01:30:01 – 01:45:00
Iconic though the duel between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader which opens this chapter of the Star Wars Edition of 15-Minute Force may be, it’s not really very exciting to watch. I think it seemed more energetic back in 1977. But, now, more than four decades later, Obi-Wan and Vader look like two arthritic old men whacking away at each other with their canes. Lightsaber dueling was definitely something the prequels did better, from Darth Maul to Count Dooku. Even when Young Obi and Proto-Darth Vader last met on the molten lava riverbanks of Mustafar.
It is with relief that we cut back to Luke and Leia meeting back up with Han and Chewbacca outside Docking Bay 327, within sight of the Millennium Falcon, which is surrounded by stormtroopers. Han grumbles something about hoping the “old man” managed to switch off the tractor beam.
Our relief is short-lived, because we’re back with Ben and Vader swatting away ineffectually at each other. Seriously, Alec Guinness looks like he’s trying to kill a fly with a roll of Christmas wrapping paper. Our combatants, too, are just outside Docking Bay 327. The stormtroopers guarding the Falcon see the duel and leave their posts to—to what? Watch the fight? Come to Vader’s aid? Neither of those sound right, somehow.
It gives our heroes the diversion that they need, though. Including C-3PO and R2-D2, who are also nearby, inside the docking bay. While the stormtroopers are distracted, they all head for the Millennium Falcon.
Luke is as distracted by the duel as the stormtroopers. Of course, Luke is probably easily distracted by squirrels and shiny objects as well. Old Ben notices Luke in Docking Bay 327 and then gives Darth Vader an enigmatic Mona Lisa smile. He holds his lightsaber in a position meant to guard nothing, and Vader strikes him down. Kenobi’s brown robe crumples empty to the deck, his lightsaber, now extinguished, falling on top of it.
“No!” Luke screams, in a rather girlish voice. It’s the same word his father made famous in Revenge of the Sith, but without the booming resonance and James Earl Jones baritone. Proving once again that he’s the brains of this operation, Luke has attracted the attention of the stormtroopers who had conveniently left the Falcon unguarded so that they could escape. A blaster firefight ensues.
Several stormtroopers are hit by blaster-fire, even though their own shots whizz harmlessly across the docking bay. Han tells Luke to shoot the controls to the door, which closes before Darth Vader can enter the docking bay itself. He’s preoccupied with stepping on Obi-Wan’s empty robes anyway, perplexed by his old master’s disappearing act.
Still, it seems Luke would have remained in one spot until one of the stormtroopers managed to kill him accidentally, if not for Old Ben’s disembodied voice saying, “Run, Luke. Run.” Which, naturally, made me think about Forrest Gump. Write your own smartass quips here.
Inside the cockpit of the Falcon, Han Solo says something about the tractor beam again, because he had to say something, I guess. Calling Ben “that old man” seems a bit disrespectful considering that the old man in question was just cut down by Darth Vader outside of Docking Bay 327 while they watched. No one spends a lot of time grieving in the Star Wars galaxy. Leia watched everyone on her homeworld Alderaan die just a short while ago, and she’s still pretty spunky. Must have been all the nose candy that was popular in the age of disco.
The Falcon backs up out of the docking bay and begins to leave the Death Star. The special effects here seem a little more awkward than I remember. The Millennium Falcon doesn’t move as gracefully on the screen as it did in my memory.
Okay, Luke is showing some grief over Ben’s self-sacrifice. He’s sitting at the space chess table, because there’s not a lot of places to sit on the ship. R2 makes a mournful droid sound. And Leia drapes a blanket or something over Luke’s shoulders, comforting the farmboy who just lost this man who was almost a complete stranger to him. Keep in mind, once again, that Leia just watched her entire family, most of the people she knows in the galaxy, her entire planet, all die, and she was tortured, however ineffectively, by an ominous-looking floating interrogation droid. Also, she was probed by Vader, at the very least her mind was. And, they all must still reek of garbage masher water funk.
But, because Leia just may be the only female left in the galaxy since Aunt Beru was barbecued, she’s the one who has to play the role of comforter in this scene. Doesn’t seem fair somehow. It does seem consistent, however.
Han says they are coming up on the Imperial sentry ships. He orders Chewie to angle deflector shields while he goes to charge up the main guns. He has to leave the cockpit to charge the guns, it seems. Maybe they operate on a hand crank. The Analog Era.
Back to Leia giving comfort to Luke. Luke just can’t believe Ben is gone. The man was like a crazy old wizard who lived beyond the Dune Sea to him. Ben was teaching him how to play Wiffle ball while blindfolded. He was instructing him in hokey religions and ancient weapons that are supposed to be elegant and less clumsy and random than blasters, even though Ben couldn’t really demonstrate that elegance and un-clumsiness. Old Ben was all of these things to Luke, you know?
