01:15:01 – 01:30:00
So, we’ve already arrived at the sixth installment of the Empire Edition of the 15-Minute Force, in which we are talking about the movie Star Wars fans commonly refer to as just Empire fifteen minutes at a time. When I’ve been asked to rank the movies in the past, or when I just wanted to blurt out the information whether anyone wanted to know or not, I’ve always said that Empire is #1 on my list.
I’m far from being alone in that assessment. Maybe there are some who favor the prequels over the original series. If those movies were my first exposure to Star Wars, and I was young and impressionable, say 6 or 7 years old, when Phantom Menace was released, I could conceive of this happening. Now that I’m into my sixth decade of life, the golden protocol droid C-3PO irritates me much in the same way that Jar Jar Binks did when I first watched Menace, but I don’t recall that being true back in 1977.
The sad truth—and it’s sad only because I’ve devoted so many fanboy hours to the Star Wars movies—is that these movies were meant for children. They are fantasy-adventure-space opera stories, not gritty and realistic hard science fiction. When you examine them closely—say fifteen minutes at a time (or one minute at a time, like Pete the Retailer and Alex Robinson on Star Wars Minute)—the individual components of these films just don’t all seem to fit together like you want them to. After we become adults, most of us want everything to make sense, and Star Wars just doesn’t always. The journey is always more important than the destination in a Star Wars movie. It’s the thrill of the ride.
Getting back on point here before I digress any further, most of us who have been Star Wars fans since, say, the 1980s will name either Empire or New Hope as our favorite movie. The first movie—the Star Wars—gets tons of credit from me because it evoked a response from me that none of the other sequels or prequels could possibly match. It was that feeling of experiencing something for the first time, that feeling of exhiliration and discovery. I’ve said it before: When the first Death Star blew up, I believed that the Rebel Alliance had just won the war against the Galactic Empire. End of story. That’s not a feeling that’s easy to recapture. Jedi certainly didn’t do that for me (spoiler). The Force Awakens came closest, but we’ll talk more about that later.
Empire didn’t do it either. So, I understand why some name New Hope as their favorite Star Wars movie. The reason why Empire edges out New Hope (which is still my #2) on my list is that it gave me the impression, back in 1980, of being deeper and more nuanced, more mature even in its darker tone and a truly downbeat ending. The movie seemed somehow more substantial to me than the frenetically paced first movie. Plus, Darth Vader emerges as even a bigger badass than before.
The movie’s substantiality is a well-crafted illusion, however. It’s still a children’s movie trying on some adult-sized clothing. Lawrence Kasdan is a master craftsman of the word, and this movie’s success owes a lot to his talent. The plot of the movie itself? Eh . . .it’s not really a thing of beauty. Before you begin Force-hurling rocks at my head, let’s take a moment to recap.
- The new Rebel Alliance Base on Hoth is discovered by the Empire, so they are heading there to blow it up.
- A brief side mission as Luke is captured by the Abominable Snowman and eventually rescued by Han.
- The Battle of Hoth occurs, in which the Rebels win by staging a successful retreat. All of the Rebels are supposed to meet up at a predetermined rendezvous point. This sounds like the main plan for all of our characters should be to get to the rendezvous point as quickly as possible. But, this never seems to be a main story goal after it was stated.
- Han was going to take his reward money to pay off Jabba (finally), but found himself with Leia as an unexpected passenger again after he helped get her off of Hoth. Even though all of those huge Rebel transport ships managed to get away unscathed, the Millennium Falcon doesn’t accomplish the same. They fly into an asteroid field to escape from the star destroyers, spend a little time in the intestines of an improbable asteroid-dwelling space slug, then hide in plain sight by attaching themselves in the blind spot of one of the aforementioned destroyers.
- That’s all that’s happened with Han, Chewie, Leia and Threepio up to the 1:15 mark of the movie. They’ve taken a slight detour, but by accident.
- Luke, on the other hand, took a detour on purpose, another side mission, because Force-ghost Ben told him to go to Dagobah. He does, promptly crashes in the swamp, and then gets several months of intensive Jedi training from a tiny green swamp creature who claims to be a Master Jedi. The “several months” was all me, by the way, not canon. The way the film is edited, it seems that everything that happens to Luke occurs during the same space of time as what happens to the rest of the gang. Minutes or hours, not days or weeks. It just doesn’t fit together the way it should. But, the passage of time is always a dicey thing in the SWU.
