Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (a 15-Minute Force production): Chapter Two: Did I Hear “Roxanne” Playing In An Imperial Walker Cockpit? (Or: Wedge Antilles Does Something Right For A Change)

15minuteMeditation

 

00:15:01 – 00:30:00

When we last saw our heroes, Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, at the end of Chapter 1 of the Empire Edition of 15-Minute Force, Han had placed Luke in the steaming guts of a dead tauntaun while he set about putting up a shelter. Luke, before losing consciousness, had received a spectral text message from Old Ben Kenobi’s Force ghost, telling him to go to the Dagobah system to train with Master Yoda. Han doesn’t know about this yet. He’s just trying to help them both survive the deeply frigid night on Hoth.

Back at the Hoth Rebel Base, R2-D2 had calculated their odds of survival at 725-to-1.

Meanwhile, the Empire has been using probe droids to try to locate the rebel base, and at least one of these probes landed on Hoth. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Empire will show up on Hoth sooner rather than later.

In the very next scene, the snowspeeders that hadn’t been adapted to Hoth’s harsh conditions in an earlier scene have apparently been cleared for use now. A group of snowspeeders are moving across the snow-blanketed ridges in search of Han and Luke. The leader of this group refers to himself as Rogue Two, which bothers me for some reason, although I can’t really say why. Maybe because I just watched a movie titled Rogue One and, if there was ever a sequel, I don’t think I would want it to be about the commander of a snowspeeder squadron.

Han responds on the comm, and everyone is all smiles. Rogue Two reports to Echo Base that he has “found them.”

One diagonal screenwipe later and we’re back at Echo Base, followed quickly by another diagonal screenwipe, and we are in closeup on a medical droid. Luke is in a bacta tank wearing a huge adult diaper. One quick cut later, and Luke is meeting up with C-3PO and R2-D2 again. Han and Chewie are there also. Luke’s face is pretty scarred up, either serving the story or serving reality (see previous post). Han quips that Luke looks strong enough to pull the ears off a gundark, whatever that is. Luke thanks Han, and Han says: “That’s two you owe me, Junior.”

Han Solo is a bit of an ass, but he’s not wrong either. Unless, like Ben Kenobi, you give credit to the Force for everything. Even though he is an atheist and doesn’t believe in the Force, Han is obviously an agent of the Force. A tool, if you will.

Han, who is on a roll, turns to Princess Leia Organa, who turned up out of nowhere, apparently, and says, “Well, Your Worship, looks like you managed to keep me around a little while longer.”

Leia insists that she had nothing to do with it. She says General Rieekan thinks it’s too dangerous for anyone to leave the system until they’ve activated the energy field. Whatever that means.

For what it’s worth, I believe Leia. The evidence suggests that Leia actually tried to get Han killed during the night. That doesn’t look like the behavior of someone trying to keep someone from leaving. Well, at least from leaving and being alive.

During the ensuing romcom banter, Leia calls Han “laser-brain,” which is apparently an insult. This makes Chewie chuckle. Han tells him to “laugh it up, fuzzball” and goes on to describe his conversation with Leia in the south passage earlier. Han embellishes the moment, however, which angers Leia.

In another of our quotable Star Wars moments, Leia calls Han a “stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder.” To which Han replies: “Who’s scruffy looking?”

All of this is designed, by Han, to make Luke jealous, of course. And, it works.

To counter Han’s juvenile antics, Leia instead plants a real kiss on Luke’s lips. She kissed him on the cheek in the first movie, for luck, as you may recall, as they were preparing to swing across one of Star Wars’ many improbably placed industrial chasms. This time it’s a real kiss on the lips. At this point in the saga, back in 1980, we didn’t know yet that Leia was Luke’s sister. The knowledge makes this scene a bit more icky in present-day, but not then. After the kiss, Luke puts his hands behind his head and gloats. Han looks jealous, which is what Leia was going for anyway.

In the next scene, the Rebels have detected the presence of a probe. Han and Chewie go out to investigate. The two old pals track down the probe and blow it up. The Rebels deduce that it was an Imperial probe droid and decide to make plans to evacuate the base. The Empire probably knows their location.

