Return of the Jedi

Well, Star Wars weekend is passed, and my final review of the original lineup is long overdue. Been that kind of weekend, unfortunately, a constant flurry of visiting family, friends, and then coming home to be drowned in Spring cleaning. Luckily, I got some time with my keyboard today and decided I’d dedicate some time to the third and final movie in the trilogy.

And much of this is still fresh in my mind, seeing as how my wife and I were driving up island on Star Wars day, and I spent much of the ride recounting the plot to her. She never saw the original trilogy (crazy, I know), so I’ve been trying to fill her in. Appropriate, no?

Return of the Jedi!
Last time, I mentioned that Lucas claimed that he was following the three-act model when he made this trilogy. Thus if Act I could be considered the intro and Act II the dark chapter, then Act III would serve as the culmination to the whole thing. And that’s exactly what happened. In addition, the film had multiple story arcs towards the end the movie, all of which came together in a single, grand conclusion.

In fact, that’s something I forget to mention last time. You may recall that in the first movie, there was a single, all encompassing climax involving all the main characters, and that was the assault on the Death Star. In movie two, there were two strands, Luke’s confrontation with Vader which ran alongside Leia and Chewi’s escape from cloud city. And in this final film, there were three: the battle on Endor, the battle in space, and Luke’s final confrontation with Vader and the Emperor.

An act of symbolism, no doubt, but it’s also what worked best about this last film. With different things happening in different locations, audiences were kept intrigued and on the edge of their seats, watching how one climactic fight interacted with the next. And since we were emotionally involved with all the characters at this point, each one was about as tense as the last.

Alright, let’s get to the plot of this badboy and see why it worked so well!

Plot Synopsis:
The story opens with the new Death Star being introduced. The new weapon of terror is apparently nearing completion and Vader has flown in to inspect things personally. After letting the station commander know that it must be completed on schedule, he lets him know that the Emperor himself is on the way. He is naturally frighten and rightly so, as we are made aware for the first time that even Vader is a pushover compared to the big man himself!

Cut to Tatooine where Jabba’s Palace is located. R2 and 3P0 have entered, apparently to deliver a message to Jabba. Said message consists of Luke Skywalker opening a dialogue, asking to bargain for Han Solo, and concludes with him offering R2 and 3P0 as “a gift”. Jabba’s response is that no deals will take place, as he’s become quite fond of looking at Solo’s carbonite-frozen body. He’s even placed it against the wall like its some kind of artwork. Creepy, though it did bring the room together though 😉

Little by little, the others enter the picture. Leia comes in disguised as a bounty hunter and trade Chewi in for his bounty. As Han’s companion, he too is worth quite a bit of money to Jabba. At the same time, we learn that Lando has already infiltrated the place posing as a mercenary. In the middle of the night, Leia sneaks into Jabba’s palace room and thaws Han, who appears to be blind and sickly from hibernation. They have a passionate reunion, but it’s quickly cut short…

Beginning with a dark, evil laugh, Jabba reveals himself from the corner where they were hiding. Han tries to bargain with him, but Jabba’s pretty intransigent at this point. He has him thrown in the same dungeon as Chewi and Leia is forced to wear a funky-looking bikini (to the delight of nerds everywhere) and become his palace slave. This consists of wearing a choke chain and lying beside him on his floating couch.

However, Chewi let’s Han know that Luke will be along shortly,  and that he’s a Jedi Knight now. And he does, looking a lot more badass than he did last time! After making his way in with some subtle force tricks, he confronts Jabba and demands Solo’s release. However, things go awry when the minds tricks fail to sway Jabba and he sends Luke and one of his henchmen him into his Rancour pit below.

After a tense few minutes, Luke manages to kill it by dropping the cage door on its head. Jabba is pissed, and orders the whole bunch to be put on his barge and flown out to the desert. Seems they are going to kill them in a big ceremony by being tossed into the Sarlacc pit. No shortage of weird aliens or convoluted death schemes in this one!

Once arrived, and overlooking the sucking Sarlacc pit (some people have suggested Lucas might have some issues with female genitalia!), Luke and the others stage their counterstroke. This consists of R2 firing Luke his lightsaber, who then starts cutting through henchmen with it. He then works his way to the other escort, eventually reaching Jabba’s own sailbarge. Meanwhile Han, who’s eyesight has been returning, manages to take out Bobba Fett’s jetpack through blind luck. He flies into the side of Jabba’s barge and falls helplessly into the pit. But of course, he will survive!

Leia manages to turn the tables of Jabba by getting a hold of her choke chain and wrapping it around the big slugs neck. R2 breaks her chains and shoves 3P0 and himself off the barge, leaving Luke and Leia to rendezvous on the top deck where they use the barge’s cannon to set the place to blow. They make it back to their barge with Lando, Chewi and Han, swing around to pick up the droids, and get the hell out as Jabba’s barge is blown to hell.

Once they retrieve their ships, Luke and the rest dust-off from the planet. The Millennium Falcon heads off to join the Rebel armada while Luke, in his trusty X-wing, sets course for Dagobah. Seems he has a promise to fulfill, and some questions he needs answered. Arriving to find Yoda sick and weak, Luke manages to get the answers he needs. It seems that he’s finished his training, but that one final test remains: he must confront Vader again. Yoda also confirms that Vader is in fact his father, a fact he and Obi-Wan withheld. Yoda then warns him one last time of the perils of the darkside, but also that there is another Skywalker. He dies uttering these last words, and then fades away…

Back in the swamp by his X-wing, Luke feels incredibly alone. First Obi-Wan, then Yoda; but wouldn’t you know it, Obi-Wans specter appears and tells him Yoda isn’t really gone, kinda like him! Luke demands to know why Obi-Wan lied to him, to which Obi-Wan replies that his version of events – i.e. “Vader betrayed and murdered your father” – was true… in a sense.

Luke expresses his doubts about being able to kill his own father, but Obi-Wan says a confrontation is inevitable. He also confirms what Yoda said before he died, that there is indeed another Skywalker that was kept seperate from Luke to protect her identity. Luke concludes it’s Leia, which isn’t a stretch seeing as how she’s been the only female lead in this entire universe so far!

