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2020-11-26 22:47:00 (UTC)

Prompt 103: I Am Your Father

103. The movie The Empire Strikes Back, famous for Darth Vader's reveal to Luke Skywalker, entered theaters in 1980. How would you have reacted if you saw the movie on opening night, completely spoiler-free? How would audiences today receive such a plot twist?

The original 1977 Star Wars film was the birth of a cultural juggernaut. It birthed the "space opera" genre of films like none other before it. Up until the franchise was rebirthed with all the "Star Wars Stories" coming out of Disney, every spacefaring epic not considered "hard science fiction" (something like "Interstellar") was compared to it. Nowadays, Star Wars has become a genre unto itself. Audiences know what to expect when they see one.

I'm sure that, since really nothing else was going on at the time (besides Star Trek and maybe Flash Gordon), Star Wars fans were incredibly excited to see the next installment. It's reasonable to expect that the sequel to a genre-defining film with so much going for it already was going to be a blockbuster, and any significant plot point would be obsessed over and debated and analyzed by the die-hard fans.

Personally, I've forgotten what it feels like to be a fan of a series. I don't watch television, I have no Netflix account and so I am unable to binge watch full series and whatnot. I saw "Tenet" this past August, on re-opening night of the cinema I regularly attended, and my remarks at the end of that film were something to the tune of, "Well, that happened."

I use Kanopy: a free service linked to my library card. Their selection isn't focused on typical fare, and if there's a film on there that's been released in the past five years, it's usually "one of those art house films." I don't remember seeing any Star Wars on there, but I do recall plenty of documentaries, editorials, and film critique. Their catalogue of cinema classics is legion. I'd prefer those any day over seeing a contemporary film, given the choice. You know it's going to be legitimately good for some reason if it's listed there.

Back to "Empire Strikes Back"... My favourite sequence is likely the battle of Hoth, right at the beginning of the film. I've written about this before, as I was able to see the 40th Anniversary screening at the local cinema recently. The beginning segment is tight, but then makes a series of unfocused turns after this battle is over. Everyone goes their separate ways, and then eventually meander their way back together in time for Han to be frozen (at least we don't have to deal with he and Princess Leia's back-and-forth bickering in the final act) and Luke to have his hand cut off by his dad during a well-done fight scene. Oh yeah, and now Lando Calrissian is part of the crew to fill in for Han in his absence.

I think Han's capture by Boba Fett actually stole the thunder away from Luke's growth and change in the film. But Lucas needed something to pad out the length of the film, and had to find something for the other characters to do while he was lifting rocks and jumping round in a swamp. Had Han not been frozen in carbonite after flying into and then out of a gargantuan space worm and then chased down by bounty hunters in a Cloud City mining platform, I would have cared a lot more about Luke's journey.

A "down ending," perhaps? Eh, no. Just a scattered ending. Was the reveal of Luke's father the big shocker that it was supposed to be? Call me jaded, but I think the only reason the reveal was that big a deal (was it, really?) was because die-hard fans were balls-deep in the Star Wars franchise by then, and nothing else came close. Star Trek was "too old" by then, and didn't have the appeal to kids that Star Wars had. No other sci-fi was as heroic (even Mad Max 2 came out a couple years later, I think), Flash Gordon was a light-weight in comparison - and wasn't lined up for a sequel anyway after killing off the villain at the end - and Krull was still a ways off. In other words: Australia and Europe were still playing catch-up, as was every other USA film studio.

The Empire Strikes Back: story was average, the plot twist - though perhaps novel for its time - nothing to write home about nowadays.