The Empire Strikes Back!

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Looking back at Star Wars and his other big movie, American Graffiti, Lucas discovered a common ingredient, what he calls an "effervescent giddiness." It is not a bad analysis, and Star Wars had more of it than does The Empire. There are many amusing scenes, as before mostly involving Artoo Detoo, Threepio and Chewbacca. Lucas' imagination once again lays out its bounty in a lavish and wonderful spread. The invention of Yoda alone would keep many film makers bragging for years. Lucas adds ice monsters, strange-looking beasts—half dinosaur, half llama—that can be ridden bareback, the city in the clouds, and at least one surprising twist of plot involving Luke and Darth Vader. Unfortunately, there are not enough of those other bubbles of fun and spontaneity that made Star Wars so memorable.

Following the example of Lucas, who picked him to direct the new film, Kershner, 57, drives the action at something approaching hyperspeed. At times he goes too fast. The Empire moves so quickly through its two hours that some of the plot lines blur. In the city in the clouds, for instance, Threepio blunders into a group of Imperial storm troopers. But the troopers are never seen, and only later, when the tape of Threepio's last words is automatically played back, does the audience realize what has happened to him. At the film's end, Luke and Leia suddenly find themselves safe aboard a rebel flagship. It will take a good memory—or a second or third viewing, a low rate of return for Star Wars cultists—to recall that the ship was supposed to wait for them at a predetermined rendezvous.

Perhaps because Lucas is trying to carry the story into his next "chapter," he has not provided The Empire with a true ending. The result is not very satisfying for those who see this picture, however, and one is left with a nagging sense of incompletion, a feeling of being somewhat shortchanged. In the grand design, there are to be several connected movies, one leading directly into the other, just as Star Wars led into The Empire, with an invisible "To Be Continued" at the end of each one. Lucas wants his galactic adventures to go on and on like the Saturday-morning TV serials he loved as a kid. In Star Wars, he managed to have both an end and a continuation; in The Empire he has only the continuation, and audiences will have to wait for some Saturday three years hence, when the next segment is released.

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