Back at the fleet, we are treated to a briefing. Seems the Alliance is poised to strike at the second Death Star before it is operational. Since the Emperor is overseeing the final phase, they plan to kill him and destroy his weapon of terror in one fell swoop. The plan involves two phases: in one, a small team or commandos will land on Endor and disable the shield generator that’s protecting the Death Star.

In the second, the fleet will jump in and send their fighter squadrons into the center of the station to take out its main reactor. Lando is set to lead the fleet, and Han is leading the planetary assault. Chewi and Leia volunteer to help, and so does Luke. Han is also sure to lend Lando the Falcon for the attack, which he promises to take good care of. The mission is on!

After narrowly making it to Endor aboard a stolen Imperial shuttle, Luke sense his father through the Force. Vader has the same experience, detecting him on the shuttle which, for some reason, is allowed to land. He informs the Emperor and asks for permission to confront him. On the surface, their party’s progress is interrupted when Leia gets lost chasing down some scouts. She is rescued by a strange, furry indigenous creature known as an Ewok. After helping her thwart some more scouts, he takes her back to his village.

Luke, Han and Chewi also come into contact with the locals, but in their case, it involves a trap involving raw meat and a net. Once they spring free, they find themselves surrounded by the furry guys, but they turn up their spears when they see C3P0, whom they believe to be a god. They too are brought to the village, and after enforcing some ground rules (no eating of his friends!), they begin conducting some cultural exchanges.

The Rebel party are welcomed into the tribe and the Ewoks volunteer to help them rid their world of the Empire. Meanwhile, Luke and Leia have a private chat where he reveals to her that she is his sister, and that he must go off to confront Vader. He believes he can turn him back, and as long as he remains with them, they will be in danger. Leia is tearful, but can’t stop him from going.

Luke surrenders to the first patrol he can find, and they take him to Vader. During their little reunion, Luke tells Vader that he intends to turn him back to the good side, but Vader is intransigent. He will take Luke to the Emperor where we will either turn or die. It’s clear he’s torn by this decision, but tells his son it’s too late for him to turn good again.

Together, they travel to the Death Star and meet with Palpatine himself. He repeats Vader’s ultimatum, turn or die, to which Luke boasts that soon, they’ll all be dead. The Emperor laughs and reveals that he knows of the attack and that it’s a trap! Cue scary music! It seems the Emperor allowed the location of the Death Star to fall into Rebel hands in the hopes that he could lure them into an attack and crush them all at once. Luke is understandably dismayed…

Han and his party, with the help of the Ewoks, find their way to the back entrance of the shield generator. After making their way inside, they are promptly surrounded and taken prisoner. R2, 3P0 and their Ewok scouts can only watch in dismay, but the Ewoks hatch a plan and run off. They return with the entire Ewok nation, and spring a trap of their own on the Imperial troops. A massive fight ensues, with the Ewoks and Rebels gaining the element of surprise but slowly losing out to the Imperial troops superior weapons.

Meanwhile, the fleet jumps in as planned. On approach, Lando’s helmsman tells him they can’t get any reading on the Death Star to know if it’s shields are still active. His helmsman concludes they are being jammed, but Lando knows this can’t be unless… He orders the fleet to pull up, and they narrowly peel off before slamming nose first into the shields. No sooner do they get their fleet reoriented than the Imperial fleet shows up out of nowhere to seal off their escape. Ackbar yells his iconic catchphrase: “It’s a trap!”

Lando and the fleet begin combing through wave after wave of TIE fighters. Despite their superior numbers, he and the other Rebel squadrons manage to hold their own. However, he grows suspicious when he notices the Star Destroyers are not moving into attack range. However, according to the commander of the Executor, their orders are to hold while the Emperor unveils something “special”.

Cut to the Death Star, where the Emperor lets Luke know, in the latest frightening revelation, that the Death Star is also fully operational. He orders them to fire. The big gun blazes up and destroys the nearest Rebel Mon Calamari cruiser. Lando and Ackbar realize the terrible truth. Ackbar orders a full retreat, but Lando insists they won’t have another chance to assault the Death Star, and simply must give Han more time to bring the shields down.

On the Death Star, Luke is finding it increasingly difficult to resists the Emperor’s taunts. He knows the Emperor wants him to give into his hatred, but he must resist or risk falling prey to the dark side. In time, he gives in and takes his lightsaber and tries to strike the Emperor down. However, Vader interferes and the two begin fighting. Luke turns up his sabre several times, but Vader continues to press him and force him to defend himself.

After they lose a second Mon Calamari cruiser, Lando tells Ackbar to move the fleet into attack range of the Star Destroyers. As long as they are tangled with the Imperial fleet, the Death Star won’t be able to shoot them, and at least they’ll be able to kill a few enemy ships in the process. The two fleets close ranks, and all hell breaks loose! Ships on both sides are destroyed, but at least they are buying time…

Back on the surface, the Ewoks and the Rebels manage to turn the tide. Chewi and some of furry friends commandeer an AT-ST and begin using it against Imperial forces. The Ewoks defenses also prove effective once they put away the rocks and wooden arrows and break out the logs. Once they realize that they’ve won but can’t make it back into the bunker, Han hatches a plan. Using the AT-ST’s communication system, he tells the commander inside that they’ve beat the Rebels and need reinforcements. The Imperial commander orders the doors opened, and Han and the Ewoks take the base and plant their charges.

The place blows up and the shield comes down. Ackbar orders all fighters into the Death Star to take out its reactor. On board, Luke continues to try and elude Vader. However, Vader senses his fear and is able to read his thoughts. He realizes Luke has a sister, and threatens to turn her instead. Luke loses it and attack Vader, pulverizing him with lightsaber blows until he takes off Vader’s hand. The Emperor laughs and tells Luke to take his father’s side, but Luke turns back at the last second. He is now a Jedi, he says, and will never turn to the dark side.

