This fanfare is almost as affecting as the 20th Century Fox one before a Star Wars film used to be.

There was a run there, from the release of Toy Story in the mid-1990s through to about 2010, when the genius animation studio Pixar simply could not make a mediocre film.

Alas, the deal it made with longtime collaborator Disney has seemingly drained Pixar of some of its old magic toward The Mouse’s own animated masterpieces in recent years.

Anyway, I bring up that Pixar run because in this blogger’s opinion, Marvel Studios seems similarly incapable of making a bad film. With eight years and a full baker’s dozen films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there’s not a stinker in the lot.

Iron Man [2008]

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It was a bold gambit: After years of seeing its properties either mishandled [see about half the entires in the X-Men and Spider-Man movie franchises and all the attempts at the Fantastic Four] or, more importantly, profited upon by other studios careful not to share too much of those profits, Marvel Entertainment took a risk on a B-level character knowing that the failure of this film would cost its rights to a founding Avenger.

It worked out, though. Unlike outside studios, the nascent Marvel movie machine could exercise much tighter fidelity to the source material than most film directors were interested in doing. That attention to the spirit and letter of the comics brought a much greater realization of the comics to film than had ever before been attempted, and the fans rewarded the studio for it.

I had been highly skeptical of the film and the risk Marvel was taking at first. But when I saw the trailer about a month out from its early May release, I openly mused, “…I should buy stock in Marvel, right now.” Unfortunately, I didn’t have the funds.

 

The Incredible Hulk [2008]

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The fledgling studio accompanied “Iron Man” with this film in June, an attempt to reclaim its own character from the uneven Ang Lee picture “The Hulk” from 2003. Like “Iron Man,” it was a risk that could have cost Marvel a venerable character. But it was also successful, though nowhere near as much a critical or commercial one as its predecessor.

 

Iron Man 2 [2010]

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Hard to believe nowadays, when there’s a new Marvel Studios flick about every six months, but it was a long two years to wait for more Iron Man. Also a commercial success, the critical and audience reception for this one was more muted.

 

Thor [2011]

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This was the first big test: Would Marvel be able to adequately meld this magical, mythologically based superhero into its heretofore science-grounded universe? With the help of a solid script, game performances from the exceptionally well-cast actors and the direction of Kenneth Branagh, the answer was a resounding “yes.”

 

Captain America: The First Avenger [2011]

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Previous attempts at bringing Captain America to film tried to pull him into the modern day. This one did it right, by starting — and keeping — the story in World War II and making a superhero period piece. The end result is both charming and pedestrian all at once.

 

Marvel’s Avengers [2012]

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Director Joss Whedon brought his considerable wit to bear and made this ensemble piece one of the hugest hits ever and cementing the superhero genre into the film canon pretty much for good.

 

Iron Man 3 [2013]

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The first followup to Avengers, this seeming final film in the Iron Man franchise was also a big hit, but audience reception was mixed as it was the first Marvel Studios film to sharply diverge from the comics’ approach to the characters.

 

Thor: The Dark World [2013]

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Opinions split on Thor’s sequel as well. Some, like myself, absolutely love this movie. Others have some bones to pick with it.

 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier [2014]

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Released in the not-so-peak-season of late March, this was something of a surprise hit and is considered by many to be the finest film in the MCU to date.

 

Guardians of the Galaxy [2014]

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Equally surprising was the late-summer debut of a new MCU film chock-full of all-new characters with no apparent connection to any of the previous heroes — and it was still well-received anyway.

 

Avengers: Age of Ultron [2015]

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Most surprising of all, though, was the stumble in quality for Joss Whedon’s sophomore — and final — effort in the Marvel Studios system. Though a humongous success financially and generally enjoyed by critics and audiences alike, the Avengers sequel remains widely considered a step down from its predecessor.

 

 

Ant-Man [2015]

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If any film looked likely to stumble on its concept alone, Ant-Man seemed the one to do it. Lacking any real connection to previous Marvel films, it would need to be just about perfect to work. Based on its success, it apparently worked.

