01;15:01 – 01:30:00
Last week, we left three of our heroes—Luke, Han and Chewbacca—in the middle of a firefight in Detention Block AA-23 on the Death Star space station. They had a loosely formed plan to rescue Princess Leia Organa, who is about to be terminated. Not “immediately” as Grand Moff Tarkin wanted, but. . .soonish, I guess. I believe that Darth Vader is delaying her termination for reasons unknown.
Old Ben Kenobi was also on his way to disable the tractor beam that’s keeping the Millennium Falcon from leaving Docking Bay 327. We know that the Sith Lord, Darth Vader, has sensed his former master, but we don’t really know where he’s located as this chapter of the Star Wars Edition of 15-Minute Force begins.
Our two main droid characters, C-3PO and R2-D2, are locked in the control room overlooking Bay 327, with the bodies of the Imperial soldiers killed by Luke and Chewie. They’ll have more to do soon. For now, they’re just waiting.
Mere seconds into this chapter, and the great battle of Detention Block AA-23 is over and our protagonists emerge victorious. Han checks the computer to locate Princess Leia. She’s in cell number 2187. Han orders Luke to go get her while he holds them off there in the detention block control room.
Han communicates with someone over the comm, trying to convince them they had some sort of weapons malfunction and everything is fine. The voice from the comm says they’re sending a squad up. Han says that they have a reactor leak at the moment and to give them a few minutes to lock it down. The voice asks for his operating number. So, naturally, Han shoots the control panel with his blaster. That’s what I would have done, too.
He shouts out to Luke that they’re going to have company soon.
Luke locates cell 2187 and finds Princess Leia inside, sprawling catlike on a hard black shelf-cot. There are no pillows or mattress visible. No comfort for prisoners scheduled for termination.
The ever-snarky Leia tells Luke that he seems a little short for a stormtrooper. Luke removes his helmet and introduces himself. He says that he’s there to rescue her, and that he has her R2 unit. Speaking very rapidly, he adds that he’s there with Ben Kenobi.
This gets Leia’s interest. Where is Kenobi?
One screenwipe later, and we get another conference room scene, with Vader telling Grand Moff Tarkin that Kenobi is here, on the space station. Tarkin refers to Kenobi as “Obi-Wan” instead of “Ben.” How does Vader know Kenobi is on board?
“A tremor in the Force,” Darth Vader says. “The last time I felt it was in the presence of my old Master.”
Tarkin says that surely Obi-Wan Kenobi must be dead by now. Why is that, I wonder? Tarkin looks older than Kenobi. Tarkin goes on to say that the Jedi are extinct and that Vader is all that remains of their ancient religion.
During the meeting, they get interrupted with news of a disturbance in Detention Block AA-23. Vader seems to use this as proof that Kenobi is there, and that the Force is with him. Tarkin tells Vader that if Kenobi is on the space station, he must not let him escape.
“Escape is not his plan,” Vader says. “I must face him alone.” Then he turns and stalks out of the conference room. Vader is still kinda bratty, isn’t he?
Now, this exchange, along with Ben’s seemingly final parting words to Luke as he left the control room, makes it seem like both men knew they were about to meet in a one-on-one duel. The Force has made it their destiny. Vader’s comment about escape not being his plan seems to indicate that he had foreknowledge of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s death. And that Kenobi did, as well. It’s a little confusing. Why did they even bother to have a duel? Old Ben could have just switched off the tractor beam and then commit hari-kari.
Speaking of Ben, we smash-cut to a quick scene of Kenobi continuing to slink around the black hallways.
Then, it’s back to the detention block, where Han and Chewie begin exchanging laser fire with the stormtroopers sent to check out the “disturbance.” The stormtroopers still can’t hit anything they shoot at. Han and Chewie retreat down the cell block, and there they meet Princess Leia for the first time.
“Looks like you managed to cut off our only escape route,” the inconsiderate Princess says to Han.
“Maybe you’d like it back in your cell, Your Highness,” Han responds. The “Your Highness” doesn’t sound sincere.
As they are pinned down by blaster fire, Luke takes this moment to call C-3PO back in the control room to find out if there are other ways out of the cell block. The protocol droid informs him that all systems have been alerted to their presence, which doesn’t exactly answer the question. C-3PO does add that the main entrance seems to be the only way in or out, however.
