Batman Beyond Return of the Joker

  • Title: Batman Beyond Return of the Joker
  • Director: Curt Geda
  • Voice Director: Andrea Romano
  • Date: 2000
  • Studio: Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre: Action, Fantasy, Mystery
  • Cast: Kevin Conroy, Will Friedle, Mark Hamill, Dean Stockwell, Teri Garr, Tara Strong, Frank Welker, Michael Rosenbum
  • Format: Color Animation, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

This film bridges the gap between Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond, answering some of the unanswered questions. And it brings back the most famous Batman villian — the Joker. Briefly, Batman Beyond, part of the DC Animated Universe, was a television series set 50 years after Batman: The Animated Series. Bruce has gotten old and is now unable to fight crime. Terry McGinnis becomes the new Batman, having at first stolen Bruce’s latest Batsuit (used before his retirement) and then with Bruce’s blessing. Terry is a bit more light-hearted than Bruce but not as light-hearted as some of the Robins. He has a mother and a younger brother (tho’ his father was murdered) and even a girlfriend. The solid black suit with a red bat symbol is more technically advanced, with jet packs that allow real flight (so the cape is gone). It also has a video and audio link to the Cave where Bruce advises Terry. Throughout the series The Joker’s been missing but a gang of trouble-makers called Jokerz have caused Terry and the city of New Gotham trouble. It’s a cyber-punked/21st century Batman rather than the Art Deco/30s/Film Noir look of Batman: The Animated Series.

This film opens with Batman breaking up a theft of electronic equipment by the Jokerz. All goes well, but when he discusses it later with Bruce, Terry’s confused, because high-end electronics and computers aren’t normally the Jokerz’ style — they usually go for quick cash. Bruce dismissed the theft as “looking for stuff they could fence”. Bruce, perhaps, has too much on his mind — he’s returning to be the active head of Wayne Enterprises.

The Joker (again, voiced by Mark Hamill, as he was in B:TAS) breaks up the party welcoming back Bruce. Terry changes into the Batsuit and rescues Bruce and the party-goers but the Joker gets away. At the Cave, he insists Bruce fill him in on the background of the Joker. Bruce merely insists that Joker is dead, saying he was there when it happened. Terry jumps to the conclusion Bruce killed Joker, he had no choice, then stopped being Batman. Bruce refuses to comment. He also forbids Terry to go after Joker and even asks for the suit back.

Terry goes to see Barbara Gordon. Barbara refuses to talk, only mentioning Tim Drake (Robin # 3).  Terry sees Tim, but gets no answers from him either.

Deciding he will quit, Terry is relieved to spend time with his family and Dana, his girlfriend. But the Jokerz show up at the club Terry and Dana frequent and try to kidnap the girl. They also try to kill Terry. After speaking with the police, and checking on Dana, Terry goes to see Bruce. But he’s too late — Ace, Bruce’s protective Great Dane is injured, and Bruce is unconscious with a hideous smile on his face. The Cave is a wreck, the costume displays destroyed, and “Ha Ha” written in red everywhere. Bruce, between laughs, manages to point Terry to the anti-toxin for the Joker’s laughing gas, and Terry gives him a shot, then calls Barbara.

Barbara Gordon, who was once Batgirl and is now Police Commissioner Gordon, decides to explain what happened in the past. In a well-executed flashback, we learn what happened:  Harley Quinn had set-up young Robin, Tim Drake, and he is kidnapped by the Joker. Batman and Batgirl search for him for three weeks. Finally, Joker leaves them a blatant clue — Batman and Batgirl follow, and discover the horrifying truth:  Tim/Robin was tortured, electrocuted, drugged, beaten, and finally programmed to be Joker Jr. They find him complete with the white face, green hair, and a miniature purple suit. But merely turning Robin into a copy of himself isn’t enough for Joker — he also orders the boy to shoot and kill Batman. (Batgirl is meanwhile somewhere else in the now abandoned Arkham Asylum fighting Harley Quinn). But Tim shoots, and kills, Joker instead. Barbara rushes to Tim, as does Batman.

In the present, Barbara explains they buried Joker then took Tim to Dr. Leslie Thompkins, who took a year to put him back together again. After that, Batman forbade him to ever put on the Robin suit. It was the disastrous final clash with Joker that caused Bruce to forbid Terry from going after the super villain.

Terry, meanwhile, is trying to find out what’s going on. Evidence leads to Tim, yet Tim claims to be innocent. However, in front of Terry (in the Batsuit) and Bruce’s (at home in the cave, barely recovered) eyes Tim turns into Joker — victim of a transmitter containing Joker DNA that takes over his subconscience and brain. It’s basically like a scientific explanation of the “split personality” villain. Tim isn’t even aware that the Joker is piggy-backing in his body, thinking any memories are only bad dreams. Joker plans to take over a government laser defense satellite, using telecom equipment stolen by the Jokerz and Tim’s know-how to put it together. He’s already blown-up a boat, and now plans to strike close to home for Terry:  blowing up the hospital where Dana’s recovering, blowing up Terry’s home where his Mom and brother are, and blowing up Wayne Manor and Bruce — just to get started. However, Terry has discovered the secret to defeating the Joker, which is does, then he destroys the control chip in Tim’s head, bringing the man back to normal.

