Friday, May 21, 2010

The Premature Duel

Today is the 30th Anniversary of the release of The Empire Strikes Back. The film is also the lynch pin in the original Star Wars trilogy whereby the fate of the major characters are suspended between life and death and between good and evil.

Star Wars (1977), now referred to as "Episode IV: The New Hope" was the beginning of a legend and a fabulously successful franchise. Of course in the Summer of 1977, no one knew that yet, probably including George Lucas. But a collection of virtually unknown actors created, through the magic of Lucas' writing and direction (though he's never been a gifted director) a group of beloved characters who would lead us through a fantastic journey into immortal saga.

The original Star Wars film ended on an upnote. The good guys had won. The terrible Death Star had been destroyed by an idealistic young boy with a help of a few good friends. However, the evil Darth Vader had escaped, possibly to plague our heroic band of rebels another day. The Empire Strikes Back (directed by Irvin Kershner) was that day, and we all looked eagerly forward to its dawning.

Even as Luke was slowly developing his Force powers on his own, his journey to a critical decision point was growing nearer. Perhaps sensing that, the spirit of his mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi appears to Luke in a vision, telling him to travel to the Degobah system and learn the ways of the Force under Jedi Master Yoda.

While much of the film toggles back and forth between Luke's training and the adventures of Han, Leia, Chewie, and the droids as they attempt to escape the Empire's would-be assassins, the story of Luke, Yoda, and Vader is the key element. Luke isn't just developing his raw skill at manipulating the Force, he's making a decision about which path to take, towards good, or the dark side of the Force.

A critical scene, at least in term's of Luke's story, is when Yoda tells him to enter a cave that he tells Luke is "strong with the dark side of the Force. A domain of evil it is." What follows is very revealing:

Luke: What's in there?
Yoda: Only what you take with you.

At this stage of the film, we can only guess that Vader faced a similar test and ultimately failed some time ago, but it's not until the premature duel between Luke and Vader that we see just how close Luke is to following in his father's footsteps. Even at the end of the film, the audience of 1980 was never completely sure Vader was telling the truth when he admitted to being Luke's father. Luke obviously was, but deception is the way of the Sith.

The journey of Luke Skywalker is, in some way, the journey we all take. Star Wars gave us a hopeful, fresh, diamond-in-the-rough Luke, all dressed in white, innocent of the true nature of the universe and his own origins. Dressed in muted grey in "Empire", Luke proceeds down the road of an innocence lost, and along the way, losing his hand. In accepting a mechanical replacement for his hand, Luke not only began to take on a small physical resemblance to his father, but also some of the spiritual characteristics.

At the end of the film, though Luke is restored to his friends, his future is uncertain. The premature duel, the one he had been tricked into by Vader or perhaps the dark side itself, ended in a stalemate. Luke didn't really accomplish his mission and in fact, Leia, Lando, and Chewie were the ones to save Luke from a fatal fall. Even Han's destiny entered a dark area, encased in carbonite and taken by the bounty hunter Boba Fett as a prize for Jabba the Hutt.

Unlike the ending of the previous film, everyone's circumstances were left suspended, demanding another sequel to resolve (hopefully in a good way) the fate of our heroes. Would there be rescue and salvation, or would evil triumph?

The Empire Strikes Back is a fabulous tale of adventure, fantasy, and suspense. More than science fiction, like Star Trek and other franchises, it becomes its own entity, transcending any one genre. It is also the journey of one young, talented boy, who is on the cusp of choosing which road in life to take: darkness or light, life or death. Like Luke, it's a decision we make every day.

Congratulations Lucas, Hamill, Ford, Fisher and the rest of the cast and crew. Happy 30th Anniversary, Empire Strikes Back.


No comments:

Post a Comment