Now there are stormtroopers outside the control room, trying to get in. More complications.
Back to the detention block.
“This is some rescue!” Leia says, continuing to complain. “You came in here and didn’t have a plan for getting out?” This is all, of course, directed at Han. She’s already dismissed Luke as a short stormtrooper.
“He’s the brains, sweetheart!” Han retorts, indicating Luke, which is just a sad admission.
Leia takes Luke’s blaster and blasts a hole in a wall grate. “Somebody has to save our skins!” she says. Even as an 11 year old I knew that Princess Leia wasn’t my father’s storybook princess. She had moxie. And, apparently, access to lots of cocaine.
Leia is the first one down the garbage chute. Chewie initially balks, growling out a long complaint about the smell. Han insults the Wookiee, calling him a “big furry oaf,” and verbally abuses him until Chewie goes down the chute after Leia.
Now Luke and Han are alone in the hallway, still being shot at. Han says, “Wonderful girl! Either I’m going to kill her, or I’m beginning to like her.” Which is just awkward sentence construction. And bad dialogue writing.
Han then tells Luke to go down the chute, another little gesture that hints at Han’s innate bravery. He quickly follows behind Luke, diving head-first through the hole.
And then, suddenly, we’re in our new set. The garbage masher. I was going to write “the iconic garbage masher,” but it occurs to me that from here on out everything is iconic. This set looks very good, even by today’s standards much less 1977’s. There’s just the right amount of filth, and the trash and scrap is varied and interesting looking. You can tell that a lot of time and thought went into the design of both set and props. It even looks like it smells bad.
I notice now that the majority of the “trash” piled higher than the standing water is much too large to have come down a chute the way our heroes did. But, I can rationalize that there are much larger openings located higher above them for industrial waste and scrap metal parts. This isn’t something I would have even thought about when I was 11.
Continuing what passes for witty repartee in this faraway galaxy a long, long time ago, Han says, “The garbage chute was a wonderful idea! What an incredible smell you’ve discovered!” You can cut the sexual tension in the garbage masher with a butter knife.
Then Han does something incredibly stupid and fires his blaster at the masher’s single exit hatch. The laser bolt ricochets around the chamber, fortunately not striking anything vital, just like the stormtroopers. I’ve heard rumors that Han was once trained to be an Imperial soldier. Luke says the masher is magnetically sealed and that he already tried that. Since Han followed Luke almost immediately into the chute, that seems unlikely. Maybe time passes at a different rate in the garbage masher, because the magnetic seal warps the chronoton matrix or somesuch technobabble. I can justify plot holes and logical inconsistencies with the best of them.
Han and Leia trade insults about how the princess has landed them in another bad spot. “It could be worse,” Leia says, and, right on cue, we hear a prolonged groaning that I took to be the Masher-Monster because, right after, Luke says that there’s something alive in there. Han tells Luke that it’s his imagination. Then they see something moving about in the muck, a periscope-eye pops up above the waterline, and then a tentacle wraps around Luke’s leg and pulls him under.
Luke resurfaces briefly, says his gun is jammed, and then is pulled under again. This time, he’s under for a long time, and it sure looks like Luke is a goner.
There’s the sound effect of metallic clanking. Luke surfaces again, gasping for breath. Leia asks what happened, and Luke says he doesn’t know, the monster just let go of him and disappeared. I didn’t make the mental connection when I was 11, but it’s obvious to me now that the Masher-Monster released Luke because it heard the masher starting up. I always just accepted it before as one of those unexplained Force things.
A brief aside about the smell inside the garbage masher. We’ve been told it stinks. And Chewie had a major adverse reaction to the smell even before he went into the chute (although dogs seem to find bad smells interesting usually). There is black crud accumulated on the walls of the masher, and the water is murky. I don’t see any of what I would call everyday garbage like food scraps and cardboard containers, just a lot of scrap metal and some smaller chunks light enough to float on the water. You have to wonder if the smell is coming from human waste. Maybe all of the station’s bathrooms drain into the garbage masher. That puts Luke’s prolonged dunking in a new light. Luke is going to contract a triple case of cholera, typhoid and dysentery. I wonder if a bacta tank clears that up.