An excellent movie, yes, it is like a longer version of a Batman Beyond episode, but it was also quite dark — especially the torture of Tim Drake, and Bruce and Barbara covering up a murder. There’s also some extremely effective visuals. The film is enjoyable tho’, with the saucy dialog common to Batman Beyond, and it answered some questions — where was the Joker? What happened to Tim Drake? What caused Bruce to give up the Batsuit? (something touched on in the series premiere as well). But it also didn’t answer everything — Nightwing / Dick Grayson is mentioned, a couple of times, but it’s never explained what happened to him.

Recommendation: See it! Buy it!
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Batman Mask of the Phantasm

 

  • Title: Batman Mask of the Phantasm
  • Directors: Eric Radomski, Bruce W. Timm
  • Voice Direction: Andrea Romano
  • Date: 1993
  • Studio: Warner Brothers
  • Genre: Mystery, Action, Animation
  • Cast: Kevin Conroy, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Dana Delany, Mark Hamill, Stacy Keach Jr., Abe Vigoda, Bob Hastings,
  • Format: Color Animation, Widescreen
  • Length: 76 Minutes
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC, Double-sided Standard/Widescreen

“I know I made a promise, but I didn’t see this coming. I didn’t count on being happy. Please, tell me it’s OK.’ ” Bruce Wayne to his parents’ grave

“The way I see it, the only one in this room controlled by his parents is you.” Andrea Beaumont to Batman

The first in a series of animated movies that followed the very successful DC Animated Universe on WB and it’s associated networks (Cartoon Network, Boomerang), Batman Mask of the Phantasm is a promising start. The film opens with wonderful art deco titles, and quickly moves into the plot: someone is killing top gangsters in Gotham City, and a new congressman assumes it’s Batman and makes him Public Enemy # 1. Meanwhile, an old girlfriend of Bruce’s — Andrea Beaumont, has returned to town.

Much of the film is flashbacks to their blossoming relationship, from their first meeting in a graveyard – Bruce, visiting his parents, overhears Andrea talking to her (dead) mother – to their courtship, and Bruce eventually proposing (a proposal quickly shattered by the emergence of a huge number of bats from a nearby cave). Bruce even decides that he would put aside the cape and cowl, and his mission, to be with Andrea. However, she sends his ring back the next day, and Bruce adapts the Bat as his symbol. He’d been working on a costume, something to scare criminals, but hadn’t quite gotten it perfected yet at that point in time.

In the present, Batman is trying to discover who is killing off these old gangsters, a crime being pinned on him no less. Gradually he discovers all the gangsters were clients of Andrea’s father (some sort of accountant or investment banker, it’s not really spelled out), however, he assumes it’s Andrea’s father responsible for the crimes.

The Joker shows up, voiced by Mark Hamill, as he was in Batman: The Animated Series, to wreak havoc. The “Phantasm” (not actually named as such in the film) confronts Joker, the last one involved in Beaumont’s forced exile from Gotham and eventual death, only to be unmasked – it’s Andrea. Batman arrives, and fights Joker in the now decrepit World’s Fair grounds, which, ironically, were dedicated to portraying a brighter future. Batman and Joker fight in the 1/3rd scale “city” appearing like Godzilla and King Kong – Joker even sends a group of toy airplanes after Batman. But Joker has an ace up his sleeve — he’s rigged the entire place to explode. Batman is able to stop Andrea from killing the Joker, and escapes himself, but fears Andrea is dead (she’s not, we see her leaving Gotham by boat, but she’s not talking either).

This film had the producers of Batman: The Animated Series experimenting with a longer format for the first time. Aspects do work — there’s some great filming, and the plot is nice and complex with enough twists and turns for just over an hour. There’s one scene where Batman, having chased the “Phantasm” ends up in a graveyard — he suddenly realizes he’s in the graveyard where his parents are buried. And there is a wonderful shot of Batman looking at the Wayne grave, and we see the shadow of Batman’s outline fall on the grave. It’s a shot worthy of Citizen Kane in all the complexity of what it suggests: about Bruce, about Thomas and Martha Wayne, about the effects one act of violence had on a life. And Andrea too was affected – the night Bruce proposes to her, her father announces they have to go on the run – the mob wants money from him, money he doesn’t have. Both Bruce and Andrea are robbed of any chance of being happy. But the Bruce/Andrea romance is also, in a way, the downfall of the story. Bruce in love just doesn’t work the way, say Clark Kent’s romance with Lois Lane’s does. Or even Bruce’s occasional flirting with Wonder Woman does (see Justice League and Justice League Unlimited). Bruce may flirt, he deliberately brings “eye candy” to his social functions, but he’s way too dedicated to his night job to get serious with any woman.

And, oddly enough, though well played by Mark Hamill, Joker seems almost like an after-thought to the film. He’s not orchestrating events at all, but merely reacting to them. This makes him seem oddly under-used, though there are some great moments with the Joker anyway.

And, finally, for a mystery, the film ends with a giant plot-hole. We know the “Phantasm” killed the mobsters, and that “he” is a “she”— Andrea Beaumont. Bruce knows this as well, and thinks she’s dead at the end of the film. But the cops don’t know that. Just how was Batman planning on convincing them? When they’d chased him all over Gotham City trying to kill him?

But, overall, a good try – and successful enough for an additional string of DC Animated films to be made, most of which I have.

