Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (a 15-Minute Force production): Chapter Four: Swamp Planets and Asteroid Caverns (Or: Unexpected Master Jedi Knights and Sucker-Faced Mynocks)

15minuteyoda

00:45:01 – 01:00:00

As we begin this chapter of the Empire Edition of the 15-Minute Force, I’m inclined to believe that we’ve crossed over into Act 2. Or, more precisely, we’re about to. The Battle of Hoth is over, the rebels were successful in making their escape, and our heroes are transitioning to new settings. Luke Skywalker and R2-D2 have crash-landed in the Dagobah system and are about to attempt to locate a Jedi Master called Yoda. Han Solo, Leia Organa, Chewbacca and C-3PO are hiding in an asteroid cave to avoid capture by the Imperial fleet. But, this is just a stopover, not a destination, so they are transitioning as well.

As this chapter begins, we’re with the Millennium Falcon and her crew. Han says he’s shutting down all nonessential systems to conserve power. C-3PO asks if that includes himself; Han says no, he needs the protocol droid to talk to the computer to find out what’s wrong with the hyperdrive.

Middle-aged me finds problems with this exchange that completely soared over the head of 14-year-old me. First, Threepio seems to be autonomous, so I don’t know why he would think conserving energy would include deactivating him. I suppose it’s possible that droids, like iPhones, must be plugged in to recharge their batteries occasionally, but I’m not certain that’s been established in-universe. Second, why is a droid needed to “talk” to the ship’s computer? Han and Chewie don’t normally have a droid on board, as far as I know, and they’ve seemed to do okay without one. This seems like a clunky way to include Threepio in the scene when he’s actually superfluous.

Suddenly, we experience what seems to be seismic activity in the asteroid cave. Violent activity, by the way the cockpit is shaking back and forth. Threepio suggests that the cavern may not be entirely stable and is angrily dismissed by Han, who tells Chewie to plug the “professor” into the hyperdrive.

During the next “aftershock,” Leia falls into Han’s arms (in which he seems to take the opportunity to cop a feel), and some semi-romcom dialogue is exchanged. They maintain the pretense that they really don’t like each other, when we—the audience—know better. Again, the David & Maddie/Sam & Diane school of romantic and witty repartee.

One screenwipe later, we find ourselves in the Dagobah swamp with Luke and Artoo and his crashed X-wing. This is a good-looking set. A dry ice fog hovers close to the ground, and there is plenty of snaky-looking vegetation around. Also, as we will soon see, actual snakes. Luke is retrieving supplies from the X-wing and setting up a rudimentary camp. Artoo is filthy with swamp muck.

Luke asks Artoo if he’s ready for some power, then plugs a power cord into the astromech droid. See? No sooner than I asked the question, it’s answered. I guess droids do need to be recharged. My apologies to Threepio.

As Luke talks to Artoo, it becomes apparent that, like Ben Kenobi before him, Luke seems to understand Artoo’s bleep-beep-whistle language without the use of a computer translator. I don’t know that this is ever addressed, or if it was something just used as a matter of convenience so that Luke could provide the audience with exposition while essentially talking to himself. Luke talks about how the swamp gives him the creeps, but then says that there’s something familiar about the place. He begins to say that he feels like they’re being watched when he’s interrupted by another voice.

Luke whirls around suddenly, his blaster in hand, and there’s a diminutive green figure in a ratty robe only a few feet away from him. The creature has frog-like eyes and large, pointy ears, and what look like three-toed feet. It also leans on a gnarled staff or cane of some sort. It looks like the sort of being you would expect to find living in a swamp. As an added bonus, it sounds a lot like Miss Piggy from The Muppet Show.

I’m not trying to be coy here. Of course, we all know this is Yoda. But, Luke doesn’t know that yet. Just play along, okay?

The small creature cringes as Luke points his blaster at him. He asks Luke to put his weapon away; he means him no harm. He asks why Luke is there.

I’m looking for someone,” Luke says.

Looking? Found someone you have, I would say. Hmm?”

This is our first exposure to Yoda’s twisted syntax. It doesn’t seem consistent at this point. Maybe it never is. But, yes, we have found the one we’re looking for.

Help you I can,” Luke’s new conversational partner adds, but Luke is dismissive. The little being seems harmless now, it seems, but Luke doubts that he can help him in any fashion. Another reminder that Luke is still a callow youth at this stage in his Jedi development. Maybe still a little racist as well. Species-ist?

Luke tells his newfound companion that he’s looking for a great warrior. This seems to amuse the swamp-dweller. “Wars not make one great,” he says, another pearl of wisdom from the Master Jedi.

