Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back – Review

On to Episode V – widely regarded as the best Star Wars film. Once again, the aim of this post is not to examine every facet of the story, and explain why it works – the aim is just to make some observations.

Firstly: world-building (probably my favourite aspect of fiction). The world-building in this film is excellent. This is something that I’ve said of every film so far in these reviews – and one of the things that I’m re-realising through doing these reviews – the world-building in George Lucas’ Star Wars is extraordinary. The real stand-out in this film is Cloud City – what an extraordinary environment – a city that floats in the atmosphere of a gas giant. It’s completely unlike anything we saw in Episode IV. It’s amazing that we don’t see this sort of environment more in science fiction.

Hoth is also an example of good world-building. That particular climate hadn’t been used in the previous film; we saw two unique species that live on the planet (the tauntauns and the wampa – and they weren’t just background filler or accessories – they were actually involved in the plot); we also saw several new pieces of technology used while on the planet – notably the ATATs and the ion cannon.

Han, Chewbacca, and Leia’s storyline in this film is an excellent example of realism and how to build tension. At the start of the film, Han and Chewbacca are trying to repair the Millennium Falcon. We see many shots of this and we get the sense that it is complex and takes a long time. This is realism. In the Disney films, when the Falcon gets damaged, repairing it doesn’t seem to be a difficult thing (which means that it getting damaged at all doesn’t add to the tension – it’ll just be repaired quite easily and quickly). Indeed, in this film, a big part of Han, Chewbacca, and Leia’s storyline revolves around trying to fix the Falcon’s hyperdrive, and trying to escape the Empire without being able to jump to hyperspace.

Vader gets tonnes of great stuff in this film. Even the details are great. I love the way we get a glimpse of what Vader looks like under the helmet – just a fraction of a second as his helmet is being put on. The first film sets up the mystery of what he looks like under the helmet, and this film gives us a glimpse, but no more. I also really like how Vader tells the admiral to take the ship out of the asteroid field so that they can send a clear signal to the emperor. This tells us that Vader doesn’t want to annoy the emperor – he doesn’t want the emperor to see any imperfection – he wants to show deference. This is a great way of signalling that the emperor is at the top of the hierarchy.

Also, Vader altering the deal with Lando Calrissian several times shows how the empire is used to getting its way – even when they make an agreement, they don’t have to keep it – they can just do what they want, and whoever they made the agreement with just has to go along with it. This is a great way of showing the power of the empire.

Everything with Yoda in this film is fantastic. The puppetry by Frank Oz is just outstanding – every time I watch this film I am amazed by just how much expression it is possible to put into the movement of the puppet. Despite it quite obviously being a puppet, it doesn’t break the illusion of the film. (This is quite amazing considering that in the Disney films, sometimes very detailed CGI does break the illusion.)

The opening sequence with Yoda I think is my favourite of the scenes we get with Yoda. That particular kind of whimsy – being willing to make himself look daft, quite the opposite of what a Jedi master is supposed to look like, in order to test Luke – is not something we seem to get from any of the other films.

Just like with the previous four films, some of the dialogue in this film is a bit strange. The entire conversation between Han and Lando when Han, Chewbacca, and Leia first land on Cloud City is very odd. The whole thing is stilted – as though when they were filming it, they didn’t have the other actor say their lines when one actor was doing their takes.

The interaction between Han and Leia is weird for a lot of this film too. A lot of their dialogue is quite cheesy – to some extent that’s fine – it was the eighties – they didn’t intonate words with as much precision back then. But also, Han is quite creepy in the first part of the film. Leia makes it very clear, multiple times, that she’s not interested in him, but he keeps leering over her. They get together in the end, of course, which makes it seem like Han was right to persist, but several times Leia makes it incredibly clear that she’s not interested in him – in a way that seems not at all ambiguous.

