The Empire Strikes Back!

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Luke learns enough, however, to give Darth Vader a spirited battle with his lightsword at the end of the film. But Vader proves a difficult foe to vanquish. That is just as well for the story because the Dark Lord is far more menacing in The Empire than he was in Star Wars, infused with hitherto unknown ambitions and desires, possessed of a mysterious past. There is a hint of a complex personality, and Vader, like all good villains, commands the screen whenever he appears, his black robes floating behind him like the shrouds of death. But once he has been given such prominence, he is a hard character for even his creator to control. In Star Wars, Vader was soundly defeated, and there was a rousing celebration of good over evil, with an appropriate flourish of John Williams' triumphant music. With Vader dominating, perhaps even more than Lucas intended, The Empire finishes on a less satisfying and more ambiguous note.

In many ways the new film is a better film than Star Wars, visually more exciting, more artful and meticulous in detail. As a special effects wizard, Lucas fairly dazzles the eye with his optical magic. In one scene, for instance, the walking tanks are impervious to ordinary weapons, and Luke and his band of intrepid fighter pilots are forced to use older methods. Circling the legs of one of the giant camel-like machines, a rebel fighter ensnares it, and it crumbles to the ground. On-screen that intricate maneuver takes perhaps 60 sec., but to put it there took the technicians at his Industrial Light and Magic Inc. three months. Most impressive of all is the Millennium Falcon's voyage through the asteroid field as it attempts to elude pursuing Imperial fighters. Huge rocks whiz by. The Falcon and the fighters dance around them in a frantic effort to avoid being pulverized. For a few moments the scene fools the eye into believing it is seeing three dimensions, so care-'ully is the work textured.

To achieve such realism, the Light and Magic crew made great advances in film technology. One of the devices they used was a $500,000 machine called a quad printer, which consists of four projectors. Each projector holds separate bits of film. In the asteroid scene, for example, one would show the zooming Falcon, another the model asteroids, a third would show the stars shining in the background, and a fourth such things as shadows, laser beams arid explosions. All four machines would then project their images through a prism, which would combine them into one seamless film. Models were carefully synchronized by computers, moreover, and scenes using effects of enormous complexity could be duplicated as many times as necessary.

Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, the pioneer space fantasy, had 35 separate special-effects shots. Star Wars, which made good use of nine more years of development in computer technology, had 380. The Empire has 414. Yet even that number is deceptive; some of The Empire's shots are far beyond anything in Star Wars in daring and sophistication.

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