music friday, 1971 edition
flaws: boardwalk empire and the newsroom

by request: the empire strikes back (irvin kershner, 1980)

(This request comes from Tomás.)

Perhaps my cranky attitude is already apparent in the way I refuse to call this movie by that long mess of a Part Five it is now known as. It was The Empire Strikes Back when I first saw it, and that’s how it remains in my mind.

I’ve long claimed that this was the best of the Star Wars movies, but having watched it again, I’m not sure why. Not that it’s bad, but it feels a part of the first three movies in a way that I can’t see why I bother separating this one from the other two. The truth is, I’m not sure I’d even seen The Empire Strikes Back since 1980. I saw the original some years ago, dutifully watched the three prequels when they came out, and I saw Return of the Jedi, which at the time I found more annoying than the others. But you aren’t talking to a hardcore fan … if memory serves, I’ve now seen the six Star Wars movies a total of eight times, all of them included.

I remember when Star Wars came out. I liked it … who wouldn’t? … but I felt it lacked anything beyond its cheesy roots. Fun, but not transcendent. When Close Encounters of the Third Kind came out later in the year, I told anyone who would listen that this was what I wanted from science fiction … a sense of awe. (It’s not entirely fair for me to compare a movie to Close Encounters, which made #25 on my Facebook Fave Fifty list.)

And it’s been more than 30 years, so I can’t really remember why I liked Empire more than Star Wars. I liked the big mechanical attacking horse thingies in the snow battle (see, if I was a good fan, I’d know what those were called … now I have to look it up … Walkers!). I’d say the whole thing about The Force had more impact, which might add the transcendence I wanted, except Yoda bugged the shit out of me.

I’m happy to say that Yoda wasn’t nearly as awful as I’d remembered. (Does he have a bigger part in Return of the Jedi?) He’s not on that much, and his way of speaking, which is really what annoys me, didn’t seem all that bad. On the other hand, C-3PO is still the Jar Jar Binks of his day. I still don’t get why people like the character. I know he is meant to be annoying, but that doesn’t make me glad when he chatters away. Darth Vader is still impressively scary, even with the hindsight of knowing his full story. There are a few special effects that reach that place of awe I want … the Walkers, the Cloud City sitting on the impossibly slender stand. The acting of the humans doesn’t seem as purposely bad as it did in Star Wars.

But it’s time to admit that I am not the audience for these films. That was clear when the new trilogy came along … only Revenge of the Sith was even tolerable to me. But the fact that I don’t have any real desire to watch Star Wars movies over and over, even as I’m always ready to sit through Attack of the Crab Monsters one more time, says it all. I suppose when I’m asked, I’ll still list The Empire Strikes Back as my favorite. But that’s mostly because it’s the kind of thing one should have an opinion about. #330 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 7/10.

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