Never Say Never Again (1983)

The 100 Films Guide to…

Never Say Never Again

Sean Connery is James Bond 007

Country: UK, USA & West Germany
Language: English
Runtime: 134 minutes
BBFC: PG
MPAA: PG

Original Release: 7th October 1983 (USA)
UK Release: 15th December 1983
Budget: $36 million
Worldwide Gross: $138 million

Stars
Sean Connery (Thunderball, Highlander)
Klaus Maria Brandauer (Mephisto, Out of Africa)
Kim Basinger (Mother Lode, Batman)
Barbara Carrera (The Island of Dr. Moreau, Lone Wolf McQuade)
Max von Sydow (The Exorcist, Minority Report)

Director
Irvin Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back, RoboCop 2)

Screenwriter
Lorenzo Semple Jr. (Papillon, Flash Gordon)

Based on
An original James Bond story by Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham and Ian Fleming, which Fleming later novelised as Thunderball.


The Story
Ageing secret agent James Bond is sent to a health spa to get back into shape, but therein stumbles upon part a plot to hijack nuclear warheads and hold the world to ransom. With the theft successful, it falls to Bond to retrieve the weapons before it’s too late.

Our Hero
Bond, James Bond, British secret agent 007. He’s played by Sean Connery — already the first and third actor to play James Bond on the big screen (in a serious movie), here he becomes the fifth too. Unlike the official Bond films, which carried on regardless as Roger Moore began to look more like an OAP than a capable secret agent, Never Say Never Again acknowledges that Bond is getting on a bit. That’s because Connery was 53 at the time, and this is from back in the days when 53 was old, especially for an action star — not like today.

Our Villains
Billionaire businessman Maximilian Largo is actually the highest-ranking agent of SPECTRE, a global criminal organisation masterminded by Ernst Stavro Blofeld. With Blofeld merely pulling the strings behind the scenes, it’s Largo and his lackeys that Bond must defeat to save the world.

Best Supporting Character
Rowan Atkinson’s cameo-sized role as inexperienced local bureaucrat Nigel Small-Fawcett is actually quite amusing, and therefore probably the best thing about the film.

Memorable Quote
Largo: “Do you lose as gracefully as you win?”
Bond: “I don’t know, I’ve never lost.”

Memorable Scene
At a charity event hosted by Largo, Bond comes face-to-face with his adversary for the first time, where he’s challenged to play Domination, a 3D computer game. It couldn’t be more ’80s if it tried.

Memorable Music
James Bond films have a very distinct musical style… but not when they’re unofficial productions they don’t. Without access to familiar themes, Never Say Never Again finds itself having to reach for something different… and fails: the title song is bland and the jazzy score is forgettable.

Letting the Side Down
Where to begin? Well, let’s pick on perhaps my least favourite bit of the whole endeavour: henchwoman Fatima Blush; and, more specifically, how the film ends up handling her. First, there’s a truly terrible sex scene between her and Bond, but it only gets worse later: the self-espoused feminist becomes monomaniacally concerned that Bond should think she’s the greatest shag he ever had, which distracts her to the point that he gets the opportunity to kill her… which he does with an explosive bullet that just leaves her smoking high heels behind. No, seriously. And for this performance Barbara Carrera received a Golden Globe nomination! If you told me she’d been nominated for an award and asked me to guess which, I’d’ve been certain it was a Razzie.

Making of
“So how did an unofficial James Bond film come about anyway?,” I hear you ask. Well, the story starts in the early ’60s, after the Bond novels had become popular but before the film series began. Creator Ian Fleming worked with independent producer Kevin McClory and screenwriter Jack Whittingham on a script for a potential Bond film titled Longitude 78 West, but this was abandoned due to costs. Fleming then adapted the screenplay into a Bond novel, Thunderball, but without credit for either McClory or Whittingham. McClory sued for breach of copyright, and the matter was settled by Fleming giving McClory all rights to the screenplay. By this time the official Bond film series was underway, and Eon Productions made a deal for McClory to coproduce their adaptation of Thunderball, an agreement which forbade him from making any further films of the novel for another decade. That lands us in the mid-’70s, when Bond was still very popular. As McClory began attempting to get a new adaptation off the ground, Eon put legal obstacles in his path, accusing his new script of breaking copyright restrictions by going beyond the confines of Thunderball. Eventually McClory and other producers managed to clear these hurdles and, after rewrites to make Connery happy (which were undertaken by British TV writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, who went uncredited due to Writers Guild of America restrictions, despite much of the final script being their work), the remake finally went before the cameras — with a new title, suggested by Connery’s wife, referring to his vow that he would “never” play Bond again.