By the way, for the curious, the DC Animated Universe is: Batman the Animated Series, Superman the Animated Series, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, and Batman Beyond, plus various movies. Don’t ask me to put them in order — I originally saw them widely out-of-order, tho’ I now own all on DVD but Superman.

Recommendation: For the serious Batman collector, a “should have”, but otherwise rent it.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Star Wars Return of the Jedi

  • Title:  Star Wars Return of the Jedi
  • Director:  Richard Marquand
  • Date:  1983
  • Studio:  20th Century Fox
  • Genre:  SF, Fantasy, Action, Adventure
  • Cast:  Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Frank Oz, Alec Guinness
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Nevertheless, I’m taking Captain Solo and his friends you can either profit by this or be destroyed.  It’s your choice but I warn you not to underestimate my powers.”  — Luke

“When 900 years old you reach, look as good you will not.”  — Yoda

“Twilight is upon me and soon night must fall, that is the way of  things, the way of the Force.”  — Yoda

“Anger, fear, oppression, the Dark Side are they.  Once you start down the dark path forever will it dominate your destiny.”  — Yoda

“Your father was seduced by the Dark Side of  the Force.  He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Dark Vader.  When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed.  So what I told you was true… from a certain point of view.”  — Obi-Wan Kenobi

Return of the Jedi again starts with a crawl updating the audience to the plot, and reminiscent of very old movie serials.  There is an impressive opening shot of a very large and long ship approaching a partially constructed Death Star.  The sequence has several impressive model shots as well, including:  two star destroyers, shuttles, and the moon with the Death Star itself.

On Tatooine, R2-D2 and C3PO are in the desert, they approach Jabba’s palace.  Inside, R2-D2 plays a message from Luke Skywalker.  He wishes to bargain for Han Solo’s life, and gives Jabba R2-D2 and C3PO as gifts (don’t worry it’s all part of the plan).  The droids are indoctrinated into Jabba’s workforce in a scene which includes shots of droids being tortured (one is having it’s feet burned with red-hot horseshoes, another is being pulled apart at the arm and hip sockets).  Jabba’s palace has an 1001 Nights aspect to it, and it’s full of music, aliens, and dancing girls.  Jabba kills his slave girl, dropping her into a pit.  A bounty hunter comes in with Chewbacca, haggling with Jabba (via C3PO’s translations) to get a higher price.  Lando is also hiding in Jabba’s palace in disguise.  Later that night, the “bounty hunter” rescues Han.  He’s frozen in Carbonite and she de-freezes him.  She’s Princess Leia.  Han is basically OK, though temporarily blind.  Jabba quickly captures Han again.  Leia is brought to be Jabba’s slave girl, and Han is imprisoned with Chewbacca.  Luke, dressed in black and cloaked, arrives.  Luke uses his Jedi mind tricks on one of Jabba’s guards, but they don’t work on Jabba.  Luke threatens Jabba for Han and Leia’s lives, but Jabba is over-confident and drops Luke in the Bantha pit.  Luke kills the Bantha monster and the Bantha Keeper is devastated.  However, Luke in unable to rescue Han at the time and the entire group is taken to Jabba’s sail barge to be taken to the desert where they will be executed by another monster – Jabba thinks.

On the barge, Luke will be forced to walk the plank – but instead he performs some very impressive gymnastics and grabs his light-sabre that R2-D2 has sent sailing into the air.  The Star Wars theme swells.  Luke fights Jabba’s creatures and rescues Han and Chewbacca, then heads to rescue Lando. Leia tries to free herself and also kills  Jabba.  Leia also rescues R2-D2.  She points the huge gun on the sail barge at the deck, set to blow.  Luke and Leia swing to safety on a smaller desert hover boat where Han, Chewbacca, and Lando await.  The two droids dive into the desert sand, and are picked up by the smaller boat.  The sail barge is destroyed.

Luke heads off to Dagobah with R2-D2.  The rest are on the Millennium Falcon heading for the alliance fleet.

Meanwhile, Darth Vader and an extremely impressive parade of troops great the Emperor.  The Emperor urges Vader to wait for Luke to seek him out and together they will turn Luke to the Dark Side.

Meanwhile, Luke visits Yoda on Dagobah.  Yoda is dying.  Luke is devastated to lose his mentor, but handles it without the anger of his younger days.  Yoda also avoids Luke’s questions, but mentions a mysterious “other”.  After Yoda’s demise, the ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi appears.  He confirms what Luke knows – Vader is his father … and also tells him Leia is his sister (Luke half figures this out himself).  Luke now knows he must confront Vader — but he’s convinced there is still good in his father.

Meanwhile the Alliance, including Han Solo, Lando, Chewbacca, Leia, and in the background, Wedge, as well as a full room of others goes over their plans.  A female general/diplomat reviews information received from “Bonthan spies”, then turns the meeting over to Admiral Ackbar to explain the details of the attack.  Lando will lead the fighter strike team in the Millennium Falcon which Han gives him.  Han, Leia, Chewbacca, C3PO, and R2-D2 will go to Endor to knock out the Shield Generator.  Luke arrives just as the plans and teams are being finalized and joins Han and Leia.

On Endor, Han and Luke encounter a pair of Storm Troopers and the speeder bike chase ensues.  Leia falls off her bike.  Luke returns to Han and company.  Meanwhile, Leia meets and befriends an Ewok – a sort of primitive walking teddy bear.  Leia is nearly captured by a pair of storm-troopers but she manages to defeat them herself.