 

Captain America: Civil War [2016]

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Coming off as an unofficial “Avengers 2.5,” this third Cap film promised the same character overload that threatened to overwhelm “Age of Ultron” — as well as a retread of the in-team in-fighting that was so prevalent in that earlier film. But the talented Russo brothers brought the same solid ability used in “Captain America: Winter Soldier” to deliver another critically acclaimed success.

 

Next post, I’ll give my personal ranking of the 13 films, complete with signature moments from each.

 

 

mad-max-fury-road

I saw Mad Max: Fury Road last weekend, writing this on Facebook about it:

“MAN! That Fury Road. Was. The BOMB! Maybe even better than The Road Warrior.”

So, William D. Jackson, one of my oldest friends, sent an unsolicited lonnnnng text about the latest Mad Max movie (SPOILERS ENSUE):

“I think with Mad Max the amount of senseless (albeit very artistic) violence in my opinion overwhelmed the nobility of the plot. It was very late in the movie that I sympathized with the purpose of the protagonists’ actions. Even stranger, to me the Everyman was the young minion who sacrificed(?) himself at the end. Very strange for a big action film that the audience identifies most with a minor character, and even stranger for that character to have the greatest arc in the whole story. Max was still himself, if a bit deeper and more sympathetic. But the young man who craved greatness and achieved it in ignominious (yet ultimately the most impactful) fashion is the one who changed the most and was on further extremes either way. In a way, I find the idea of this being a “feminist” movie insulting; feminism should mean more than symbolic female heroism. But if I’m wrong about that, then feminism is just like all isms; a canard of epic proportions. (I’m also cynical enough to believe that the protests from so-called male rights activists is a marketing ploy to get more people to watch. The critics panned another movie with a group of female leads that supposedly knocked Mad Max off the top of the box office in its first weekend, though that could say more about the lack of depth of the average American moviegoer. All said, I liked Mad Max, but didn’t love it. I was more moved by The Book of Eli; its intent was deeper, its plot less dense, yet more sophisticated. Heck, Children of Men was the best of these type of movies for its sense of purpose and edgy cinematic  direction. Mad Max was a great popcorn flick with respect for gender equality and great set pieces, but it’s no classic. However, I would greatly look forward to a George Miller-directed live action movie franchise of Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Hope!”

My reply:

“I disagree.

That is all

Actually, no, of COURSE that’s not all. How long you known me?

Mad Max Fury Road may well be an instant classic for me, at least upon initial viewing, in a way that Book of Eli didn’t quite manage (though I liked that one a lot)

Five points follow

OK, six”

Next entry will share the six points in conjunction with Will’s replies.

One is a horrible tragedy; a young life cut short for no good reason. The other is a wildly popular film about a dystopian future in which young lives are cut short for no good reason.

Unfortunately, the similarities and connections don’t stop there.

As stated earlier, the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, shot dead by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch “officer,” is a tragedy. The actual facts of the case remain murky, with a lot of unanswered questions:

  • Was the shooting a matter of self-defense, as Zimmerman claims?
  • If so, was not Martin provoked by Zimmerman stalking him?

Indeed, it may have been Martin who was “standing his ground,” not Zimmerman. Based on the boy’s last conversation with his girlfriend, he seemed to be afraid of Zimmerman. Apparently, the mutual fear and suspicion exploded into a conflict and it cost Martin his life.

Sadly, we’ll never get Martin’s side of the story, and before the uproar started, the local authorities were all too willing to accept Zimmerman’s side of the story at face value.

The reason is that black people, especially young men, rarely get the benefit of the doubt.

We’re certainly conditioned enough from an early age in this way. Every day on every local newscast we see a parade of black and brown faces and the latest additions to their rap sheets. We overhear the latest thugged-out lyrics of popular rap music. We learn about the latest bad behavior of black athletes and celebrities.

And, unfortunately, sometimes that’s the ONLY vision of black people they get. The normal, non-criminal blacks they know then become the “exception” to the so-called “norm” they see on TV screens and magazine covers.

Cut to “Hunger Games.” [SPOILER ALERT] A well-beloved character named Rue dies about midway through the film. She’s sweet and utterly adorable and dark-skinned.

