Life lessons from The Empire Strikes Back [part 2]: The Little Things

2010/06/26

Wow, it’s been over three weeks since my last post in this series. I didn’t intend to let this much time pass on this particular subject. But…I did. So instead of building up to the actual 30th anniversary of my viewing of this seminal film, I find myself resuming it on said anniversary.

Yep. Today’s my birthday! It’s a happy one so far, thanks!

Memory is a funny thing. The first indelible image I recall from the beginning of the film was not the first image of the Imperial Star Destroyer that opens the film, or the menacing-looking probe droid revealed at the end of the scene, but this super-long-shot of Luke Skywalker riding his Tauntaun on the impossibly snowy planet of Hoth.

This was pretty impressive on the biggest screen I'd ever seen in my young life.

I wondered why this struck the nine-year-old me, even over the reveal of the sinister-looking probe droid just a shot earlier. Maybe…

…ahhh. Now I know.

From the Giant Golden Book of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Reptiles, © 1970-something. I LOVED this book as a kid.

Luke was riding a dinosaur. In the SNOW. Back then, we figured dinosaurs were scaly, relatively sluggish, cold-blooded creatures, so the thought of a furry dinosaur that could survive in the frigid temperatures was pure fantasy.

Thus, with this mere establishing-shot image, I was immediately drawn into a brand-new Star Wars world.

The second thing I remember noting from this early scene was composer John Williams’ use of leitmotif as a soft version of the main Star Wars theme — Luke’s theme — comes up as he reveals his face under his scarf.

(Leitmotif? It’s a recurrent theme throughout a musical composition associated with a particular person, idea or situation (thanks Apple dictionary :)).

It’s the thing I love most about his wonderful scores and with Empire, Williams really knocked it out the park, using both grand statements like the fun Imperial March he also introduces in the opening frame and very subtle moments like Luke’s theme here.

The life lesson I got from these two impressions (though, unlike others I’ll reveal in this series, I didn’t “get” this immediately) is this: The little things that seem relatively insignificant have a greater power than you may recognize at the moment. This is particularly true in art, which is one of my life-long passions.

Depending on how the birthday celebrations go today, I may actually do the next part of this series tonight! In any case, I want to cover the film up through the entire Hoth act. Don’t worry; I’m not going to bore you with a frame-by-frame analysis of the film.

(Though I could. And would have a blast doing it. 😀 )

Instead, I plan to write about how the nine-year-old Khari was impacted for life by:

  • The titanic Hoth battle
  • The asteroid chase and Han Solo
  • Yoda
  • Cloud City and Lando Calrissian
  • The clash between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader

Hope you’ll stick with me. Drop me a line with your own recollections as I go!

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