30 Years ago today, the greatest movie sequel (and arguably one of the best films) of all time was released in theaters: Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. At four-years-old, I was already a big Star Wars fan although I had never seen Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope which hit screens on May 25, 1977, a year and four months after I was born. The credit goes to the brilliant marketing of Star Wars products that ran in between weekly afternoon and Saturday morning cartoons, as well as important PSA’s like this:
Grandma Rose, my paternal grandmother, took me to see The Empire Strikes Back a few weeks after its release. It was an amazing movie-going experience for reasons I wasn’t able to fully comprehend and appreciate till I was older. I do remember being shocked and intrigued that the bad guy, Darth Vader, was the father of the good guy, Luke Skywalker. I remember re-enacting the scene multiple times with my action figures (all stored by the way in a large action figure case made in the shape of Darth Vader’s head) on the headboard of my bed.
And I was instantly drawn to Yoda, mostly because he was an advanced Muppet and voiced by the talented writer/director/performer Frank Oz the man who brought Grover and Fozzie the Bear to life every Saturday evening on The Muppet Show. I liked Yoda because of the familiarity of his voice, his sense of humor and the way he moved around. I also sensed in some way that Yoda was a wise and helpful creature, much like a grandfather.
Soon after the movie came out, my parents bought me a very small version of Yoda’s home on the planet of Degobah where Luke meets the old Jedi master and begins his training. The swamp where Luke crashes his X-Wing fighter was made out of dark olive green foam. It had a slit in the middle so that you could stick one of the Star Wars action figures in the swamp and then pretend they were sinking and in need of help.
The action figures are long gone but I own The Empire Strikes Back and the other films in the Star Wars saga on DVD. Of them all, The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite.
The special affects alone are spectacular and still hold up extremely well three decades later. Yoda is introduced as a new character and quickly becomes the symbol of all that is good about the Rebel Alliance, the Jedi, the Force and the films themselves. In addition to Yoda, two more newbies show up in the Star Wars saga, the smooth talking Lando Calrissien and the cool bounty hunter Bobba-Fett. The story (with many memorable quotes) is brilliant and captivating– full of surprises and twists at every turn, none of which lead to a happy conclusion:
Luke doesn’t complete his training (which had not been going smoothly) to be a Jedi, deciding instead to help his friends who he believes are in trouble; Han Solo is betrayed by his friend Lando and then frozen in carbonite to be shipped off to the warlord Jabba the Hut–seconds after Princess Leia has expressed her love for him; C3PO is blown to pieces by the Empire’s storm troopers; Luke loses the battle and his right hand in his first light saber duel with Vader, and then learns that Vader is dear ole paw; Obi-Wan Kenobi refuses to help Luke during his skirmish or when Luke is desperately handing on for dear life from the pipes that dangle underneath Cloud City.
In the film’s final moments, there is a faint glimmer of hope as Luke assures everyone that they’ll get Han back from Jabba the Hut and then go after the Empire. But Luke’s plan for completing those two extremely large tasks remains unclear so we are left with Luke, Leia, C3P0 and robot buddy R2D2 staring out into space. And there is nothing the viewer can do about the situation except to stand there and stare with them, which is what makes The Empire Strikes Back such a grand piece of cinema.
Instead of getting the cookie cutter ending and nice and tidy wrap up on all the relationships and scenarios, viewers get an in-depth look into the lives of flawed heroes, who despite their best efforts, still fail to conquer the evil forces of Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader. The Empire Strikes Back is an incredibly human film that reflects quite profoundly our lives which are filled with disappointments, frustrations and pains–things of which can’t always be fixed..at least not immediate.
The film contains numerous lessons about the importance of discovering one’s self and true calling in the midst of extreme hardship, i.e. Luke facing his fear in the cave on Degobah and later sacrificing his own training to save his friends; Han transforming from a scoundrel into a more selfless and caring person in the moments before he is frozen in carbonite; Chewbacca revealing a nurturing side beneath the hair and growl while mending a broken C3PO; Leia persevering through the pain of losing Han to rescue Luke and escape Cloud City with the Droids, Lando and Chewbacca in tow.
And it’s these lessons about loyalty, friendship, sacrifice, wisdom, patience, faith, selflessness, love, etc., that point me to the story of God & humanity that is found in the Bible and throughout daily experiences.
With great humor and joy, I hope to pass on the very same lessons to Katie:
May the force be with you…