That last part, as noted in these articles in The New Yorker and Jezebel magazines, brought some fans of the original novels short who missed that part of her character description in said novel.

What brings me short is that for some of these young fans, Rue’s tragic death literally didn’t seem as tragic to them any more because she wasn’t the innocent white girl they’d pictured.

As though a young black girl couldn’t possibly be innocent and lovable. Their reaction to the character and her fate on screen shows a shocking lack of empathy for black people as people.

This is honestly the most discouraging revelation of how far we still have to go in race relations in this country. These aren’t hardened, older racists making the Tweets cited in the news stories. These are the young. The ones who don’t have any memory of Jim Crow or the institutionalized white supremacist attitudes that used to be commonplace in America.

Somehow, they’ve adopted those attitudes anyway.

My hope is that once the initial shock of Rue’s ethnicity wears off, some of these Hunger Games fans will adjust their preconceptions and bring a new awareness to their own lives and how they relate to black people. Then, maybe, fewer Trayvon Martins will be viewed with automatic suspicion and more real-life Rues will be cherished as the innocent young girls they are.

Red Tails.

2012/01/21

I write to you today, readers, to make a bit of an appeal: See “Red Tails,” the new film  dramatizing the World War II heroics of the Tuskegee Airmen.

Don’t see it because it’s a superb movie; it’s not. It may be the best fighter pilot film in a generation, but as good as “Top Gun” was, it was only ever a clichéd war genre movie, and “Red Tails” doesn’t break much ground in that respect.

But c’mon. We haven’t seen a good fighter pilot film since 1986’s “Top Gun.” You could do a lot worse than this one.

The aerial scenes absolutely soar, with seamless CGI effects that pull the old WWII newsreel footage we’ve seen on The History Channel and the like into living, you-are-there color. Executive producer George Lucas’ Star Wars space battles were inspired by WWII dogfight footage, and his effects house does a better job of staging these than he ever did in his other films.

Unfortunately, the script doesn’t do quite as well on the ground. The actors range from OK to quite good, but they can’t quite elevate the material to match the real-life deeds of the 332nd. And some scenes — many, actually — ended too quickly, with a quick fade or dissolve to the next.

Still, when the airmen take off in their first real mission, I had to struggle not to burst into tears of pride. And, later, even though I knew one of the standard clichés of the genre was coming, I shed a tear or ten anyway.

So yeah. I recommend “Red Tails.” It’s a war movie that tells a story that’s not as heartbreaking as, say, “Saving Private Ryan.”

(Oh, and the entire cast is black. Hope that doesn’t bother you. If so, we’ve got a different bridge to cross.)

 

Last night, I attended the world premiere of this very indie documentary with a most-provocative title: “Fear of a Black Republican.”

It’s evocative of the title of Public Enemy’s 1990 album “Fear of a Black Planet” (the first P.E. LP I ever bought, incidentally) and, like that song, it’s not afraid to point a finger at both halves of the problem.

Indeed, one of the marketing taglines is that it’s “the film neither party wants you to see.” Being a card-carrying political moderate and independent voter, I knew I had to see this.

——————–

Filmmaker Kevin L. Williams, white and a self-described RINO* (Republican In Name Only), turns his camera on the effectively one-party system of many urban (read: majority-black) municipalities. That system, his film argues, is largely ineffective for the urban constituency. After all, despite our (black people’s) overwhelming support for the Democrat Party, our communities continue to crumble.

But, as the white Williams uncovers in his filming and interviews, the Republican Party isn’t much help, either. Though they give lip service to the idea of increasing black participation in the GOP, the follow-through is sorely lacking.

Nowhere is this more starkly illustrated than in a sequence midway through the film during which a struggling grassroots black Republican manages to get a hallway plea with then-Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman for some party support for her campaign. No sooner is she done trading business cards with him than he is deluged by about a half-dozen more candidates who’ve also been looking for even this brief meeting.

Little appears to come of any of it.

Unlike Williams, I can’t say I was at all surprised to see how marginalized black Republicans appear to be both in their own ethnic communities and in the GOP. What really struck me, though, was how black Republicans merely reflected the increasing marginalization of black people as a whole.