Meanwhile, on the Emperor’s ship, Vader reports that a Rebel force has landed on Endor, including Luke. The Emperor orders Vader to Endor.  Luke will come to Vader who will bring him to the Emperor.

Meanwhile, Luke, Han, and company are looking for Leia — they don’t find her, but get caught in a trap. Though they get themselves free, they are captured by Ewoks.  The Ewoks worship C3PO.

They are taken to the Ewok village.  Leia appears.  Luke uses the Force to raise C3PO’s chair and the group is set free.  Leia kisses Han.  At the feast that evening, C3PO tells the gathered Ewoks the story so far complete with sound effects.  The Ewoks look on in stunned amazement.  Luke, Han, and everyone are inducted into the Tribe.

Luke and Leia speak to each other.  First, Luke asks Leia about her mother.  He then tells her, Darth Vader is his father.  Then he tells Leia she truly is the last hope of  the alliance, she’s his sister and has the power of the Force too.  He wanders off, because he’s a danger to the main Alliance mission.  Han arrives.  Han gets a bit angry that Leia’s honest with Luke but won’t tell him what’s wrong.  Of course, Han has no idea what Luke’s just told Leia.

Luke turns himself  in to Vader.  Despite Luke insisting there’s good in Anakin Skywalker, Vader turns him over to the Emperor.

Han and his team check out the shield generator on Endor.

Lando and his space fleet make the jump to hyperspace under Ackbar’s orders.

The Ewoks lead Han and his team to the back door of the bunker.  An Ewok steals a speeder bike and draws off some of  the troops.  Unforunately when they walk into the bunker…

Vader brings Luke to the Emperor.  The Emperor gloats that Luke’s friends are walking into a trap.  The space battle attack on the death star has to break off and a space battle ensues.

Han, Leia, and Chewbacca face a legion of storm troopers.  C3PO baits the storm troopers into a trap and the Ewoks attack.  Before long an all-out battle occurs between storm troopers and Ewoks.  The Ewoks do well but many are also killed.

The Ewok battle on Endor is intercut with the battle in space between Lando’s group and the Emperor’s fighters.

The Emperor, again, gloating has the Death Star attack and destroy a rebel ship.

On Endor, R2-D2 gets hit by laser fire.  Han tries to hot wire the bunker door.  More Ewoks are killed. Lando continues to lead the fight.

The Emperor continues to goad Luke.  Luke grabs his light-sabre but Vader blocks his attack on the Emperor.

The Ewoks begin to succeed again in their battle with the Emperor’s troops.

Leia is injured as she tries to cover Han at the door.  Chewbacca commandeers an Imperial Walker.

Luke fights Vader, then stops.  Vader strikes out at Luke and Luke counters him.  Vader throws his light-sabre at Luke,

The space battle continues.

Han and Chewbacca pull one over on the Imperial troops.

Luke plays cat-and-mouse with Vader and insists he won’t fight him.  When Vader realizes Leia is Luke’s sister and says he will convert her to the Dark Side.  Luke fights back, hard, now angry.  The Emperor arrives, and Luke, looking at his own mechanical hand, and Vader’s wrist where he’s cut off his hand, stops, and tells the Emperor he’ll never turn to the Dark Side.  Luke throws aside his light-sabre.

Back on Endor, the bunker is destroyed.  In space, the attack on the Death Star commences.

The Emperor attacks Luke with lightening bolts.  Luke pleas to his father for help.  Vader grabs the Emperor and throws him into the well of a power reactor, saving Luke, but getting electrocuted in the process.

During the space battle a rebel ship hits a star destroyer and it sinks, crashing into the planet.  Luke drags Vader to an escape craft.  Vader asks Luke to remove his mask so he can look at Luke with his own eyes.

Luke escapes in the shuttle.  The Death Star is destroyed.  Han assures Leia that Luke wasn’t on the Death Star when it blew.  Leia quietly responds that she knows.  Han offers to not get in the way when Luke returns.  Leia explains Luke is her brother, then kisses Han.

Luke burns his father’s body.

Everyone reunites at the Ewok celebration.  Luke wanders off and he sees the ghosts of his father, Yoda, and Obi-Wan Kenobi before Leia brings him back to the party.

The conclusion to the Star Wars trilogy is actually quite good and satisfying.  It’s best in it’s quiet moments – Luke’s conversations with Yoda and Ben (Obi-Wan); Luke’s explaining his background to Leia; even Leia explaining to Han that Luke’s actually her brother and she’s in love with Han.  The film also uses short set pieces and in the last half-hour/forty-five minutes a lot of inter-cutting.  This stops the film from bogging down.  Yes, the film is the Hero’s Journey but it’s well executed, especially as at the time true fantasy heroes journey’s were seldom the subject of  popular entertainment films.  Luke is much more mature here, so much so, that I wondered just how long Han was stuck in Carbonite, since Luke has finished his training.  Leia also seems a bit older, and more ready to take on responsibility, though her character doesn’t grow as much as Luke or even Han.

Return of  the Jedi also has a lot of great lines.  Like all of  the Star Wars trilogy the writing is very quotable, which makes the film fun to watch.  All the leads also do a good job.  Mark Hamill is no longer playing the “whiny farm boy” but has grown and matured. Han Solo has discovered the importance of caring for people instead of just himself and Chewie.  Only Leia, though always strong, seems to have not changed much… though she does more or less propose to Han.

