For anyone who has known me for any length of time my most frequented film will come as no surprise. Sometimes folks confuse my most beloved book trilogy with my favorite film franchise, but this is the canonical response declaring that while Lord of the Rings will forever be my favorite fictional written work, the original Star Wars trilogy will always reign supreme as the film series that has most sparked my imagination.
You might have noticed that while I say the entire trilogy has made an impact, the actual question is what is your most frequented film, you know singular, and out of the original trilogy there is one that is greater than all the rest, the ultimate achievement in film, and that is The Empire Strikes Back. From the masterful puppetry of Frank Oz showing that a bit of latex and some sticks can become a living, breathing creature, to the superb direction of Irvin Kershner manipulating the actors and set pieces in such a way that you feel a part of the Rebel Alliance yourself, it is simply the best example of science fiction to ever weather the test of time.
I remember a time when the only way I could watch Star Wars was by waiting for the special three night airings they used to show on network television. You’d sit through what felt like a million commercials to watch each movie, but it was always worth it. Then came the day when my parents bought me the best Christmas present I could ever ask for, my very own VHS (kids look to David’s post for clarification as to what a VHS is) copies of all three original films. Not only that, but my grandparents had bought us a travel TV with VCR to go in our car during road trips, and being the eldest child I managed to secure the rights to it as my own personal television for the times the Killions weren’t on the move. That meant that pretty much every summer weekend I would wake up in the morning, pop a tape in the TV, and sit back for tinny sounding, 13 inch sci-fi glory.
While I usually tried to watch all the movies in a row (as God intended), if I knew I only had time for one film that particular day it was always going to be Empire. From the first shots of Hoth, I fell in love with snow and mountains. That barren landscape was a far cry from the mountain town we frequented on family vacations, but the sense of wildness and wonder felt about the same. I remember seeing the snowspeeders engaging the AT-AT’s in a horribly outnumbered and out-gunned battle and thinking, “That is a vehicle I think could happen. I need that in my life.” While life hasn’t provided me the opportunity to own a real life snowspeeder, I still have my old toy that shows me what I can look forward to when GM gets their future in order.
Empire seems like a strange film to pick as my greatest of all time, mostly because it doesn’t really have a set beginning or end. The plot doesn’t resolve in any way between the opening title crawl and the final moments on the medical ship before it cuts to the credits. While plenty of stuff happens and characters develop quite a bit, no Death Star is destroyed, no Rebel victory is won. From the get go you see how hopeless the Rebel cause is. A small force of Star Destroyers is capable of completely routing the entire Rebel army on Hoth, Han is captured and frozen in carbonite, Luke goes up against Darth Vader and the “new hope” himself loses his arm and his lightsaber. It’s the darkest movie of the original trilogy, but it allows you to see that the plucky Alliance is not all luck and courage. They can be defeated, their cause, while just, is difficult and dangerous. It taught me one of the more important lessons in life, which is that the good guy might not always win, but he also shouldn’t ever give up.
Virtually every aspect of this movie is something I love and cherish. I know the names of the bounty hunters Vader hires who are never actually named in the film. I know that Harrison Ford improvised his line of “I know” after Leia professes her love to him before he is frozen in carbonite. I know all about Boba Fett’s ship and the armor he wears and that he was the most awesome bad guy ever for only having like three lines in the entire series. While the film doesn’t end with the classic victory over evil that most good tales provide, it grounds the characters in struggle which makes them real and believable even though the world they inhabit is fantastic. And there will never be a time in my life when speaking like Yoda does not make you sound both funny and wise.