(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching, why it’s worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)
The Movie: The Empire Strikes Back
Where You Can Stream It: Disney+
The Pitch: It was referenced by a hip and relevant young Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War. “Hey guys, you ever see that really old movie, The Empire Strikes Back?”
Why It’s Essential Viewing: Varèse Sarabande Records just announced (via The Laughing Place) that it is re-issuing the long out-of-print LP for the symphonic suite from John Williams’ Original Motion Picture Score for The Empire Strikes Back. Collectors of vinyl records can now show their age in more ways than one by humming “The Imperial March” and other iconic musical cues from this film, taking breaths in-between to wax nostalgic about the good old days when Yoda was a Muppet.
Did I mention that this is the middle chapter of the greatest movie trilogy of all time?
As a filmmaker, one of the New Hollywood movie brats, the young George Lucas is or was more pedigreed than the comparatively journeyman Irvin Kershner. If nothing else, Lucas wrote and directed two indisputable ‘70s classics: American Graffiti and Star Wars. However, Kershner was his senpai, his USC mentor, someone he respected enough to let him inhabit the director’s chair and bring more emotional truth to the space opera. Even to this day, The Empire Strikes Back remains the least altered Star Wars Special Edition.
Not to reopen old wounds, but somewhere along the way, Lucas, the mythmaker, began mythologizing himself as the real genius behind the Empire of Dreams. That’s his right and maybe it was true before other people got involved: not just the cast and crew, but also the audience (and later, Disney, after it bought Lucasfilm and took the reins of the Star Wars franchise).
Star Wars belongs to everyone. Yet A New Hope and Return of the Jedi now have CG Jabba and “Jedi Rocks” inserted, along with other changes. The original films that fans fell in love with no longer exist in most movie libraries, except as old DVDs or VHS tapes.
The Empire Strikes Back holds up better all-around and it perhaps better encapsulates the true collaborative spirit/process of filmmaking, which is more about compromise than any of us auteur fans — with our brand-name filmmaker favorites — might like to think sometimes. Here, the tentpole is textured: it feels lived-in and real, built on practical effects, held together with spit and glue. Darker than its predecessor, this is an enduring fairytale with a little green wizard who’s wiser than all of us.
First, there’s the script, which married Lucas’s story with Leigh Brackett’s early posthumous draft and the dialogue of an up-and-coming Lawrence Kasdan. Then, there’s everything else. The actors, the costumes, the creatures, the vehicles, the VFX, the production design. An ice planet, a swamp planet, a city in the clouds. Billy Dee Williams macking on Carrie Fisher. Luke Skywalker, the best Star Wars character, learning the most thunderous twist in movie history, then taking a suicide plunge in a moment of despair that ripped our hearts out as kids. And still does.
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