See, we’ve been in such lock-step with the Democrats (and, before President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Republicans) that they feel they no longer have to court our vote at all beyond repeating the same few scare tactics of Republicans trying to “turn back the clock” on civil rights.

For their part, Republicans seem to think that, at best, courting our vote is an utter waste of time and resources. Early in the film, Williams tries to get 1,000 doorknob hangers from his local Republican office to ask for his urban neighbors’ vote for then-President Bush’s re-election. He’s handed far fewer.

Republicans refuse to even so much as ask for the black vote, confident that they can’t get it. They’re scared to even try. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Meanwhile, Democrats don’t have to ask for the black vote.

Both parties court the Latino vote, the Asian vote, the gay vote. We, alone, are the exception. We’re utterly taken for granted or given up on.

——————–

Williams’ film isn’t a perfect work, having been obviously completed well before Obama’s milestone election to the presidency. It could use some tighter editing to get the 111-minute running time down a more svelte 90 or so. But it’s a valuable conversation piece that, in showing that most marginalized and often despised political being, the black Republican, is emblematic of the marginalization of black people in general.

 

*[8/8/11 EDIT: Williams stresses that some conservatives would call him a “RINO” simply because he lives in a more moderate area of the country, not that he considers himself one. That’s an important distinction that I understood but failed to communicate.]

 

Trailer for “Fear Of A Black Republican”

Day 27-a song from a movie

Anyone who read my long-running, slow-burning treatise on Life Lessons I learned from The Empire Strikes Back won’t be a bit surprised at this selection.

“The Asteroid Field” by John Williams

A rare bit of scene scoring that functions equally well as a concert piece, this is some of John Williams’ greatest writing.

Incidentally, there is a concert version of the song. It’s not nearly as good.

1933-2011

Master film composer John Barry passed away Sunday. Heart attack.

I was saddened but not surprised, as I hadn’t heard any new work from him in many years. I just figured he was winding down toward the end.

As I read the obits and eulogies, I note that most cite his scores for the early James Bond films, Dances With Wolves and Out Of Africa as career highlights.

I can’t comment on Out Of Africa…never saw it. I loved the Dances With Wolves score immensely, though. (In retrospect, it was the soundtrack that made that movie’s success more than anything.) And, of course, once I got around to viewing the Connery Bond films (having been first exposed to the campier Roger Moore movies), I certainly recognized the excellence of those scores as well.

But I’ll always remember and appreciate John Barry for his score to the 1976 remake of King Kong.

I didn't find this soundtrack LP until the late 1990s.

The film is a dated, campy mess that simply tries too hard to top the original. Jeff Bridges as an impossibly self-righteous hippie type. Charles Grodin as the greedy Big Oil Man. And who can forget Jessica Lange in a debut that barely hinted at the great actress she’d later become?

(There’s a brief scene shortly before the film’s climactic sequence which actually does hint at her talent. But…I digress.)

The music, though? Pure, haunting brilliance.

Of particular note is this three-note motif Barry wrote for the island act (4:45-5:22 or so) of the film. It’s first played earlier in the film as the human characters first approach Kong’s island by motorboat through a dense fog. It’s a beautiful, simple and sad melody that both evokes the mysterious island Kong rules and foreshadows his tragic end far from home.

Barry takes another simple three-note statement later in the movie in a track titled “Incomprehensible Captivity.” Even as a little boy, I noted how well the contrasting nature of the bellicose trombone/tuba section’s part versus the ascending strings actually yet complemented each other in this piece that is marvelously reprised in the climatic climbing scene at the end of the film.

1976 King Kong. I’ll watch it over either the original or the Peter Jackson remake just because of that glorious Barry score. (That, and because the released soundtrack was terribly incomplete, so watching the film is currently the only way to hear all the music.)

R.I.P., John Barry. I hope you made your own final climb to heaven with the help of the One who saves.

It’s been way, wayyyyyy too long since the last update to this long, lonnnnnng-running series. Time to wrap it up, already.

