I never was much of a Star Wars fan. Everyone else was, so maybe that’s why I wasn’t. Always was a bit of a contrarian bastard. Either way, this was my default attitude for years: indifference. Even, at times, a dash of disdain.
But something happens when you spend a certain amount of time in the echo chamber that is the internet, where pop culture references are a second language and Star Wars is the main dialect. The characters, the place names, the turns of phrase — you can’t escape it. Wretched hives of scum and villainy; the Dagobah system; the ice planet Hoth — these are inescapable bywords online, and hearing them endlessly over the course of the years ends up having a peculiar effect: they seep into you. The words and the narrative and emotional weight behind them osmose into you, and before you know it the sheer power of shared experience has you in its grasp. In other words: you believe.
So it was that this Saturday past I gathered a collective of the faithful at my house for a marathon. All three original movies, in their glorious, un-Lucas-meddled-with form, back-to-back. A darkened room, a giant screen, speakers at full whack. Most of those in attendance, including me, hadn’t seen these movies in years, so what better time to bring ourselves up to speed before The Force Awakens?
I had two questions on my mind before the opening crawl of A New Hope:
Would they still hold up?
What would stand out after all these years?
The answers are: ‘yes’, and, ‘that’s the list starting literally right now’.
1. Yoda is goddamn hilarious.
The Empire Strikes Back is the best movie in the trilogy. No-one disputes this, and it’s all the more apparent after all these years. It takes the mythology introduced in the first movie and expands and builds upon it, delivering a satisfying, multi-pronged narrative that distills everything there is to love about this gigantic, colorful universe into two hours of greatness. It’s also dark as hell. Betrayal, doubt, a looming threat — it does what all great second acts do and plunges us into a pit of despair. Which is why it’s so amazing that when Yoda first appears — playing a fool to Luke and R2-D2 — almost every single line out of his mouth and every move of his body is funny.
Luke: ‘I’m looking for a great warrior’
Yoda: ‘Ohh! [chuckle] Great warrior?! Ohh!’ [chuckle] ‘Wars not make one great!’ [chuckle]
That chuckle of his absolutely kills. You can all hear it in your heads now. Even there where he hints at his real nature, he still makes it seem like a random bit of accidental wisdom from an old hobo by burying it in that laugh.
In the course of his introduction, Yoda tries to eat Luke’s snacks; clambers up onto their portable kitchen cabinet to raid their space fridge; then frantically slaps R2-D2 with his cane when R2 tries to take something off him — all the while knowing full well that he could tear both of them apart with the power of his mind at any moment. During that whole food raid he makes noises and cackles maniacally to himself, and it’s hilarious. As an act of misdirection, it’s absolutely brilliant; and when the reveal finally comes and the music swells and Luke realises just who has been raiding his fridge — yes, that is exactly how you reveal a centuries-old mystic badass. Suddenly the gravitas is palpable, but in the lead-up, Yoda is a comic performance par excellence. Which is so important in something as bleak as Empire.
2. We don’t get to hear the Imperial March until Empire!
In that moment we were all stoners. ‘Dude, what? It’s the Imperial March! It comes on when we first meet Vader boarding Leia’s ship in the first movie.’
Not a peep of the most iconic villain music of all time is heard until The Empire Strikes Back.
3. A New Hope does great wistful gazing.
I need to do more wistful gazing.
4. The script is a mixture of moment-to-moment awfulness and occasional transcendence.
Seriously. That dialogue. Jesus. A New Hope is the worst offender, followed by Jedi. We all know that George Lucas is the anti-master of dialogue. Clunky, inhuman, and occasionally looking like its making the actors physically recoil with pain — the dialogue is not why we watch these movies. Jabba the Hut’s lines sound more natural than almost all of the lines spoken in English. But even Empire, which Lucas didn’t write, doesn’t fully escape this. He was probably standing nearby.
And then there’s the transcendence. It doesn’t happen too often, really. But when it does, and with the right context and delivery, it can be magical.
