Throwback Thursday: The Crafty Humor of The Empire Strikes Back (and a Galaxy's Edge Update)by Todd King, contributing writer
Galaxy's Edge Opening Dates and Details
Before our main Throwback Thursday topic, let's look at an update for Galaxy's Edge.
Loads of information came out about Galaxy's Edge recently—not the least of which were the opening dates: May 31 for Disneyland, and August 29 for Walt Disney World. To catch up on all the many details, read the following MousePlanet resort updates:
- Disneyland Resort Update for March 11–17, 2019
- Walt Disney World Resort Update for March 12–18, 2019
There's a lot to process here, and there'll be even more after the Star Wars Celebration convention next month.
One thing to note: This opening is only phase one of the land's rollout. When Batuu opens for business, the "Rise of the Resistance" attraction won't yet be open for guests. In short, they're still working on it. Seeing how this ride is supposed to be the largest and most ambitious attraction Disney Imagineers have ever created, it is understandable that it would take a little longer to prepare. I can't help but wonder that park organizers saw the delay as an opportunity.
I'd been wondering just how Disney would handle the massive crowds at the opening. I'm not exactly sure if the lack of this ride will deter some fans, but it could. If it doesn't, there will be one less thing to stand in line for in Black Spire Outpost and that could actually help crowds disperse a bit and just mill around the market more than they would if the ride were open. Sure there will be a long line to get in and there will be a long line to ride "Smuggler's Run," but now there won't be an additional long line. I don't know. It could just make crowds worse by just filling in all space in the land anyway.
Disneyland's reservation system may help control some of the masses, and we'll wait to see if Walt Disney World follows in kind—but the fact that there will be a phase two to the opening may ease the crowds just enough to make the long lines and crowds tolerable enough for the first guests. Then again, it could just be eight-hour waits and disgruntled guests, anyway. We'll just have to see. It may give more time for willing guests to go to the build-your-own lightsaber shop which, to me, may be the most exciting attraction there.
Throwback Thursday: The Crafty Humor of The Empire Strikes Back
Considered one of the darkest chapters in all of Star Wars, if not the darkest, The Empire Strikes Back tells the story of many struggles. After the events of A New Hope, the rebels are still at war with the Empire—and even though we saw a great victory by the good guys, they’re now on the run from the relentless (and still numerous) bad guys. The rebels are quickly found and barely hold off an onslaught of mechanized terror before evacuating their new hidden base. Luke detaches himself from the others to seek Jedi training, where he resists the difficult lessons from a strange teacher. He even abandons his training early in a futile effort to save his friends that puts him mortal danger himself. Agents of the Empire hunt and capture the escaping Leia and Han. While Han is sold to a bounty hunter and presumed dead, the others barely escape with their lives. It all ends with an unknown future. Looking at it this way, it is rather bleak.
With all that hardship, there is still one moment that often overshadows them all. The moment. You know the one I mean. Darth Vader's revelation (of being Luke's father) takes the entire story to a much deeper place—shocking us all back in the day.—as the story suddenly changed and became more complicated than we had imagined.
This revelation challenged us, putting characters and their motivations all into question. We even doubted the story's validity and wondered if it was even true. Up until this point, we thought this was a straightforward saga of good versus evil. So it's no wonder why this moment is so stunning and is the one people talked about at the time, and still talk about now. I think, however, there is so much more to in the film to discuss as well.
It is a crafty story that is deeply perceptive in its characters. But for the purposes of me continuing to bring up the humor in the saga, I ask myself—among all this hardship—where’s the fun? Well, it's not difficult at all to find the comedy in Empire Strikes Back. With all the toils the characters face, the movie is lightened by its interjections of wit and jest. I've watched it so much that I've kind of forgotten just how funny this movie is. The drama is as high as the comedy. But without these moments, the film would probably end up being quite a slog to finish. These instances of humor not only add levity, but they connect us to the characters and their situations by either showing their imperfect humanity or by speaking out on the absurdity of a given condition. The effects of comedy endear us to the characters and their plights. We need this joy as much as the characters do. We need it for our entertainment (you know, the reason we go to movies in the first place) and they need it as their impetus to engage in the conflict—giving them something to fight for.
C-3PO & R2-D2: The C is for Comic, the R for Relief
In rewatching the movie with all this in mind, I find that much of the humor comes from C-3PO. Once again, he’s in situations far over his head and he can barely do anything but bumble haplessly from one bad predicament to another. As hard as he tries to stay out of trouble, it always manages finds him.
We first see him in one of his many arguments with R2-D2. Here we are in the second movie of the saga, three years after the first one was released, and it’s like we never left. Here they are in their default state of dispute after an off-screen incident involving a heater in Princess Leia’s icy quarters that melted part of the ceiling and drenched her wardrobe. So, what’s funnier? Seeing the ceiling dripping onto Leia’s coats or hearing the two droids trying to place the blame on each other after the fact? The accident is inconsequential and so reintroducing two favorite characters in their on-brand condition is the better choice. They're just getting started.