So, here we are, already past the halfway mark of the movie, and the events that have occurred, while visually interesting and entertaining, don’t seem to amount to as much as they did in my memory. And they lack even the focus of the first movie, which always had a story goal, even if it kept changing because planets kept blowing up and stuff. Plus, all of Yoda’s talk about the Force, which seemed so deep and meaningful to me as a teenager, is basically all rehashed religious mumbo-jumbo. It seems to have more depth than it ever can, really. It’s magic in a science-fiction milieu.
While I have the professional detachment to be critical of Empire now, it doesn’t change my ranking of the movie. It’s still #1, and I still love it, even with its flaws.
At the 1:15:01 mark, Leia Organa is finishing the statement begun by Han Solo before the chapter break. Han was sharing his plan to release the Millennium Falcon’s landing claw, which was apparently allowing the ship to cling to the blind spot of a star destroyer, before the destroyer goes to lightspeed. Normal Imperial practice is to jettison their refuse before making the hyperspeed jump, so Han plans to float free of the Imperial fleet . . .
“With the rest of the garbage,” Leia says, another insult towards the Falcon that Han seems to ignore. The viewer gets the impression that Han has executed similar tricks before. I guess a smuggler has to be cagey.
“Then what?” Leia asks. She seems as genuinely interested in finding a plot thread here as I am.
“Then we got to find a safe port somewhere around here. Any ideas?”
This, at least, makes sense. The Falcon is in need of repairs, since it was unable to engage its hyperdrive to escape the Imperial fleet. I forgot how the gang ended up on Cloud City, but this is how. While searching for a safe place to land in the computers, he discovers that his old friend Lando Calrissian is in the Anoat System on Bespin.
Han describes Lando as a card player, a gambler, a scoundrel. He adds that Leia would like him, which she deserves for her crack about the Falcon.
So, we’re no closer to reaching the rendezvous point, but at least we have a suitably contrived reason for going to our next, and really last, setting for the movie. It is a Tibanna gas mining colony, which Han says Lando must have conned somebody out of. He is a scoundrel, after all.
“We go back a long way, Lando and me,” Han says, ungrammatically.
“Can you trust him?” Leia asks.
“No. But he’s got no love for the Empire, I can tell you that.”
As the Falcon floats away with the garbage, Leia remarks that Han does have his moments. Not many of them, but he does have them, and then she gives him a rather chaste kiss on the cheek. So, Luke got a full-on romantic kiss while he was recovering from his wampa wounds. Now, Han gets a kiss on the cheek. It is a reversal of fortunes, kiss-wise.
After the star destroyer jumps to light speed, Han engages the engines of the Falcon and the ship leaves the debris field. Likewise, we see Boba Fett in his flying clothes iron, the Slave I, in pursuit. In the shot, it seems that he’s following too closely behind the Falcon to avoid detection. Maybe when the Falcon lost her rear deflectors she lost the ability to detect ships behind her as well.
It honestly feels like the bounty hunter Fett was being set up to be an important character in Star Wars. And, yeah, I know, he became one through the extended universe stuff, and later in the prequels (though Jango his father was arguably more important). But, those of us who remember how he was first introduced, and then how he was unceremoniously disposed of in Jedi, aren’t wrong in thinking that the promise of the character was never truly fulfilled.
Boba Fett was pretty smart to guess how Han and the gang were going to escape from the Empire this time. I assume he kept his thoughts to himself to prevent embarrassment if he was wrong, or to keep his claim to the reward offered by Darth Vader. Boba is a patient hunter.
One counterclockwise screenwipe later, and we’re back on Dagobah. Artoo is still covered in swamp muck, which bothers me now more than it did when I first saw the movie. During all the running around, flipping, and stone stacking, couldn’t Luke have taken just a minute to wipe off his astromech droid with a damp rag? Luke isn’t exactly clean either, I guess, but he’s nowhere near as filthy as Artoo.
In this scene, Luke is standing on his head again, using the Force to make large crates, and eventually Artoo himself, float above the ground. Yoda isn’t balancing on his foot this time, after his last tumble. Instead, the Master Jedi is coaching from the sidelines. We get to learn new things about the Force.
“Through the Force, things you will see. Other places. The Future. The Past. Old friends long gone.” Sure. Sure, that makes sense. It’s how Jedi can deflect blaster shots, because they are seeing into the future a few seconds at a time. Or how young Anakin could leap out of air cars without a chute or rocket pack.