The Emperor is… pretty pissed! He replies that, as promised, Luke will be destroyed if he won’t turn. He begins electrocuting him with lighting from his finger tips, and Luke begins to beg Vader for help. Vader intervenes, grabbing hold of the Emperor and tossing him off a catwalk into the depths of the station below. He explodes in a massive cloud of Force Energy. Unfortunately, Vader’s suit has been irreparably harmed by the Emperor’s electrical storm. Luke comes to his aid, but it seems like ol’ Darth’s ticket has finally been punched!

Inside the Death Star, Lando and the Rebel pilots manages to reach the main reactor and hit it hard. It collapses, triggering a chain reaction which begins to destroy the station from within. Outside, Ackbar and the Rebel fleet manage to bring down the Executor through smart tactics and dumb luck. The Super Star Destroyer loses control and crashes into the Death Star. The whole place begins to fall apart.

Luke manages to reach a shuttle with Vader in tow. However, with his suit irretrievably damaged, Vader tells Luke to take his mask off so he can see him once with his own eyes. Luke obliges, and sees the scarred pale flesh that is Vader’s true face. He then tells Luke to leave him, that he already saved him, and to tell his sister what he did. He then dies, in a scene with is truly tearful… Luke and Lando manage to escape as the station explodes, Lando howling a triumph cheer as the Falcon clears the flaming exit tunnel.

Luke makes it to the surface, where victory celebrations are already underway. Leia tells Han about Luke and her being related, and gives him a big kiss. Their little triangle has become a twosome at last! He arrives in the Ewok village amidst music, dancing, and has a final communion with the specters of Obi-Wan, Yoda, and his father. The final shot shows the entire cast sitting together and smiling broadly as the music reaches a crescendo. The trilogy is done!

What worked and what didn’t about this last installment:
As I said already, this movie packed a triumphant climax that really worked. After two big installments, audiences got to see everything come together with three separate battles, all of which succeeding in capturing a different kind of tension. For example, the battle on the planet was a real heart string puller since we all wanted to see the indigenous furry creatures overcome the imperialistic bad guys. The battle between the two fleets was fast-paced and visually stunning, and the way they were entirely dependent on Han’s ban on the surface made it all the more tense. Finally, the confrontation between Luke and Vader was a whole different kind of action, a battle of wills as much as weapons.

Of course, there were weaknesses. For one, the whole convoluted plot to free Han seemed to contain a few too many twists to be a considered a crafty plan. It was like, why didn’t R2 just give Luke his lightsaber when he fell into the Rancour pit? Why did they need to wait until they were out in the desert? Second, the whole plot involving Ewoks was pretty kid-centric. Originally, Lucas was planning on using Wookies, but decided that something for the kids was in order, reworked the name Wooky into Ewok, and history was made!

And finally, there was some lazy acting this time around that survived the cutting floor. Second, there was the sheer implausibility that a race of small furry creatures armed with sticks and stones could overcome a legion of troops that the Emperor said were his best. And once you took away all the shooting and explosions, this movie really wasn’t as emotionally involved as the other two. Overall, the focus seemed to be on visual effects and action.

Combined with the kid-centric elements, it was clear that by this point in the franchise, Lucas was retaining creative control. So in a way, this movie was a preview of what Lucas would go on to with his prequels. In the end, this movie still kicked ass and was climactic to the point that audiences were blown away and all its weaknesses were overlooked. It was only with hindsight, perhaps with the help of such flops as Phantom Menace, that they became apparent.

But that’s something for the next post. Right now, I must go off on a triumphant note, much like this film! It was a triumphant conclusion, the action rocked, and holy crap that musical score was great! Even now, I find myself humming it as I recount the events of the movie. Epic! So really, this is and shall remain an enduring classic with many memorable scenes. Especially the one near the end where Lando and the Falcon clear the Death Star as its exploding. YEE-HA!

Yaaaay! The good guys one! The Empire has fallen! Bring on the wine and the Ewok music! And until next time… nope, still can’t say it! Good-bye y’all!

The Empire Strikes Back or Happy Star Wars Day weekend!

Well, it’s officially the day after Star Wars Day, so now what? It’s the perfect time to review the sequel to the time-honored classic, that’s what! And I did promise to cover this rare example of a movie that managed to exceed the original, didn’t I? Hell, I would even if I hadn’t, its a freaking cool movie! And the nostalgia appeal alone makes it worth revisiting, time and time again.

And as I might have mentioned last time, The Empire Strikes Back benefited from several advantages which weren’t initially available during the shooting of the first film. This included help with direction, writing, and of course he had the musical score from the get go, which really didn’t suck! But on top of all that was the fact that in the second movie, things had a much darker and more mature feel.

Lucas acknowledged this in a series of interviews and indicated that this was his intention all along. Following the conventional three act formula, Act II is always the darkest of the chapters, where things go bad for the main characters and escalates the dramatic tension. As such, he needed to turns things on their head after the first movie’s happy conclusion, and threw in some big revelations and twists just to make the ride especially fun.

The Empire Strikes Back:
Plot Synopsis:
The opening crawl once again tells us what we need to know, that despite the destruction of the Death Star, its a dark time for the Rebels. The Empire is still a force the dominant power in the universe, after all, and since their loss at Yavin 4, they’ve been pursuing the Rebels without fail. At the same time, Darth Vader has taken an unhealthy interest in finding Luke Skywalker.

Cut to Hoth, where we see an Imperial probe landing on the surface, and Luke and Han who are out on patrol on the back of some weird looking beasts. Luke spots what he assumes is a meteor and tells Han he is going to check it out, but is unfortunately laid out when a big furry Wampa (aka. a Yeti) sets upon him.

Next we see the Rebel base, where Han checks in and let’s Rebel General Rieekan know that he’s got to leave. Essentially, his time with the Rebels have only made things worse with Jabba and his considerable debt. Rieekan is understanding, but his farewell speech to Leia leads to a rather serious argument. Seems she’s unhappy about his decision, and he’s convinced there’s something other than professional admiration motivating her feelings.

Luke wakes up later in the Wampa’s cave, and relies on his newfound knowledge of the Force to free himself and slice off the Wampa’s arm. He escapes into the frozen wastes, but nighttime is descending and the temperature is dropping! Han realizes that Luke hasn’t checked in and decides to head out into the cold to find him. After several hours, the Rebel base is forced to seal its doors and lock them out for the night. Luke and Han are on their own, and odds of their living through the night are slim!