The creature then helps himself to some of Luke’s rations, and then begins rifling through his supplies. This frustrates Luke. It also seems to make Artoo angry. The astromech droid rocks back-and-forth a little and begins to beep. The swamp-dweller finds a tiny lamp among Luke’s belongings and demands it in exchange for helping Luke. Luke still thinks that the little frog-creature can’t help him. He says he’ll need the lamp to try to get out of this slimy mudhole.

Slimy? Mudhole? My home this is–” the newcomer says, just before Artoo extends a small pincer apparatus to grab ahold of the lamp. The two struggle over the lamp for a moment. The swamp creature bangs on Artoo with his cane until Luke tells the astromech to let him have the lamp.

Now,” Luke says, “Will you move along, little fellow? We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

The little fellow says he’ll stay and help him find his friend. Luke says he’s not looking for a friend. He’s looking for a Jedi Master.

Oh,” says the citizen of Dagobah, “Jedi Master. Yoda. You seek Yoda.”

This gets Luke’s attention, of course. The tiny character offers to take him to Yoda. It’s an offer that Luke really can’t refuse. But first they must eat, the creature says. He invites Luke to follow him, indicating that he has good food. Luke, somewhat reluctantly, tells Artoo to hang back and guard the camp while he goes with their new companion. I’m not sure what Artoo is meant to guard the camp from. Snakes, maybe. Or another one of those swamp creatures that tried to eat the astromech droid earlier.

Whatever the case, it doesn’t matter for now because we’re switching back to the Millennium Falcon in its asteroid cave. Threepio seems to be having trouble communicating with the ship’s hyperdrive. He says it has the most unusual dialect. Its programming was probably written in BASIC or COBOL. I might have been able to help, since these were the archaic programming languages I learned eons ago. Threepio must have been able to decipher the language well enough, though. He tells Han that the ship says the power coupling on the negative axis has been polarized and will need to be replaced.

As a longtime fan of both Star Wars and Star Trek, I’m accustomed to technobabble such as this. Whenever it hits my ear, it becomes white noise that signifies nothing. It’s the audio version of a story MacGuffin. Something to move the story forward that doesn’t require our understanding.

Han orders Chewie to replace the coupling, and then the scene switches to Leia, who is welding something. Leia is a progressive female heroine, a real Rosie the Riveter in a galaxy far, far away. What’s she welding? Not important. What’s important is that this moment gives Han an opportunity to enter the scene and attempt to use his manly abilities to help her finish the job. She doesn’t appreciate his efforts initially, shoving him away from her. Maybe a little more roughly than necessary.

Hey. Your Worship,” Han says, “I’m only trying to help.”

Would you please stop calling me that?” Leia asks.

Sure, Leia,” Han responds. Was this the first time in the saga that Han actually used her name?

You make it so difficult sometimes,” she adds.

I know. I really do. You could be a little nicer, though. Come on, admit it. Sometimes you think I’m all right.”

Occasionally. . .Maybe. . .When you aren’t acting like a scoundrel.”

Scoundrel? Scoundrel?” Han smiles. “I like the sound of that.” He’s rubbing the fingers of her hand, which she just injured while working.

Stop that,” she says.

Stop what?” Han says, not stopping.

Stop that. My hands are dirty.”

My hands are dirty, too. What are you afraid of?”

Afraid?”

You’re trembling.”

I’m not trembling.”

You like me because I’m a scoundrel. They’re not enough scoundrels in your life.”

I happen to like nice men.”

I’m a nice man.”

No. You’re not. You’re—-”

And then they begin to kiss. On the lips. Which is Threepio’s cue to enter the scene and ruin the moment.

I’ve included this entire exchange of dialogue for a reason. The first time I watched this movie, I felt betrayed by Han Solo in this scene. Sure, we’d already witnessed Han and Leia having some sexually-charged banter on Hoth, but it didn’t seem to lead to anything. But, here it ended in a kiss that Leia was obviously responding to. She likes Han. And Han is Luke’s best friend. At least as far as we can tell during the course of these movies so far. Luke was the good-guy hero of the first movie and the character I most identified with, since he was the child-surrogate of the story. Now we were seeing the girl that Luke was attracted to being stolen by the cool older guy, something I was already familiar with when I was fourteen and still thought I was one of the good guys.

As I grew older, I began to identify more with Han Solo because Luke Skywalker began to irritate me with all his whining and inexperienced naiveté. Of course, I still wasn’t the cool guy, even though that’s what I aspired to. It’s complicated.

But, in the moment, I hated Han for stealing Luke’s girl. Or trying to. Forget intimations of incest, because we don’t know anything about that yet.

