The Empire really did strike back
It was 1978.
After the incredible success of Star Wars worldwide, millions of people (myself included) wanted more. The end of what became known as A New Hope left us all hanging after seeing Darth Vader, inside his damaged TIE Fighter, flying away from the remnants of the destroyed Death Star into empty space. How would he get out of his predicament, if at all? Where would he go? It could not be too far because his ship was, as described by Ben Kenobi, a short range fighter. Would the Star Destroyers left behind by Han Solo over Tattoine come to his rescue?
While playing with my new figures and vehicles I had gotten for Christmas and my birthday (Thanks mum, dad, nan, grandpa and especially to Palitoy for making and releasing them in the first place!), I could make my own sequel to my favorite film. In my own child mind, I pictured the following:
Vader facing a resurrected Kenobi, Han and Chewie fly around Yavin IV shooting down TIE Fighters, C-3PO was now flying Luke’s X-Wing and going out on missions, while R2-D2 was still annoying him being his robot co-pilot and Luke and Leia were going to get married (OOPS! Glad that one didn’t pan out!)
My sequel had the greatest title of all……STAR WARS 2!
In between playing in my own created world, I was reading another Christmas present, the Star Wars Storybook, a present I treasured and kept going back to until, finally, sadly in around 1995, it gave up the ghost and fell to pieces (Thankfully, eBay has come to my rescue recently and I got a replacement copy) and loved reading and reliving the action of the film. This was in between playing with my newly born brother, Phil and telling him I’d look after him, just as long as he didn’t break my Millennium Falcon! (Priorities!)
The whole year was dedicated to playing, buying and reading Star Wars. What else was there? Learning Math? Nah! Boring! Learning to Spell? Who needs that? Star Wars WAS my life!
Then life intervened. Firstly, my grandfather on my mothers side passed away from a heart attack in November of 1978. Then my father decided he was going to up and move the family away from near London and relocate to North Wales. Err? Dad? Do they speak English in Wales? Do they have Cinemas in Wales? Do they have toy shops that sell Star Wars figures in Wales? Do they even KNOW about Star Wars in Wales? Where is Wales?…you get the idea.
I really just wanted to be in a place where I could go and play with my figures and my friends and talk Star Wars and act out our favorite scenes over and over. I didn’t want to go to some place I never knew existed and might not have anything Star Wars.
It was early 1979 when we moved to Wales. I remember carefully putting my treasured Star Wars figures in a large box ready to be transported up to their new home. Hey Mover Man! Hurt my figures and I’ll hurt you! One scratch on my Falcon and I will claw your eyes out!
My father decided to soften the blow of leaving my friends behind and moving, in my mind, to a foreign land and into a cottage in the middle of nowhere, by buying me a present. I could only open the present when we got into our new home and got settled.
It took five days for me to get the gift he promised me. Was it worth the wait? You better believe it! My father, knowing my love of Star Wars and my sadness of leaving England and virtually all the family I’d ever known, bought me the Death Star Play Set! It was made of cardboard and a bit of plastic, but to me, it was made of gold. It was the greatest present my Dad could have gotten me and made my sadness over moving vanish quickly. I sat down and played with it almost non-stop. Now I could recreate the attack on the Death Star to my hearts content. I was in heaven!
Over the course of the year, I gained more and more figures. I played and created more and more scenarios in my head. Deep down, I was hoping for another Star Wars film or TV Show. Instead I was in my element, playing Star Wars and resigned to the fact that no more was coming to where I was living now. Oh me of little faith!
Living where we were, I never knew about the announcement of a sequel. I didn’t get to read the exciting news. I never KNEW it was coming.
I had missed out on visits to the cinema due to the location we were now living in. The closest cinema was in Chester, an hour and a half’s drive away.
On my way to school one day, I saw a poster of a new movie, Star Trek with Captain Kirk and the whole crew in it! It wasn’t Star Wars, but still, it was something I desperately wanted to see. I remember going to my father again, but this time with a bit less begging and pleading. “Dad, they’ve made a film of Star Trek. Captain Kirk is in it and so are the crew and the Enterprise. It’s showing at the Chester ABC cinema and I would really like to see it please” I was expecting a very curt “NO!” What I got was: “I know there is. I was going to ask you if you wanted to go and see it!”
