Star Wars: From the Empire to an Ankle Far, Far Away

Chewbacca Star Wars

A few mishaps, from broken bones to awkward Chancellors, showcase how well the Star Wars resurgence is actually going…

UPDATE [21/06/2014]: Since publication, it’s been revealed by none other than Harrison Ford’s publicist that the Hollywood icon actually broke his leg colliding with a door.  The plot thickens, although the Milennium Falcon is likely to remain a key part of this speculation despite its culpability looking increasingly unlikely.  Please feel free to read/re-read replacing the word ‘ankle’ with ‘leg’ where appropriate.  Get well soon Harri!

IT WAS THURSDAY NIGHT THAT THE SHOCKING NEWS BROKE. HARRISON FORD RUSHED TO HOSPITAL AFTER BEING CRUSHED ON NEW STAR WARS SET. It was alarming at the time, and although further details emerged almost immediately, it was still enough to make front pages the next day. Before it did, colour was added, the threat level reduced. Various people were changing the bulb.

First it was a door that had crushed the septuagenarian, then a hydraulic door, then the door – the hydraulic door of the Millennium Falcon itself! Then it emerged that his ankle had been crushed, then broken. Maybe both. Maybe by the hydraulic door of the Millennium Falcon and not a garage door… And that was where it ended. All the best to Harrison Ford for his recovery.

Return of the Myth

The mystery of Han Solo being crushed by the Millennium Falcon is another part of the curious publicity myth growing around the new Star Wars film. Unlike the prequels, this is being very much considered a film rather than a trilogy. It helps that some fine directors are being tapped up to direct stand-alone films that will slot into JJ Abram and Lawrence Kasdan’s new Star Wars trilogy. The pressures off in some ways, but then again, this first film is the flagship kick starting the largest franchise assault Hollywood has ever seen.

Ford’s ankle incident happened just a couple of days after George Osborne showed his best C3P0 stance next to R2D2, announcing that the new standalone Star Wars film would be shot in the UK alongside the main film. Played as ever, it’s clearly far more of a coup for Disney to secure filming in the UK, a nostalgic association with the first trilogy heightened when the prequels ignored it. It also make great financial sense to film the rolling franchise in one place, with Disney happily setting up a London branch of Industrial Light & Magic for long-haul deployment.

Return of the Phantom

At the end of the 20th century, there was a lot of buzz around the prequel trilogy. With a lengthy gap between the US and UK release of the first film, that continued well beyond The Phantom Menace’s US unveiling. From there, a little unaware of the nadir we were in or perhaps hopeful that it would all make sense, the other two films met with considerable but not stellar anticipation.

This time round it’s running differently. When Disney surprisingly swooped for Lucasfilm, they did it not for Indiana Jones or LucasArts but Star Wars. The House of Mouse was quick to establish that the Star Wars brand was underexploited. As those who wandered through the morass of post trilogy cartoons, videogames, Woolworths and Vodafone adverts knew, it wasn’t so much that the brand was underexploited, just not exploited with enough quality.

Return of the Heaveyweight

Disney’s game plan is reassuringly sensible and follows their shrewd work with the Marvel franchise. With their comic arm, they’ve not changed the film programme too much, just adding weight to draw bigger names, and hopefully the mild unravelling of Ant Man isn’t a sign that this will change. Even better, it’s taken a few years for Marvel animated films to come out – Big Hero 6 is the first this year. By wisely taking their time with both, while simultaneously making a host of announcements, the result is a more anticipated Star Wars made by a wonderful mix of old and new talent. And alongside the heavyweight returns of Hamill, Fisher, Ford, Daniels, Baker, Mayhew – there’s this recent, literal ‘break a leg’. And of course the fact it was Solo on board the Falcon.

This renewed rise and rise of Star Wars is clearly having an impact. That The Empire Strikes Back ranked first in Empire’s recent film poll can only be helped by the mounting promise of this new trilogy against the disappointment of the last.

Return of the Empire

That said, Empire‘s renewed standing also signifies the enduring quality of the film itself. In endless cycles, people praise then lambast the darkness of Episode V. It’s not all dark and certainly some of those darker moments, though effective, are a little incomprehensible. But there are opportunities that come with its position. It was fuelled by the unexpected success of its rather slow prequel, but not too much that commercial concerns could damage the story as they did with Return of the Jedi.

It shows the real strength of the middle film, the lack of a beginning results in the best set-piece in the trilogy, the lack of an ending creates a mysterious cliff-hanger that nobody could even speculate on. Years later, The Two Towers would pick up hints where it could with similar standing.

Following the rulebook, Empire spreads its wings, nicely dividing characters while introducing new ones neatly. There’s misdirection of course, classic themes of betrayal and love but mostly, an unbelievable scope. It moves from snow tundra to cloud city to the swamps of Dagobah. Against this, primal plots are laid, culminating in ‘that’ exchange and Luke’s fall.

Perhaps the best part is the talent. Remarkably consistent onscreen, behind the scenes which director could George Lucas turn to than his film school mentor Irwin Kershner? One of the best anecdotes from the original trilogy production is Lucas not believing screenwriter Leigh Brackett was actually she. Scripter of noir classics and classic adventures, she had a mean background in science fiction and Empire gave her the chance to combine those. The result of her collaboration with Kasdan was sublime dialogue including the “I know” exchange that sums it up. Empire is a rare beast, and easily the best Star Wars film thanks to its confidence and scope. All the while it never loses momentum unlike every other Star Wars film, and manages to set up a domestic tragedy on a galactic stage. The end scene is the family together, nuclear but not complete. And they’re overlooking a galaxy to boot. Brilliant.

When comparing the Star Wars Prequel trilogy with The Hobbit, it became clear that Star Wars had become unnecessarily constricted by Darth Vader’s success. Now we’re back, at least seemingly, with a trilogy that can write itself one at a time. There is no giant of the franchise that can derail it, but there is a clear sense that the right talent is being added in the right areas.

Excitement is building and there’ll be stranger tales told yet than Hans Solo and the Hydraulic Door of the Falcon.

3 replies »

  1. I seem to remember a certain Northern university being one of the first places to get a pirate version of TPM back in the day. The whole onscreen expansion certainly has put the paperback Star Wars universe into flux. I guess that was always going to happen if they made more movies.

    PS do you draw Trek as well…..?

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