(I actually found I had three — three — false starts to this final chapter in my drafts folder. *shaking my head*)

___________________

It has also come to my attention, as I’m writing this, that Irvin Kershner, the director of The Empire Strikes Back, has passed away today at the the age of 87 [EDIT: it was Saturday, Nov. 27]. My condolences to his family and friends. I pray he is now in the arms of Our Lord  Jesus Christ. Needless to say, he will be remembered and beloved by generations of Americans for his contribution to the Star Wars saga. And I can think of no better tribute than to actually finish this retrospective on his most famous work.

Irvin Kershner, 1932-2010

___________________

OK, so my nine-year-old mind has already been utterly blown by the incomprehensible sight of Luke getting literally disarmed mere moments ago. Now my hero can only cringe and crawl away from the embodiment of evil:

This image has stuck with me; Luke can only pathetically inch away from Darth Vader over the yawning abyss beneath.

So Vader’s attempting to tempt Luke to know the POWAH of the dark side of the Force, and Luke’s having none of it. He’s good. Vader’s bad. He’s the golden-haired, blue-eyed hero, Vader’s the villain in black. For goodness’ sake, Luke is an actual whole human being (well, up until a minute ago). Vader’s humanity, this tantalizing glimpse notwithstanding, is definitely in question.

That is, until the matter of Luke’s father comes up in the conversation.

Vader: …Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.
Luke: He told me enough! He told me you killed him.
Vader: No. I am your father.

Huh?

WHAT?

No, he had to be lying. This is a bad guy. THE bad guy. He’s spent the last two hours choking underlings for even minor failings, welching on deals, torturing and freezing Luke’s friends and even maiming Luke. It’s just…

…Not.

Possible.

But Luke’s anguished denial is, like mine was, more based on emotion than on fact. And while Vader’s certainly given us reason to distrust him, even at age nine I had to consider this news could be true.

(This coincides with a fascinating quote in the 1997 book Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays from director Kershner: “…Now, I was talking to kids, and I discovered that children below the age of nine say, ‘No, no, he’s not his father, he’s lying.’ They can’t accept it. About [age] ten on, they accept it.”

My only brother is 2.5 younger than I am, and his experience supports this hypothesis; he totally disbelieved while I accepted it while wanting to disbelieve it.)

When the very embodiment of evil shares a kinship with the golden heroic ideal, a powerful LIFE LESSON emerges: Nothing’s ever absolutely black & white in this world…except the truth!

Here, then, Luke’s earlier vows to never join Vader or be lost to the Emperor are put to the test. He’d made those vows A) without knowing the truth and B) assuming that he couldn’t possibly lose. Now he has two excellent reasons to renounce those vows: his thought-long-dead father is alive and he will certainly die if he doesn’t join him.

That Luke chooses certain death by stepping out into the bottomless abyss is a powerful reinforcement to a LIFE LESSON learned way back in Part 5: Shun evil. NO MATTER WHAT.

This shot of Luke falling toward the camera is the one that stuck with me...showing that the seemingly bottomless pit apparently had no TOP, either.

And just when it seems nothing could get worse, it does. Luke ends up stuck on the underside of Cloud City, barely suspended over the truly bottomless drop of the gaseous planet. The scene of the maimed Luke reduced to begging the spirit of Ben Kenobi to help him remains the very picture of hopelessness.

(It also struck me as incredibly useless. What could Ben DO? …Even if he HADN’T warned Luke he couldn’t help him if the young Jedi faced Vader? An unfortunate lesson I almost gained here was: If you disobey your mentors, don’t come crying to them for help when you fail. But the truer LIFE LESSON was: If one person or method doesn’t help, try another. Sometimes it’s the unlikeliest one that saves you.

And so, Luke is rescued, by the very ones he came to the city to rescue. (Two earlier Lessons on not forsaking friends and never giving up are reinforced here.)

After so many dark events, a bit of fun returns to the proceedings as the Falcon’s hyperdrive fails again. I wondered if we might be in store for another extended chase scene like earlier in the film.