There is also one plot oddity that I was reminded about on this rewatch. Before Luke goes to Cloud City to try to rescue the others, Obi-wan and Yoda tell Luke that it’s a trap. This doesn’t seem to change Luke’s plan, nor does it change his mind about whether to go to Cloud City at all. This strikes me as odd – if I were told that something were a trap, I would very quickly change my mind about what I wanted to do. We see a similar problem to this in Episode III – when Anakin and Obi-wan get into Grievous’ ship over Coruscant, they realise that they’ve walked into a trap, but this does not change what they plan to do – they just decide to spring the trap. I dislike this in stories – when characters realise that something’s a trap, but it doesn’t change what they intend to do.

And finally another small detail I like is Admiral Ozzel taking the fleet out of hyperspace too close to the Hoth system. This allows the rebels to raise their energy shield in time. I like this because it hints that perhaps Ozzel was secretly on the side of the rebels. Perhaps he was deliberately doing things in such a way that gave the rebels the advantage in battles. This is supported by Vader saying ‘You have failed me for the last time, Admiral.’ – Ozzel has failed many times before, perhaps because he is trying to help the rebels. (Of course, he could instead just be incompetent.)

And that’s it for this film. I never got the Big Reveal moment (‘I am your father.’) when I first watched this film, because when I first watched this film I must have been twelve or something, and had seen various fragments of the Star Wars films out of order already. But this is an excellent film overall, with great world-building, some great character moments, and great details.

Star Trek Picard – Series 1 Episode 2 – It’s getting better

I thought the first episode of Star Trek Picard was okay – not great, but not a disaster either. The second episode was slightly better.

The plot remains compelling – we have a number of obviously-connected mysteries that we are gradually learning more about – it’s the usual stuff. I’m eager to find out why the synthetic humans went crazy on Mars, and what the Zhat Vash are up to.

It’s worth noting that so far this series has nothing on its predecessor – The Next Generation. For several months now I have been rewatching all of The Next Generation – I’m currently somewhere in series six. Star Trek Picard has a single mystery that is solved (we expect) over the course of a whole series. In The Next Generation, each episode introduces a new mystery, which the characters then solve by the end of the episode (apart from the occasional two-parter). Many of the single-episode mysteries from TNG are more exciting to watch than the whole-series mystery of STP. That’s probably because so far in STP, we haven’t gotten the sense that Picard is under constant threat – even though we know that there are certain Zhat Vash members who want to kill him. The threats of this series aren’t threatening enough.

Similarly, even though this series has done somewhat of a narrative replacement of the Tal Shiar with the Zhat Vash, the Zhat Vash don’t seem nearly as threatening or as interesting as the Tal Shiar did. I recently rewatched TNG: Face of the Enemy, and even though, technically, in the entire episode, we don’t actually see a member of the Tal Shiar, the way that the other Romulans react to Deanna Troi posing as a member of the Tal Shiar makes the organisation seem tremendously threatening and imposing. The Zhat Vash don’t have this effect yet.

There were some great performances in this episode: Alex Diehl was delightfully creepy as a synthetic human, and Tamlyn Tomita was brilliantly stern as Commodore Oh.

The main thing about the episode that I didn’t like – and this was so bad that it almost ruined the whole episode – was a line they had Picard say at one point: ‘I never really cared for science fiction. I guess I just didn’t get it.’

I don’t know what the idea behind adding this line in was – it’s very out-of-place in the episode – it really didn’t need to be there. Maybe the writers thought it would be funny – the irony that we’re all here enjoying science fiction but the person we’re watching doesn’t. Maybe Patrick Stewart, who is an executive producer on the show, and so may have had some say in the story and dialogue of the series, wanted to put the line in there because he, famously, doesn’t watch any Star Trek.

But what this line comes across as is a massive fuck you to fans. This is a line that is often said by people who don’t like science fiction – they just ‘don’t get it’. It’s an odd thing for anyone to say – what exactly is there ‘to get’ about science fiction – it just portrays worlds with different technology or different laws of physics – it’s not difficult. It’s a line that’s usually accompanied by the attitude that science fiction and fantasy are only for weird people or young people – the snobbish attitude towards sci. fi. and fantasy in which it is considered to be not as good as other genres.

