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160. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (#15)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Luke Dunne, The 250 is a fortnightly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released Saturdays at 6pm GMT.

So this week, Irvin Kershner’s The Empire Strikes Back.

It is a time of galactic strife. Following the Empire’s defeat at the Battle of Yavin, the Rebel Alliance finds itself on the run. A surprise attack on the ice planet of Hoth scatters the rebel fighters to the wind, with Luke embarking on training with a mysterious figure named Yoda while Han Solo attempts to ferry Princess Leia to safety. However, things are not as they appear.

At time of recording, it was ranked 15th on the list of the best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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“The Price You Pay for Being Successful”: How “The Empire Strikes Back” Was One of the First Blockbusters of the Eighties…

Star Wars is often discussed in the context of the late seventies, whether the political context of the Vietnam War or George Lucas’ status as an up and coming director alongside the likes of Francis Ford Coppola or Steven Spielberg or even just the way in which it shifted movie-making away from the new Hollywood model towards the blockbuster template.

Despite all of this, it is often overlooked just how firmly Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back is rooted in the context of the early eighties. There are obviously any number of reasons for this. Most obviously, Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi consciously retreated back to the late seventies trappings of the original film, right down to its decision to restage the Vietnam War with adorable toyetic teddy bears in the place of the Viet Cong. There’s also a sense in which the cultural markers of The Empire Strikes Back are more subtle than those of Star Wars.

Sabre-rattling.

Watched from a modern perspective, The Empire Strikes Back seems to herald the arrival of the new decade. Like all great sequels, it broadens both the scale and scope of Star Wars, but it also pushes the franchise forward. Even beyond the now iconic revelations about family lineage and power dynamics, The Empire Strikes Back radically redefines what it means to be a Star Wars film. It is no longer about navigating the moral ambiguity of an uncertain time, wrestling with the spectre of American might. It is instead about exploring social power structures, of finding one’s place in system.

The Empire Strikes Back might just be the first truly great eighties movie.

A little father-son outreach.

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That One Scene…

You know the one I’m talking about. It’s the one scene in a bad movie that really got you, that managed to suggest that maybe there was a bit more to the film than met the eye. If it came towards the start of the film, it probably built up expectations that the finished product couldn’t meet. If it appeared in the middle, it made sure that you didn’t quite nod off towards the end. If it closed out the movie, you probably left feeling more satisfied with the movie-going experience than you really should. Often, however, these sequences are just frustrating because they just end up teasing what could have been.

Mauled by critics...

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Non-Review Review: Star Wars – Episode I: The Phantom Menace (3D)

In 1999, after decades of anticipation, George Lucas unleashed Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace. The response was… less than enthusiastic. After years of heightened anticipation, during which the original trilogy had been built up to near mythical status, anything less than the second coming was going to disappoint viewers. I think it is reasonable to say that The Phantom Menace fell well short of that particular target. That said, I’ve always felt a bit of sympathy for the first of the prequel trilogy. Not enough to label it as a good film (it really isn’t), but enough to argue that the fairly fundamental and central flaws do mask a number of virtues. Those virtues don’t quite redeem the film, but they do make the end result a lot more fascinating than most would concede it to be.

Schindler’s miffed…

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Sympathy for the Devil, or at Least Understanding for George Lucas…

Next week, George Lucas will release his complete six Star Wars movies on blu ray. Truth be told, I’m not sure that I’ll buy them. This isn’t a note of protest against the director’s seemingly incessant tinkering with the movies that helped define a generation, but just one of indifference. The franchise doesn’t feel essential any more, even though I can’t exactly put my finger on why, but I can’t help but feel that – were I to buy the complete set – I wouldn’t be getting the iconic films that marked a collective cultural experience, but George Lucas’ heavily revised notes on those films, which is something quite different. That said, I can’t bring myself to spew the type of vitriol at Lucas that most on-line fans seem to enjoy producing, if only because I can almost respect what Lucas is attempting to do.

Whatever happened to light entertainment...?

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Can a Sequel Spoil the Original Film More Than a Remake?

So, the rights to Blade Runner have been sold. However, us on-line film nerds are being told to breathe easy, because the rights that were sold explicitly do not include the option to remake or “reimagine” or “reboot” the classic Ridley Scott film. However, is that really that much of a comfort? Surely a terrible sequel can tarnish an original film just as much as a terrible remake?

Concept art from Blade Runner by Syd Mead

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