We made arrangements to go and see it together, father and son (My brother was only a year old at the time so he couldn’t go and besides, my mother didn’t want to go and see it anyway!). On a wet Saturday afternoon, we set out for the long journey to see the film.
Sitting in my seat and waiting for the film to start, I was getting excited again. I was in a cinema watching a film on the big screen for the first time in what felt like a lifetime and the excitement only increased as the lights went down and the trailers started. WOW! Another science fiction film was coming, this time from Walt Disney and it was called The Black Hole!
Another one that my father and I could see together. EH? What was this trailer about? Weird music and a cracking egg. What kind of a silly film was this trailer on about? Who wanted to see a film about a cracking egg called ALIEN? Oh this looks interesting, a film about space invaders called Hanger 18, This could be another one to see eventually.
Then IT Happened.
The final trailer before the film started. Again, like the ALIEN Trailer, the 20th Century Fox logo appeared. So far, so normal. A star filled screen lit up. Hey, great! Another science fiction film is coming.
The distinctive breathing came through ALL the speakers.
WAIT! That’s….That’s….THAT’S VADER!!
Is my favorite film of all time coming back again? If so, I want to go and see it again.
Hang on, this isn’t Star Wars, it’s something else. What is it? That’s Luke Skywalker! That’s Han Solo! That’s Princess Leia! That’s C-3PO and R2-D2! Who’s the guy in the blue cape? What are those walking vehicles? Why is it set in the snow? What is this?
Mr voice over guy (I forget his name, but he was THE guy!) then said the most fantastic words I have ever heard in my 8 year old life:
“The Star Wars saga continues”
Wait, What? Continues?
The screen filled up with the now legendary logo set up:
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
It was a new Star wars film! Could my life get any better?
I remember watching Star Trek The Motion Picture and enjoying it but it paled in comparison to the epic news I had learned that day. The Empire Strikes Back, great title, sounds ominous, I hope it is good. I couldn’t wait to tell my new school friends about it. Of course, they already knew, but indulged me. I couldn’t wait for it to open at the cinema, it was like torture to me.
Even more so when the BBC showed a documentary about special effects, budding filmmakers and science fiction film making late on a Sunday night that I managed to watch even though I was ill at the time and was in and out of sleep. What did they show? Clips from Empire, the last one of which paused just as Luke swung his first Lightsaber blow at Vader. NO!!! Don’t stop now!! I want to see it all!
Finally, after months of waiting and getting annoyed at England getting to see it before I could in Wales,The Empire Strikes Back opened at the Chester Odeon. I couldn’t wait, it was here, lets go NOW! Of course, I had to wait for a few days until I could actually go to see it. However, FINALLY, on a Wednesday night, my parents, my younger brother, Phil and I made our way to the cinema. Of course, I couldn’t wait to get in and see my heroes again. The wait was agonizing.
After arriving at the cinema (in plenty of time,thankfully),we paid for our tickets and went into the screen, It wasn’t that busy which surprised me a bit. There was 15 minutes before the show started so there may be a few other people who would come in and see it with us. Try a few HUNDRED people rushing in before it started and they even had to turn a huge crowd away as the screen was sold out and full up until the following day! The lights went down, but this time, I was ready for it. I know there’s going to be adverts and trailers so this time, I’m calm. As expected, the obligatory adverts came and went along with the trailers and the curtains closed over the screen. I’m still calm. The lights went down. OK, maybe getting a BIT more excited now.
The curtains stayed closed, but there was this blaring piece of music coming from the speakers. What’s this? It sounds good. I don’t know what it is but I liked it (It was the Imperial March)! The music ended and the curtains started to open. Getting a tad more excited now. The B.B.F.C title card came onto the screen, “The Empire Strikes Back” passed. The familiar 20th Century Fox logo and theme came on followed by the now familiar green old Lucasfilm card. OK, now I’m about to explode. The legendary words came onto the screen: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” The screen faded to black. Hold your breath….The fanfare blasted out from the speakers again. Time to lose your mind, Carl!!!
I sat there transfixed as the events unfolded. Oh no! Luke’s been hurt by a snow monster! Yay! Han’s rescued him! Oh, so that’s what that music was! What the hell are those big walking machines and more importantly, where could i get one?
What a chase through an asteroid field! I love the Millennium Falcon! Die you evil TIE Fighters! Whats up with Vader’s head? Is that the Emperor?