Next, we get John Williams Imperial music and scenes of Imperial Star Destroyers and TIE fighters, and, ultimately, a Super Star Destroyer that dwarfs all of the other destroyers. Darth Vader is on this ship, and we see him in the next scene. More precisely, we see the back of his shiny black helmet as he looks out a port at the other Star Destroyers and TIE fighters.

An Imperial captain calls to an admiral to indicate that one of the probe droids has found something promising. The admiral isn’t impressed by this announcement, but Darth Vader approaches the captain. Vader decides that the rebels are on Hoth. The admiral tries to dissuade the Sith Lord, but to no avail. Darth Vader has made up his mind. He tells the admiral to set a course for the Hoth system, then tells General Veers to prepare his men.

Back on Hoth, the preparations for evacuation are in full swing. This time, Han is welding something on top of the Millennium Falcon. He yells down to Chewie, telling him to fire up the engines, but something short-circuits and sends up showers of sparks. The Falcon isn’t ready to fly yet.

Back in Sickbay, Luke dresses in his orange flight suit, then goes to the hangar to say goodbye to his friends.

In the Rebel control room, one of the guys sitting at a monitor tells General Rieekan that a fleet of Imperial destroyers just dropped out of hyperspace in Sector 4. The general orders all power rerouted to the energy shield. They are going to have to hold off the enemy until all the transports are away. General Rieekan tells someone else to prepare for a ground assault.

None of this sounded fishy to me when I was an almost-15-year-old nascent headbanger. This was science-fiction militaristic jargon and sounded reasonable to me. Now, I’m wondering why a ground assault was a foregone conclusion. As we’ve learned in the decades since this movie came out, it seems to make more sense—when you have the will and the means—to bomb your enemy from a distance long before the boots hit the ground. Or the snow, in the case of Hoth. Is the Rebel energy shield too big a barrier for a fleet of Imperial Star Destroyers and one big honking Super Star Destroyer? Old Man Firewater says that this is unlikely.

On the other hand . . .this is just a show, and I should probably just relax.

One neat-looking triangular wipe later, and we get another establishing shot of the Imperial fleet approaching Hoth while ominous music plays. Then, we get our first shot of Darth Vader’s giant black egg opening up, revealing Vader inside. There has been rampant speculation as to what this private chamber is exactly. I’ve heard escape pod and private bathroom mentioned. When I’ve thought about it at all—just as right at this moment—I prefer to think of the black egg as a private holosuite (ala DS9, if I’m allowed to cross nerd-streams) or a hyperbaric chamber such as Michael Jackson was once rumored to sleep in. A medical treatment chamber of some sort makes a lot a sense to me. Vader is a seriously messed-up dude.

Outside the egg, one of the Imperial officers in his little hat and double row of blue and red throat lozenges on his chest tells Vader that they’ve detected an energy field protecting the sixth planet of the Hoth system. This tells me two things. The energy shield that General Rieekan was pouring their energy into gave away the location of the secret Rebel base. And, now I’m not sure that the planet the base is on is actually named Hoth, as I thought it was. It is the sixth planet in the Hoth system. Maybe it’s Hoth 6. I’m confused, and anyone would be when thinking about the planetary naming systems in Star Wars. Yavin 4 was the fourth moon of the planet Yavin. Perhaps the sixth planet in the Hoth system is also named Hoth, the way George Foreman named all of his children George. Or, Hoth is the name of the system’s star, and when you’re on any planet in the system, you say you’re on Hoth, the same way you’d say you were in Florida, regardless of whether you were in Orlando or Miami. I think what I’m saying here has some merit.

The officer goes on to say that the field is strong enough to deflect any bombardment. So, it turns out that my ground assault comments were premature and General Rieekan knew what he was talking about. My apologies, General.

Darth Vader surmises that the Rebels have been alerted to their presence. Playing the blame game, he says Admiral Ozzel came out of lightspeed (again this hyperspace/lightspeed thing) too close to the system. When the officer, who is apparently a general, attempts to make excuses for the admiral, Vader says that the admiral is as clumsy as he is stupid. Then, Vader, like Rieekan before him, tells his underling to prepare the troops for a ground assault. He says “attack” instead of “assault,” but it’s the same thing.