The metallic clanging sound signaled the masher walls beginning to close in, of course. Han becomes the second Star Wars character to have a bad feeling about this. They attempt to brace the encroaching walls with long pieces of metal. Suddenly, Luke gets the bright idea to contact C-3PO.
The protocol droid doesn’t answer. Cut to the control room at the docking bay again. The stormtroopers blast their way into the room, and our two hero droids are hiding in the supply closet. When discovered, C-3PO immediately rats out the others, telling the stormtroopers that they were headed to the prison level. Of course, he said earlier that there were station-wide alerts about them, and, by this point, they are already in the garbage masher. But, C-3PO didn’t know that yet. I’m beginning to think that he’s a traitor as well as a coward.
C-3PO retrieves his commlink from the counter and then asks the stormtrooper left to guard the control room permission to escort R2 to maintenance, since all the excitement has overloaded his circuits. This is one of the reasonable stormtroopers, and he allows the pair to leave.
Back to the masher. Conditions are getting tighter. Luke’s still trying to raise C-3PO on his comm.
C-3PO and R2 are in Docking Bay 327 but can see no sign of Master Luke and the gang. C-3PO tells R2 to jack in to the wall socket (again, conveniently placed at astromech height) and try to locate them. And to hurry!
Back in the masher, which continues to mash. Han quips that one thing’s for sure: They’re all going to be a lot thinner. Funny, funny man.
Han also keeps telling Leia to “get on top of it,” while he’s touching her in a familiar way that you should never touch royalty. Unfortunately, this makes me think about Carrie Fisher’s account of the affair she and Harrison Ford had during the filming of this movie. She was 19, and he was 33, and married, at the time. I know they were both consenting adults, but I still would have killed him if I were her father. Eddie Fisher was still alive then, and only fourteen years older than Ford. The same age difference as between Harry and Carrie. Eddie didn’t kill him, though. Maybe he never knew about it.
Back on the droids. C-3PO says thank goodness they haven’t found them yet; where could they be? R2 bleeps and whistles that the protocol droid should use his comlink.
“Oh my. I forgot. I turned it off,” says C-3PO. He was the master of the “Oh my” decades before George Takei. I think all the memory wipes have made C-3PO forgetful.
Just in the nick of time, C-3PO contacts Luke, who tells him in an anxious, imploring voice to shut down all of the garbage mashers on the detention level. R2, who’s still jacked in to the wall, carries out these orders, and our heroes are saved. Remember: it’s not luck. In my experience, there’s no such thing as luck. It’s all the Force, which both controls your actions and obeys your commands. An energy that connects all living—ah, forget it. They were just lucky.
Our garbage masher heroes are elated and are whooping it up with joy. C-3PO thinks he’s hearing their death screams. Luke assures the droids that they are okay, and to open the pressure hatch on unit number 3263827. It seems unlikely that’s an important number to George Lucas. Maybe it was his telephone number to his old apartment.
Cut to Ben Kenobi again. Remember him? He’s still going slowly down a corridor, his unlit lightsaber in his left hand. The controls to the tractor beam are located precariously above one of the Death Star’s many gaping chasms. This is great matte painting work in this scene. Visually interesting, but logically confusing. Why would any control panel be placed so awkwardly with only a narrow ledge for anyone, Jedi or otherwise, to maneuver around on? While it makes little sense, Star Wars will at least remain consistent throughout with its utter lack of safety constraints. Of course, during this same time, we all rode our bikes without helmets, few people wore seat belts or had ever heard of baby seats, and everyone thought nothing of letting the kids ride around in the bed of the pickup truck. It was a different time, folks. And Star Wars was set even longer ago than that. Also, Evel Knievel was one of my childhood heroes.
Ben switches off the tractor beam using deliciously analog controls.
Then we’re back with the rest of our human team. Oh, and Wookiee. Chewie is scared by an alarm that’s suddenly sounding. Again, acting like a dog. Han uses his blaster to silence the alarm and calm his pet Wookiee down.
Leia looks at Han, her eyes alight with anger and contempt.
“I don’t know who you are or where you came from,” she says, “But from now on, you do as I tell you. Okay?”