‘I find your lack of faith disturbing.’
‘I don’t, I don’t believe it.’ ‘That is why you fail.’
‘Do or do not. There is no try.’
‘Who’s the more foolish; the fool, or the fool who follows him?’
‘Uh, we had a slight weapons malfunction, but uh… everything’s perfectly all right now. We’re fine. We’re all fine here now, thank you.’ (Winces.) ‘Uh, how are you?’
5. The background character designs are demented and fantastic.
6. Who gets a bartender’s attention like this?!
I don’t like him either, either.
7. Every movie in the trilogy opens with a Star Destroyer.
I’m actually not sure if this was common knowledge and this is me betraying my ignorance, but here we are.
A New Hope:
The Empire Strikes Back:
Return of the Jedi:
8. Han Solo owns an amazing helmet.
You know the one. The one that Obi-Wan picks up from a shelf in the Millennium Falcon and plops onto Luke’s head when his vision blocks him from properly accessing the Force. This one:
Yeah. What the hell is that, why has it got an opaque visor, and why does Han own one? Did he do the Kessel run in twelve parsecs and also while blind?
9. Vader has his helmet shined between A New Hope and Empire.
10. Ignore the haters — Boba Fett is indeed a badass.
We knew this when we saw him first when we were young. Then we grew older and jaded and read stuff on the internet that pointed out to us that he never really actually amounted to much in the short time that we saw him. The illustrious Rebecca Pahle, put it so well on this very site:
Mr. Badass Bounty Hunter does nothing throughout the entire trilogy. Nothing. OK, OK, he tracks the Millennium Falcon to Cloud City and takes Han, frozen in carbonite, to Jabba the Hutt. But what does he actually do? He stands around! That’s it! Darth Vader does all the heavy lifting, leaving Boba Fett as a glorified extra. He has five lines, and one of them is “AIIIIEEEEGGGHHHH.” At least Wedge Antilles fights in three battles!
A point very well made. However, the mother of all counterpoints was made in that very same article, right down there in the comments section. And forgive me for quoting you, puppetDoug, but you have expressed this point far, far better than I — no matter how much whiskey help I might get — could:
Boba Fett was badass for 2 reasons: Joe Johnson’s excellent costume design, and Vader chastising him with “no disintegrations.” It, like most of the really good lines in Star Wars, world builds like a boss with implication. Vader and this dude have a long term relationship, and have had hilarious mishaps where when Vader, the most evil dude in the galaxy, sends this sociopath to do a job, Fett brings him back bags of fucking dust and ash, tosses it on Vader’s desk and says “DNA test it bitch.” Fett’s response of “As you wish,” much like “I know,” tells you everything about the character and solidifies him as the most badass motherfucker on the wrong side of this story. He basically says “Okay, whatever you say, weirdo.” Like why wouldn’t you want them disintegrated, you great big puss? He then proceeds to make it all the way up to his (admittedly lame) death without ruining it with a bunch of stupid lines. He’s barely there — just like The Clone Wars, and Alderaan, and Leia’s adoptive parents, and the Jedi Order, etc. — so we are free to speculate about everything that made this guy such a kooky psycho in the best costume ever. I believe it’s been stated by producers that Lucas hated how much fans fell in love with him based on 2 lines and a costume, none of which he was responsible for (not to mention being the best toy), and is likely why he keeps killing Fetts so unceremoniously. That doesn’t take away that all of the best things about Star Wars are implied backstory from the moments where people aren’t telling you the whole story, and you know it. The prequels largely ruined this by showing us things lamer than what we probably imagined and by having characters with no backstory themselves. All but Palpatine, who with his “Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise” and his machinations and revenging (for something we never quite find out about) is still behaving like a character who didn’t puff into existence the moment the cameras turned on.
11. The Ewoks, however, are still as shit as ever.
George Lucas’ predilection for designing characters as a means to a children’s toy end reach their pinnacle here. We knew this years ago; we know it even more so now. Just look at the little plush forest ferrets!
