Picks and Pans Review: The Empire Strikes Back

Remember Casablanca II? Son of the Wizard of Oz? Gone with the Wind and Back Again? Of course not, because long, long ago in a movie capital far, far away, people dared not tarnish the memory of classics by exhuming them for sequels. This movie, of course, is Star Wars II, and while it’s hardly the worst sequel ever made—Exorcist II retired that trophy—it’s not up to the original either. The spacecraft-laser-battle gimmicks are familiar now, so even though these are the most special of the special effects, they are no longer so fascinating. Worse, the more one sees the main characters, the less appealing they become. Luke Skywalker is a whiner, Han Solo a sarcastic clod, Princess Leia a nag and C-3PO just a drone. Nor will the acting of the performers who play them, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, stand much scrutiny, especially in comparison with Alec Guinness, in a cameo as Ben Kenobi, and James Earl Jones, again masterful as the evil voice of Darth Vader. There is a delightfully conceived and executed elfin guru named Yoda. Also charming is George Lucas’ continuing homage to his favorite things. Hamlet, Tarzan, The War of the Worlds, Jack London’s story To Build a Fire and even Star Trek seem to be saluted. (Lucas gets executive producer credit this time, while Irvin Kershner, who had sequel experience on The Return of a Man Called Horse, directed, and sci-fi veteran Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan wrote the sometimes sluggish screenplay.) There are a couple of surprising plot twists as Luke confronts the darker side of his nature. The ending is emotionally unsatisfying, though, and that’s no accident. Lucas says this is only the first of eight sequels, which ought to be enough to wear out the batteries in Luke’s light sword. (PG)

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