Saturday, November 06, 2010

"The Empire Strikes Back" Is the Best Star Wars Film - And I Always Knew It

Yes, that is a pretty vain headline, obnoxious even. But it is true.

Thirty years ago, there was no doubt in my mind that "The Empire Strikes Back" was a great, great movie. I've kind of lost count over the years, but I think that my brothers and I saw it at least 7 times that summer. Or maybe I saw it seven times, and just a few of them were with my brothers.

30 years later, everyone seems to agree that "The Empire Strikes Back" is the best Star Wars movie. So now, the film is getting its due. Like this interview with director Irvin Kershner in Vanity Fair.

Films of fan and fanboys alike bitched about the prequels. I saw all of them in the theater, and there were parts of each of them that were great (particularly the final prequel). But there's little doubt that none of them reached the heights of the original trilogy, and part of that has to be laid at George Lucas' doorstep. I don't know what happened between 1980 and 1999-2005, but all you have to do is read this remembrance of Irvin Kershner to know that something changed:

There was really only one disagreement [with George Lucas]. It was the Carbon Freeze scene when Princess Leia says, “I love you.” Han Solo’s response in the script was, “I love you, too.” I shot the line and it just didn’t seem right for the character of Han Solo. So we worked on the scene on the set. We kept trying different things and couldn’t get the right line. We were into the lunch break and I said to Harrison try it again and just do whatever comes to mind. That is when Harrison said the line, “I know.” After the take, I said to my assistant director, David Tomblin, “It’s a wrap.” David looked at me in disbelief and said something like, “Hold on, we just went to overtime. You’re not happy with that, are you?” And I said, yes, it’s the perfect Han Solo remark, and so we went to lunch. George saw the first cut and said, “Wait a minute, wait a minute. That’s not the line in the script.” I said ““I love you, too’ was not Han Solo.” Han Solo was a rebel. George felt that the audience would laugh. And I said, that’s wonderful, he is probably going to his death for all they know. We sat in the room and he thought about it. He then asked me, “Did you shoot the line in the script?” I said yes. So we agreed that we would do two preview screenings once the film was cut and set to music with the line in and then with the line out. At the first preview in San Francisco, the house broke up after Han Solo said I know. When the film was over, people came up and said that is the most wonderful line and it worked. So George decided not to have the second screening.

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