We leave this tender moment to check in on our Imperial characters. Star destroyers are in the asteroid field, searching for the Millennium Falcon. The ships are being pummeled by asteroids. We see Darth Vader in a holo-conference with several ship captains, and one of them vanishes as he’s wiped out by an asteroid collision. Vader isn’t concerned with his own casualties. He orders every available ship to sweep the asteroid field until the Falcon is found.

As the holo-conference ends, an admiral—is this Admiral Piett? I can’t tell; all these white guys look alike to me—tells Vader that the Emperor commands Vader to make contact with him. Vader orders the admiral to take the ship out of the asteroid field so that they can send a clear transmission.

Darth Vader kneels before the giant hologram image of Emperor Palpatine’s hooded head.

What is thy bidding, my Master?” he asks. More quotable Star Wars for you.

Since I’m watching the special edition of the movie, I’m seeing the Ian McDiarmid version of the Emperor here instead of the weirdly bug-eyed version of the emperor that was in the original release. I’m okay with that, since McDiarmid is my accepted version of Emperor Palpatine, the version that appeared in Return of the Jedi, long before the prequels. The emperor’s face is extremely wrinkled and has eerie, sunken yellow eyes. He looks evil. And, when Darth Vader kneels before his image, we can’t help but think he must be supremely powerful in order to command the obeisance of a badass like Vader.

I’m not sure if I expressed this enough when I was writing about the prequels, but I always appreciated McDiarmid’s performance in the prequels as well. Palpatine’s seduction of Anakin Skywalker was extremely well-done, even if Hayden Christiansen’s performance wasn’t up to snuff. It occurs to me now, while I’m watching the first appearance of the emperor in the original trilogy, that McDiarmid’s performance has added appreciable layers to Emperor Palpatine’s character.

There is a great disturbance in the Force,” Palpatine says to Vader.

Obi-Wan Kenobi—or “Old Ben,” if you prefer—said the same thing in the first movie, after the destruction of Alderaan. What disturbance does the emperor detect?

Apparently, he has determined that there has been the emergence of a new enemy: The young rebel who destroyed the Death Star. The emperor has no doubt that this young boy is the offspring of Anakin Skywalker.

How is that possible?” Darth Vader asks. If you will recall, Vader was under the impression that he left Padme Amidala, and his baby (he didn’t know she was carrying twins), dead on a landing platform on Mustafar. The emperor had, in fact, told him so.

Search your feelings, Lord Vader,” Emperor Palpatine says. “You will know it to be true. He could destroy us.”

He’s just a boy,” Vader says. “Obi-Wan can no longer help him.”

The Force is strong with him. The son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi.”

If he could be turned, he could become a powerful ally,” Vader says.

Yessss,” the emperor says, drawing out the ‘s.’ “He would be a great asset. Can it be done?”

He will join us or die, Master.”

So, even now, it seems, the Emperor and Vader are unaware that there are two Skywalker descendants out there. This lends some credence to the theory that no one knew that Leia was supposed to be Luke’s sister at this point in the story. Maybe Luke, our supposed hero of the saga, was still supposed to end up with Leia at the end, since she’s apparently the only female in this galaxy.

My other takeaway from this exchange between Vader and the emperor is that Darth Vader seems to be protecting Luke somewhat. As we learned in the opening crawl, he was already obsessed with locating Luke Skywalker, even before the emperor began talking about his perceived “disturbance in the Force.” And Vader himself already noted that “the Force is strong with this one,” when he first encountered Luke. A strong argument could be made that Vader was manipulating the emperor at this point, getting him to make the attempt to turn Luke rather than eliminate him. Maybe Vader was already, subconsciously at least, trying to redeem himself.

Then, we’re back on Dagobah, outside of Yoda’s hobbit domicile. Artoo, who had been ordered to guard the camp by Luke, apparently disobeys orders and is patrolling outside of the little dome hut. Artoo raises on his tippie-toes to look in the hut’s little window. Maybe this is a special edition change. Luke is being his whiny self, complaining that he can’t understand why he can’t see Yoda now while his new little green friend tries to feed him.

Patience!” the swamp creature advises. “For the Jedi it’s time to eat as well.”

There’s at least one more snake inside the hut that Luke pushes aside (I hate snakes, like Indiana Jones after me). Luke spoons some of the stew that simmers over his new companion’s fire into a bowl and tastes it. He winces, which seems to indicate that its flavor is not to his liking.

Luke asks how far away Yoda is located. Not far, his new host says. Patience, he advises again. You will soon be with him.

Why wish you become Jedi?” the little fellow asks.