Out on the frozen wastes, Luke is near death and experiences a vision. Obi-Wan comes before him and tells him he must go to Dagobah to learn the ways of the Force from Master Yodah. He passes out just as Han comes over the horizon to find him, but the two are kinda stuck when Han’s Tauntaun dies from exposure. Luckily, Han gets the bright idea to cut his beast open and stick Luke inside, thus keeping him warm and alive until he can build a shelter. Come morning, Rogue squadron finds them and picks them up! The boys are saved!

Back to the base where the Rebels learn that there’s an Imperial probe droid in their midst. Yes, that little spindly thing from the beginning has not only been getting around, it’s been taking footage of their shield generator and broadcasting it to the Imps! Han and Chewi manage to take it down, but it seems that the damage has been done. The evacuation begins…

Then comes another moment in cinematic genius, the scene where the Imperial fleet is shown and the Executor (see More Cool Ships) is introduced. After seeing many massive Star Destroyers pass each other in the starry night, several of them are suddenly overtaken by a huge shadow. Naturally, the audience can’t help but wonder, what the hell is no big that it can cast a shadow capable of blacking out a whole fleet worth of Star Destroyers? A Super Star Destroyer, that’s what! We then cut to the bridge where Vader is watching the fleet, all to the tune of the evil Imperial music!

And of course, it seems the footage has reached them, and upon seeing it, Vader comes to life and orders the fleet there immediately. Admiral Ozzle, the aging stereotype of the arrogant and incompetent British officer, seems pissed at his subordinate for finding this out and gives him a hard stare. Oh we just know that’s going somewhere don’t we? Meanwhile, the Rebels are preparing to leave, and Han and Luke have an awkward moment as they once again say good-bye to each other and wish each other luck. Seems they’re always saying good-bye…

Shortly thereafter, the Imperial fleet arrives but has alerted the Rebels to their presence and have raised their planetary shields. Vader concludes that Ozzle jumped them in too close to the planet, and decides some disciplinary measures are in order. This consists of him choking him to death over a video conversation and promoting his immediate subordinate, Captain Piett, to the rank of Admiral. Here too, the scene was perfect! One man listening in, trying to ignore the fact that his superior is slowly asphyxiating and dropping to the floor, and appearing both flattered and terrified that he’s now in charge.

The first salvos begins as the Rebel ships begin to fly for deep space, X-wings and the planetary Ion cannon providing cover. Meanwhile, General Veers, commander of the Imperial troops, lands beyond the shield and begins sending his walkers into the fray. This is the first appearance of the AT-AT’s, and they were pretty chilling to behold. The Rebel troops meanwhile dig in while Rogue Squadron engages them in their attack speeders.

However, things don’t go so well. The AT-AT’s are too heavily armored to destroy with blasters, and the dug-in defenders weapons are similarly ineffective. Luke comes up with the bright idea to trip up the walkers using their tow cables, but this too begins to falter after the majority of Rogue Squadron gets shot down.

Luke himself is shot down and is forced to bail, taking out a second walker with a grenade from the underside. However, in time, General Veers walker gets in range of the shield generator and delivers the death blow to it. The Imperial forces move in and begin attacking the command center itself.

Back at said center, Vader and an Imperial garrison walk in virtually unopposed, and all forces are ordered to being a full retreat. Han grabs Leia, who is still at her post, and compels her to join him, Chewi and the droids aboard the Millennium Falcon. As the last ship to leave, they are barely out of the bay as Vader walks in. Luke similarly gets to his X-wing out on the wastes and dusts off from the planet. The Imperials have won, but the good guys have once again lived to fight another day.

Luke meanwhile tells R2 that they are not going to rendezvous with the fleet. Seems he’s got another destination in mind, the planet Obi-Wan told him to go to in his vision. Arriving at Dagobah, Luke’s ship is disabled by a storm and he crashes into a fetid swamp. He and R2 are unharmed – well R2 almost gets eaten! – but his ship is marooned and he now seems stuck on this new planet. In the course of setting up camp, he is snuck up on by a tiny little green man, an annoying little creature who seems to know who Yoda is. He promises to take Luke to see him, but only after they’ve had supper!

Meanwhile, it seems that the Imperial fleet has zeroed in on the Millennium Falcon. Han and crew try to escape them, but it seems that ongoing mechanical issues are preventing them from jumping into hyperspace. They pull a trick by pulling into an asteroid field and hiding on one of the larger rocks. Pulling into a cave, they set down to make their repairs.

Back on Dagobah, Luke discovers that the little green man is Yoda, and that his constant pestering was a way of testing his patience, a test he failed. However, Obi-Wan’s disembodied voice insists that he has confidence in the boy, but Yoda is unimpressed by Luke’s insistence that he’s not afraid. He insists, in a very chilling line, “You will be… you will be.” They begin his training, running through the woods as Yoda explains the mysteries of the force and the danger of the dark side.

Luke confronts his first test when he senses a cave filled with dark energy nearby. Yoda tells him he must go inside, and that the only thing in there is “only what you take with you”. After crawling through creepy lizards, snakes and slimy walls, Luke comes face to face with his nemesis – Vader! They exchange blows with their lightsabers and Luke is victorious, cutting off Vader’s head and watching it roll to the ground. However, he is dismayed when the helmet blows open to reveal… Lukes own face! Dun, dun, dunnnnnn! Foreshadowing!

While in hiding, Han and Leia finally come to terms with their feelings for each other. After sensing that there was something going on there, only to see the sparks fly with fight after fight, the two realize that they actually love each other and have themselves a passionate kiss. Unfortunately, the moment is interrupted when a very rude droid announces that he’s found the problem with the hyperdrive and they can get it working again!

Meanwhile, Vader orders the fleet into the asteroids to pursue. Despite taking severe losses, he presses his commanders to keep on them. However, the Executor must pull out of the field when Vader is alerted that the Emperor himself is making contact. In the course of talking with the massive hologram of the Emperor’s hooded face, he learns the Luke Skywalker is officially a threat. The Emperor insists he must be dealt with, but Vader assures him he could be turned. He will do so, or kill him in the process, Vader insists.

