STAR WARS PART 5… okay, admittedly you’re stretching it by the time you get to a part 5 that doesn’t have a “FAST” in the title. Even a prestigious series like DEATH WISH is gonna be a little goofy in part 5, it’s gonna have a part with a remote controlled exploding soccer ball. FRIDAY THE 13TH had to be “A New Beginning” because they claimed they were gonna stop at 4. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET had to get a baby involved, but STAR WARS sorta already did that in part 4. It had Luke “A New Hope” Skywalker using The Force and the lessons of Ben O.W. Kenobi to blow up the Death Star and defeat Darth Vader and the Empire, a great ending.
But oh, great, now the fucking Empire strikes back. How convenient.
When you watch it it seems to make sense, though. You notice that the end of part 4 was not conclusive, they did strategically leave a loose thread in the form of Emperor D. Sidious Palpatine, the humble Senator from Naboo who used dark Sith arts and phantom menacery to plunge the entire universe into war and cease control of the Republic and turn it into an Empire. That rat soup eating motherfucker wasn’t even mentioned in part 4, but here he shows up as a hologram warning Mr. Vader that this Luke kid who blew up the Death Star (he got famous enough that they know his name now) is “the son of Skywalker.”
I gotta say, I’m disappointed in Vader for not looking into that possibility as soon as he heard the name. If Skywalker is supposed to be a common name like Smith or Tyraunus they sure didn’t establish that in the previous movies.
When the story begins Luke and the “freedom fighter” Rebels have ditched their old secret base for a new one on the snowy planet of Hoth. Vader’s sending spy drones (zombie droids?) out to all the planets and just found their location. To make matters worse Luke and Han and their pet kangaroos have been locked out of the base during a cold front and attacked by one of these Yeti type monsters they have on Hoth – I’ll call them Snow People.
But they escape and within the first 30 minutes of the movie there’s already a huge battle scene as the Empire attacks the base. This is ingenious because instead of fighting in space yet again it’s down near the ground, low-flying space ships shooting at these huge “Imperial Walkers” that are like four legged robots. Actually this is kind of a sequel to the fight on dusty Geonosis in part 2. Some of the clones had smaller vehicles that walked on legs. Those have apparently evolved into this model – the Empire believing “bigger is better” and being too dumb to notice their obvious weakness (Luke defeats one of them basically by tying its shoe laces together).
This definitely has a MATRIX RELOADED or THE HOBBIT MEETS SMAUG type of vibe where it’s comfortable with its role as a middle part and not trying to wrap everything up. Therefore it has no qualms about keeping Luke separate from his gang for almost the entire movie. Kenobi has increased his ghost powers (he has a high spookychlorian count) so now he’s not just a voice, he can even appear in a transparent form in front of Luke. I think that’s a good idea because what if Luke was just thinking about something Ben might say and then thought it was an actual message (or ForceMail)? When there are apparitions involved its more checks and balances. Anyway the old spectre sends him to “the Dagobah System” to be instructed by Yoda. So last time R2 led him to one old Jedi in exile, now the other one.
This is a low key part of the story, and one of the best stretches in the series so far. Yoda looks a little older, with vastly improved special effects, and when we first see him he’s acting like a total goofball! Luke doesn’t know this is the guy he’s looking for and treats him kind of condescendingly, like a mild annoyance he’s willing to put up with for now. R2 looks at him like “Oh shit, this motherfucker’s gone loopy from living alone in the swamp.” But it’s a test.
This is what has become of the old master: stripped of the Jedi Council, the Jedi Temple, the Jedi Library, the Grand Army of the Republic and the Segway® brand floating platform; bereft of human-like contact (not counting ghosts), lacking a leadership position (unless he bosses around those snakes and lizards that are crawling around), living in a small hut… I believe he has been reduced to his essence, and made more powerful than ever. Before we saw him teaching whole classrooms full of younglings, here the student-teacher ratio is much better. Sure, Luke is too old, too impatient, so impatient he takes off in the middle of the training to do something Yoda specifically told him not to do (just like his dad). But Yoda is able to teach him one-on-one about vine-swinging, flips, hand stands, no-contact object lifting, seeing the future, facing his fears and other philosophy type shit. He sends him on a brief vision quest where we get a topnotch symbolic nightmare sequence. There is an actual training montage (sorry, no Survivor type inspiration-rock song).
Look, America. I agree. Yoda is awesome. But let’s face it, the Clone Wars happened on his watch. The Empire happened on his watch. After his great failure in parts 1-3 he has as much to prove as Luke does, and as much self doubt to overcome (“I cannot teach him”). He keeps mentioning Luke’s lack of patience, his anger, his father’s anger, that his father chose “the quick and easy path” (the path Padme could not follow). He’s putting it on Luke but I think he’s scared too, of repeating his failure with another god damn Skywalker. Like we need two of ’em.
I mean, he can’t live that down. He does a great job of helping Luke cram to be a Jedi, but are we sure he’s not fuckin up again? I gotta question his judgment ’cause here he is telling Luke not to go save his friends (like Pa Kent telling Superman maybe stop rescuing so many people until he gets older) but as soon as Luke ignores him Yoda tells Obi-Ghost it’s okay because “there is another hope.” That’s gotta be Leia, right? i.e. one of the friends he just told Luke not to save. If Yoda Used The Force a little more attentively maybe he’d figure that out and make a plan to get both of these Midichlorian pots back in the bog for training.