What Luke sees, and says, is “Han? . . .Leia!” And then he loses concentration and everything he has levitated falls to the swampy ground, including Artoo, who lets loose with an electronic scream.
While Yoda berates Luke for his lack of control, Luke says, “I saw . . . I saw a city in the clouds.”
“Hmm . . .Friends you have there, “ Yoda says.
“They were in pain.”
“It is the future you see.”
“Future?” Luke says and picks himself up off the ground. “Will they die?”
“Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.” Another potent quotable.
“I’ve got to go to them,” Luke decides aloud.
“Decide you must how to serve them best. If you leave now, help them you could. But you would destroy all for which they have fought and suffered.”
Luke nods, as if he agrees with Yoda that he should wait. I thought this was the scene that Luke left Dagobah, but it’s not. It seems that Luke remains and continues to train for an indeterminate period of time. We don’t even know how long it took the Millennium Falcon, without her hyperdrive, to make the journey to Bespin. I understand why the movie was edited the way it was, and cutting back and forth between the Falcon and Dagobah helped the flow of the story. Perhaps it’s even the way the script was written. But, it seems to me that the two were in different times. The Falcon and her crew represented real time, while the events on Dagobah took much longer. Maybe the bulk of Luke’s training occurred during the unknown time it took for the Falcon to travel to Bespin. That’s the way I’m explaining this perceived discrepancy today. Quentin Tarantino wasn’t the first director to play around with timelines.
In the next scene, the Millennium Falcon has arrived at Cloud City. Han explains to someone off-camera that he does not have a landing permit. He says he’s trying to reach Lando Calrissian. One of the cloud cars escorting them fires some shots across the bow of the Falcon to keep them on course, just as Lando’s name is dropped. Not exactly a warm welcome.
A voice on the comm finally grants them permission to land on Platform 327. Another recurring Star Wars number. The Falcon landed in Docking Bay 327 on the original Death Star.
This is a beautiful shot as the Millennium Falcon approaches Cloud City. Sunset or sunrise, I’m not sure, but the billowy clouds in this golden-orangish-red color is very striking. Sometimes I don’t think I spend enough time talking about how good the production design is on these movies. Everything always looks good. Often the spectacle and special effects are enough to distract the viewer from things like plot holes.
I think some of this landing sequence was a special edition change. But, it all looks good. After the Falcon lands on Platform 327, the ship’s gangway lowers from the Falcon’s belly and our heroes descend to the platform. They experience a moment of apprehension when there is no one there to greet them initially. Leia doesn’t say that she has a bad feeling about this, but she does say something that means nearly the same thing. Must be her Jedi powers manifesting themselves.
Lando Calrissian finally comes out to greet the new arrivals.
His first words to Han are: “Why, you slimy, double-crossing, no-good swindler. You got a lot of guts coming here after what you pulled.” Completely straight-faced, Lando approaches Han, feints like he might hit him, then embraces him in a full-on hug, laughing, as if genuinely pleased to see an old friend.
A brief digression here about Lando Calrissian and the actor who plays him (at least used to play him) Billy Dee Williams. I’ve read articles that mentioned Lando and referred to him as the “only” black character in the original trilogy. I’m not sure that’s true, but I honestly can’t think of another black character offhand. As the Baron Administrator of Cloud City, he’s still a smooth-talking con artist with, as we will see, more than a dollop of treachery in his heart. A gambler and a scoundrel, as well, we’re told. But, Lando has charisma by the truckload. I don’t believe that charisma was all on the page. I think Billy Dee Williams brought it with him. That swagger, that voice, the fact that he played Gale Sayers in Brian’s Song. A few years later, when Williams was the pitchman for Colt 45, I was even tempted to drink malt liquor just to see if some of that suave coolness could be passed on. It can’t. At least not in malt liquor.
It occurs to me that Darth Vader was overdubbed by a black actor, James Earl Jones. But, that probably doesn’t count, since without his helmet Vader was as white as a hardboiled egg.
If he’s not the only black actor in the original trilogy, he’s one of very few. The same way Carrie Fisher was one of very few females in the cast. The diversity in Star Wars used to be represented by alien races, not Earth races (or even sexes). Things have improved in this respect, I think.