It becomes plain, though, that the end is near, as Vader begins to telepathically speak to Luke, father to son:

…and it’s their mutual references to each other as father and son, along with Luke’s openly wondering why Ben Kenobi had lied to him, that sealed the question for me whether Vader was telling the truth.

(For the moment, anyhow. It was going to be a lonnng three years before the question would be fully settled in Return of the Jedi.)

The whole film had taken my naive expectation that the Good Guys Always Win and flipped it upside down, crashed it, exploded it, frozen it and cut off its sword-arm for good measure. So when the Falcon finally makes it into hyperspace and safety…

…the LIFE LESSON that I took from it is this: Even if you’re losing just about as badly as you CAN lose, just one clean escape to fight another day is as good as a win.

On the flipside, Darth Vader, who’s been summarily and capriciously executing subordinates for their failure to capture the Falcon under much more difficult circumstances for two hours of film time, suddenly fails to execute ANYONE for letting the tiny ship escape for good literally right under the flagship’s nose.

I could speculate a half-dozen solid reasons why. But for the purposes of this series, it merely served as a mild reinforcement to the LIFE LESSON learned from Darth Vader’s dark revelation: Nothing is absolutely good or bad…and that apparently includes Darth Vader, too.

That does it for the Life Lessons. But I have just a couple more thoughts and impressions from the very end of the film.

Lando = NOT scruffy-looking. But I totally noticed how he was dressed like Han Solo and wondered if Han was truly being written out of the series. At this point, ANYTHING seemed possible after the events of this film.

And Luke gets a new hand.

OK. Space health care is pretty good. (You'll note that it's private and NOT public, as the Rebel Alliance isn't an official government.) 🙂

I also really, REALLY didn’t want the movie to be over. John Williams’ wonderful love theme (which reminded me so much of the Gone With The Wind theme that I conflated the two for years after) truly reflected the yearning emotion that the heroes have for their lost, frozen friend and, in this viewer, the yearning for this incredible film to not be over.

But, of course, I knew it was.

Thus I’ve finally almost completed my look back at my all-time favorite movie. I want to compile all the Life Lessons learned into one summary as a bookend…and perhaps I’ll get to that by Christmas. Thank you for reading and for your patience.

OK, so now the long-anticipated duel is on. And, true to his chilling declaration that Luke is not yet a Jedi, Darth Vader manhandles the boy from the start…
  • driving Luke to the floor with the second blow.
  • disarming Luke with ease (just after Luke boasts of being full of surprises).
  • knocking Luke down the stairs.
  • And then into a pit, nearly freezing him.

He even flies, sort of. VADER OWNS YOU, BOY.

Of course, Luke has some impressive talents himself and manages to not only survive “Plan A” of Vader’s trap but to actually knock the dark lord off the chamber platform into a shadowed area some 10-20 feet below.

Instead of taking this respite from battling the stronger Vader to seek a way to escape, Luke chooses to pursue the dark lord.

What?

I’ve asked my brother, who was six-and-a-half at the time, about what he was thinking during this scene when he first saw it. His reply:

“What are you DOING, Luke? RUN!!!!”

I wondered the same thing. I thought he was trying to rescue his friends. Granted, by killing Darth Vader he might accomplish that goal. But realistically, that’s not quite in his ability yet.

More to the point, the purity of his motive for coming — loyalty to his friends — is revealed to be suspect. In his heart, he wants to destroy Vader as much as he wants to help his friends.

I suppose I can’t fault Luke for wanting to kill two birds with one stroke of a lightsaber. But I do fault him for being too arrogant to learn the LIFE LESSON that Lando Calrissian taught me earlier in the film: Quit while you’re ahead, fool!

Bu Luke doesn’t. And so he gets horribly beaten up when Vader hurls the contents of  an entire room at him with the Force. And then Luke is thrown out of a window into a bottomless pit!

This was a very shocking moment for me.

Even after all this, I still didn’t think anything really bad could happen to heroes in a story. After all, didn’t Han survive the freezing? And weren’t the other heroes making good their escape while Luke fought Darth Vader?