By the way, R2 gets the shaft in this whole thing. He’s a heroic veteran, but Yoda doesn’t give him the time of day. Total droid racist. Plus, R2 asks if it’s safe for droids down there, and Luke says he’s “sure” it is, then dumps him off on like 2 feet of mud surrounded by water. This planet is not droid accessible. Then he falls in the water and gets eaten by a beast. He’s safely coughed up, but Luke never apologizes. Bad manners is the Dark Side, right? Must be. Foreshadowing.
Meanwhile, R2’s long time roommate 3.P.O. is with the Leia and Hans contingent. Bummer for him, because those two are insufferable. They want down each other’s pants so bad but the way they flirt is to act grumpy and hateful toward each other. What a couple of assholes.
Hans keeps trying to quit and leave to take care of his financial troubles, but attacks and shit keep happening. So he resists resisting the call. They get chased by Boba Fett, now grown up and working in his old man’s trade of bounty hunting, wearing Pops Fett’s clothes and driving his car. At one point they land on an asteroid and get attacked by space bat things.
Keep it real, represent what?
They end up hiding out at Cloud City, a swinger’s club run by Hans’s old co-scoundrel (and previous owner of his vehicle) Lando Calrissian, played by HIT!‘s Billy Dee Williams. And, just as Luke predicted in one of those Jedi dreams, Vader actually leaves his Japanese capsule hotel or whatever…
…and shows up there at the resort. So Luke heads him off and they fight and in the heat of the moment Vader lets it slip that he’s his old man. Real uncomfortable but a good fight scene.
(Now, does Luke get that Darth Vader is saying he’s Anakin Skywalker, or does he think Vader is claiming to be, like, a milkman or something who snuck in there when Anakin was at star war? I’m not sure.)
I was a little worried because this is the first STAR WARS movie not directed by George Lucas. He left to do other things and merely had his name on it as producer, creator, story writer and overseer of every single aspect other than standing on set directing actors. For that they got Irvin Kershner, director of THE RETURN OF A MAN CALLED HORSE, THE EYES OF LAURA MARS, ROBOCOP 2 and an episode of SeaQuest. That’s not much to brag about but more significantly he directed NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN, on which pre-fame Steven Seagal worked as Sean Connery’s martial arts instructor, and then appeared in ON DEADLY GROUND as the director of the corny propaganda commercial for Aegis Oil. I once saw somebody claim Kershner ghost-directed ON DEADLY GROUND for Seagal, but this is not supported by anything else I’ve heard.
Lucas also handed over writing duties. That credit went to veteran screenwriter and sci-fi novelist Leigh Brackett (THE BIG SLEEP, RIO BRAVO), though she actually died of cancer after writing an early unused draft, and first timer Lawrence Kasdan (before BODY HEAT and THE BIG CHILL).
One of these new people must’ve hated the character of 3pio, because he gets the Jar Jar cold shoulder in this one. Nobody wants to listen to his prissy jibber jabber. Hans calls him “the Professor,” puts his hand over his mouth when he’s talking. Leia tells him to shut up and actually turns him off mid-sentence. Lando just completely ignores him, turns around and walks away from him while he’s talking. Another droid tells him to eat choota, and then he gets blown to pieces just for walking into a room looking like a chump.
There’s also a good running joke about how shitty it is to work for Vader (he can even strangle people over a satellite link!) and they continue the old gag where everybody keeps pronouncing “Leia” different.
I like how the settings are a real change in this one. Snow instead of sand, a city in the sky instead of on the ground. I gotta give credit to cinematographer Peter Suchitzky, who gives the movie a very natural overcast type of look. I would say it has the best lighting of the series so far. He only did this one Star Wars, and has since become David Cronenberg’s main cinematographer.
This chapter also gets points for introducing Lando, a suave motherfucker in a dope cape, the Youngblood Priest of the stars, played as only Billy Dee could play him.
Plus we get the traditional STAR WARS implied detail about his operation. He has a personal secretary with a Bluetooth built right into his head. He off-handedly mentions “labor difficulties,” then later we see that his machinery is operated by little Oompa Loompa type guys. His engineers wanted a raise so he replaced them with slaves! He is a scoundrel!
The ending is kind of a cliffhanger that references part 2, ATTACK OF THE CLONES. Like Anakin, Luke loses his hand in an inconclusive duel with a Sith and gets it replaced by a robot hand. Ironically it’s Anakin that chops it off. But the robot hand technology is much better than it was in his day, so joke’s on him.
I feel a little weird about Lando at the end. I understand that he feels bad for selling them out to Vader and is gonna help them to redeem himself. And it makes sense to let him fly the Millennium Falcon since it used to belong to him. But is it really okay for him to put on Solo’s clothes? Seems in poor taste to me.
The next to last shot is reminiscent of the very last shot of CLONES.
In that one, Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidal-Skywalker (along with R2 and C3) look ambiguously into the sunset – they’ve just been married, they’re feeling romantic, but there is an air of doom since this is a secret, forbidden marriage that they’ve already predicted will lead to terrible things. STRIKES reverses it, it has the children of that marriage looking off into a starscape, (also with R2 and C3) and though they are facing a bunch of setbacks (their base got blown up, Luke pussied out and left his training before becoming a Jedi, Hans has been frozen and kidnapped, Vader beat Luke in a light saber battle, chopped off his hand and said mean things that made him cry) they seem to be looking optimistically into the future where they plan to rescue their friend and pull up their bootstraps and what not.
This is one of the better Star Warses in my opinion. Definitely worth checking out if you are a star wars fan. just my 2 cents
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.