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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ten years ago tonight...

..."Weird" Ed, Johnny Yow (see Johnny, I mentioned you again on my blog!) and myself had dinner at Blue Ribbon Diner in Burlington (I had a hamburger and a whole pile of those delicious Blue Ribbon french fries). Then we went to the West End Cinema and saw The Empire Strikes Back: Special Edition, which had just come out that day.

This may have been my favorite of the Special Editions. But then again, The Empire Strikes Back is probably my favorite chapter of the entire Star Wars saga. It's been playing on HBO a lot in the past several days (along with A New Hope). Everything about it makes this the perfect Star Wars movie in my mind.

You know what was one of the more fun things about seeing the Special Edition of Empire? A week or so earlier I went with some friends at Elon to see A New Hope Special Edition (again). There was this girl that I'd never met before and she went with us and she had never seen a Star Wars movie before, ever. As we were leaving the theater that night somebody said something about "the relationship" between Luke and Leia and this girl is like "what do you mean?" She didn't know. And "that thing" about Luke and Vader? This girl had absolutely never heard about that before! Well this same girl was going in to see The Empire Strikes Back that night and I made a mental note of where she was sitting. And when "that moment" - you know what I'm talking about - came, she literally gasped out loud "WHAT?!?"

That's the moment where the whole thing gets completely overturned and the cards go flying and the game you think you've been watching... ain't that game at all. Oh sure, The Empire Strikes Back is dark from the beginning, but there's always still this sense of wide-eyed innocent wonder that you first get when you saw the first Star Wars movie. And then Han and crew get captured and you're like "okay, they're gonna get out of this I just know it". And then Han gets frozen in carbonite. And then Darth Vader and Luke have their fight and Luke loses his hand. Right up to that moment there's still a little ember of hope burning that this is still going to wind up okay...

...and then with five little words, Vader totally destroys everything you have come to know and love and expect out of Star Wars. This little fantasy world so much like Oz crumbles and turns to ash and you're left sitting there wondering: "Okay, what just happened here?"

From that point on, the Star Wars saga was definitely something darker and more malevolent. Which I think it had to be, to make the point of ultimate redemption that we see in Return of the Jedi that much more powerful. But still... it packed a wallop when I saw The Empire Strikes Back as a six-year old in 1980 and it was just as overwhelming to see it as a 22-year old in 1997.

The final 30 minutes or so of The Empire Strikes Back may be the most wonderfully orchestrated bit of cinematic storytelling in movie history. That whole last bit is like opera or even silent movies: John Williams' score practically tells that entire length of story. The last little bit of Empire also includes my most very favorite Star Wars moment of them all: those harrowing seconds as Artoo is trying to open the door to let Leia and Lando and Chewie escape to the Falcon, then how Artoo stays behind to turn on the smoke so that the Stormtroopers will be disoriented... and then how you see Artoo going as fast as those little wheels of his can take him to the Falcon. That scene along with the music to it... just awesome.

Well, there's more that I could probably say, but I'd be here all night if I attempted it. Happy 10th Birthday to The Empire Strikes Back Special Edition: it helped re-ignite a light that hasn't gone down yet.