Back in the cave, repairs are proceeding, but things get a little odd when they realize that their hiding place doesn’t react too well to blaster fire. They board again and make it out seconds before the “cave”, which appears to have teeth, closes on them. Back on the Executor, Vader has called in some added help, a slew of bounty hunters which includes Boba Fett. The Falcon pops out of the asteroid field and is once more pursued and can’t withdraw, so Han decides to pull a daring maneuver by charging the pursuing Star Destroyer. After slipping over the bridge, the Falcon “disappears”.

The Captain of the pursuing Star Destroyer goes to apologize to Vader, and is killed. Vader orders the fleet to break up and track every possible trajectory. However, seems the Falcon is actually mounted on the back the Star Destroyer’s bridge where its been hiding the whole time. Han plans to float off as soon as their host dumps its garbage before going into hyperspace, which is apparently standard Imperial procedure (not so environmentally conscious that!) They begin to float off with the junk, but it seems they have a tail… Boba Fett in his ship, The Bounty!

They set coarse for Bespin, to a place known as “Cloud City” –  a floating metropolis built around a gas mining platform, where Han has a friend who he thinks will shelter them. This “friend”, who goes by the name of Lando Calrissian (whom he won the Falcon from years back) appears to be running the place now. And despite their bumpy past, Lando seems happy to see him. Leia, however, has a hard time putting her trust in him.

In time, she realizes just how right she was not to! After C3P0 disappears and turns up in pieces, Lando invites them to a dinner banquet, and Vader appears to be the guest of honor! Turns out Boba Fett tracked them there and alerted Vader, who showed up just before they did and threatened to destroy the place unless Lando turned them over. The torturing begins! But it seems that Vader has a larger agenda than extracting information or punishing a few rebels. The real aim of this little “deal” is to prepare a trap for Luke, whom he knows will not be able to resist.

Back on Dagobah, Luke has a vision of the future in which Han, Leia and Chewi are suffering. He is unable to shake the vision and decides to leave. Yoda and Obi-Wan plead with him not to go, telling him he’s not ready and that he cannot hope to defeat Vader. But Luke is intransigent, insists he will come back, and that he won’t fall to the Dark Side. Once Luke leaves, Obi-Wan laments that they might lose their only hope, but Yoda reveals that there is another… hinteddy, hint, hint!

Meanwhile, Han is put into carbon freezing, a way of testing the process Vader intends to use to capture Luke. He is then handed over to Boba Fett to take back to Jabba. Having had all he can take of Vader’s treachery, Lando pulls a double cross and springs Leia and Chewi from capture. Chewi tries to take Lando’s head off, but stops when he tells them they can still save Han. They arrive too late, and Fett gets away… Luke has also arrived and Leia tries to warn him, but they are separated by too much blaster fire.

Luke continues to search the city, and finds his way to Vader. The two draw and begin dueling, and Vader is impressed by Luke’s growing abilities. However, before long, he wears Luke down and eventually takes his hand off. Beaten and helpless, Luke crawls to the end of a catwalk overlooking Bespin’s central mining shaft. Here, after much time and waiting, he learns the truth of what happened to his father and why Vader has been obsessed with finding him…

Vader did not murder his father, you see. Vader IS his father. More than that, he doesn’t want to destroy Luke, but to recruit him. Together, he believes they can destroy the Emperor and “rule the galaxy as father and son.” Luke is overwhelmed and possibly even tempted, but chooses death rather than surrender and capture. Jumping into the shaft, he falls but is pulled into a side passageway which dumps him outside. Hanging on for dear life on the edge of an antenna, Luke begs Obi-Wan for help. However, Obi-Wan already told him he wouldn’t be able to interfere if he confronted Vader. With no one else to call to, he reaches out to Leia, who appears to hear him. She order the Falcon to turn around and picks Luke up. They blast for orbit and prepare to make a daring escape.

However, the Executor is pulling into position and Vader reveals that the Falcon’s hyperdrive was disabled. They need only close in and board them now. However, R2 already found out about the hyperdrive from the station’s computer and zooms in to make a hasty field repair. He managed to put things back in order just in time, and the Falcon blasts off! Admiral Piett watches in horror as he sees them escape, and waits for Vader’s vengeance. But Vader, solemn and saddened, merely wanders back to his quarters…

Back at the fleet, Luke and Leia are tending to his lost hand. Lando and Chewi have meanwhile hopped back onto the Falcon and are going off to find Han. The movie closes with a hopeful scene of Luke, Leia and the droids watching the Falcon leave against a backdrop of the Galactic Core. The shot widens to show the rest of the fleet as it drifts away. Though they’ve suffered a beating and many set backs, the good guys are still alive, and hope remains…

What Made This Movie Even Better!:
As every fan of Star Wars and classic cinema is no doubt aware, this movie is considered one of the few sequels that actually surpassed the original. The reasons for this are pretty plain and I’ve already gone over them, so I think I’ll skip them and get right to the specifics.

For starters, the cinematography was masterful. Again and again in this movie, the music, camera angles and dialogue all coincided to create the perfect atmosphere of tension and impending doom. The opening scene where the Executor is introduced, the build-up to the battle on Hoth, the sense of defeat as the Rebels are forced to retreat, the terror Luke feels as he confronts the Dark Side, the fearful moments as we wait for the trap to close around the main characters on Bespin, and the growing desperation as Luke fights Vader… All of it culminated in the massive revelation that Luke was in fact Vader’s on. It was one of the biggest twists in movie history, and it was absolutely awesome! Years later and I still get the willies just thinking about it.

And in the end, this movie really captured the essence of dark second act. After the introduction and brief victory of good over evil in the first movie, we get a dose of hopelessness and soul-shattering revelation in movie two. Not only did it chill the bones and impress audiences with its mature themes, it also made us wonder just how the good guys were going to turns things around in the end. And it was only because the two movies were so character driven that we cared about what happened so much. Luke’s coming of age, Han and Leia’s budding romance, Chewi’s fierce loyalty, and even the droids quirky antics; we all felt a sense of attachment to these characters and wanted to see them come out okay.

