The Empire Strikes Me Again

September 12, 2008

I dearly love MST3K and sometimes I like to pretend I am Joel. Together with my trusty sidekicks Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo (the lamp and vacuum cleaner filling the roles) I sit down to watch a movie, crack wise, and amuse myself with a running dialog of trivia and observations (hm… come to think of it, I think this is my job description at work),

So this week when I noticed Spike was airing “The Empire Strikes Back” I hurriedly extracted the vacuum cleaner from its long closet slumber, plugged in the lamp and settled on the S.O.L. (Joel had his “Satellite of Love” and I have my “Sofa of Laziness”) to crack wise, harp on all the cheesy lines, and make merry at the expense of one, Mr. Lucas.

Now it has been a number of years since I have watched Empire (I think it was last viewed in its entirety on VHS) and for the first 15 minutes I was able to get off a series of riffs that would have made Joel proud. But then I started watching the movie and the wise cracks became less and less.

It is amazing to me that a 30 year old movie (well almost.. 1980) holds up so well. I have heard people say that this was the weakest of the original trilogy, but watching it the other night reminded me of the first time I saw it. To me, in 1980, this movie was like only one other movie I had seen (that being the original Star Wars). Back then it was the special effects and science fiction that captured my imagination. Even watching today the special effects are cool (yeah, today’s are better and you can tell when green screens were used) and when held in the context of time are still spectacular.

But the thing that I really enjoyed about this viewing was the story. Not the dopey superficial story of Darth Vader extracting his revenge, but the mythological story going on. Joseph Campbell called it the “monomyth”. Loosely the monomyth involves an epic, dream-figure hero who stands in for the entire culture. Campbell wrote, “The hero gives battle to the nursery demons of his local culture, and brings back from his adventure the means for the regeneration of the society as a whole”. He also described three stages to this myth: Departure, Initiation, and Return. Each of these 3 elements are present in the original Star Wars movie, but then they are repeated in the overall trilogy with the Empire installment being another “Initiation” stage. This movie hit home and I enjoyed it because it was a familiar story, one I have read repeatedly in literature. It actually has a deeper meaning beyond dialog and effects.

After a while it didn’t bother me that Yoda sounded a bit like Miss Piggy, or Lando had a funny way of saying Chewbacca, or Princess Lei is scared of Mynoks (yet can single-handedly take on a whole Death Star in a previous installment), or that Imperial ships have no shields that can deflect asteroids; I found the story very entertaining and left me wishing more movie makers would spend time building a credible classic story rather than figuring out how to make cars morph into robots and back again.

So my vacuum cleaning is once again relegated to the closet, the lamp has gone back to being a lamp and I will now cut Mr. Lucas some slack next time Star Wars is shown (but not too much).

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