HOW DOES A TROUPE OF THAT TURN THE TIDE OF BATTLE AGAINST THE EMPIRE AND ITS ARMY OF ELITE STORMTROOPERS?!
12. The stormtroopers are the real heroes of the trilogy.
If these guys did their job properly even once, for just, like, one second, the rebellion would be over in moments. We know what you’re up to, you bunch of empire-hating functionaries, subverting your bosses at every step! Good on you! When Han chases a whole gaggle of you away like frightened geese, it takes you the maximum possible amount of time without it looking suspicious to ‘realise’ that you are geese armed with lasers and should actually be chasing him.
When you don’t hear what’s happening literally two feet away from you; when you drop ‘dead’ after being lightly laser-pinged in the foot; when you famously miss every. single. shot. — all this time we thought it was incompetence! You guys are heroes. The rebellion means squat without you.
13. THE CANTINA BAND HAS MORE THAN ONE SONG!
I know, right?!
Here’s the one we all know and love:
And here’s this unicorn of a number:
14. C-3PO is a useless walking turdsack.
C3P0 really is just the worst. All he does is moan and bring people down with negativity. R2-D2, by way of comparison, gets shit done.
Here are some of 3PO’s greatest hits:
— At the start of A New Hope C3PO wanders off into the desert — in the complete opposite direction that R2 tells him — and gets captured by Jawas. He then sits there listlessly, waiting for something to happen to him. What does R2 do when he ends up in the same Jawa transport? He explores the space, looking for options. He doesn’t mope around, kicking the dust. Because he’s fucking R2-D2.
— When Uncle Owen and Luke come out to buy some droids, C3P0 gets picked because he knows how to program some of Uncle Owen’s space toasters. Meanwhile, the red R2 unit gets picked to go along instead of R2-D2 (prompting despondent bleeps from R2 because even heroes cry, dammit!). R2-D2 protests, gets threatened by the Jawas, and what does C-3PO do? Gives him a blank look, says nothing, and then turns his head and begins to walk away with Luke! It’s only then that he starts up with the, ‘Excuse me, sir, but that R2 unit is in prime condition!’ shit. And I’m willing to bet that that was only because the last noises R2 made were some pretty damn bone-chilling, convincing threats. ‘3PO, you little bitch, if you don’t fuckin’ tell them to take me in, I will hunt you down. I don’t care how many decades it takes, I will find you and I will beat you until you can’t even be used as a space toaster.’ What happens then? ‘Yeah, you better take R2, Master Luke; did I mention that he really is in first class condition?’
— The Sand People ambush Luke, and 3PO falls down. Backwards. Like a penguin watching a helicopter pass overhead. R2 — the one without proper legs — manages to find cover and at keep look out. 3PO loses an arm. Then he has a nap while Luke fixes him.
— When telling Han the chance of successfully navigating an asteroid field, he apparently just plucks a number out thin air, getting it completely the opposite of correct. Then he tries the same shit about surviving a direct assault on an imperial star destroyer. Luckily Leia tells him to shut up.
— In Bespin he wanders off into a janitor’s closet and gets blasted into bits, so Chewbacca has to carry him around in a bin.
— He fails to warn Luke about the Rancor pit.
— He does not help at all during the escape from Jabba’s sail barge. While R2 frees Leia from her shackles, you know what C-3PO is doing?
He doesn’t even help himself when it’s all exploding — R2 has to push him off. At which point he lands in the sand head first. METAPHOR!
— He doesn’t use his godlike status to rescue his friends from becoming an Ewok roast. Oh, what, the protocols don’t allow you to impersonate a deity? Piss off. If R2 was worshipped as a god by the forest ferrets, he’d have them treat you all like kings within the hour, protocol or no protocol.
The only thing he does is translate for R2, and yeah — lets them into Jabba’s fortress. Pfft. R2 could probably speak English if he wanted to, and Jabba would’ve opened that gate up regardless.
Useless little shit, 3PO, that’s what you are.