I’m wondering if Vader is going to make time in his busy schedule to Force choke-out Admiral Ozzel. My Magic BB-8 Ball says All Star Wars Signs Point to “Yes.”

Vader swivels around to turn on his wall-mounted viewer screen, and proceeds to kill Admiral Ozzel, through the viewer screen, after telling the admiral that he’s failed him for the last time. He doesn’t even have to gesture with his hand this time. As Ozzel is dying, Vader instructs Admiral Piett, who stands nervously beside Ozzel, to take command of the fleet and make sure none of the Rebels escape the planet.

Back at Echo Base, on or near Hoth, some rebels are scrambling while others stand in a circle around the much shorter Princess Leia, who is giving instructions to the pilots. There will be only two fighters assigned to each transport ship, she says, so they will have to stay very close to their transports.

I really want one of the pilots to raise his hand (and, yes, at a quick glance, all of the pilots seem to be white males, although both race and gender homogeny seems unnecessary) and ask, with a trace of sarcasm, “Uh, your Grace, are you certain we should stay close to the transport ships? That seems like a good way to get shot down.” No one does, except in the version of this movie that plays in my head.

Leia continues to explain that the ion cannon will be firing several shots to make sure any enemy ships will be out of their flight path, and that the energy shield can be opened for only a short time. Once the ships are past the shield, they are to travel to meet up at the rendezvous point.

Just a quick comment about Leia’s hairstyle in this movie so far. I know everyone always talks about Leia’s hair and I don’t think I mentioned it once during the first movie. You know, when Leia had the twin honeybun hairdo. Here, she has a braid arranged on the back of her head as if she’s wearing a tilted-back crown. It’s rather fetching. I’ll try to do better in noting any future changes to her hair.

Leia’s rousing speech concluded, the pilots all head for their ships.

On the surface of the planet I’m going to call Hoth no matter what its real name might be, Rebel soldiers in white uniforms are preparing for the ground assault, just as General Rieekan ordered. There are more cables snaking all over the snow, and several objects that appear to be lights of some sort. There’s also a white gun turret visible in the background and at least one long dug-out trench in the snow. It all looks really good.

There’s also another object that looks like a combination radar-dish-laser-gun that seems able to freely rotate.

Back in the Rebel command center, General Rieekan is telling anyone who’s listening that the primary target of the Imperial soldiers will be the power generators. Then he orders the shields to be opened to allow the first of the transports to leave. The ion cannon inflicts heavy damage to one of the Star Destroyers as the transport and its fighter ship escorts leave. The ion cannon is a giant sphere with a cannon jutting at a proud angle out of it. And, like everything else, it looks just marvelous.

Everyone in the Rebel hangar celebrates the successful escape of the first transport. Luke runs across the hangar and climbs into one of the snowspeeders. He’s sitting back-to-back with another rebel named Dak. I think Luke is the pilot of the snowspeeder. I can’t recall what the other soldier’s main function is, or why they have to sit back-to-back. It is kind of a cool production detail, though.

Back on the front line, we get our first look at the AT-ATs, or Imperial Walkers, through rebel binoculars. Looking at things through binoculars is a Star Wars trope that began in the first movie of the original trilogy. I’m going out on a limb here and say that binocular usage has played some role in every Star Wars movie to date. Sort of like the “I have a bad feeling about this” line.

I’ve always liked the look of the walkers, even if their design seems a bit improbable. The Empire seems to put a lot of stock in making huge scary-looking military objects, from ground vehicles to destroyers to space stations, regardless of design flaws. It’s the same kind of hubris that results in naming something the “Death Star.” I think the Emperor will eventually be a victim of his own grandiose ego. What do you think?

The snowspeeders are leaving the hangar just as the Imperial Walkers begin firing upon our entrenched rebels. Looking at the snowspeeders in flight, it appears that the soldier seated facing the rear of the vehicle is the gunner. This would mean that Luke needs to concentrate on flying while Dak fires his laser guns or tow cables or whatever. The sequence that follows seems to contradict this, however. Luke is firing forward guns, apparently, while Dak is saying something about approach vectors. Maybe he’s a navigator? I’m not sure.