Previously on…
James Bond had starred in 13 official movies by the time this came along. It’s kind of ironic that Never Say Never Again’s unofficial status means it can’t acknowledge any of that, while also tacitly acknowledging it with Connery’s very presence in the lead role. Though if it had been able to acknowledge it, the fact this film is a straight-up remake of Thunderball might’ve led to some awkwardness.

Next time…
Early in 1984, producer Kevin McClory announced a sequel, S.P.E.C.T.R.E. It never happened. He spent most of the rest of his life trying to pursue further James Bond projects: he tried to remake the same story again in 1989 as Atomic Warfare starring Pierce Brosnan, and again in the early ’90s as Warhead 2000 AD starring Timothy Dalton. In 1997 he sold the rights to Sony, who already held the rights to Casino Royale and hoped to use that to launch its own Bond series. MGM sued and the matter was settled out of court, with Sony giving up all claims on Bond. (Perhaps this explains why Sony have been so keen on acquiring/retaining the series’ distribution rights in recent decades.) And so we’re left with just one James Bond series, which has mostly gone from strength to strength.

Awards
1 Golden Globes nomination (Supporting Actress (Barbara Carrera))
2 Saturn Award nominations (Fantasy Film, Special Effects)

Verdict

Between this and the state of the official Moore-starring films at the time, it must’ve sucked to be a Bond fan in the early- to mid-’80s. Maybe some thought Connery returning to the role he’d defined would be a boon, but it didn’t turn out that way: in just about every respect, Never Say Never Again plays like a weak imitation of a Bond film… which I suppose is exactly what it is, really.

As an unofficial production, it’s missing a bunch of the identifying features of the Bond films: the gun barrel, the title sequence, the musical stylings, and, most conspicuously, the famous theme. There’s more to Bond than these tropes, of course, and a really good Bond movie can survive without them, but their absence contributes to the feel of this being a low-rent wannabe, when it needs all the help it can get. The stuff it can include isn’t great either. The one-liners and innuendos are particularly bad. The action is rather dated (although the chase between a souped-up Q-bike and the henchwoman’s tacky little ‘80s car is more exciting than the notoriously underpowered car chase in Spectre, which says more about Spectre than Never Say Never Again). Then there’s the sex scene I mentioned above.

One critic retrospectively described the film as “successful only as a portrait of an over-the-hill superhero,” which is true… up to a point. I mean, most of the stuff about Bond being past his best seems designed to explain Connery’s grey hair and lined face — Bond is still irresistible to literally every woman he meets, and has no problem at all doing any of the action stuff. Connery’s performance isn’t bad either, although it didn’t quite feel like Bond to me. I’m not sure why. It’s not that he seems bored or like he’s only going through the motions (a sensation that definitely comes across in some of his original performances as the character), but he no longer seems to have quite the panache you expect from 007.

And yet, for all that, it’s not as irredeemably terrible as I’d remembered. For all the glaring faults, it actually ticks along with a decent level of entertainment value. So is it, in fact, unfairly maligned? It’s nowhere near the best of Bond, but it doesn’t descend into outright silliness like some of the official ones do (well, apart from those smoking shoes), and it even has a couple of pretty good bits. It would definitely be a lesser Bond — if it counted, which it doesn’t — but, as a couple of hours of off-brand Bondian fun, it could actually be a lot worse.

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #27

The Star Wars Saga Continues

Also Known As: Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back

(I may be a young whippersnapper, but I’m old enough that, when I was a kid, we still called it just The Empire Strikes Back. I thought that would be a nicer place for it among my 100 Favourites, therefore.)

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 124 minutes | 127 minutes (special edition)
BBFC: U
MPAA: PG

Original Release: 21st May 1980 (UK)
US Release: 20th June 1980
First Seen: VHS, c.1990

Stars
Mark Hamill (Star Wars, The Big Red One)
Harrison Ford (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Air Force One)
Carrie Fisher (Star Wars, Hannah and Her Sisters)
Billy Dee Williams (Mahogany, Batman)
Frank Oz (The Muppet Movie, Monsters, Inc.)

