Written by Richie Pepio
During the 124 days before the release of The Last Jedi, I’m reviewing all 124 minutes of the theatrical version of
The Empire Strikes Back. Join me and together we will watch Star Wars…
Before we jump into the end credits, let’s take a minute to acknowledge that we’re on the cusp of a new era. The Last Jedi is nearly upon us, and while the reviews are being plastered all over Rotten Tomatoes and spoilers are tainting Twitter, one of the most high profile stamps of approval must come from the Maker himself, George Lucas. He released only the slightest of statements to The Hollywood Reporter, calling it “beautifully made.” Yet, he complained about The Force Awakens because Disney’s installment focused on “retro” vehicles and characters and his movies tried to break new ground (which I guess his true since each prequel found new and creative ways to punch fans in the crotch). Considering how he once compared Disney to white slavers, “beautifully made” is a big improvement.
What about the other players...?
In a recent BBC profile, Norman Reynolds admitted, “I’m absolutely amazed these films are still as popular as ever.” Having worked in the art departments of the biggest movies of the 70’s and 80’s, should know what it takes to make a successful franchise. And his aesthetic can be spotted throughout... whether in the grimy “used future” sets of Empire or Alien 3. On Raiders of the Lost Ark, he saved the production some money by finding the perfect golden idol for the treasure for the beginning of the movie - it was a souvenir in a Mexican airport.
Empire is the best lit Star Wars (yes, I mean that in multiple ways) and the visuals are due, in a large part, to DP Peter Suschitzky. Known for his more thoughtful works, you wouldn’t think of him as a dead ringer for a movie with this kind of budget, but a recent interview with Filmmaker Magazine addressed his reasoning for working on the movie:
Filmmaker: So why did you take the Empire Strikes Back job? Was it because it was the biggest job in town?
Suschitzky: Yes, and the first one had excited me. I was approached to shoot the first one, but the studio felt that the director, inexperienced as he was, needed to have a veteran with him. Why did I accept the film? It was a new challenge. As a young cinematographer, I wanted to be challenged and I knew that the previous film had been enormously popular, so it was the feeling that we were working on something that was important to a lot of people. That is very flattering to the people working on it.
Filmmaker: How did you feel about the digital version of Empire Strikes Back?
Suschitzky: Ooh. I haven’t had a look at the Blu-ray copy of it yet. When I bought a DVD of it, it looked as though they had increased the contrast a lot and it didn’t look the way that I had shot it anymore. Maybe I’ll be able to judge better on Blu-ray.
Filmmaker: Were you disappointed that they made a digital version?
Suschitzky: I was disappointed that I hadn’t been involved in anyway, not even in the consultations about the changes. It’s up to Lucas whatever improvements to the digital effects he wants to make, but as far as the general look of the movie is concerned, I feel very strongly that the cinematographer who created the look should be consulted.
Paul Hirsch was essential for the first two Star Wars’ successes. And as someone who was around since the beginning, he was able to speak honestly about the main players’ contributions. Although he’s seemingly edited a movie from each genre, he revealed on StarWarsInterviews.com that A New Hope and Empire are probably his proudest achievements, if only for the impact they had on society.
George basically let me do my thing with each scene, and then would give me notes. And he consulted very closely with Marcia of course. And then at a certain point, he decided he preferred working with just one editor, and chose me to finish the film. I was the only editor on the picture over the last 5 months, during which they re-shot the Cantina sequence; R2 in the canyon, captured by the Jawas; some of the land-speeder shots; as well as the gearing-up of the planet-destroying weapon on the Death Star. It was during this period that we completed the blue-screen shots and I watched the space sequences come to life as the backgrounds were filled in.
And John Williams... I have nothing to say about him. He’s a monster.
Rating: 2 out of 2 Oscars awarded to Empire, if counting the Special Achievement award for visual effects.
This was originally posted on Mindctrlaltdel.tumblr.com