And remember…Luke is THE hero of the story. The one who blows up Death Stars without a targeting computer and fells Imperial Walkers with ropes, his ‘saber and a single grenade. Even when he’s down on the floor with Vader’s sword at his throat, I still don’t think Luke can possibly lose to the bad guy.

Vader wins. End of story...?

And then, suddenly, Vader literally disarms Luke, ending the lightsaber duel. This moment taught me perhaps one of the most important LIFE LESSONs I picked up from this film at age nine: Sometimes the worst things happen to the best people. Sometimes the good guys DON’T win. Seeing this play out onscreen helped me accept this truth a little better in reality.

But the worst was still yet to come. Join me next time as I reminisce over the biggest twist in film history.

I learned a lot from this battle.

Wow. I originally intended to be done with this series by late June. But here it’s September and I’m just starting the final segment, which is going to run for at least 2 installments.

But enough with recrimination. On with the retrospective!

The duel doesn’t start with the first clash of lightsabers captured above, but several minutes earlier in the film, when Luke decides to abandon his training at a crucial stage to rescue his endangered friends. Thus was an earlier lesson I learned in the film reinforced: Don’t abandon your friends and comrades.

But there’s a tension in the lesson this time around, as Luke is defying the wishes and advice of both the greatest mentors of his young life. They fear that he will fail and only dash their hopes anew:

Yoda: “Strong is Vader. Mind what you have learned; SAVE you it can!”

That line chilled me a bit. Yoda isn’t even guaranteeing that his training is enough to survive, much less defeat Vader. But Luke, for his part, doesn’t even entertain the possibility of failure. It seems that Yoda’s earlier instruction for him to “Try not; do or do not” has finally taken root in the worst way. Luke says two things in this scene that resonate much later in the film and much later in my life:

“You won’t.”

and

“I’ll return…I promise.”

The first line is in response to the ghostly Obi-Wan’s voiced fear of losing Luke to the dark side the way he lost Vader, his previous apprentice. The second line is a similar vow given to Yoda regarding his unfinished training.

These exchanges remind me of an episode near the end of Jesus of Nazareth’s earthy life. Two of his disciples, James and John, conspire with their mother to jockey for right- and left-hand-man status with Jesus when He comes into His Kingdom. Jesus asks them if they’re able to pay the same price in suffering that He’s about to endure. In their blindly ambitious naivety, both say they can and will.

Like Luke, the “sons of thunder” had no clue what they’d just vowed to do.

The LIFE LESSON of this scene, then is this: don’t make vows you really don’t know if you can keep.

There’s one more element at the very end of the scene that underscores the danger that Luke faces. As Obi-Wan and Yoda stand in the glow of Luke’s departing X-Wing, they have this exchange:

Obi-Wan: That boy is our last hope.

Yoda: No…there is another.

Wait…what? You mean Luke might not walk away from this?

At age nine, I barely registered this bit of foreshadowing, but it really is a subtly masterful storytelling device and a bit of insurance on the filmmakers’ part if their lead actor is lost somehow.

Finally, after much Imperial maneuvering, Luke finds himself facing the dark Lord Darth Vader at last, who has his own chilling words with which to open the encounter:

“The Force is with you, young Skywalker…but you are not a Jedi yet.”

Suddenly, the weight of all leading up to this moment hit my nine-year-old consciousness:

Yoda’s warning that Luke’s training might save him.

Obi-Wan’s warning that he can’t help Luke this time.

Yoda’s revelation that Luke isn’t the only hope.

Vader’s demonstrated unilateral authority in the movie so far.

And, most of all, the Rule of Expectations. My earlier assurance that Luke was destined to win (based on a fellow kid’s spoiler) was dashed in the scene at the cave midway through the film.

I’ve never been as on-the-edge-of-my-seat in any movie experience before or since. Thus the first LIFE LESSON of my Empire Strikes Back summer was reinforced: expectations have a way of coloring and affecting everything we do or experience. But my (and Luke’s) naive expectation of Luke’s victory is, with this scene and the others represented above, put into serious doubt. Consequently, a corollary lesson emerges: the reality still trumps the expectation. Don’t get ahead of yourself, kid!

Next time, we’ll look at what we can learn from the actual fight.