Is the Muppet REALLY Yoda? How can HE train Luke to be a Jedi? Who cares? I love this film! It’s even better than Star Wars! It’s the best film ever made! Hang on? What’s Vader doing on Dagobah? My god,Luke’s chopped his head off! Hang on,Why’s Luke’s face under the mask? What does that mean? How’s Luke going to get his X-Wing out of the swamp? Oh good, Vader’s choked another person to death for being an idiot!
Who’s this guy and why’s he wearing such cool armour?
My younger brother, Phil couldn’t take his eyes off the screen. He was hooked and amazed at what he was seeing. To this day, Phil says he doesn’t remember going to see it (He was 2 at the time), but I still remember like it was yesterday. This was the day we really bonded with each other and that bond has never and will never be broken.
We sat and watched as the Falcon landed on Cloud City and Lando made his first appearance. Oh, so this is who the guy from the trailer is! We watched as C-3PO was shot and was nearly incinerated at the hands of the Ugnaughts. We gasped as Lando betrayed Han to Darth Vader and the empire. Who is the other that Yoda is referring to? Hope Han’s OK inside that carbonite.
Here comes Luke! Here we go,he’s going to take on Vader and kill him! Hang on a minute, Luke is losing! He can’t lose, he’s the hero! Yay, Leia and the gang have escaped (Should have let Chewie strangle Lando though).
Luke’s hurt Vader! Come On! Oh no,Vader’s chopped his hand off! I will never forget what happened next for as long as I live. It was so unexpected, so huge, so scary that to this day, I can still remember the huge intake of breath from the ENTIRE cinema audience, the gasps of horror and shock from everyone, the people muttering along with Luke “No, no, it can’t be true!” and the feeling of ice going down my spine when Vader said those epic words. “NO, I AM YOUR FATHER”
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect to have that happen. To this day, I think George Lucas pulled a masterstroke, nobody would or could expect such a plot twist of that magnitude to happen and I still don’t understand how Lucas managed to keep it quiet until the film opened. Today, the plot twist would be all over the internet as soon as the film is released or, in the case of The Force Awakens shocking death, spoiled BEFORE the film even opened thanks to some website posting the details from the storybook a week before the film was released.
We cheered as Leia heard Luke’s cry for help and turned the Falcon around to rescue him, we sat worried as the Hyper drive didn’t work again and The Empire closed in on our heroes. We cheered as R2-D2 saved the day and the Falcon made the jump to light speed. We watched in anticipation as Admiral Piett looked in fear at Vader, expecting to be Forcechoked to death, but living to see another day. We saw 21B attach a robotic hand to Luke’s arm to replace the one he lost to Vader. We marveled as Lando and Chewie took the Falcon to Tattoine to rescue Han from Jabba the Hutt. We waited for the next bit of action to happen. And then……IT ENDED!!
Wait! What? It can’t be over! What about Han? Was Vader telling Luke the truth? Who is the other hope? We don’t have to wait another three years for another Star Wars film do we?
In hindsight, it was the perfect ending. Keep the audience guessing and wanting more. Keep the discussion going until the loose ends are tied up in the next film. I left the cinema both exhilarated and disappointed. Exhilarated because I’d just seen the new Star Wars film and loved it. Disappointed as it had ended without being resolved.
I went to bed that night with all the questions swimming around inside my head and thinking about what the answers would be, either good or bad. Finally, I fell asleep, content that although the film had ended on a cliffhanger, there would be another film to look forward to that resolved all the questions and tie up the plot threads left hanging.
The Empire had struck back and in a big way. I never thought that the new Star Wars would be as dark as it was, instead of being all sweetness and light. It was a switch from the previous film. Darth Vader had become scary to me all over again and not in a good way. The film is, in my mind and to many others, the best of the entire saga. It showed me that heroes are not infallible, that good doesn’t always conquer evil and the world isn’t always a happy place. This was and is the film’s greatest asset, turning the saga on its head and going for a darker tone than before. It paid off in spades and many filmmakers rushed to jump on the bandwagon as they did three years previously with all kinds of rip-offs in the wake of Star Wars triumph.
Three years later, I would see the final film in the original trilogy on the biggest screen in the country but that, again, is another story.
Until we meet again,please stay safe and again…..
May The Force Be With You…..Always.