Han comes into the room to liven things up again. Enough with all the tears, kid, we’re not out of this yet. Then he and Luke climb up and down a ladder, respectively, to their own gun turrets. We never saw Luke receiving instruction on how to operate the on-board guns, but maybe they are just common things on all ships. Han takes it for granted that a moisture farmer from Tatooine would know how to operate standard freighter ship armament. And, he does.
I liked this upcoming scene when I was 11, and I like it now. I don’t think you can really appreciate the scene if you came of age after the invention of PlayStation and Xbox gaming systems. When I was 11 years old, this is what we imagined video games would one day become. And they did. I was just flying my own TIE fighter while playing Battlefront II yesterday, and it was a blast. But, back in 1977, these visuals were just dream-fodder for OG gamers.
It is no secret that George Lucas borrowed heavily from many sources when he made Star Wars. And all of the space fighting sequences are highly reminiscent of actual air battle footage from history and from previous war movies. In this particular sequence, both Han and Luke are in the same roles as the ball turret gunners on some WWII aircraft, although the Falcon’s turrets are much roomier since I guess you don’t have worry about such things as aerodynamics or drag out in space. (I know, the Falcon is often in a planet’s atmosphere as well, but don’t try to confuse me with facts: Physics has no bearing on the Star Wars universe.) I like the way the seats in the turrets swivel while Han and Luke are battling it out with the TIE fighters, which is what I guess Han was calling “sentry ships.” Maybe the name TIE fighter came later.
A quick aside: the Internet tells me that the “TIE” in TIE fighter stands for “Twin Ion Engine,” which sounds like something I once knew but forgot. I always assumed that they were called TIE fighters because they looked like bow ties. I still think I’m correct, you know. The “twin ion engine” part smells like retcon to me, even if it makes complete in-universe sense.
Both Han and Luke have expressions of pure joy and exhilaration on their faces as they are killing their Imperial enemies. Killing other faceless humans seems to lessen the weight of Ben’s death for Luke. Isn’t “revenge-killing” one of the stages of grief?
TIE fighter pilots seem to be as equally effective as their white armored stormtrooper counterparts. They are basically cannon fodder, and the Falcon’s cannons shoot green fire. TIE laser fire is red. Let’s remember this fact and see if it holds true as we go forward. Anyway, all the TIE fighter pilots die, and the Falcon gets away. Our heroes get to celebrate a victory. Yay!
Or, did they really escape? The next scene calls that into question.
Back on the Death Star, Grand Moff Tarkin asks Vader, “Are they away?”
To which Vader responds: “They just made the jump into hyperspace.” We didn’t actually see that, but I’ll take his word for it.
“You’re sure the homing beacon is secure upon their ship?” This is clunky Tarkin exposition dialogue informing the film-viewer of facts they need to know. “I’m taking an awful risk, Vader. This had better work.”
I think I’ve always just viewed this as the Empire allowed our heroes to escape with Princess Leia so that they could track them to the Rebel Alliance headquarters. But, I’ve never looked at this too closely. Watching the movie 15 minutes at a time changes the way I’ve always seen Star Wars. This very short scene, following the space battle victory, implies a quite convoluted Imperial plan.
Grand Moff Tarkin and Lord Darth Vader planned for our heroes to separate, for starters. It was necessary to allow Obi-Wan Kenobi to deactivate the tractor beam at its improbably located control panel perched above a yawning chasm as all critical control panels must be. That was the first step. Then, they would have to know that our heroes would find out that Princess Leia was on the space station, purely by accident. After which, they would allow Han, Chewie and Luke to free Leia from the detention block, but only after killing a dozen or so Imperial soldiers to make it look good. But, also to make it look good, I suppose, they would plan to trap our heroes in the detention block, with their only possible avenue of escape being down a garbage chute. Maybe they would plant the idea in Leia’s head during her mind probe, since she’s the one who actually blasted the garbage chute open. Then, still to make it look good, they would almost crush Leia, Luke, Han and Chewie in the garbage masher, knowing that their droids would probably save them. Obviously, our heroes would split up after escaping the masher, but the stormtroopers would be given explicit instructions to miss them every time they fired at them, no matter how point-blank the shot may be. Even when Luke and Leia are swinging across retracted bridges. Sure several more stormtroopers would die during this engineered escape, but what are the deaths of a few compared to the size of the Imperial army? So, during this entire process, our heroes, including the droids, are being masterfully manipulated to return to Docking Bay 327. Darth Vader even works it so it makes sense that the stormtroopers guarding the ship would be distracted by his silly duel with his old master, the man who was responsible for his becoming more machine than man.