The battle looks great. Snowspeeders are buzzing around the walkers, which are moving in that kind of jerky stop-motion way that actually looks good for a mechanical object. Some of the compositing work on the special effects looks a little dated now, but it doesn’t detract from the action in my opinion.

One interior shot of an AT-AT cockpit shows an Imperial Walker commander wearing a shiny black helmet who looks a lot like Sting, formerly of the rock group The Police. I mean, the man looks a lot like Sting, not the shiny black helmet. It’s not Sting, I don’t think. But, he resembles him. To me.

Luke is referring to all of the snowspeeders as Rogue Group, and he apparently is in charge once again as he orders them to use their tow cables. I don’t think that Luke is a general yet, and I’m not sure why he always seems to be in charge. He honestly doesn’t act like a take-charge type of guy. Han always does, I should add, so that makes sense when people defer to him. Not Luke, though.

Luke has, however, pointed out the main weakness of the Imperial Walkers, one that should have been obvious to everyone immediately. In fact, it should be on page one of the Rebel Handbook. Sweep the leg, Johnny.

Dak, meanwhile, keeps rambling on about losing fire control systems or something. Luke tells him to hang on. Turns out Dak was correct. Something sparks and catches on fire in front of Dak, and Dak is now slumped over, unconscious or dead. At the very least, he is unable to fire the tow cable like Luke wants him to.

The walkers trudge inexorably forward, towards the primary objective, the power generators. You see, destroying the power generators would take down the impressive energy shield that prevents the destroyers from bombing Hoth back to the Stone Age. Or, in this case, to the Ice Cube Age, I should say.

The Imperial Walker commander who isn’t Sting talks to a tiny Darth Vader hologram to tell him that he’s reached the main power generators aforementioned. He confidently tells Vader that he can start his landing now because the generators will be down shortly. Sting is a very confident man; it’s probably all of that Tantric Yoga stuff.

Luke calls out to Rogue Three over the comm. Rogue Three is Wedge Antilles! Luke says he’s lost his gunner—so the guy who can’t see out the front windshield is the gunner, I guess—and that Wedge will have to take the shot on the walker while Luke covers for him. He tells Wedge to set his harpoon and to follow him on the next pass.

This is where I want Wedge to bail on the run the way he did at the Death Star. It could become his thing.

Wedge doesn’t bail, of course. His gunner, Janson, manages to connect with his harpoon shot to the walker’s leg. Wedge makes several passes, the walker trips and falls forward to the snow. Apparently, once an Imperial Walker falls to the ground, its armor loses its protective powers, because, a couple of shots later, the walker blows up. Serious design flaws, the hallmark of the Empire.

Back at the command center, General Rieekan tells Leia that he doesn’t think they can protect two transports at a time. Leia says it’s risky, but she doesn’t think they can hold out much longer. Leia seems to outrank the general in this scene. Well, she is a princess, I suppose. Of what monarchy, I can’t be sure. Following this exchange, the rest of the rebels are preparing to abandon the base.

As this chapter of the Empire Edition of 15-Minute Force draws to an end, we get a quick shot of Han and Chewie still doing last-minute repairs to the Millennium Falcon, the way the Brady boys were always working on their bicycles, with Han being unnecessarily rude to the Wookiee as he shouts orders and points at things. Then, we see R2-D2 being lowered into an X-wing fighter while C-3PO tells him to take care of Master Luke. Now, Luke is still in his snowspeeder with Rogue Squadron, so I guess R2 is expected to remain in the hangar waiting for his return while everyone else escapes from Hoth in one of the transports. If Luke, Maker forbid, dies during the battle, R2 is stuck on Hoth forever, or until he’s killed by a Star Destroyer bombing raid or else repurposed to serve the Empire. Cheerful thoughts. I’m not sure where C-3PO is going. Probably on one of the last transports with the princess.

We’ll see what happens in the next chapter. Until then . . .I Hope You’re More Secure in Your Job Than Admiral Piett . . . And May The 15-Minute Force Be With You.

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