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 sequel that started it all, The Empire Strikes Back. Join me and together we will watch Star Wars. . . .
Minute 3:00 of The Empire Strikes Back is all setup and no payoff but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We see some magnificent special effects, which seem especially effortless for 1980. The Star Destroyer looks a little bulkier than they appeared in 1977’s Star Wars, and although we start to see these vessels from a wider variety of angles, they’re still formidable and imposing. In the last film, the Destroyers were usually only viewed from below, seeming nearly invincible as the audience watched them pass overhead. This viewpoint helped sell the opening sequence of A New Hope, making Darth Vader’s massive and speedy ship look inescapable.
Here in Empire, the Star Destroyer is drifting. We realize they’re searching carefully for the Rebels, but watching it wander at the same speed as the I-Can’t-Find-My-Contacts Guy on the edge of the neighborhood pool isn’t the most exciting pace for any starship. But since the first 15 minutes are a long buildup toward the biggest battle of the movie, the slow stalking of the Star Destroyer may just be worth it.
When we get a good shot of the Star Destroyer’s undercarriage, we see it spitting out pods faster than James Patterson spits out co-written detective novels. One lands into the densely packed snow on the surface of Hoth and a gray, jellyfish-shaped robot emerges. We get the sense this thing will be a problem later.
Much of the success of the probe is due to the top-notch efforts of the model and props team. While the increased budget allowed Lucasfilm to build larger models, including one for the white Star Destroyer, the Viper probe droid is a full-scale prop moved along a track at the location shoot in frigid Finse, Norway.
For some reason, whenever video game developers at Lucas Arts were looking for a real bad henchman for players to fight - outside of the average Stormtrooper - they’d throw a bunch of probe droids into a hallway. While Han Solo is able to shoot this one out with a couple of shots from his tiny blaster later in the movie, video game probe droids can withstand several head-on hits and float to high heights. In Nintendo64’s Rogue Squadron, for example, they can survive several shots from an X-Wing. AN X-WING! And why would they even be in the sky in the first place? They’re the equivalent of space-paparazzi. Which brilliant Imperial strategist thought: “oh, Rebel fighter jets are coming? We’ll attack them with an entire fleet of our best camcorders!”
Outside of the probe droids you face in person, one of the more interesting aspects to another Nintendo64 classic, Shadows of the Empire, is the opening theme music on the game’s main menu. While the first two levels take place during the Battle of Hoth we’re all familiar with, I always had a harder time placing the menu’s theme. It wasn’t from the Shadows of the Empire soundtrack composed by Joel McNeely and it wasn’t in the Empire Strikes Back movie, but you'll catch it if you listen closely to the 8 minute “The Ice Planet Hoth (Medley)” on the original score. It includes several motifs which are hard to spot in the film but are right at home in Shadows of the Empire.
As the probe floats away, we find ourselves floating through the sky in a helicopter shot hovering over a creature, a Tauntaun, running through the ice.
It’s a well-timed stop motion effect at the end of a minute packed with subtle model-work, full-sized props and a high-end claymation-style sequence. This was all subtly done but again, I knock this minute a point for lacking the kind of jet-setting pace we saw with the previous movie. It gets 7 out of 8 probe droids jettisoned from the hangar of that Star Destroyer.
Stay tuned tomorrow for the next minute! We'll meet an old friend, hear people speak for the first time and see a giant muppet!
This was originally posted on Mindctrlaltdel.tumblr.com