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Sunday Classics Matinee: Star Wars Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

by Robb Reel

Word is that the seventh installment of the Star Wars saga has a release date: December 18, 2015.

I am not one to believe rumors around the interwebs, but it has been confirmed by the powers that be.  My fears about Disney ruining this series with a new direction are so far assuaged by putting J.J. Abrams at the helm -- and we've all seen the wonderful job he has done rebooting Star Trek -- and the success the Mouse has had with [most of] the Marvel Universe since that acquisition.  Two years will go by quickly when you consider I have waited far longer with greater anticipation, only to have it fall a little short.

For now, we continue our rapid trip through the galaxy far, far away with my favorite of the entire saga.

"It is a dark time for the Rebellion."  You wouldn't think so after the destruction of the Death Star and so many Imperial resources on board.  Yet we saw Darth Vader hurtling out into space, so we knew he survived.  There's still a massive Imperial fleet, that now includes the massive Executor, Vader's command ship, combining for the Rebel enclave.

As for Vader himself, he came across in A New Hope as more of a henchman carrying out someone else's design.  He is clearly off Grand Moff Tarkin's leash, actively running the operation to find Luke Skywalker and the other Rebels and dispatch those who don't measure up to his standards.  We're starting to see just some of the despicable things the Dark Side can do.

We are introduced to new characters.  Yoda, worked and voiced by Frank Oz, is the ultimate Jedi Master who is to complete Luke's training.  For as much of a "scoundrel" as Han Solo is alleged to be, his friend Lando Calrissian makes him look like a Boy Scout.  Billy Dee Williams plays the rogue-turned-supposedly-responsible administrator created, I'm sure in part, to combat the accusations against a monochrone universe.  Then there is the most feared bounty hunter in the galaxy: Boba Fett.  Were it not for his introduction in the ill-fated Star Wars Holiday Special and his action figure, he would remain nameless as it is not mentioned in the film.

Of course the lynch pin is the great revelation.  Virtually everyone knows, but for the very few -- like housemate Chris -- who have never seen it, I won't be Spoily McSpoilerton.  Suffice it to say, no one in 1980 saw it coming.

I have made no secret that this is my favorite of the films.  There may or may not even be a Boba Fett clock in my office, staring down at me as I type.  It is by far both the darkest and the funniest.  It is also the first movie I recall seeing that had an ending that did not wrap everything up neatly and made it clear that another was to come. Yet, thanks mostly to director Irvin Kershner, it somehow still manages to stand alone.

Now, I own every iteration of the series: the complete blu-ray, the DVD series, the Special Edition VHS series and the original cuts on VHS.  I do appreciate that George Lucas wanted to go back and "fix" all the things he couldn't do when the first trilogy was made.  As much as I love Ian McDiarmid's portrayal of Emperor Palpatine, I am proud to possess, and still occasionally watch, Clive Revill as the original Emperor in his lone, holographic scene.  Sometimes, I just want to experience it as I did at that first midnight showing on May 21, 1980.

If The Empire Strikes Back can't win you over, then nothing can.  It's stark and bleak, yet hilarious and somehow hopeful.  I see it as the greatest George Lucas has to offer and one of the four or five greatest films of my lifetime.

The Force will be with us... at least one more time.