Back to the scene. The weird-looking bald guy with the strange, chunky earphones that wrap around the back of his head is known as Lobot. I know this only from listening to the Star Wars Minute podcast. Of course, I noticed him when I was younger, but never cared enough about him to see if he had a name. He serves as Lando’s administrative assistant, and, if I understood Alex and Pete correctly, is a cyborg of some type.
When Han explains to Lando that they came in because the Millennium Falcon was in need of repairs, we learn a bit more back history between the two space pirates.
“What did you do to my ship?” Lando wants to know.
“Your ship?” says Han. “Hey, remember, you lost her to me fair and square.”
In this brief exchange, we learn that the Falcon was once Lando’s ship, and he lost her to Han in some sort of wager, a game of sabacc perhaps, or maybe an actual race, although that would imply that Han had a ship faster than the Falcon.
Lando also greets Chewbacca familiarly—although he uses his full named rather than “Chewie”—and then sees Leia for the first time. Like all of the men in the Star Wars galaxy, he is instantly smitten by the Alderaanian princess. Probably because, like I mentioned before, she’s apparently one of only a few women in the galaxy. Lando even kisses her hand while he smooth-talks her. Han has to step between the two to break it up.
Threepio begins introducing himself as well, using his “human-cyborg relations” title (Hey! Maybe he should have introduced himself to Lobot instead). Of course, Lando ignores the protocol droid as most right-thinking humans tend to do.
Lando asks what’s wrong with the Falcon. Han says it’s the hyperdrive, and then Lando says he’ll get his people right on it. He also calls the Falcon “the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy.”
As they enter Cloud City, Lando talks about administrative issues such as supply problems of every kind and labor difficulties. This makes Han laugh. When Lando asks why, Han says Lando sounds like a businessman, a responsible leader. Lando admits that he’s more responsible these days; it’s the price you pay for being successful, he says.
While they are all walking down the corridor, Threepio is distracted by the sudden appearance of another protocol droid from behind a sliding door. Threepio greets the droid cheerfully, but the droid disses Threepio with an “E chu ta!”
Threepio comments that this is rude. I don’t know if “E chu ta” actually has an English translation. When I was a teenager, I thought it sounded a lot like “Eat shit,” but I now think that sounds like too organic of an insult for one droid to give to another. Feel free to substitute your own insulting phrase.
Once distracted, Threepio stays distracted. In the room that the E Chu Ta droid just came out of, Threepio thinks he hears an R2 unit. Obviously, Threepio is missing his companion. He goes deeper into the room. We don’t see what he sees, but we do get to see Threepio get blasted, his entire golden body flying off in pieces. Uh-oh. Is this an omen that something bad is about to happen?
Another screenwipe and we’re back on Dagobah. Luke is wearing his orange flightsuit and seems to be doing his final flight check before departing. Yoda is looking on from below.
“Luke,” Yoda says. “You must complete the training.”
“I can’t keep the vision out of my head. They’re my friends. I got to help them.”
“You must not go.”
“But Han and Leia will die if I don’t.”
You don’t know that, says Ghost-Ben, who suddenly appears beside Yoda like the ghost of Hamlet’s father. Even Yoda cannot see their fate.
“But I can help them. I feel the Force.”
But you cannot control it. This is a dangerous time for you. And you will be tempted by the Dark Side of the Force.
Yoda tells Luke to listen to Obi-Wan and remember his failure at the cave. Luke insists that he’s learned so much in the several minutes since then. He promises Master Yoda to return and finish what he’s begun. He even gives his word.
It is you and your abilities that the Emperor wants, Ben adds. That is why your friends are made to suffer.
“That is why I have to go.”
Luke, I don’t want to lose you to the Emperor the way I lost Vader.
Yoda adds, “Stopped they must be. On this all depends. Only a fully-trained Jedi Knight with the Force as his ally will conquer Vader and his Emperor. If you end your training now, if you choose the quick and easy path, as Vader did, you will become an agent of evil.”
Patience! Obi-Wan advises.
“And sacrifice Han and Leia?” Luke asks.
“If you honor what they fight for . . . Yes.”
Ben: If you choose to face Vader, you will do it alone. I cannot interfere.
“I understand,” Luke says, but he’s obviously made up his mind. Luke climbs the ladder up to the X-wing cockpit, telling Artoo to fire up the converters.
Throwing his hands in the air like he just don’t care, Ghost Ben says, Luke! Don’t give in to hate. That leads to the Dark Side.