Recommendation:  See it, a true classic.
Rating:  5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Sting

Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back

  • Title:  Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back
  • Director:  Irvin Kershner
  • Date:  1980
  • Studio:  20th Century Fox
  • Genre:  SF, Adventure, Action
  • Cast:  Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Frank Oz, Julian Glover, Michael Sheard, John Razenberger
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Wars not make one great.”  — Yoda

“Do or do not.  There is no try.” — Yoda

“Size matters not.  Look at me – judge me by my size do you?  Hum?  And well you should not.  For my ally is the Force.  And a powerful ally it is.  Life creates it, makes it grow, it’s energy surrounds us and binds us.” — Yoda

“I love you.” — Leia
“I know.”  — Han

“Luke, we can destroy the Emperor, he has foreseen this.  It is your destiny.  Join me and together we can rule the Galaxy as father and son!”  — Darth Vader

Like Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back opens with a crawl, describing what’s going on and remarking that it’s “a dark time for the Rebellion” despite the success of destroying the Death Star.  This proves true, as Empire can be arguably seen as the darkest of the three original trilogy Star Wars movies.  The movie itself opens with the Empire launching robotic probes to find Luke Skywalker and the rebels he leads.   One such probe lands on a glacier.

This is the ice planet Hoth, where Luke, Han, Leia, and a group of rebels, part of the Alliance, are hiding. Han and Luke are on patrol, each riding a cold-weather animal called a Taun Taun, something like a furry cross between a camel and a kangaroo.  They are finishing up their patrol, and Han tells Luke he’s headed back to the Rebel base.  Luke agrees, but mentions he wants to check out a meteor.  They agree to meet back at camp.  Han returns to the camp and tells the general that he really must leave, he has a price on his head and it won’t be lifted until he pays off Jabba the Hutt.  The general, though upset to lose Han, agrees to his leaving.  Chewbacca and C3PO work on fixing the Millennium Falcon.  Leia confronts Han about his leaving.  They still spark and fight, as in Star Wars, but it’s evident that the two have some affection for each other beneath their arguing.

Luke is attacked by an Abominable Snowman-like creature and taken to an ice cave.  He manages to escape, in part by using the force to pull his light sabre to his hand.  He wanders out into the snow, where he has a vision of Obi-Wan Kenobi, who urges him to go to the Dagobah System to complete his Jedi training under Yoda, a great Jedi master and teacher.  Luke then collapses from the cold.

Meanwhile, the rebels have realised that Luke is missing.  Though the general thinks it’s too late to go looking for Luke (the extreme cold makes it dangerous to be outside late at night or during blizzards) Han insists on looking for Luke anyway.  He takes his Taun Taun to search for Luke.  He finds Luke, and cuts open his own now dead Taun Taun to place Luke inside while he builds a thermal shelter.

At the rebel alliance base, the search parties have been recalled.  At the general’s insistence, Leia orders the shield doors be closed for the night.  Chewbacca cries out in mourning when the door is shut, because Han hasn’t returned.  The next day, speeder patrols are sent out to find the two.  They do find both Luke and Han and bring them to base.  Han is OK, Luke is treated for exposure and frostbite but basically he’s OK too.

Han and Chewbacca find an Imperial Probe Droid.  The rebel general decides to evacuate.

Vader orders an attack on Hoth.

Leia addresses the fighters who will escort the transports off the planet.  She ends with “good luck” and from the sound of things, they’ll need it.

The rebel speeders attack the Imperial walkers invading Hoth.  The walkers are like metal combat elephants.  Very quickly during the battle, Luke realizes their blasters can’t penetrate the armor, and advises using harpoons and tow cables around the legs of the walkers, causing them to collapse.  This does work.

The battle between the Rebel snow speeders and the Imperial walkers, though it takes place on a snowy field, is also on a very bright sunny day!

Getting back to the battle, after losing his gunner, and one successful pass leading a harpoon ship, Luke is hit and crashes into the snow.

Han rushes to the command center to check on Leia, urging her to leave.  She issues the evacuation order.  Although the rebels had some success against the walkers, over all it’s a rout.  As Han is leading Leia away, the tunnel ahead of them collapses.  He tells the rebels he’ll get her out on the Falcon, and they head back the other way.  Han, Leia, Chewbacca, and C3PO end up on the Millennium Falcon.

Vader enters the nearly empty rebel base.  The Millennium Falcon escapes.  Luke and R2-D2 get to an X-wing, but Luke heads for Dagobah, not the Alliance rendezvous.

Three star destroyers and TIE fighters chase the  Millennium Falcon.  One star destroyer actually manages to physically hit another one, leaving one to go after the Falcon.  When the hyper-drive fails, Han knows he’s in trouble.  Han and Chewbacca try to fix the ship while in flight, when they encounter an asteroid field.  Han flies into the field, because he knows the Imperial ships won’t follow him.  He impressively loops the Falcon and lands in a cave on an asteroid.

Meanwhile, Luke splash-lands on Dagobah.  R2-D2 falls into the swamp, is attacked by a creature, and is spit out.  Luke gets his camping gear together and tries to figure out what to do.  He meets Yoda, whom, at first, he doesn’t recognize — and he thinks is actually somewhat annoying.  But when Yoda takes him to his home, and has a conversation with the dead Obi Wan Kenobi – Luke realizes this is the Jedi Master he seeks.  Yoda is hesitant, but agrees to teach the young Jedi.