As we've learned already, C-3PO talks too much, and this gets him on the wrong side of his human friends. We saw Uncle Owen in the previous film tell him to shut up before he got going. Here, when "3PO" informs Han of Leia’s concern for Luke’s absence, and he wants to give all the information he can—but Han has already moved on to action and covers the droid’s mouth to quiet him down. Han treats him like a child: “Quiet, the grown-ups are talking.”
Anthony Daniels has had to work in what has got to be one of the most constricting costumes designed and yet, time and again in this film (and the others), he performs outstanding physical comedy. His work in pantomime has proved its value already but here is another example where it shines. 3PO is desperately trying to keep up with Leia and Han as they dash down the narrow halls of Hoth. The path caves in and Leia and Han must backtrack for a different escape plan, but it is then that the droid has just caught up to them. When they dash past him, he can't believe this turn of events. Daniels could have made this scene work without any words and we would get the effect. But his cries of, “Where are you going? Come back!” underscore his hilarious desperation.
After catching up a second time, his friends almost leave him behind when a door shuts in 3PO's face. Almost immediately, he gives in to despair.
The more 3PO tries to help, by offering his advice and information, the more he gets in the way (the more he annoys his human friends)—such as telling Han Solo the odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field while they're in the middle of flying through an asteroid field. Han will have none of that, and neither will Leia, who also can’t take much more of his info-drop and cuts him off with a sharp, “Shut up!”
When Han hides the Millennium Falcon on the side of a Star Destroyer, 3PO is ready to give up. Before he can give a spiel on justifying surrender, Leia shuts off his power and the droid goes limp, and more importantly, quiet.
Stormtroopers have less patience for the talk-droid and when 3PO stumbles upon some troopers in the halls of Cloud City, they simple blow him apart with a blaster shot.
Luckily, Chewbacca finds him—albeit in pieces—and starts to put him back together. As soon as he’s reactivated, 3PO can’t help but start talking again, proclaiming “Oh no! I’ve been shot!” and complaining that the wookie's work isn't proper and saying, "You stupid furball! Only an overgrown mophead like you would be stupid enough…” And that is enough for Chewbacca to shut off his power, too. The worse predicaments the droid gets in, the more we laugh.
Han and Chewie
One of the major themes in all of Star Wars is family. Family comes in many shapes and sizes, from close friendships to romantic couples, to mothers and fathers, and to brothers and sisters. The original trilogy puts Luke, Leia, and Han together first as a budding friendship and later as a cobbled-up family. That family extends to the droids, to Lando, and of course, to the beloved Chewbacca.
When we first meet Chewbacca, he and Han are already more than just copilots; they are close friends. They look out for each other and work as a team. Like many good friends, they fight, too. Like many long-term friends in movies, they can be funny when they fight. They argue sometimes, laugh other times, but are on the same side most all the time.
In Empire Strikes Back, we first find Chewie in a state of frustration while trying to fix something on top of the Millennium Falcon. As soon as Han checks on his first mate, the wookie growls angrily at him. Han says, “Alright, don’t lose your temper; I’ll come right back and give you a hand.” Facing an angry wookie is not a desirable place to be, unless you’re the best friend of said wookie. The funny part is that Chewbacca is not just angry here because he’s a wookie and that’s what wookies do—no (that’s not what wookies do)—he’s angry because whatever he’s trying to fix is very difficult and he’s losing patience with the task. In other words, he’s acting like us. What sells the humor is that Han treats him that way, too—like a human. Their friendship is based on mutual respect and so we know their fighting won’t lead to a break-up. It is safe. We can enjoy their bickering, like watching a classic comedy duo.
Another part of their humor in this movie is the source of their common problem: the Millennium Falcon. It is in the middle of repairs that are not going too well and as the story progresses, the problems with the ship do not end. Frustrations mount, but so does our enjoyment of their distress. As the base’s evacuation begins, these two are still welding pieces together.
Chewbacca has a wide range of emotions in The Empire Strikes Back. Often he wears his feelings on his sleeve. Earlier, when the rebels closed the shield doors with Han and Luke still trapped in the snowy wasteland, Chewie whimpers for his lost friend. During the evacuation, he must say good-bye to Luke and does so in his own way.
What's comedy without a little slapstick? Even while in space and trying to outrun TIE Fighters, the Millennium Falcon still needs repairs. While Leia takes the co-pilot seat, Han and Chewie go back to work. While Han always puts on a brave front telling the Princess that the ship will be fine, he is more honest with his comrade and questions whether they will survive this situation.
Han and Leia (and the Falcon)
This is the real love triangle. We know about the friendship between Captain Solo and his First Mate, but Han possesses more than one kind of love. There is the love between him and Chewbacca in the bonds of friendship, but Han also begins to show romantic love with Leia. It's not so romantic at the start; it's more superficial to him but as he discovers more about Leia and her tenacity and devotion to the truth, he starts to fall for her in a real sense. Leia brings out some honesty in the former smuggler. Yet, there's something else Han loves about as much as himself, and that is, of course, his ship, the Millennium Falcon.
