The Force intensifies: ‘Star Wars’ sequel tops original (1980)
Dayton Daily News-Sun (Ohio) May 11, 1980
Few sequels overshadow their predecessors.
Yet “The Empire Strikes Back,” the chapter following “Star Wars” in producer George Lucas’ planned series of nine ‘Star Wars” movies, does just that.
It has better special effects and more human drama, feeling and suspense. It flows more smoothly than ‘Star Wars.”
The hardware and extraterrestrial sets are at times mind-boggling. And John Williams’ score is bolder and brighter than his “Star Wars” compositions, for which he won an Academy Award.
This is not to say that “The Empire Strikes Back” is not lacking in certain areas. Those who found “Star Wars” emotionally or intellectually unsatisfying may be dissatisfied with Lucas’ latest effort, despite attempts to upgrade the material.
But for sheer technical excellence and fun, “The Empire Strikes Back,” which opens here May 21, can’t be beat.
“Empire,” directed by Irvin Kershner, is the fifth chapter in Lucas’ planned series of nine “Star Wars” movies. The whole adventure is to be filmed in three trilogies.
“Star Wars,” soon to be retitled “Chapter 4 — A New Hope,” and “The Empire Strikes Back” are the first two parts of the middle trilogy. The trilogies are to deal with Luke Skywalker’s parents, Luke’s acquisition of The Force, and Luke’s adult life and offspring.
“The Empire Strikes Back” opens with Luke (Mark Hamill) riding, through the wastelands of the ice planet Hoth on the back of a giant tauntaun, a creature whose head resembles a goat and whose body looks like a furry kangaroo.
Luke has come to Hoth with the good Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), his friend Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Han’s hairy partner Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and the robots C-3PO and R2-D2.
With the Rebel forces, they are hiding from evil Darth Vader and his Imperial Starfleet.
Soon, a glowing Imperial probe crashes into the tundra. As Luke radios that he plans to investigate, the scene switches to the Rebels’ underground headquarters where hot-tempered Han Solo is threatening to leave the planet in an effort to force Princess Leia to admit her true feelings for him.
The love interest in “Empire” is a welcome development, fleshing out the comic strip characterizations in “Star Wars.”
Still, the film’s fast-paced editing makes the two hours end four minutes of film zip by.
In short order, the Imperial fleet attacks Hoth by air and land in one of the most spectacular science-fiction battles ever filmed.
Unlike “Star Wars,” which limited its special effects to battles against a black background which concealed wires and fuzzy edges of superimposed images, the Hoth battle is fought against a white background with breathtaking results.
Rebel forces fire orange laser beams and artillery at an approaching army of towering mechanical troop carriers while spacecraft dogfight overhead. The different sizes, speeds and directions of the warring machines and men are jarringly real.
Following the battle, Luke travels alone to the hot, swampy planet of Dagobah, where he is taught more about The Force by a tiny, gray-whiskered creature named Yoda. Created by Frank Oz, who also is the voice of Miss Piggy, Yoda is the mentor of those who are destined to learn The Force.
Much of the charm found In “The Empire Strikes Back” lies in the stark contrast between lands, such as the ice-covered Hoth and the swampy Dagobah, with Its twisted trees, mist, snakes and scurrying lizards.
While Luke is on Dagobah, Han, Chewbacca, Princess Leia and the robots must evade the Imperial star fleet by careening through an asteroid belt. Hold on, because this is one intense roller coaster ride.
As Darth Vader pursues Luke and his friends, Luke learns a shocking fact about his past, and Princess Leia too late learns her true feelings for Luke.
In addition to Yoda, a space miner named Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) is introduced. He figures heavily in the plot.
Ben (Obi Wan) Kenobi (Alec Guinness) also appears in spirit for a few enlightening “May The Force be with you” sequences. And C-3PO and R2-D2 are their usual entertaining selves, serving as comic foils for the other characters, though C-3PO’s worried chatter sometimes is annoying.
Three years have passed since “Star Wars” fever hit the nation. It’s about to start burning again. “The Empire Strikes Back” Is everything “Star Wars” was — and more.
Original 1979 The Empire Strikes Back movie trailer – with voiceover by Harrison Ford
The Empire Strikes Back: Ongoing saga has universe as stage
By Hal Lipper – Dayton Daily News-Sun (Ohio) May 11, 1980
“I never thought of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ as a sequel. It was a continuing saga which means there was more development of the story and characters,” said Irvin Kershner, the director of “The Empire Strikes Back,” the continuation of “Star Wars.”
“The film is an entity to itself which can be appreciated even if you never saw the original ‘Star Wars,'” he continued.
Kershner and the stars of “The Empire Strikes Back” — were in New York Saturday to talk to reporters about the film.
The “Star Wars” saga is a nine-part story envisioned by executive producer George Lucas.
“Lucas chose to film ‘Star Wars’ first, because it was the easiest to comprehend and the most likable,” Kershner said.
What pleases Kershner and members of the cast is that “The Empire Strikes Back”‘ is technically and emotionally more complex than the original.