Little wonder then why audiences were on the edge of their seats for the next three years. And granted, the third and final installment had its share of weaknesses, by then the momentum and following had become so strong that it seemed like nothing Lucas did could be perceived as wrong. And honestly, the third and final movie was so climactic and emotionally involved that they really just disappeared didn’t they? But more on that next time.

Happy Star Ways Day Weekend everybody! Enjoy yourselves and… well, you know the rest 😉

More Cool Ships

And I’m back with more examples, in part because people had some suggestions but also because I found the last list lacking. I mean, you can’t suggest a concept as big and as awesome as cool science fiction ships and only provide a handful of examples. It’s just not decent! So here’s installment number two in the series, cool ships from various sci-fi franchises and what made them so. Keep in mind that suggestions are always welcome. I’m thinking a third and even fourth list might be necessary 🙂

Alliance Cruiser:
alliance_2Back to the universe of Firefly for another installment! This time around, it’s the Alliance Cruiser that I’ve chosen to talk about. In short, I think the design of this particular ship is quite inspiring. Unlike your average cruisers from other franchises, this ship is not based on the usual seafaring or aerodynamic-ship paradigm. It’s long axis is vertical rather than horizontal, making it a platform instead of a cutter.

In addition to making a lot more sense from a physics standpoint, this design offers many advantages in terms of navigation and defense. Unlike longitudinal designs which are forced to turn around on their long axis, this ship can simply fire thrust from any of its four sides to change course and direction. It’s tall appendages also make it easier for sensors or long-range telescopes to spot things out in space, no blindsides from which to approach on.

Basically, ships like these remind us that spaceships operate in vacuum and are therefore subject to a vastly different set of physical requirements. Since they do not operate in atmospheres, they don’t need to be aerodynamic or sleek like planes. And since they don’t cut across water, they don’t need to have sculpted hulls or prows to part the waves. So why then do a whole slew of spaceships look like aeroplanes or boats?

Simple, it’s a paradigm thing. When we hear ship, we automatically think of airships and seaships since that’s our frame of reference, and our artistic sensibilities naturally follow. But spaceships are a whole ‘nuther ballgame, requiring the ability to withstand inertial pressures instead of drag. So while sleek and streamlined models are cool to look at, they aren’t really the best spaceship design from a technical standpoint.

And in a lot of ways, the Alliance cruiser reminds me of another classic design, that of the Nostromo. Much like the mining vessel from the original Alien movie, it is vertical in design, boasting towers instead of horizontal compartments. It’s size and towering appearance also make it intimidating to behold, illustrating the power and imposing nature of the Alliance itself. Those who crew it tend to be pretty imposing as well, always boarding you and asking question!

Borg Cube:
https://i2.wp.com/img2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20060721051747/startrek/images/7/76/Borg_cube.jpgHere we have the capital ship of the Borg, the frightening cyborg race from the Star Trek: TNG series that assimilates or crushes everything in its path. Introduced in the second season of the show (episode 42: “Q Who”), this fearsome foe went on to become a recurring element of the show and was even central to the plot of the spinoff Voyager and the movie First Contact. Much like their raison-d’etre, their ships reflected a sort of cold technological rationalism, like something out of a cyberpunk fans wet dream!

The design of the basic cube, which was later supplemented by spheres and upgraded cube designs, is clearly based on a pythagoran aesthetic: nothing frilly, sleek, aerodynamic or even remotely artistic about it. They are simple, utilitarian, and equilateral, a testament to the precise and unsentimental mindset of those who designed it. It’s basic profile also came in handy when taking on multiple enemy ships. By having six sides, each with the same surface area, weapons and tractor beam mounts, the cube had a 360 degree sphere of defense, making it damn near impregnable.

On every occasion when one of these cubes showed up, bad things were known to happen! In their first encounter with one, the Enterprise barely got out in one piece. In the second, 39 ships were destroyed before the Enterprise and her crew were able to trick one into going into sleep mode, which it then responded to by blowing itself up! In the third encounter, which took place in First Contact, several more federation ships were destroyed before Captain Picard was able to use his inside knowledge of the Borg to help the fleet destroy another ship. In all subsequent encounters, future technologies, viruses, trickery, or a combination thereof were needed to overcome the Borg’s technology and singular mindset.

Chig Cruiser:
chigMuch like Firefly, this example comes to us from a franchise which was cancelled by the executives over at Fox after its first season. Yes, Space Above and Beyond was yet another sci-fi series which had a lot of promise, but got axed when the execs concluded it wasn’t doing well enough for their liking. What the hell goes on over at Fox anyway?! Does every new show get this kind of treatment, or do Rupert Murdoch’s minions think sci-fi is just inherently liberal?

In any case, the Chig Cruiser was much like the concept for the Chigs themselves. Cool, original, and quite alien in appearance! Basically, the vessels shape can be described as two right triangles attached end to end with the tips removed. The command center appeared to be located in the middle, along with much of its weapons and observation deck. The outer hulls also appear to have been constructed out of the triangular-shaped panels of some alien metal that gave of a peculiar sheen when seen from the right angle.

Like everything else in the series, the concept never really had time to be fully developed. Which is really too bad. Their fighters, encounter suits, and capital ships were all cool to look at, and some explanations as to their utility and even artistic inspirations would have been nice. But what can do? Fox is run by idiots! Rest in peace Space Above and Beyond! You died too young!

Earth Alliance Destroyer:
Thanks to Goran Zidar for suggesting I include this one! And please know that you are alone in thinking that it is cool to behold, Mr. Z 😉 Coming to you from the Babylon 5 universe, source of so many cool ships (see below), the concept for the Earth Alliance Destroyer was nothing short of pragmatic genius. Given that the show boasted dozens of alien races, J.M. Straczynski and his design teams had to come up with countless design concepts that would reflect the multicultural and multiracial tone of the show.

In the case of humanity, Straczynski and his people concluded that the spaceships should look boxy, utilitarian, and should reflect the fact that Earth was one of the less advanced races in the story. As a result, the Earth Alliance Destroyer was built around the concept of a compartmentalized hull with its engines at the rear, a central rotating section (to provide artificial gravity), and a forward section where the bridge, carrier deck and command center would be located. And, as you can plainly see, the end result was quite cool!