Meanwhile, Vader’s ships fail to find the Millennium Falcon.  Vader kneels before the Emperor for a holographic conversation.  Vader suggests “the son of  Skywalker be turned”.

Han, Chewbacca, and C3PO work on fixing the Millennium Falcon, and even Leia helps.  But something attacks the ship while they are in the cave.  They go out to investigate, and find Mymocks, some type of  bat-like creatures with suckers stuck on the ship.  Han suddenly realises he’s made a big mistake — they all get back in his ship and barely escape.  They weren’t in a cave, but a giant space worm with teeth!  Han lands the Falcon on one of  the Star Destroyers, which gives an incredible sense of  scale.  He manually detaches and floats away with the rest of  the garbage the Empire dumps before going to hyper-space.  They float away and then head for Bespin and Lando Calrissian.

Yoda starts training Luke — physical training, and exercises in using the Force.  He also tries to explain what the Force really is and how it supplies power to a Jedi.  And he warns Luke about the Dark Side of  the Force.  Yoda tells Luke, “When you are calm, at peace, passive… a Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense.  Never for attack.”  They arrive at a cave, where Luke feels cold.  Yoda tells him the cave is strong with the Dark Side, and urges Luke to go in.  Luke starts to strap on his weapons, but Yoda says he won’t need them.  Luke takes them anyway.  Inside the cave, Luke sees Vader… he draws his light sabre and attacks, but when he cuts off  Vader’s head he sees his own face in the helmet.  Yoda continues Luke’s training, but he gets distracted by R2-D2.  Yoda then raises Luke’s ship out of  the swamp, something Luke was unable to do because he did not believe he could do it.

Vader, meanwhile has hired bounty hunters, including Boba Fett, to find Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon.

Yoda continues to train Luke, and urges that Luke learn control.  Luke sees a city in the clouds, and sees his friends in trouble, sensing that they are in pain.  Yoda says Luke has seen the future.  Luke asks if his friends will die.  Yoda says he doesn’t know.  Yoda also urges caution, but Luke wants to go to his friends to help them.  Yoda admits that if he goes he could help them, but if he goes he will also endanger everything his friends stand for.  Ben urges patience, and Yoda urges that Luke wait.  Patience is not Luke’s strong suit.  Luke leaves Dagobah but promises to return to finish his training.  Ben says “that boy was our last hope” but Yoda says “there is another”.

Han Solo has landed in Bespin, a mining colony in the clouds.  Lando says he’s independent, with no Imperial oversight and not part of the mining guild.  But he turns them over to Vader… saying Imperial troops arrived first and he has no choice.  Chewbacca is tortured with sound.  Han is tortured with burning heat.  When Han and Leia are reunited in a cell, Han remarks that they didn’t even ask any questions, and he can’t understand that.  Lando enters the cell, and explains they are after Skywalker.

Vader decided to test the carbon freeze unit with Captain Solo.  Chewbacca fights for Han, but Han calms him down, tells him to care for the princess (Leia).  Han and Leia kiss and for the first time, Leia tells Han she loves him.  His response is, “I know”.  Han is put in carbon freeze but survives.  Han is now a monolith in perfect hibernation.

Vader asks that the princess and the wookie (Chewbacca) be taken to his ship.  Lando’s starting to catch on that he can’t trust Vader, as his “deal” is getting worse by the second.

Luke arrives.  He and Vader clash in an epic light sabre battle.  The battle has three major set-pieces and is inter-woven with other parts of  the plot.

First Luke and Vader crash in the carbon-freeze room, and Luke extracts himself  from the freezing unit before Vader can use it on him.

Lando and his men arrest the Imperial stormtroopers.  They free Leia, Chewbacca and C3PO.  Boba Fett has frozen Han placed in his cargo hold.  C3PO meets up with R2-D2.  They try to catch up to Han Solo but see Boba Fett’s ship leave.

The film returns to Vader and Luke’s light sabre battle.  Vader encourages Luke to turn to the dark side path.  Luke is sucked out a Cloud City window.

Lando urges a city-wide evacuation, telling people they are on their own.  Lando, Leia, Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C3PO make it to the Millennium Falcon despite being caught in a running laser blaster battle. The Falcon takes off.

Luke rescues himself and for the third time fights Vader.  Vader cuts off Luke’s hand and he loses his light sabre.  Vader tells Luke he’s his father.  At first, Luke doesn’t believe it, then doesn’t want to believe it.  Vader tries to convince Luke to join him, to defeat the Emperor, and to rule as father and son.  Luke escapes down a tunnel and lands on an antenna at the bottom of  Bespin.  Luke calls for Ben for help. Then he calls for Leia.  She senses him.  Leia sees Luke, the Falcon rescues him.  The hyper-drive on the Falcon re-engages thanks to R2-D2.  Chewbacca and Lando take the Millennium Falcon to search for Han.  Luke gets an artificial hand.  Luke, Leia, C3PO and R2-D2 look out a window at a galaxy and the Falcon leaving.