We see much of his devotion to the ship from the previous movie and into this one with the care he gives it—even if he cannot fully understand how it all works and therefore cannot really fix it completely. Seeing Han start to be torn between his love for himself, his ship, and Princess Leia, gives us insight into his character, but also provides many fun moments.
Han's faith in the Falcon is unwavering even in the midst of abject failure. Leia is much less confident in this "bucket of bolts" but much like Han, the Falcon "has a few surprises." All relationships take work. With the ship, it's physical; with Leia and Han, it's more complicated. Early in the story, the state of these relationships is not too muddy. It's all about her: the ship.
With all these troubles, they're forced to take some desperate measures like flying into an asteroid field and attacking a Star Destroyer head-on. Han believes if there is even the slightest glimmer of a chance that one of his crazy ideas will work, he'll take the chance, no matter how terrible C-3PO says the odds are. There seems even less a chance that he and Leia will get together when he says stupid things like:
The camera stays on Han for an extra moment just so we can see Luke's expression in the background before we cut back to Leia. Han's statement may be hyperbolic, but it is within character. Leia wants to put a stop to this and so goes for something hyperbolic herself:
Han's response of, "Who's scruffy lookin'," doesn't quite give an equal retort but is his attempt to get the last word in. Now it starts to become noticeable to us that this silly banter, and their shared irritation, might actually hint at a romance between them. The more they fight the more they show attention to each other. Fast forward a bit and we get another iconic moment in the Star Wars saga when these two finally confess their feelings.
The humor here comes as a surprise. We don't expect Han to reply the way he did, and yet, it's absolutely what we should expect Han to say. We laugh, but it's true; it's true, but we laugh. And it all happens in the midst of great fear. No one knows what will happen to Han but it doesn't look good, so it's just like Han to make light of a horrible situation. He will never give in to despair and doesn't want anyone else to either.
Luke and Yoda
The Empire Strikes Back is where we witness Luke receiving most of his Jedi training. What we don't always think about is this initial meeting between Jedi master and barely padawan. Luke does not know who Yoda is, and at the time of the movie's release, we didn't, either. What we see here is a meeting between our hero and some little green mischievous creature. We don't think much of him, and neither does Luke, until he says he knows Yoda and knows where he is. But before Luke starts to take him a little bit seriously, we get some hilarious moments between R2-D2 and this silly thing.
Luke breaks up the fight in such a way that he can't believe he's in this situation on a remote swampy planet. That's when Yoda starts to try Luke's patience even harder. After having watched the Star Wars prequels, we see these scenes a little differently. We see that perhaps Yoda wants to see how much of Vader is in Luke by pushing his limits of simple candor. Patience is a virtue stressed by Obi-Wan and Yoda to Anakin, and now to Luke.
One of the few moments of eating in the saga, Yoda tries Luke's processed space food and rejects it. Luke considers the germs the little imp must have left on his—I'm not exactly sure what Luke was going to eat… some kind of link sausage?—food and simply tosses it away as a lost cause.
So, Yoda offers Luke some "good food" if he'll follow him home. Luke accepts hoping to get some information from him on Yoda. At the hut, there is indeed some hot food cooking over a fire. Luke is more concerned with finding the Jedi master but Yoda insists, "For the Jedi it is time to eat as well." Luke tries the soup and gives us a great, but very quick, comedic moment.
Bless his heart, he does continue to eat it.
Their first meeting may be all laughs, but it establishes a bond between the soon-to-be master and apprentice. Luke must learn to respect all life, have patience, and place trust in seemingly untrustworthy places. In the audience, seeing this for the first time was a real joy. it was hilarious and at the same time, taught us a lesson at the same time as Luke. The Force can be found everywhere, even in strange little life forms. Great things don't always come in pretty packages. When we learn this is Yoda, the great Jedi Master, we do so when Luke does. We are on this journey with him. Yoda is our teacher as well as Luke's and we learn the age-old philosophies along with our hero and it breaks our heart when we see Luke fail when we know he should be having more faith.
From a cinematic standpoint, enough cannot be said about how this exemplifies the magic of cinema. These scenes are more than just a masterclass of puppeteering on the part of Frank Oz, but it also is telling how all the work of movie-making comes together from the lighting, to the sets, the music, the sound effects, and script-pacing. Much credit has been given to Mark Hamill for his performance in carrying these scenes and rightly so. He is our only human on screen for the entire time. He makes everything believable by his reactions and doubts and frustrations. It all effects him deeply and draws us in. And it makes the humor that much more funny, too.
Though much of The Empire Strikes Back is a serious tale of heroes brought to their most desperate struggles, there is a lot of humor and laugh-out-loud moments. Combined, they make the movie feel complete and give us an all-embracing experience at the movies. Dare I say, the comedy and the tragedy here, are balanced.
Honorable mentions (Harrison Ford/Han Solo points)
What will be the humor from Return of the Jedi? It won't always be in the form of little furry friends… Not always.