Having Picard say this line puts him firmly in the group of people who think that you have to be a bit odd to ‘get’ sci. fi., and this is a massive fuck you to fans, because guess what: all of us watching do get it.

It’s possible that this line was put into this episode because the writers of this series don’t consider themselves to be sci. fi. fans – don’t consider themselves to be the sort of people who like sci. fi. – and that this line was a slight jab at fans – a kind of ‘Haha, we’re doing it our way now!’ – but this is wild speculation.

This line is also wildly unrealistic. Jean-luc Picard has spent ages studying physics over the years. As someone who did a physics degree, I will tell you: people who study a scientific subject tend to like science fiction. It is vastly more probable that someone like Jean-luc Picard would like science fiction than dislike it.

This line was so fleeting that it didn’t ruin the whole episode. However, I don’t want to see any more of that in this series – if I do, then I will judge the whole series by it.

Star Wars Is Dead

Two days ago I went to see Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.

Now, for well over a year, my plan has been that after this film came out I would make a video on YouTube about it. As I said in my recent video Star Wars Episode IX: A Morbid Fascination, I thought it was very unlikely that this would be a good film, so I thought I was going to be making a single video about this film – mostly about what made it a bad film.

Now, this is a bad film, but now that I’ve watched it there’s so much to say about this film that I’ve realised I’m going to have to make multiple videos about it. If I tried to make one single video going over everything in the film that was bad, it could easily be two hours long. It often takes me an hour to record a fifteen-minute video – I don’t really want to spend eight hours trying to record a two-hour video – I think I’d die from the effort.

So I’m going to have to make several videos about it. In order to give some structure to the videos, I’m also going to write posts about it on here (the first of which is this) – a lot of the things in this film that were bad were bad in various different ways, so grouping them together into videos is going to be difficult, and I’m going to try to use these posts as a way of structuring the videos before making them.

But anyway, onto the actual film.

This film was a mess. It was a mess of retcons, deus ex machina, fake-out deaths, pacing problems, suspense problems, arbitrary nostalgia, and nihilism. It is just astonishing how much of this film was trash film-making, trash world-building, or trash story-telling. Things just happened – there was no reason for them to happen, no need for them to happen, and no meaning to them.

This film resorted to the most basic of fantasy tropes. I remember seeing in a headline for a review before the film came out, someone said that it had a ‘video-game plot’, and that was very true: a series of levels for the main characters to pass, a series of battles for them to win, all essentially disconnected from each other, before going on to fight the boss at the end. The film was stuffed with nostalgia and fan service – not necessarily bad things on their own – in fact many of these moments were quite good – but they were just disconnected moments, and they did not redeem the film as a whole, and often just seemed completely out-of-place.

This film tried to be a massive course-correction, but with only one film left in the trilogy, it was too late. Had they decided to make this a four-film series, or even a six-film series, they might have been able to do it. If they wanted to course-correct, then it was a bad decision to limit this series to only three films. Almost every decision they made in making this film was the wrong one. As much as I didn’t like The Last Jedi, this film would probably have been better if they’d continued in the direction that that film sent them – it still wouldn’t have been good – it would have just been not as bad.

I originally wanted to call this series (or rather the one video that it was supposed to be) ‘Star Wars Is Dead’ because I suspected that this film would be another outright disaster, like The Last Jedi, and that the franchise would be seen as no more special than, say, the DC film universe, or the X-Men film universe. It would just be another generic sci. fi. / fantasy film series with no greater status than any other. But while this film was an omnishambles, and while I think many of the fans of the franchise will abandon the franchise because of this film (those that didn’t leave after The Last Jedi, at least), I’m not sure whether the franchise will continue to have appeal for very casual viewers – it might, and if it does, perhaps Star Wars is just in a coma.

At the end of this series I’m going to return to this idea of whether Star Wars is dead, but first, we’ve got to go through this trash-fire of a film in detail.