The Empire Strikes Back is darker than Star Wars.  Rather than a fairy tale or fantasy film like Star Wars, this film focuses on the Rebel Alliance which is in trouble, and develops the characters who learn and grow.  Luke is well on his way to truly becoming a Jedi Knight.  Han, though he still talks about leaving, is showing his loyalty to Luke and to Leia.  And Leia herself, the most experienced person of  the three in terms of leading the rebellion, is starting to feel something for Han.  There’s also the hint of  something between her and Luke.  But yes, the Empire does strike back, and our heroes are in trouble even though they escape definite capture by the end of  the film, all that is except Han Solo.

Rather than the harsh white/black/grey color palette of the first film, Empire is more colorful… from the greens of  Dagobah’s swamp to the blues of  the carbon freeze room at Bespin.  This contrasts with the darker plot of  the film.

A second thing to notice about both Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, is the use of  language… specifically accents to denote groups.  The Imperial admirals, generals, and lieutenants generally all speak with British accents (and very precise ones at that).  The Rebels are generally American.  Notable exceptions are James Earl Jones as Vader’s voice, though David Prowse was in the costume, and Alec Guinness as Obi Wan Kenobi.  Although this doesn’t consciously affect the viewer, subconsciously it sets the two groups apart.  However, it was most probably an accident not a deliberate choice:  much of  the Star Wars films were filmed at English studios and many British character actors (including Peter Cushing, Julian Glover, Michael Sheard, and even Alec Guinness) were hired on site.  Of course, the film was an American film and main casting took place in the US.  Lucas (executive producer on Empire) hired people he had worked with before or that were young and new.  But I still thing the obvious class differences between the Empire and the Rebels add to the film.

Highly, highly recommended, a must see!

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Star Wars  Return of  the Jedi

Star Wars

  • Title:  Star Wars (aka Star Wars IV:  A New Hope)
  • Director:  George Lucas
  • Date:  1977
  • Studio:  20th Century Fox
  • Genre:  SF, Fantasy, Adventure
  • Cast:  Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Alec Guinness, Peter Cushing
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Your father’s light sabre.  This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight.  Not as clumsy or random as a blaster.  An elegant weapon, for a more civilized age.”  — Obi-Wan Kenobi

“The force is what gives a Jedi his power.  It’s an energy field created by all living things, it surrounds us and penetrates us, it binds the Galaxy together.”  — Obi-Wan Kenobi

“I want to come with you to Alderaan.  There’s nothing for me here now.  I want to learn the ways of  the force and become a Jedi like my father.”  — Luke

“I’m Luke Skywalker, I’m here to rescue you!”  — Luke

Hands down one of my favorite movies, ever!  Star Wars is the classic science fantasy film, mixing the cultural mysticism of Old Japan, with the classic tale of farm boy who wants adventure, then he becomes very important.

The film opens with a scroll revealing this is “Episode IV” like the old movie serials from the 1930s. This catches up on the plot for a “pre-quel” that in 1977 didn’t exist, but it explains the background for what’s going on.  We see an impressive, but small ship being chased and shot at — then a shot of a much, much larger ship chasing it.  The ship seems to go on forever.  It’s blasting lasers at the smaller ship.

Inside the ship we meet two ‘Droids (or androids), R2-D2 and C3PO.  R2-D2 communicates only in whistles and beeps (meant to suggest machine language) though we have an idea what he’s saying from C3PO’s responses.  C3PO, a “protocol” droid and translator, seems a bit like a bad butler.  The entire ship is swallowed by the larger one.  Imperial Storm Troopers in metallic white armor burst in. Vader strangles one of the rebels, and Princess Leia is stunned unconscious.

R2-D2 and C3PO leave the ship in an escape pod.  Because the pod registers no life signs, the Imperial troops let it get away.  They land on a dessert planet.  Jawas, dessert scavengers, pick up the two droids.
The Storm Troopers arrive, thinking the “plans” are hidden in the pod, then find evidence of droids and tracks.

Meanwhile, the Jawas arrange their droids to sell.  Luke and his Uncle Owen take first C3PO and then R2-D2 from the Jawas and bring them back to their farm.

Luke stumbles on to part of Leia’s message while cleaning R2-D2.  He claims he’s the property of Obi-Wan Kenobi.  Luke discusses going to “the Academy” with Uncle Owen, but Owen wants him to stay and help with the harvest.  R2-D2 goes off on his own in search of Kenobi.

The next morning, Luke and C3PO search for R2-D2 and find him.  They’re attacked by Sand People.  Obi-Wan Kenobi rescues Luke, and the droids.  Obi-Wan fills Luke in on some of  his father’s history, and gives him a light sabre.  He starts to teach Luke about the Force, and they listen to Leia’s full message hologram.  Kenobi asks Luke to help go to Alderaan.  Luke says he can’t.  Then they find the Jawas attacked and destroyed, it’s meant to look like Sand People were responsible, but Obi-Wan realizes Imperial Storm Troopers were responsible.

On Vader’s ship they discuss the disappearance of  the plans, and Vadar strangles a man using the Force.

Luke rushes home, but the farm’s been destroyed and his Aunt and Uncle burned to death.  He returns to the Jawa site, meets with Kenobi, and vows to go with him, learn the ways of  the Force, and become a Jedi Knight like his father.  They head for Mos Eisley spaceport, the famous “hive of scum and villainy”. There they meet Chewbacca and Han Solo and book passage on the Millennium Falcon.  Luke sells his speeder to get cash.