Mostly because of my father, I guess,” Luke responds.

Ah. Father. Powerful Jedi was he. Hee hee. Powerful Jedi.”

Oh, come on. How could you know my father? You don’t even know who I am. I don’t even know what I’m doing here. We’re wasting our time!”

I cannot teach him,” the pointy-eared swamp-dweller says, as if to himself. “The boy has no patience.

He will learn patience, says Force-ghost Obi-Wan.

Much anger in him. Like his father,” Yoda says. And, by this point, we know that this is Yoda, don’t we?

Was I any different when you taught me? Force Ghost Obi-Wan asks.

Okay, I’ll accept this. Qui-Gon Jinn was Obi-Wan’s Master, but it’s conceivable that Yoda instructed him when he was a youngling.

No,” Yoda announces. “He is not ready.” Yoda said the same about Anakin, didn’t he? And, in hindsight, he was correct. Would things have turned out better for the Jedi if Anakin Skywalker hadn’t been trained in the ways of the Jedi? Hmm. . .

At long last, the light dawns on Marblehead and Luke understands that the diminutive creature in front of him is the Jedi Master Yoda. He says that he is ready and that he can be a Jedi. He sounds very young and immature. Certainly not a man worthy of the smooches of Princess Leia.

Yoda announces that he has trained Jedi for 800 years. He is the authority on being ready to be a Jedi, it seems, even though all of the Jedi are apparently dead. He indicates that he has watched Luke for a long time, but Luke seems to lack the serious mind necessary for a Jedi. Luke is a dreamer, looking towards the future, for adventure, never mindful of the present.

Adventure,” Yoda says. “Hah! Excitement. . . A Jedi craves not these things. You are reckless!”

So was I, if you remember, says Force Ghost Obi-Wan.

He is too old,” Yoda says, the same argument he used against training Anakin. “Yes. Too old to begin the training.”

But I’ve learned so much,” Luke says. What has he learned, really? How to close the blast shielding on a helmet and take swipes at a floating Phantasm ball? How to search his feelings?

Yoda sighs. “Will he finish what he begins?” he asks, apparently of the Force Ghost Obi-Wan.”

I won’t fail you,” Luke responds, earnestly. “I’m not afraid.”

You will be,” Yoda says, then repeats for emphasis: “You…will…be”

In a perfect world, this would be the end of our chapter, but we still have a little over two minutes remaining. We’re back with the Imperials in the next scene. A star destroyer is shooting at asteroids as we begin the scene. Imperial TIE-bombers are flying over asteroids dropping bombs. The Millennium Falcon, meanwhile, sits in near-darkness inside its asteroid cave.

Leia notices movement outside the Falcon’s cockpit. A flying creature of some sort attaches its suction-cup-mouth to the outside of the cockpit window. Leia screams and runs out of the cockpit.

Leia tells Han about the creatures outside the ship, and then Han, Leia and Chewie all go outside the ship into the cave. Instead of EVA suits, they all don what appear to be CPAP apparatuses, which seems to be enough in this alien environment. Leia remarks that the ground sure feels strange and that it doesn’t seem like rock. Meanwhile, the same type of dry-ice ground fog that’s found on Dagobah blankets the ground in the asteroid cavern.

After Han says there’s an awful lot of moisture in here, Leia says that she has a bad feeling about this. I’ve lost count: How many times has this been said now?

Han shoots one of the creatures with his blaster. He calls it a Mynock. Han orders Chewie to check the rest of the ship to make sure there are no more Mynocks attached chewing on the power cables; that’s what they do, apparently: Chew on power cables. Han tells Leia to go back inside the Falcon while they clear away any more of the creatures. Then, they are suddenly buzzed by several Mynocks. Chewie gets off a shot from his crossbow-blaster, and the cavern begins to shake. A lightbulb goes off above Han’s head. Not literally, but Harrison Ford’s acting is good enough in this scene that you can almost see it. As this chapter comes to a close, Han fires his blaster into the strange-feeling, un-rocky floor of the cavern, and then everything begins to shake again. Something’s going on here, for sure.

But, we’re not going to find out what since our chapter has ended.

This has been a great transitional chapter. We’ve met Jedi Master Yoda, even if he wasn’t what we expected. And, we’ve met Emperor Palpatine and uncovered another motivation for our bad guys: The recruitment of Luke Skywalker to the Dark Side of the Force. Sure, the Millennium Falcon remains inside an asteroid as the chapter ends, but I have the distinct impression that this is about to change.

Until next chapter. . . You’re Not Afraid? You Will Be: You. . .Will. . .Be. . .And May The 15-Minute Force Be With You.

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