Director
Irvin Kershner (Never Say Never Again, RoboCop 2)

Screenwriters
Leigh Brackett (The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye)
Lawrence Kasdan (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Wyatt Earp)

Story by
George Lucas (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Willow)

The Story
After the evil Galactic Empire uncovers the Rebel Alliance base on Hoth, our heroes flee for the stars. Guided by a message from beyond the grave, Luke heads to meet an old Jedi master. Meanwhile, Han, Leia, Chewie, and the droids hide for a bit, then go to meet the only black man in the galaxy…

Our Heroes
Luke Skywalker: ace pilot; Jedi in training.
Han Solo: reformed criminal.
Princess Leia: wait, hold on, her planet was destroyed — surely now she’s either Queen Leia or, y’know, nothing?

Our Villain
Darth Vader: daddy issues personified.

Best Supporting Character
R2-D2 is the best supporting character in every Star Wars film, but in this one we are introduced to Yoda. Looks like a Muppet, as cheeky as a Muppet, much wiser than a Muppet. Probably. It’s hard to be certain.

Memorable Quote
“Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.” — Yoda

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation
Leia: “I love you.”
Han: “I know.”

Memorable Scene
After a dramatic lightsaber duel, Darth Vader lops off Luke’s hand, his weapon disappearing with it. As Luke dangles over an endless fall to Certain Death, Vader decides this is the perfect moment to impart a big secret…

Memorable Music
The Star Wars Main Theme is all well and good, but here regular composer John Williams introduces us to arguably an even more iconic tune — it certainly gets played outside of the films more often, as a universal signifier of evil. That’s right, it’s the Imperial March! All together now: dum dum dum dum-duhdum dum-duhdum…

Truly Special Effect
To animate the tauntauns, Phil Tippett and ILM pioneered the use of go motion, a version of stop-motion animation that moves the puppet while the frame is being exposed so as to create motion blur, thereby making the effects more realistic. (It purposefully wasn’t used for the AT-AT walkers, to emphasise their mechanical movement by keeping it slightly jerky.) Go motion would go on to be used on films including Dragonslayer, E.T., RoboCop, and Willow. It was going to be used for the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, but then someone had another idea…

Letting the Side Down
Lucas’ Special Edition fiddling isn’t as prevalent in Empire as in its original trilogy compatriots. If anything, the big windows in Cloud City are a nice touch.

Making of
The crew took crates of simulated snow from the Hoth set to the shoot in Norway, in case there wasn’t enough real snow on location. Somewhat ironic, then, that the location was hit by a snowstorm, coating the region so thoroughly that some of the scenes set in Hoth’s wilderness were filmed right outside the crew’s hotel.

Previously on…
The story begins, of course, in Star Wars. There’s tonnes of other material set before Empire, not least the infamous prequel trilogy.

Next time…
The Star Wars universe is immense, so don’t expect me to even attempt a summation of it. At the most essential, Return of the Jedi picks up the dangling threads of Empire and completes the trilogy, while last year’s The Force Awakens continues the narrative decades later, with more instalments to come in 2017 and 2019.

Awards
2 Oscars (Sound, Special Achievement in Visual Effects)
2 Oscar nominations (Score, Art Direction-Set Decoration)
1 BAFTA (Music)
2 BAFTA nominations (Production Design, Sound)
4 Saturn Awards (Science Fiction Film, Actor (Mark Hamill), Director, Special Effects)
4 Saturn nominations (Supporting Actor (Billy Dee Williams), Writing, Music, Costumes)
Won the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation
1 WGA Award nomination (Best Comedy Adapted from Another Medium — yes, really)

What the Critics Said
“It’s almost too much to expect that a sequel can ever top the success of the original, and I suspect that this will prove the case with The Empire Strikes Back […] While Empire doesn’t quite measure up to Star Wars in the freshness and originality of its script, and the plethora of space operas that has been jamming the screens ever since Star Wars has somewhat lessened the novelty of city-sized ships sailing the stratosphere, nevertheless this 20th Century-Fox release remains a rattling good entertainment, a worthy successor to the original — and far and away the best of its kind since Star Wars itself.” — Arthur Knight, The Hollywood Reporter (This original 1980 review also mixes up Yoda and Boba Fett. Fun.)

