Captain’s bLog 202020.6 : Looking at The Empire Strikes Back 40 Years Later
After the Rebels including Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia Organa, General Jan Dodonna, Han Solo, Chewbacca, R2-D2, C-3PO, Wedge Antilles, Biggs Darklighter, and Jek Porkins won a massive victory against the cruel, tyrannical forces of the Empire with the destruction of the ultimate weapon in the universe, the Death Star, you may have thought that the intrepid band of do-gooders had it made… But you would be wrong. Even though the Death Star had been destroyed and it seemed like the good guys had won, the Empire’s control over the galaxy had spread like a virus and was far-reaching and still very potent. It was 1980 and time for the Empire to strike back.
After the success of Star Wars (before it was known as either Episode IV or a New Hope), the path was paved for the next in what would become a long line of sequels and prequels to George Lucas’s first amazing epic story with never before seen special effects (mostly created by Lucas and his team at Industrial Light and Magic).
A larger budget of $18,000,000 was allocated for The Empire Strikes Back and a new director was brought on board to execute his vision of the story. Irvin Kershner helmed the production of The Empire Strikes Back and brought his unique perspective and style to the story. He called it a fairy tale and not a science-fiction movie and further explained that he tried to make everything as realistic as possible, not futuristic, because if he believes it while he’s doing it, the audience does too.
You can see this attention to detail in the way everything looks lived-in and like it would really function, from the bored-out ice walls of the rebel base on Hoth to the grease dripping from the landing gears on the life-sized ships in the hangers. The movie looks absolutely incredible. And lifelike. And believable. Even when it comes to a small, green alien life form on a swamp planet. The team got one of the best possible people in the known universe to bring their talents to bear for creating the astonishingly life-like character of Yoda.
Frank Oz of the Jim Henson Creature Shop was brought on board to help bring all the elements of Yoda together with help from some veteran Henson designers, such as Wendy Froud. The Yoda puppet was so detailed and so lifelike that you could easily forget that you were watching something controlled by several puppeteers. Which is fortunate because his character and his performance are one of the best things about the movie.
When we first meet Yoda, Luke has just crashed his ship on a strange world that he was led to by what might have been a fever dream or a hallucination while he was practically freezing to death after being mauled by a giant abominable snow creature. He had no way of getting off this planet and was beginning to lose hope and wonder why he had come at all.
Yoda is equal parts enigmatic, silly, and wise. Luke mentions that he is looking for a great warrior and without skipping a beat, in his trademark pattern of speech, Yoda shoots that idea down. “Wars not make one great.” Then he immediately starts tasting Luke’s food and rummaging through all of his belongings. Yoda then proceeds to tease Luke, “Aww, cannot get your ship out?” It’s worth noting that in this scene R2-D2 tries to take Luke’s lamp back from Yoda and Yoda hits him with his cane repeatedly. R2-D2 is the only droid tough enough to take a beating from a Jedi master.
After dinner, Yoda tires of the charade and has felt out Luke’s character enough to reveal himself. “Adventure. Heh! Excitement. Heh! A Jedi craves not these things. You are reckless.” Fortunately, Luke has the help of his spirit-guide, Ben “Obi-Wan” Kenobi, to stick up for him and remind Yoda that he was pretty reckless himself when he was being mentored by Yoda.
During Luke’s Jedi training with Yoda on Dagobah, we get some of the most meaningful dialog in all of the Star Wars movies:
“Anger… fear… aggression. The dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight.” And when asked if the dark side is stronger,
“No… no… no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.”
And as to how Luke will know the good side from the bad:
“You will know. When you are calm, at peace. Passive. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.”
After Luke has been practicing lifting objects with his mind while doing a hand-stand and struggles with applying these principles to his ship that is stranded in the swamp, Yoda imparts more wisdom and informs him that the only differences between lifting the rock and lifting the ship are in his mind.
“You must unlearn what you have learned,” he says. Luke sounds a little unsure and decides that he’ll give it a try, to which Yoda emphatically replies, “NO! Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.” This has always stuck with me. Nearly every time I find myself about to say “I’ll try” I reevaluate the situation and figure out if I can realistically do whatever it is and change it to, “I will”.
Luke tries and fails to lift the X-wing out of the swamp, explaining to Yoda, (while panting and out of breath from the exertion) “I can’t. It’s too big.” To which Yoda replies, “Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hm? And well you should not. For my ally is the Force. And a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us.”
Then one of my absolute favorite lines of his, “Luminous beings are we… not this crude matter.” As another favorite fandom of mine points out, we are all stardust.
A random occurrence that has spawned from eagle-eyed super-fans of this movie is called the “Running of the Hoods” based on a character who has a total of approximately 1 second of screen-time named Willrow Hood.He is seen during the evacuation of Cloud City running and holding a prop that in reality is an ice cream maker (which has since been brilliantly retconned into a safe by the Mandalorian series).At Star Wars conventions (called ‘Star Wars Celebration’), groups of cosplayers dressed up as Willrow Hood gather and run down the main corridors in an event dubbed the “Running of the Hoods”.
There is so much more to touch on about this cinematic work of art, from Han and Leia’s banter and their budding relationship, to the amazing design behind the Imperial AT-AT walkers, to the fantastic idea behind the original Emperor hologram with the creepy chimpanzee eyes superimposed on a woman’s face, to the hidden Mickey Mouse in the Luke and Vader fight by the big window, but I’ll wrap it up.
Be mindful. Be calm, at peace. Avoid anger, fear, and aggression. Enjoy your life and have fun.
And remember that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view. "Remember, the Force will be with you... always."
Jack Stuart, guest blogger for the fandombar.com Community bLog
(Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back released June 8th 1980)