While not the most advanced ship in the Galaxy, the Omega-class destroyer was certainly realistic, aesthetically pleasing, and could also holds its own in most firefight situations. And unlike their organic, alien counterparts, these ships were also a lot cooler to watch in battle. Instead of “dying” or breaking apart, they would catch fire and throw off flaming debris, not to mention life pods and floating bodies. Yes, since ships didn’t have energy shields or a lot in the way of armor in the B5 universe, firefights tended to get real serious, real fast! Like I said… realistic!

The Daedalus:
daedalusNext up, and taken from the Stargate universe, is the battlecruiser Daedalus. After appearing in the spinoff show Stargate: Atlantis, this class of vessel (codenamed 304) became the basis for an entire fleet of vessels who’s purpose was to defend Earth from an alien invasion. Based on various alien technologies that were taken from the Goa’uld and Asgard, the Daedalus was the first Earth Battlecruiser and FTL ship ever constructed.

Based on the design of a modern aircraft carrier, the Daedalus bridge and command center were located along the top of the hull at the rear while the forward section contained the ships compliment of fighters and takeoff and landing bays. The ship also contained a hyperdrive which was powered by a Zero Point Module (an alien power source), giving it FTL capabilities.

In terms of armaments and advanced technology, the ship boasted beaming units, shields, multiple rail gun and missile systems, and a compliment of nuclear warheads. Designed to stand up to a potential Gua’old or Or’i invasion, the Daedalus and her kind were built to combine the best that Earth and her alien allies could offer. Yes, if the war came to Earth, we would be ready!

The Executor:
Hello terror! Next up, we have the gargantuan and terrifying Imperial command ship known as The Executor. Who among us can forget that introductory scene in The Empire Strikes Back when a whole fleet of massive Star Destroyers were assembling, only to be suddenly overshadowed by the even larger Executor? Cut to the bridge where we see the terrifying Vader looking out over the fleet, and you begin to see just how big and powerful the empire truly is! Yes, those visuals really gave a sense of size and scale to the bad guys and let us know just how much they meant business!

Commissioned roughly one year after the Battle of Yavin, where the first Death Star was destroyed, the Executor was intended to be a terror weapon, replacing the Death Star as the symbol of Imperial might and badassery! Measuring 19 kilometers in length and bristling with turbolasers, ion guns, multiple tractor beams projectors and a complement of fourteen TIE fighter/bomber squadrons, the Executor was every spacers worst nightmare! No ship in the Alliance was capable of standing toe to toe with it, making a strategic withdrawal an inevitability once it showed up in a theater of battle.

However, during the Battle of Endor, the Alliance was able to destroy it through a combination of strategy and dumb luck. After several Rebel fighters took out the Executor’s shield generators, a single fighter who lost control of his ship crashed directly into the bridge. The Executor then lost control of its helm and was pulled in by the second Death Star’s gravitational field, destroying the ship and causing extensive damage to the Death Star’s outer hull. An ironic death for such a big ship, but at least she went down in a blaze! A big, embarrassing, expensive blaze! I don’t envy the bastards who had to pay the premiums on that one!

Home One:
HomeOneAnother vessel that comes to us from the Star Wars universe, Home One was the mobile headquarters of the Rebel Fleet and the biggest Mon Calamari cruiser in existence. As Admiral Ackbar’s command vessel in the original trilogy, it distinguished itself during the Battle of Endor, during which the Executor and the second Death Star were destroyed.

Like most Mon Calamari cruisers, Home One was cylindrical in design and originally served as a star-liner that got modified for combat. This consisted of equipping it with fighter bays, multiple shield emitters, a reinforced hull, and many turbolaser mounts. It’s revolutionary targeting and computer system also gave it a decided advantage in a firefight with Imperial vessels, which boasted heavier armaments, but lacked the ability to coordinate and amass their firepower as effectively.

The largest bay on Home One was on the starboard side where larger vessels would dock. However, a total of twenty hangers were placed throughout the hull, giving it the ability to carry multiple squadrons of X-wings, A-wings, B-wings and Y-wings. It also boasted a crew of over 5000 personnel and could carry 1,200 troops and 20,000 metric tons of cargo. While most of its systems – especially targeting and navigation – were designed for Mon Calamari use, the ship was crewed by a variety of races, reflecting the multiracial nature of the Alliance.

Lexx:
lexxThough not the prettiest ship in the Galaxy, the Lexx certainly deserves a spot on the Cool Ship list. Much like the show that featured it, it was weird, conceptually skewed,  but still damn original! A planet-destroying bioship by design, the Lexx was clearly inspired by the concept of a giant, wingless dragonfly and was created out of resynthesized proteins that were obtained from confiscated organs. Hmmm, gross!

Originally intended for use by His Divine Shadow, the evil ruler of the Divine Order, the Lexx was essentially a terror weapon that would be capable of destroying whole planets. However, the ship was commandeered in the first episode by the show’s crew – consisting of anti-hero Stanley Tweedle, the sex slave Zev Bellringer, and the Kai, an undead assassin, and the bodiless AI 790 – and became the means through which they traveled the universe looking for a new home.

This journey would take them over 6000 years, since the Lexx does not have FTL capabilities, and the crew would go into cryostasis for much of the voyage. Being sentient as well as organic, the ship was required to feed from time to time in order to maintain the life force which powered it. This could involve landing on a planet and eating organic matter directly, but more often than not, required that it blow up an entire planet and eat the resulting debris afterwards.

In the latter case, this consisted of emitting massive amounts of ionized energy from its “eyes” which was then channeled into the “mouth”. This energy was then fired outward in a planar wave which would intercept and obliterate any planet in its path. The Lexx would then take in the giant rocks and debris from the explosion and feed off of all the organic matter they carried. If not permitted to feed regularly, the Lexx could apparently become quite cranky and agitated, which would prove to be hell for whoever had to interact with it!

