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Thirty Years Ago Today… May 21, 2010

Posted by Skippy in Observations, Popular Culture, Religion, Science Ficton.
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The best Star Wars movie, hands down. It’s probably the best Star Wars movie because it’s the one in which George Lucas was least involved.

Website io9 has a mostly good essay about why Empire was such an effective sequel.

I have one quibble with that piece, however.

Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett’s screenplay was like Shakespearan screwball; it swung between the heavy father-son themes of the Luke-Vader-Yoda thread and the light, “never tell me the odds” flirtation shared by Han and Leia. So much so, at times they felt like two different movies — and, let’s be honest, the Dagobah stuff is really kind of boring — united by a common soundtrack.

(emphasis mine)

Boring?

Sure, there’s no lightsaber duels or X-Wing fighters, but there is nothing boring about “the Dagobah stuff.” It is “the Dagobah stuff” that introduces another Wise Sage who helps the hero on his journey. “The Dagobah stuff” further explains the nature of the Force (before George Lucas fucked it all to hell with that “midichlorian” bullshit), and lets the audience see just how unready Luke is to face Vader. In other words, that Dagobah stuff is essential to the development of Luke Skywalker as a believable hero, and it sets up his eventual defeat—as well as the then-shocking revelation that Darth Vader was his father.

Going back to “the Dagobah stuff,” I have to say that Yoda and his quasi-Buddhist Jedi philosophy fired my imagination. Growing up in Oklahoma in the 70s and 80s, I think I can say with a fair amount of confidence that imagination wasn’t really appreciated. Most folks were Christian and claimed either Methodism, Baptists, Presbyterian or various flavors of Pentecostalism. Thinking of unmooring religion from theistic conceptions simply wasn’t heard of. You either believed in the Christian God (and Jesus) or you were a heathen. So, to watch The Empire Strikes Back and hear this muppet talking about “The Force” being a field which surrounds us and being something to which we’re intimately connected…it introduced a whole new way of thinking about the world around me. Yoda’s admonition to Luke to “Do. Or do not. There is no ‘try'” influenced me—-it influences me to this day. Either I do something, or I don’t; I find “I’ll try” to be little more than a pre-excuse for failure.

In sum, “the Dagobah stuff” is central to Empire. There aren’t two different movies here. Indeed, Luke’s time on Dagobah is structurally similar to what’s going on with Leia and Han: both plot threads are about the main characters changing and growing, being defeated and coming to terms with themselves (and their destinies!). There is one movie that has iconic and mythic elements which are vital to the maturation of the Star Wars trilogy.

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