Written by Richie Pepio
Two years ago, on a blog not far away…
I reviewed all 121 minutes of the original Star Wars during the 121 days before The Force Awakens.
As of today…
There are 124 days until Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.
There are 124 minutes in the original theatrical version of Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.
Dear Dellow Felegates,
With the second film in this new Star Wars trilogy opening on December 15th, I am going to review the greatest sequel of all time…
But since that’s 3 and a half hours long, I’m just going to watch the original theatrical version of The Empire Strikes Back in small increments from now until Christmas. If you came for the Star Wars commentary, you found the right place. If you thought we were watching Fox’s hit show, Empire – that’s ok! The Empire Strikes Back is proud, takes risks and fully embraces its dark side – IT'S THE COOKIE LYON OF CINEMA!
“But wait a parsec,” you’re probably saying. “How can you have the stamina to break down each minute in painstaking detail?” Oh, I can handle it, I’m strong enough to pull the ears off a gundark. “Strong? You haven’t worked out in ages?” Joke’s on you. That makes me perfect for staring at screens all day. “So that means you’ll be able to handle all the rabid trolls disagreeing with any of your opinions?” Hey, the chances of successfully navigating a message board is 3,720 to one, BUT NEVER TELL ME THE ODDS.
Is the Empire Strikes Back the greatest Star Wars movie of all time? How does Luke learn to be a ninja in less than a week? Are Han and Leia trapped in a toxic relationship? Will George Lucas find true happiness with Howard the Duck? Through this 124-step program, we’re going to find out! Start your original VHS casettes, remastered laserdiscs or Despecialized Editions and let's begin...
We open on darkness…
Oblivion. Just the quiet meditation that comes with being one with the Force. But before we can truly learn to quiet our mind and hear the midi-chlorians speak to us, we see our first glimpse of civilization.
The 20th Century Fox logo. And if you’re watching the original theatrical version like me, you’ll see the logo that, according to The Hollywood Reporter, graced screens from 1953 to 1981. If it was created today, it would be the Trump Tower of studio logos but it's really just a glamorous holdout from Hollywood's classic past. It's perfectly appropriate for a film like Star Wars which hearkens back to the classically epic thrills, adventure and romance of a bygone era with all the technology of the present. AND, if you're watching Episode 1, a fair helping of racial stereotypes!
BUT I DIGRESS… As enjoyable as The Force Awakens was (even though I was left a little unfulfilled by the lack of a Luke, Han and Leia group reunion), it’s sad that Episode VII didn’t open with this mainstay logo which defines classic cinema. This particular version of the logo is imperfect, with an odd-shaped “0” that extends in a weird angle as if it were Greta Gerwig dressed as a 'zero,' saying “look how quirky I am,” but it's shaped that way to span the aspect ratio of the that era's theater screens. You see, nobody cared about the home viewing experience back then. VCR’s in the late 1970’s cost on average $1400! When converted to today's money, that equals the amount it cost to make Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (which is ironically going to be released exclusively on VHS). Anyway, this 20th Century Fox logo is a great throwback that puts even the whiniest Sith in a viewing mood, so I rate it 19 out of 20 Centuries of Foxes.
The horn-filled Fox fanfare plays over the Lucasfilm logo as well, which is fitting considering Lucas was able to wrestle the majority of control over the creative and financial direction of Empire, unlike the original Star Wars. He didn’t want to experience the same stress and servitude he felt he owed Fox in the mid-to-late 70’s and he was able to turn Star Wars into a fully independent brand. Unfortunately, Empire arguably cost him just as much mental and physical stress as the last installment and probably played a strong factor in his eventual divorce. But enough about the man’s image, let’s talk about his company. The Lucasfilm logo of this period is a real Snorlax. Yes, it’s only 1980, but come on, Lucas! At this time, you were considered one of cinema’s greatest innovators, along with the three Stevens - Steven Spielberg, Stephen King and Steven Guttenberg. You couldn’t be bothered to come up with something fancier? Fox gets a lot of crap for being just another tyrannical studio but at least they have something grander than a boring green name-plate. While it gets some bonus points for being the color of Luke’s lightsaber, that's not enough to find a place in this reviewer's cold, cold heart. I’m giving it a lower ranking than I did when reviewing the original Star Wars because, like a fine glass of blue milk, it doesn’t get better with age. Although Lucasfilm eventually fancies up its logo with a classier font, reflecting light like a shiny piece of treasure, we’re judging this clunker for the fool's gold that it is, not what it will become. I give it $2 billion out of the $4 billion dollars it cost selling Lucasfilm to Disney.
At 0:22 seconds in we get our second ever glimpse of the iconic title card – “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” Without any sharp images, impressive special effects or any sound to speak of, this text is a gut punch immediately sending the audience back to the universe they first met in May of ’77. With the "galaxy far, far away" reference we feel the science fiction element, with the "long time ago" setting we get fantasy. Combine the two and it’s a formula that’s been imitated so much the list of copycat movies is longer than a list of SyFy movie titles beginning with "Shark-" and ending with "-nado." And, just to be different, this text ends in a four-period ellipses rather than three. It's throwback still full of surprises. This card gets 4 out of 4 Periods.
Then, 0:29 seconds in, we get the opening blare of John Williams’ trumpets, the background starfield, and yellow-outlined text: Star Wars. Covering the screen and then receding into hyperspace. It jolts you out of your seat and then makes a run for it, like the kids' room from Poltergeist. Following Empire, this action became a reality… as George Lucas kept trying to make the perfect followup, that original magic kept eluding him. From Return of the Jedi to Revenge of the Sith, the original “Star Wars” magic that many of the original audiences fell in love with, grew a bit less sharp with each additional sequel. No offense to Dexter Jettster.
Afterward, the backstory scrolls onscreen, filling us in on the events leading up to this moment. Without any opening credits, we’re immediately thrown into the action. It’s the first time we see “Episode V,” which is a shock because, unless you followed the news closely in Starlog Magazine, you’d think there were three movies you somehow missed between this one and the last one. “Episode IV: A New Hope” wasn’t added to original’s opening crawl until the re-release of the original Star Wars opened on April 10th, 1981. Empire made around $200 million less than Star Wars at the box office and maybe this played a small factor in it.
The crawl continues, telling us that things are bleak for our heroes, they're on the run, and a tradition is born - carried through to each successive episode. There's urgency, there's stately grandeur and a repeat on themes telling the audience that while no new Star Wars films made it to theaters in the three years between A New Hope and Empire, the creative team hasn't forgotten the Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon-formatted opening that made audiences fall in love with the whole epic in the first place.
In fact, here's a great visual comparison between the styles that Lucas borrowed from Flash Gordon when making his modern-day update:
Overall, this opening moment gets 24 out of 26 letters in the space-alphabet.
Stay tuned tomorrow for Minute 2:00, where we finish out this opening crawl, see what Star Destroyers can shoot out of their undercarriages and discover what our friends have been up to since they blew up Starkiller Base - I mean - the Second Death Star - I mean - the Droid Command Ship over Naboo - I mean... the OG Death Star.
This was originally posted on Mindctrlaltdel.tumblr.com