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IN SHORT: The greatest of the lot.
In The Empire Strikes Back, whiny teenager Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) faces his darkest fears and finds that all his dreams and fantasies were just that. Luke faces the Dark Side of the Force and sees himself reflected in it. He finds, as we all do, that his father was not a mythic god, not a knight in shining armor. The Empire Strikes Back is all about myth and dream, the center points of any heroic journey, as is documented in Joseph Campbell's book "The Hero with a Thousand Faces." If you are college age or older, I strongly suggest that you read this book, which had a tremendous effect on Star Wars creator George Lucas. Your enjoyment of Empire will be that much greater.
Okay, so much for myth. Let's get to the Action and Thrills, and what has changed in the Special Edition, fifteen years after its initial release.
Not much has changed. There are no "new" scenes, no "new" aliens, but lots of Computer Generated Imagery. As with the enhancements of the Mos Eisley spaceport in A New Hope, in Empire we see that the City in the Clouds truly is up in the sky. The top of this floating city has been enhanced with dozens of buildings; the walls inside the city have been replaced with "windows," allowing us to see the city outside. At the top of the flick, the battle scenes on Hoth have been enhanced, and we see the "monster" as a flesh eater. There are more asteroids in the asteroid field that the Millennium Falcon flies into. Most of the new material fits seamlessly, but Cranky did notice some blue screen lines that were mildly distracting. But then, I've seen the flick 50 times or so.
For the one or two that haven't, The Empire Strikes Back continues Luke Skywalker's journey to his eventual, and final, confrontation with the Dark Side of the Force. He begins to manifest control of the Force on an ice-covered planet named Hoth -- drop the second "h" and you'll get the joke. As the Empire overruns the base, Luke flees to a planet in the Dagobah system to continue his Jedi training with an aged Jedi master named Yoda, brilliantly characterized by Frank Oz. Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and the 'droids (R2-D2 and C-3PO) seek refuge at the City in the Clouds, a mining colony operated by the Millennium Falcon's original owner, Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams). Dreams die, love blossoms, and the seeds of new alliances are planted. That's all you need to know.
This time out, though, Cranky sat in the third row with his head moving back and forth like it would at a tennis match. The seats rocked and vibrated from the digital sound, and the audience mumbled lines back at the screen. The joy of the big screen re-release of all the Star Wars movies is the rekindling of the communal feeling that gripped the audiences a decade or two back. If you're not an old fogey like Cranky, feel it for the first time.
The Empire Strikes Back is emotionally bleak, in comparison with the films that bookend it. It is more physically and psychologically violent than Star Wars -- perhaps too violent for the smallest audience members (who will be more than delighted with the creatures we see in the next one). The necessary pause and horrific events that occur in the City in the Clouds set up even more mysteries to be resolved in Episode Six, The Return of the Jedi.
Even so, Empire is the best of the bunch.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Empire Strikes Back, you know he would have paid ...
Again and again and again. Up next, Death, Redemption, and the Greatest Space Battle Ever Filmed, in The Return of the Jedi.
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