Yoda adds, “Strong is Vader. Mind what you have learned. Save you it can.”
Luke promises to return again, closes the X-wing cockpit, and leaves Yoda behind with the Ghost of Tatooine Past.
Yoda sighs. “Told you I did. Reckless is he. Now . . . Matters are worse.”
That boy is our last hope.
“No. There is another.”
All Star Wars fans talked about his last line of dialogue after seeing this movie in 1980. What did Yoda mean about “another”? You have to keep in mind that we didn’t know Luke had a sister yet, let alone that she was Leia. That’s assuming that Yoda was even talking about Luke’s sister. Maybe Mace Windu fathered a few Force-sensitive children out there before completing his high rise swan dive. Or Yoda may have spawned a few tadpoles himself.
So, now our separate plotlines are about to converge. Han, Leia, Chewie and Threepio are already on Cloud City (although Threepio is in pieces). Luke is on his way to Cloud City. And, what about Darth Vader, whose dark presence has been dominating every other scene in the movie? Where is he? Hold that thought.
We cut back to Cloud City. There’s some more exterior establishing shot stuff that I think is special edition changes. It looks great. Then, we cut to Han entering a white room to tell Leia that the ship will soon be ready. Leia says the sooner the better because something doesn’t feel right there. No one has seen or knows anything about Threepio. Han kisses her head tenderly, tells her to relax (that almost never works with women, in my experience), and says he’ll talk to Lando and see what he can find out.
They establish that neither one of them trusts Lando. But, Han adds, he is my friend.
Cut to Chewie, elsewhere on Cloud City. Not one of the spots open to tourists apparently. More little people in costumes are in some junk-filled chamber shoving scrap metal into a furnace. Chewie begins to gather the parts that make up Threepio, with a few nasty growls to the little people on the side. They play a brief game of Keep Away with Threepio’s head, but in the next scene we see Chewie carrying a crate full of protocol droid parts into the chamber where Han and Leia are talking.
Leia asks Chewie if he can fix Threepio. Chewie’s answer is not translated, but seems noncommittal to me.
Then, Lando comes into the room as well. He makes no remark about the dismantled droid. Maybe he thinks Threepio beat Chewie in a game of space chess.
Lando turns on his million-kilowatt smile and in his smoothest Mac Daddy voice tells Leia: “You look absolutely beautiful. You truly belong here with us among the clouds.”
Lando asks Leia if she will join him for some refreshments, then quickly extends the invitation to everyone. Then, he looks at the crate full of Threepio.
“Having some problems with your droid?” he asks.
“No. No problem,” Han responds. “Why?”
As they are heading for the refreshments promised, Lando explains that their mining operation is small enough not to be noticed, by the mining guilds or the Empire. As they approach their destination, Lando admits that he’s made a deal that will keep the Empire out of Cloud City forever.
He opens the sliding doors to the dining room, and there’s Darth Vader sitting at the head of the table. Han immediately pulls his blaster and begins firing at the Sith Lord. Vader easily deflects the blaster fire with his extended right hand, then uses the Force to send Han’s blaster flying across the room to him.
“We would be honored if you would join us,” Vader says, cordially. I wondered who he meant by “us” until Boba Fett stepped out of a concealing niche behind Darth Vader. And then Lobot shows up behind our heroes with a squad of Stormtroopers. E tu, Lobot?
“I had no choice,” Lando explains. “They arrived right before you did. I’m sorry.”
Well . . . as long as you’re sorry, I guess it’s okay.
“I’m sorry, too,” Han says. And Chewie growls something. Once again, I think it’s “Humans ain’t nothin’ but bitches and ho’s” but my Babel Fish may be on the fritz.
A brief scene of Luke’s X-wing approaching Bespin follows.
Then, we’re in a cage with Chewie, who is being tortured by screeching whistles that sound like a car alarm. When the whistling stops, Chewie begins to work with the crate of Threepio parts that someone generously placed in the cage with him in lieu of a chew toy. Or a Chewie Toy, if you prefer. Heh-heh.
As this chapter of the Empire Edition of the 15-Minute Force ends, Chewbacca is doing the “Alas, Poor Yorick” soliloquy from Hamlet (Act 5, Scene 1) while holding Threepio’s apparently lifeless head.
How will our heroes get out of this predicament?
Until next week . . . Mind What You’ve Learned. Save You It Can . . . And May The 15-Minute Force Be With You.