“But without the simplicity of ‘Star Wars,’ you wouldn’t have the opportunity to develop the story as far as it has,” said Harrison Ford, who plays the reluctant hero Han Solo.
The new $22-million picture, costing about twice the price tag of the original, takes place in several locations across the universe, including the ice planet Hoth, the swamps of the planet Dagobah, and the floating Cloud City of Bespin.
Lucas, creator and director of “Star Wars,” did not have time to direct “The Empire” and chose Kershner (“Eyes of Laura Mars”) for the post.
Based in San Francisco, Lucas continued writing and supervised the special effects and editing, while producer Gary Kurtz and Kershner filmed near London and in Norway.
A rough draft for “The Empire,” based on Lucas’ story was completed by Leigh Brackett shortly before her death in 1978, as “Star Wars” was fast becoming the biggest grossing picture of all time, earning more than $220 million. Lawrence Kasdan wrote the final draft.
All the original players agreed to star in the film and two new characters, Yoda, mentor to those who seek The Force, and space miner Lando Calrissian, were created.
The gray-whiskered tiny Yoda, who inhabits the dark, snake-infested swamps of Dagobah, will soon be endeared to young audiences weaned on “Star Wars.”
Yoda is part electrical, part mechanical, part hydraulic and part human, producer Kurtz said.
“Acting the scenes with Yoda was the absolute test for me, because most of the time he wasn’t there, and instead I was reciting my lines to an object about his height,” said Mark Hamill, who plays Luke Skywalker.
“They had a radio mike on me. I’d say his line in my own mind, and then I’d give mine. I was the only guy on the set for a month and a half. It got so lonely that sometimes I wished I was back on the Death Star.”
Lando, played by Billy Dee Williams, is the first major “Star Wars” character to be played by a black.
“I don’t think he’s a bad guy,” Williams said. “He’s kind of a scoundrel, kind of the way Han Solo is, except Han shoots his way out of tight spots and Lando cons his way out of situations.”
A major departure from “Star Wars” is the sexual tension that begins to crackle between Han and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher).
“The romance had’to happen,” Ford said. “But unless they revise the rating system, the romance won’t progress very far.”
As with the original “Star Wars,” Luke is searching for the absolute truth, The Force.
He begins training with Yoda, but the lessons are cut short when Luke’s friends are taken captive by the evil Darth Vader, commander of the Imperial Starfleet.
David Prouse, the 6-foot-7 weightlifter who plays Darth Vader, said he can’t act his role without the costume. “But once it’s on, I assume evilness,” he said. “It’s so hot and it gets me so mad when I’m in it. It fogs up. I’m having to wait for people and I get madder and madder and madder.”
But Crouse also realizes that his cloaked disguise, complete with the dubbed voice of James Earl Jones, could mark his demise.
“As Darth Vader, you’re just a figure,” he said. “It’s even someone else’s voice.”
Shooting for “The Empire Strikes Back” began in March 1979, at a remote mountain pass in Norway, where many of the exterior scenes on the ice planet of Hoth were shot.
“The glacier in Norway was incredibly difficult. There was a blizzard that was so bad that we often went no more than 15 feet from the hotel to shoot in totally snow-obscured conditions,” Ford said.
Fisher added, “It was 30 degrees colder than it had been for 60 years. It was really tough. We’d work 14 hours a day because Kersh was so meticulous. And, with the special effects, everything had to be right, or we’d have to start all over again.”
At the same time, film crews began to assemble in England to begin work on interior shots.
To accommodate the picture at Elstree Studios, all eight existing sound studios were used and another the size of a soccer field was built.
The first scene filmed on the new stage was the Rebels’ ice hanger on the planet Hoth. When it was struck, the film crews assembled a swamp on the planet Dagobah, complete with river, a fetid lake, gnarled trees and live lizards and snakes.
Next, the film crews moved a full-sized version of Han’s spaceship, the Millennium Falcon, onto the set.
Inside the cockpit, Han, the Princess and furry Chewbacca rehearsed for hours to synchronize the movements of their eyes and heads to speed through an imaginary asteroid belt while being pursued by enemy fighters.
‘Working with the special effects was incredibly difficult,” Fisher said. “Since there never were any asteroids or space ships attacking us, we had to concentrate on a certain point on a pole and believe like a fool it was an asteroid. I kept imagining we were going the wrong way down a freeway to get the right expression on my face.”
While the cockpit shots for the asteroid belt were being filmed in England, Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic Co., in California, was tackling the special-effect problems of animating the sequence using computerized cameras and superimposed images.
“The most difficult work was the elaborate miniatures, such as the asteroid belt sequence, the Cloud City, or the Hoth planet battle.
For the battle we had walking attackers (which look like giant mechanical camels) which were recorded in slow motion animation, coupled with the speeders (rockets) and space ships which were superimposed, and the armies, which were live-action shot from a helicopter,” Kurtz said.
“Like it or not, we didn’t take the easy way out. We didn’t just do the same thing over again,” Hamill said. “We’ve got all sorts of new twists combined with the technology and humor. And, now it’s up to the public to decide.”