“Look, Your Worshipfulness,” Han says, “Let’s get one thing straight. I take orders from one person—Me!”
“It’s a wonder you’re still alive.”
Keep in mind that this all predates the Sam-and-Diane/David-and-Maddie type relationships that would later flourish on network television. I’m not saying that Han and Leia were the first bickering couple on the silver screen. I’m just saying that they influenced everything that came after. And frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. Okay, that predates Han and Leia.
Of course, Leia immediately follows this up by insulting Chewie, calling him a “big walking carpet.” That was just uncalled-for.
We cut back to Old Ben, who’s still throwing switches. Turning off tractor beams may be more complicated than I remembered. During this scene, two stormtroopers are in conversation close by Ben’s position, standing on the narrow, unrailed walkway suspended above the seemingly bottomless chasm. They seem to be of the opinion that this might be another drill. Grand Moff Tarkin apparently likes drilling his men.
I notice that there is an obvious height discrepancy between the two stormtroopers, so we must already be past the time of the clonetroopers. That would also explain why they don’t all speak in Jango Fett’s voice as well.
The two are discussing the new VT-16, which was the model number of a Czech glider from the Earth 1960s, as well as an aluminum tripod, an industrial strapping tool, and a route number in Vermont. I’m sure it’s something in the Star Wars universe as well, but who really cares? This is a throwaway line of dialogue.
Ben uses the Force to distract the stormtroopers and slips away, unseen. One of the stormtroopers dismisses the noise as “outgassing,” which is my new favorite word. I will use it in conversation before the day is over. I may do some “outgassing” of my own.
Luke, Han, Leia and Chewie are on a level above the docking bay, but they can see the Millennium Falcon through a window. Luke finds out, via commlink, that C-3PO and R2 are in the main docking bay and safe for the moment. Leia casually insults Han’s ship, which is becoming a thing. Luke and Leia get separated from Han and Chewie after they run into a squad of stormtroopers. Han bravely chases after the squad, who seem to be fleeing for no reason, at least until they lead Han and Chewie into a chamber full of stormtroopers. Then, it’s Han’s turn to turn on his heel and run.
Luke and Leia, also being pursued by stormtroopers, find themselves trapped on a retractable walkway above another of those pesky yawning chasms. The walkway is in the retracted position and Luke disables the controls for the walkway when he shoots the wall panel to shut the door on their pursuers. Shooting control panels is definitely a Star Wars thing. Suddenly, stormtroopers appear above them on the other side of the gap, and begin firing at our two heroes. Of course, none of the blaster fire hits them. Luke removes a grappling hook and cable from his Batman utility belt, and then Leia kisses him for luck before they swing across the chasm. Of course, in my experience, there’s no such thing as luck. The Force obeys and controls—ah, never mind.
While much has been made of the kiss, I have to say that it is a chaste one. Not unlike the type a sister might give to her brother. There has been much speculation that George Lucas hadn’t planned for Luke and Leia to be brother and sister at this point, but the lack of romantic chemistry between the two seems to bely this rumor. Maybe these were special edition changes.
Another shot of Ben skulking about. This time he’s holding his lightsaber in his right hand.
Back in the docking bay, C-3PO is wondering, aloud, where the rest of their crew could be.
Running down another dark corridor, Han and Chewie make an Indiana Jones-style leap through closing blast doors to avoid the stormtroopers close behind them.
And then the chapter closes on Ben Kenobi, his hood over his head and unlit lightsaber in hand (still the right one), coming face-to-shiny-black-faceplate with Darth Vader, whose menacing red lightsaber is already blazing. Something momentous—dare I say “iconic”—is about to go down.
But that’s going to have to wait until Chapter 7 of the Star Wars Edition of 15-Minute Force which will pick up at this very moment. This was an exciting fifteen-minute sequence. Princess Leia is mostly saved, and the tractor beam is turned off, so two of our story goals have been dealt with, as we transition to our new goals, the duel between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader, and the rest of the team’s escape from the Death Star. Oh, sorry: SPOILERS.
Until next time, It Seems that Master Yoda is the Only Jedi Who Ever Has an Escape Plan. . . . And May The 15-Minute Force Be With You.