imagining" sequence of singing and dancing muppets that Lucas added in to the 'Special Edition'.

I just thought of the 'Die Hard' trilogy, which doesn't follow ninquelote's format (I guess it's no longer a trilogy though). The first one was great. The second one was a cash-in that basically repeated the first, except "Hey guys, we're in an airport this time!". But with the third they kept the core idea (being trapped by terrorists) but they gave it a different interpretation by not actually physically trapping the main character, it's more of a mind trap. Plus they tied the plot into the first movie (Jeremy Irons is supposed to be Alan Rickman's brother - and what's with English guys playing Germans?). In the end the movie ends up being a true successor to the first, plus it's much better than the second film. Sure, it's Die Hard, but I'd much rather watch that trilogy than LOTR or TMNT.

Little Earl said...

Yeah zrbo you sounded pretty cocky about the whole Tatooine thing.

As far as LOTR goes,...(whisper) I only saw the first movie! From just the first one alone, I think I could tell that the LOTR trilogy wasn't really going to be my thing. I could be wrong, of course, and you can't really judge a movie (or two) until you've seen it, so I must refrain from giving too broad of an opinion on the trilogy as a whole.

ninquelote said...

zrbo makes a good point. My trilogy theory is just a basic guideline that most often is true if the movies are a planned trilogy and are made in relatively quick succession.

If you count 'Live Free Die Hard' as part of the trilogy by forgetting that 'Die Hard 2: Die Harder' exists, the Die Hard Trilogy is probably the greatest trilogy of all time.

By the same means, if the new Indiana Jones movie is really good, you could discount part 2 and make a kick ass trilogy out of them.

Maybe that's the secret to breaking the code: Make a fourth movie to cancel out the worst of the trilogy.

herr zrbo said...

Take out Temple of Doom?? But what about the cart ride/race sequence, or the annoying Japanese boy from the Goonies (Data?)!! I've yet to see Live Free or Die Blah, I love me some Die Hard, but a sequel a decade later.. Hmm, i'm a bit skeptical to say the least.

I do like the idea of 'cancelling out' the bad one from the bunch though.

yoggoth said...

Temple of Doom had to be one of the most disappointing movies I've ever seen. It didn't help that I saw it after I'd already seen the others. Even the fabled cart ride wasn't as cool as Indy sneaking through the booby trapped temple and running from the giant boulder.

Coppola should make a Godfather 4: God Harder. He could show Scorsese how a cheesy Oscar cash-in crime movie is really made.