Imperial troopers show up at the space port and there’s a brief laser gun fight.  The Millennium Falcon escapes the Imperial cruisers by making the jump to light speed and cruising into hyperspace.  During the brief trip, Obi-Wan Kenobi begins to train Luke in the use of  a light sabre.  When they arrive at Alderaan, it’s in the middle of  a meteor shower.  And the planet isn’t there.

We’d seen Vader coldly and calmly use the Death Star to destroy the entire planet, Leia’s home, and one she insists is peaceful with no weapons.  Obi-Wan Kenobi had felt the tremor in the force, the millions of lives silenced, and nearly collapsed, while aboard the Falcon, in hyper-space.

Back on the Falcon, they see a small moon near Alderaan, or what was, Alderaan.  Quickly, Luke, Han, and Obi-Wan realize it’s a space station and they better get out of there.  But they are pulled into a tractor beam.  When the ship lands, the Imperial Troopers think no one’s on board, as they had all hidden in Han’s smuggling compartments.

Obi-Wan Kenobi will take care of the tractor beam.  The rest are to check for info, but stay put.  However, R2-D2 plugs into a Imperial computer port, downloads data, and finds Leia and that she’s scheduled for execution.  Luke convinces Han to rescue Leia.  Han reluctantly agrees.  They rescue Leia, get caught by troopers trying to escape, and Leia blows a hole in the wall with a blaster rifle and they end up in the garbage compactor.  Luke calls C3PO for help and they barely escape.

Getting back to the Falcon isn’t so easy, with more blaster battles.  Everyone gets to the Falcon, but Kenobi is fighting Vader.  Luke sees this on the other side of the hanger deck.  Vader kills Kenobi, and Luke angrily fires at any Imperial storm trooper he can.  The Falcon escapes, after a space battle against TIE fighters, but Leia insists “they let us escape”.

She’s right, the Death Star follows them to the rebel base at Yavin, on a nearby moon. The rebels study the plans and come up with a plan.  Small, one-man fighters (X-wings), will fly through a trench and send photon torpedoes through a 2-meter thermal vent.  If placed directly, and perfectly on target, the torpedo will reach the center of  the moon’s reactor, blow it up and cause a chain reaction to blow up the entire Death Star.

Luke, Wedge, and two squadrons of rebel pilots, head for the Death Star to make their attack run. Meanwhile, Leia and the rebels watch battle screens and listen.  They watch as the Death Star comes closer and closer, knowing that when or if  it clears the planet, they are all dead.  And they listen as the rebel pilots, one by one, die — either in collisions in the trench, blown up by Imperial TIE fighters, or destroyed by anti-aircraft batteries on the Death Star.  Finally, it’s down to Wedge and Luke.  Wedge gets a bit cooked and has to pull out (but he survives).  Han Solo arrives in the Falcon, and destroys two TIE fighters, and clips Vader’s fighter so it rolls off  into space.  Luke disables his targeting computer, and let’s the force guide him to make the shot.  He succeeds.

Later he and Han reunite with Leia and are congratulated.  Both receive awards at a huge ceremony. Chewbacca is also honored and  R2-D2 and C3PO are present at the ceremony.

Star Wars is a fun movie – but it has a lot to say too.

The color palette is bright white, black, and grey.  There’s occasional pops of blue, orange, and brown. But mostly it’s white, black and grey – which gives the film an almost monochromatic look, even though it’s a color film.  And, the sharp whites and blacks add to the feel of being in space.  Despite the obvious fantasy elements of  the film, the star fields, uni-directional lighting and such, feel like space.  Even when R2-D2 is in the back of Luke’s X-Wing fighter, his normally blue markings look black because there’s no light in space to see the blue.

The plot, about an orphan who discovers he is meant for greater things also isn’t that different – after all Frodo Baggins and Harry Potter are also orphans.  The farm boy who longs for adventure, and finds it is an old idea, a classic idea.  And in part, Star Wars, is a classic fantasy tale – with a princess to be rescued and plenty of sword play and (blaster) gun battles.  We even have the old mentor, Merlin-like, teaching the young boy.

But far from being derivative – Star Wars brings all these elements together and cooks them up into something no one had seen in 1977, and the film is still popular, even legendary today.  Because of  the futuristic fantasy setting, it doesn’t feel “old”, unlike many science fiction films (or even buddy cop films or musicals or other genre films).  And that is because the film was made with so much care and precision and the young cast is brilliant.  The script is also brilliant – as the many famous quotes from it bare out. After all, who doesn’t know what “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for?” means or where “May the Force be with you” comes from?  It’s just a brilliant, brilliant film.

The film, like Raiders of  the Lost Ark (1981), is actually split into relatively short sections (again, inspired by movie serials), which allow for a more complicated plot and prevent any boredom from setting to setting.  Star Wars moves at a break-neck speed, and with surprising amounts of humor, although the overall tone is that of sheer fun adventure.

I saw Star Wars when it came out in 1977 – I was eight years old, and the perfect age to fall in love with this movie.  It, like the Indiana Jones films, inspired a life-long love of film.  It also inspired my interest in not only watching science fiction, but reading it.  And reading fantasy also.  A couple of  years ago I had the privilege of showing Empire and Jedi to my at-the-time eight-year-old niece and nephew (they’d seen Star Wars) and it was fun to see the films as new through their eyes.  Because I must admit, I’ve seen these three films so many times I’ve memorize whole sections of dialog from them.

Recommendation:  A must see!
Rating:  5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Star Wars:  The Empire Strikes Back