Monday, January 4, 2010

Star Wars Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back -- growing and doing

Director: Irvin Kerschner, 1980.

After George Lucas introduced the world to Luke (Mark Hamill), Leia (Carrie Fisher), Han (Harrison Ford) and the droids in Star Wars, he turned over the directorial reins to others to complete his visionary trilogy. With no need for introductions, this second film picks up on the heels of the first.

The rebels are now on the ice planet of Hoth. When the imperial forces discover them, they must battle the AT-AT Walkers before they can escape the planetary blockade. In doing so, Han Solo, Princess Leia and Chewbacca fly in the Millenium Falcon to the Cloud City of Bespin, while Luke takes off with R2-D2 for the swamps of Dagebah, guided by a vision of Obe-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guiness).

It is on Dagebah that we first meet Yoda (voice of Frank Oz), the cute green wizened creature. (Created as a Henson puppet in the first trilogy, he was reprised in cgi for the second series.) Speaking sage wisdom in sinuous syntax, this Grand Master Jedi provides the next level of training for Luke, so he can progress as a Jedi in his own right.

Yoda gives a keen lesson right up front. He is the only person Luke meets, yet Luke dismisses him due to his size and speech mannerism. Yoda confronts him on this: "Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not." Appearances are not vital when it comes to judging a person. They can be deceiving. Goliath found this out to his cost when he came up against the smaller David (1 Sam. 17:41). Just as a book should not be judged by its cover, we must look not to external appearances. Samuel told David's father that God looks at a person's heart (1 Sam. 16:7). We must look beyond the surface, too.

Yoda gives the reason for Luke to look past his smallness: "For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is." Once again faith in the force becomes paramount for the Jedi. (Its analogy to the ever-present Spirit of God was addressed in my review of Star Wars.) Still, Luke seems to have forgotten many of the lessons from Obi-Wan, as he comments, "I don't believe it" in response to his failure to levitate his X-Wing fighter from the bog.

Another lesson for us emerges from Luke's lessons. When Luke tells Yoda, "All right, I'll give it a try," Yoda replies, "No. Try not. Do . . . or do not. There is no try." Too often we try something when asked to do something. Our trying is half-hearted without passion or commitment. We try expecting to fail, and then fail we do, just as Luke did. In contrast, if we approach the task with confidence and courage, committed and convinced that we can and will accomplish it, we have a much better chance of success. This is more than positive thinking.

Under Yoda's encouraging tutelage, Luke does improve and his knowledge of the force and of the Jedi grows. Yet, before he can move on he has a key test to undergo: he must enter the dark cave of the unknown: "A domain of evil, it is. In you must go." When he wants to find out what is in it, Luke is told simply, "Only what you take with you." It is there that he finds Darth Vader, and a duel with the dreaded Sith.

We, too, must face our fears if we are to conquer them and move on. Sometimes we become paralyzed by these fears. Then, in our inaction, these fears grow until they eclipse all the dreams and hopes we have. We shrivel and die in our trepidation. Yet, when we confront them head on, we can gain victory. At best, we can conquer them once and for all. At worst, we see them in the light of day and can plan to move around them or avoid them. In the light of God and the love of Christ we can stand victorious: perfect love casts out fear (1 Jn. 4:18).

Meanwhile, the city of Bespin proves no sanctuary for the rest of the team. Although Han reacquaints himself with gambler friend Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), it is a trap set by Darth Vader to lure Skywalker himself. And lure him, it does, leading to the apex of the film: the first actual light saber battle between Vader and Skywalker. And it is during this fight that Vader utters the most shocking revelation of the film and the trilogy: "I am your father." When we hear this for the first time, we simply do not see it coming. It is so unexpected that we, like Luke, are stunned. But it makes sense and sets up the context for the concluding segment in the series.

This shocking announcement notwithstanding, Empire Strikes Back is not as exciting as its predecessor. It continues the saga, as a middle film must do, while introducing several new characters, including Calrissian and bounty hunter Boba Fett. Then it leaves Han Solo literally hanging, while pulling us into the final segment for closure.

Copyright ©2010, Martin Baggs

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