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.

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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*)

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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

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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.

Lando had already made a positive impression on the nine-year-old Khari simply by being the first black character in the Star Wars saga. But he makes an equally negative one not two scenes later by turning our heroes over to the Empire.

Nice try at assassinating the heavy of the Empire, Solo. But Vader SPITS on your blaster fire. SPITS, I SAY!!!

But, we soon learn, Lando’s deal with the devil is, well, just that.

  • Far from keeping the Empire out of Cloud City forever, as Lando hopes, Vader almost immediately threatens to renege on that condition.
  • Vader turns Lando’s old friend over not to the Imperial justice system (as the law would presumably dictate) but to a bounty hunter in the employ of the galaxy’s most notorious gangster.
  • Vader forces Lando to be a jailer of Solo’s companions — until Vader decides to imprison them himself later anyway.
  • And, not least, he makes Lando a further accessory to the near-murder of Han Solo by carbon-freezing.

The LIFE LESSON LEARNED FROM LANDO in this sequence of events rang clear to the viewing nine-year-old me: Don’t try to deal with the devil.

Speaking of that carbon-freezing scene…early in this (protracted) series, I mentioned how I learned how much sound matters in film. A fascinating documentary about John Williams’ scoring of Empire underscores this reality. (Pun not intended.) Watch this link from about 5:50 to 8:20 and see the master at work on this pivotal scene of the film and hear how the music just makes it. I’ll wait.

She loves him. And he knows it.

Eventually, Lando realizes there’s absolutely nothing good about a deal with a guy who can and does change the rules whenever and however he likes, so he decides to change the game himself, no matter the personal cost. LIFE LESSON LEARNED FROM LANDO: It’s never too late to try to do the right thing.
Unfortunately, after freeing Solo’s allies, he finds them immediately turning on their benefactor:

"No good deed goes unpunished" was almost the lesson I took from this.

Precious moments later, Lando’s convinced them that he’s on the level and is able to breathe again. But they are precious moments too late to stop the bounty hunter Boba Fett from safely lifting off with his prize, leading to this:

…the single most heartbreaking shot of the whole movie for me. In the background, Lando’s head sags under the weight of his compounded failures this day, and Leia can only watch in absolute despair as the man she’s come to love is rocketed off to captivity. And this time she knows it’s partly her own fault for slowing Lando’s plan just long enough to enable Boba’s clean getaway.
The LIFE LESSON LEARNED FROM LANDO at age nine: Losing your temper can cost you more dearly than you can imagine. TRUST a brother sometime.
The last lesson I learned from the First Black Man In Space is embodied in his announcement a couple of scenes later to the citizens of Cloud City. He warns everyone that the Empire’s taking over and that everyone should leave. Not only has he done all he can for them in light of the overwhelming power of Vader and the Empire, but he’s also shrewdly generated a chaotic situation to help himself and his new allies escape.
LIFE LESSON LEARNED FROM LANDO: Have an exit plan, even if you have to make it up on the fly. Make sure you leave with something…but always leave responsibly.
Now we’re on the final stretch of this retrospective. Be here in a couple of days for the first of the lessons I learned from the climactic duel between Good and Evil.

After reading my last fairly titanic musings on the dimunitive Yoda, I’ve decided to start doing much shorter but more regular updates to this trip down memory lane.

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I love how right after Luke gets a dire premonition about his friends going to a city in the clouds, we see…a city in the clouds. No beating around the bush in this flick!

In a film franchise full of amazing sights, this one of a floating city on the planet Bespin still takes my proverbial cake. It doesn’t hurt that it’s accompanied by an absolutely gorgeous piece of music. (Go ahead and listen to it, from about 4:16 to 5:10. I’ll wait.)

This is the indelible image I recall. For a city dwarfed by the cloudscape a shot earlier, it sure was a lot bigger up close.

The lasting impression of this scene, though, didn’t fully manifest until a few weeks after I’d seen the movie. Our family was visiting South DeKalb Mall for dinner (probably Picadilly’s) near dusk, and I remember marveling at a sunset that completely looked like it could’ve been from that long-ago planet in a galaxy far, far away. It was also the first time I considered that the sunsets in the movie were, in fact, just everyday sunsets of my own planet in this galaxy.

LIFE LESSON: Sunsets and sunrises are awesome.

Next time: The First Black Man In Space.

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!