An improbably convoluted plan, but I can see how it could be formulated when you have the limited prescience of the Force. It’s not unlike the brash young Anakin Skywalker jumping out of a Coruscant air car without a jet pack or parachute, knowing that he wouldn’t die. What I don’t understand is why the homing beacon had to be installed on the Millennium Falcon. Since allowing Leia to escape was obviously a part of the plan, couldn’t they have just somehow hidden a beacon in her body? You know, while they were—er-hem—probing her? Doesn’t it seem more likely that she would return to the Rebel Alliance base, even if the others didn’t?
Maybe it’s just me. I’m not claiming to be a better Sith Lord than Darth Vader.
Leia is one smart cookie, though. In the next scene, while Han is trying to win points with her by bragging about the rescue, Leia says that the Empire let them escape. It’s the only explanation for how easy it was. Easy. Tractor beam, garbage masher, chasm swinging, Jedi master dying, etc. Easy. Leia’s led a hard life. Leia even makes the astute observation that the Empire must be tracking them.
At least the information in the R2 unit is intact, Leia says, then goes on to expositionize Han, explaining that R2 has the technical readouts for the Death Star and that they hope to find a weakness after examining them.
“It’s not over yet,” Leia says to Han.
“It is for me, sister.” Uh, not your sister, Han. “Look. I ain’t in this for your revolution. And, I’m not in it for you, Princess. I expect to be well paid. I’m in it for the money.”
“You needn’t worry about your reward. If money is all that you love, then that’s what you’ll receive.”
Then, in time-honored fashion, Leia uses Han’s friend Luke to get one last dig in as she leaves the cockpit. She tells Luke that his friend is quite a mercenary and wonders aloud if he really cares about anyone or anything. Then, she makes her diva exit.
“I care,” Luke says in a small voice to Leia’s retreating back.
I don’t think I’m making a huge admission when I say 11-year-old me was pretty naive about relationships, or that my experience with the fairer sex—-and just plain sex—-was basically nonexistent at that point in my life. But, until I was an adult, I never thought there was any relationship at all between Han and Leia until The Empire Strikes Back. Luke Skywalker was the star of this movie to me, and he was the character I most identified with in 1977, so of course he would be the one the girl would be interested in. He’s the good guy. And girls always go for the good guy, right?
Not true in real life or in the movies. Later viewings of this movie showed me that there was genuine heat between Han and Leia that wasn’t at all evident between Luke and Leia. Now, of course, we know that Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher were having a real-life affair during this movie, but we didn’t know that then. Or, we dismissed the stories as rumor. Nevertheless, the intent to put these two characters together eventually was obvious even in the first movie. This implies that the idea to make Leia Luke’s twin sister was always on the table, even though several sources deny it. Otherwise, the “hero” would be the one who gets the girl. That’s the way movies work, isn’t it?
Of course, I could argue that Han Solo is actually “the” hero of the original trilogy. Everything he does, he does without the aid of semi-mystical magic powers, which makes him much braver than Luke. Without Han, Luke couldn’t have blown up the Death Star. Oh yeah: SPOILERS. Sure, Luke lost a hand and found out Darth Vader was his father in Empire, but Han was frozen in carbonite after the princess tells him that she loves him. That says HERO in huge, red-neon flashing capital letters. Then, in the Muppet-heavy Jedi, in a Sleeping Beauty reversal, the princess wakes up Han with a kiss, and then he goes on to help his friends bring down the evil emperor. When you get down to it, almost every pivotal scene in the trilogy is somehow tied to Han. The escape from Mos Eisley; the rescue of Princess Leia; the destruction of the first Death Star; rescuing Luke on Hoth; Bespin Cloud City and Han’s old friend Lando; getting frozen; getting thawed and rescued back on Tatooine; the battle of Endor. If you take a look at the non-Han scenes, it’s mostly Luke carrying Yoda around in a backpack.
Perhaps I’m oversimplifying things. During my initial viewings of all three original movies, I still thought of Luke as the main hero. But, especially during the last two movies, I liked Han more than I liked Luke, and I was okay with Leia being Luke’s sister.
What bothers me now, however, is that this whole “love triangle” scene, with Luke mooning over Leia and Han trying to keep Luke jealous, distracts us from the fact that Leia just said, correctly, that she thought the Empire allowed them to escape and was somehow tracking them. And she still allows the Millennium Falcon to go to the secret Rebel Alliance base on Yavin 4, effectively giving the Empire the information she refused to tell them on the Death Star.
If this was part of their plan to lure the Death Star to Yavin 4 so that they could attack it, it seems to be a reckless plan. They don’t even know, for sure, that they’re going to be able to blow up the Death Star. All they have is hope. Obi-Wan was their only hope. Now, apparently, R2 is their only hope. Eventually, Luke will be their only hope. Which “hope” is the new hope signified by this movie’s later name change?