Narn Cruiser:
narn02As promised, another cool ship from the B5 universe. And as I said earlier, when it came to producing concepts for alien ships, J.M. Straczynski really had an eye for aesthetics, art, and functionality. Whereas Earth vessels tended to be compartmentalized and practical in nature, other alien races tended to be a bit more flamboyant, a reflection of their particular cultures and levels of technology.

When it came to the Narns, an aggressive but artistic race, their ship designs exemplified this dual nature. Originally a pastoral and peaceful people, the Narns had been brutalized by generations of occupation at the hands of the Centauri and had become quite warlike as a result. Their heavy cruisers, the mainstay of their fleet, were thus powerful and fierce looking, but still managed to achieve an aesthetic quality which brought beauty into the mix.

Boasting two massive beam cannons, several pulse guns and a compliment of space mines, the Narn Heavy Cruiser could take on just about any ship in the Galaxy. Though most were destroyed in the Great War against the Centauri, the ship proved to be effective in numerous engagements, not the least of which were against the Shadows themselves. For example, at the battle of Ragesh 3, two Narn Cruisers combined their beam cannons to seriously damage a Shadow vessel. During the battle in Sector 83, when Sheridan and the White Star Fleet engaged a fleet of Shadows vessels, the Cruiser G’tok managed to assist a pair of White Stars in destroying two Shadow vessels. Quite the accomplishment for this class of vessel!

After the Great War, the Narn regime began rebuilding its fleet, and the Narn Cruiser remained the mainstay of their forces. Several were used during the Alliance war with the Centauri and participated in the assault on Centauri Prime, where its massive compliment of weapons proved quite devastating against the planet’s surface!

Prometheus-Class Assault Vessel:
PrometheusYou know, I’ve never been that big a fan of the Star Trek franchise. But even I have to admit, when these guys do something right, they really do it right! And this ship, the Prometheus Assault Vessel, would be one such example. Much like the USS Defiant from my previous list, this ship demonstrated that when required, Star Fleet could produce ships that really excelled at kicking ass and taking names!

A revolutionary prototype, the Prometheus-Class vessel appeared in a single episode of Voyager where it was being stolen by a bunch of Romulan agents. However, thanks to the combined efforts of the ship’s own holographic surgeon and Voyager’s similarly holographic doctor, the ship was saved and even managed to turn the tables on its Romulan adversaries.

Incorporating advanced phasers, quantum torpedoes, ablative armor and regenerative shields, the biggest surprise the Prometheus had was its multi-vector assault capability. This involved the separation of the ship into multiple modules, much like the USS Enterprise-D would do with its saucer and engine sections. However, in the Prometheus’ case, this resulted in the creation of three semi-independent sections which were capable of unleashing a single, coordinated attack against multiple opponents.

After it was done dispatching all its enemies, it would then come back together, perform repairs as needed, and move on to the next target. And since the ship was programmed with extensive routines, a very small crew was capable of operating it and really only had to speak the requisite commands to get it to kill, kill, kill! Not a bad ship to have in your arsenal!

Shadow Attack Ship:
shadow06“It was jet black. A shade of black so deep your eye just kinda slides off it. And it shimmered when you looked at it. A spider big as death and twice as ugly. And when it flies past, it’s like you hear a scream in your mind.” These were the words Lt. Warren Keffer used to describe a Shadow vessel, right before he died chasing one down. An apt description for a ship that was clearly designed to inspire terror in its enemies, and a reflection of the race that built it.

As my final installment, taken again from the B5 universe, I’ve decided to include the Shadow Attack Ship, which is perhaps the most original and artistic spaceship I have ever seen. Granted, it had some stiff competition given the franchise it is coming from, but in terms of its design, performance, and sheer alien appearance, I can’t think of anything that can top it.

Given the fact that Straczynski and crew were working with the concept of organic technology, the ship was clearly meant to look like a living creature. Apparently, they settled on the combination of an arachnid and a giant octopus for the design, which combined with its jet-black sheen, made it both terrifying to behold and aesthetically awesome! And since every Shadow vessel is a living thing, they required sentient beings to merge with them in order to become active. When inactive, they would lie dormant and could remain operable for thousands of years.

More often than not, the Shadows preferred to use telepaths as drivers since only a telepath was capable of jamming the ship’s central operating system (i.e. a person’s mind). When damaged, the ships would emit a high-pitched screeching noise and often required another ship to merge with them and carry them to safety where they could. Of course, the screech couldn’t be heard through space. As Keffer noted, the sounds it made seemed to take place in the observers mind – aka. it was being telepathically conveyed. Hence, in addition to scaring the shit out of their opponents with their appearance and awesome firepower, these ships also had a calculated psychological edge in battle!

Not that they needed it though. In addition to their speed and firepower, the ship’s organic hulls were also incredibly tough, capable of absorbing tremendous amounts of energy before dying. As Sheridan and his people learned, pulse cannons were virtually useless against the Shadow’s skin, and beam weapons were only capable of killing them when focused on its central region for extended periods of time. On multiple occasions, Sheridan and the Alliance forces were only able to destroy one of these vessels by relying on telepaths to jam them while multiple ships combined their firepower to finish them off.

For the Shadows, the weapon of choice seemed to be the beam cannon that was located in the ship’s “mouth”. This focused, pink-purple beam was capable of slicing through the most hardened of structures and ships, and could reduce an entire colony to rubble in the space of a few seconds. However, the standard Shadow vessels also contained a type of space mine that was capable of c0llapsing hyperspace jump nodes and also carried a compliment of Shadow fighters which they kept embedded in their skin. These appeared to be independent in nature seeing as how they were too small for a person to fit in, and served as a mere screen for the larger vessels to make their attack.

In short, a Shadow vessel was the sort of thing you didn’t stick around to fight unless you had plenty of ships watching your back. Fast, furious, and shit-your-pants scary to look at, if you managed to kill one, you counted yourself amongst the few, the proud, the luckiest sons of bitches in the universe!

Okay, thanks for sticking around for the second installment! I think I have one more in me, but I’ll wait a few days before posting that. In the meantime, be sure to check out this cool chart. It provided me with a couple of ideas during the course of my research:
The ultimate starship size comparison chart