Still, it’s great seeing Yavin 4 again. I last saw it during Rogue One, and it looked pretty much the same. One of the rebel soldiers clocks the Falcon’s speed with his RADAR gun as the ship flies in. Maybe he’s part of the Yavin 4 Highway Patrol. Mr. Solo, do you have any idea how fast you were going when I hit you with the blue lights?
Our heroes arrive at the base, take a short ride on a golf cart. Then, the battle station schematics are downloaded from R2 into the base computers, after which R2 is just another glorified trashcan as far as the Rebel Alliance is concerned. Never fear, R2 fans, Luke will continue to anthropomorphize him.
Meanwhile, the Death Star approaches the planet Yavin, of which Yavin 4 is one of at least four moons.
Back at the base, an older man with a beard gives a PowerPoint presentation about the Death Star. There are many pilots in orange flight suits in the room. There are a lot of words and graphic representations, but the thrust of the presentation is this: Shoot this spot, and the Death Star goes Ka-Boom! Courtesy of Galen Erso, no one adds. But, we know, don’t we?
The target, as any self-respecting Star Wars nerd knows, is a small thermal exhaust port located directly below the main port. It’s about two meters wide. I know that we Americans still haven’t entirely converted to the Metric System yet the way our teachers threatened that we would, but even I know that two meters is more than six-and-a-half feet in length. When I saw this movie the first time, I thought it was smaller, mainly because Luke brags about shooting womp rats in his T-16 back home on Tatooine. He says that womp rats aren’t much bigger than two meters. When I was 11, I didn’t picture womp rats as being the size of a Volkswagen. Anyway, the exhaust port is ray shielded, so the pilots will have to use proton torpedoes, and, yes, it is a difficult shot but not an impossible one. The Empire doesn’t consider single-person ships to be much of a threat, so their defenses will be a bit more loose. Pep talk. . .pep talk. . .rah rah. . .man your ships, and may the Force be with you.
So, the Death Star is in orbit around Yavin, at maximum velocity, we’re told, with the moon containing the rebel base slowly coming into range. Now, keep in mind that the Death Star apparently has hyperspace ability and could have appeared directly in front of Yavin 4. But, for dramatic purposes, the moon must slowly be coming into range. When it is in range, the Death Star is going to blow up the moon and end the rebellion, once and for all.
Luke, now suited up in his orange flight suit, sees Han and Chewie loading up their cases of money in the main hangar bay. Han tells him he’s getting the Hell out of Dodge, as anyone with any sense would. He has some old debts to pay off with his money. He invites Luke to come join them. He’s pretty good in a fight and they could use him. But, Luke has drank deeply of the Rebel Kool-Aid, and he tries to convert Han to their hokey religion. Maybe he even tries to sell him a tract. Uh-uh, says Han, attacking that battle station isn’t brave; it’s suicide. He makes a good point.
Luke attempts to have the last word before he walks away in a huff. “Take care of yourself, Han. I guess that’s what you’re good at.”
“Hey, Luke,” Han says, stopping him. “May the Force be with you.”
Luke runs into Leia, to whom he gripes about Han. Han’s got to follow his own path, she says, then gives Luke another chaste kiss on the cheek. Then Luke runs into his old friend Biggs. We’re supposed to see this as something momentous, but we don’t know Biggs from Adam’s house cat. Before the two can reminisce too much, Biggs’ superior comes up and asks Luke if he can handle the X-wing fighter. Biggs brags that Luke is the best bush-pilot in the Outer Rim territories. So, we have it on good authority, from both Obi-Wan Kenobi and Biggs now, that Luke is a great pilot. Like his father.
R2-D2 is loaded into an X-wing. It’s Luke’s ship, of course. You know, he and that little droid have been through a lot together. Um. . .leaving Tatooine. . .and escaping from the Death Star after saving the princess. . .yeah, that’s a lot.
A montage of battle preparations follows. Fighters being fueled up. Rebel soldiers waving flashlights around. Helmets being put on. There seems to be more excitement than dread here. Luke is positively giddy. He told Biggs that he’d be there with him someday. That day is today.
As Luke’s X-wing is rising above the hangar floor, he hears Obi-Wan’s voice again: “Luke. The Force will be with you.” Does he know, at this point, that he’s hearing ghost-Ben’s voice, or does he think he’s just remembering Ben’s words? I’m not sure.
With a shot of X-wing fighter ships taking off above the jungles of Yavin 4 while a guy in a sky-bucket watches them, the penultimate chapter of the Star Wars Edition of 15-Minute Force ends. We know where we’re going next.
Until next time . . .Even If Money Isn’t All That You Love, You’re Probably Not Going To Get Much More Than A Kiss On The Cheek Anyway . . . .And May The 15-Minute Force Be With You.