Score: 94%

What the Public Say
“the movie suffers from as uneven a vibe as its forebear, with, especially, the midsection lacking in elements designed to wholeheartedly sustain one’s interest. This proves to be especially true of Luke Skywalker’s ongoing (and less-than-captivating) training at the hands of Frank Oz’s Yoda, as such interludes suffer from a lack of momentum that bring the proceedings to a dead stop at each and every turn. […] an erratically-paced yet consistently entertaining installment in a not-quite-great sci-fi series.” — David Nusair, Reel Film Reviews (This site gives Episodes III, IV, V and VI a rating of 3/4, but Force Awakens a full 4/4. Just so you know.)

Elsewhere on 100 Films
I’ve written about the original Star Wars trilogy twice before, both times back in 2007. Of The Empire Strikes Back’s modified DVD version, I said that “the big change comes in dubbing both Boba Fett and the Emperor with appropriate actors from the prequel trilogy […] Other than shunning the poor original actors in such a way, Empire is much the same as ever.” Then, treating the film as the fifth part of the saga, I wrote that “a variety of elements […] have a very different impact in light of what we’ve experienced in the first trilogy. The most obvious is the revelation that Vader is Luke’s father: it’s no longer a twist, of course, but the emotional impact on Luke still makes it an important moment. Yoda […] seems to have gone a little loopy after several decades alone on Dagobah”.

Verdict

What more is there to say about The Empire Strikes Back, really? According to some polls, it’s the greatest movie of all time; even if you don’t go that far, it’s a masterpiece of blockbuster science-fantasy adventure. Every moment is tuned to tickle the thrill-glands; every special effect a labour of love that, with their inventiveness and genuine physicality, remains largely impressive today. And it’s so well paced that most people completely overlook that the storyline is chronologically challenged (Luke travels to Dagobah, meets Yoda, learns a bunch of tricky Jedi skills, and heads off to Cloud City, all while the rest of the characters hide in an asteroid field and are locked up for about five minutes). Plus it has the audacity to end on an almighty cliffhanger/revelation double-header! And in that spirit: it’s not even my favourite Star Wars movie. But I’ll tell you about that another time.

#28 will star… Travolta/Cage.

Building Empire (2006)

2015 #71
Jamie Benning | 137 mins | streaming | 16:9 | UK / English

The first of Jamie Benning’s “filmumentaries” looks at the making of sometime Best Film Ever, and widely-accepted Best Star Wars Ever, The Empire Strikes Back (as it used to just be known). To quote the documentary’s own intro:

Building Empire is an unofficial commentary to The Empire Strikes Back. It contains video clips, audio from cast and crew, alternate angles, reconstructed scenes, text facts and insights into the development and creation of the film.

It begins with director Irvin Kershner explaining how he came to be involved, though my main observation was how much he sounds like Yoda. Maybe that’s just me…

From there, there’s a focus on the special effects and how they were achieved. There’s a lot of detail about the myriad effects on Hoth, the creation of the asteroid field, and the puppetry of Yoda, as well as boundless trivia, like detailing the set-extension matte paintings. Other major themes include changes from early drafts and in deleted material; audio differences between the many different versions (not only the various release prints and Special Editions, but audiobooks and the like); commentary from actors on the evolution of their characters; plus detail on the actual filming, including the terrible weather on location in Norway (they were able to shoot some of Hoth’s desolate ice fields within feet of their hotel) and the rigours of the Luke/Vader lightsaber duel.

My personal highlight of the documentary comes in Cloud City, at the point Lando’s betrayal is revealed. Benning inserts a “deconstruction of an action scene” (Han shooting at Vader; Vader Force-stealing Han’s gun), using uncut footage and B-roll to quickly glimpse how such things are achieved — or were, before “with CGI” was the answer for everything. Here, Benning’s work transcends merely placing rare interviews or behind-the-scenes footage at the appropriate juncture, instead using that material to create something genuinely new and insightful.

Assuming you’re interested in snippets of minutiae and amusing trivia (if not, these filmumentaries definitely aren’t for you), the downsides are few. It’s a shame that, just occasionally, there are stretches with no additional material (though never for long) when at other times the additions race by in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flash. There are also quite a few instances labelled “restored music”, but there’s no comment from John Williams, Kershner, or anyone else on why so much was removed and/or changed.

Niggles aside, I felt like I enjoyed Building Empire even more than its later predecessor (how very Lucas). I’m not saying it’s fundamentally better — just as with Star Wars Begins, for those who love making-of details and trivia, Building Empire is a delightful grab bag of such bits and pieces.

4 out of 5

Building Empire can be watched on Vimeo here.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is released in the UK this Thursday, and in the US on Friday.

This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2015. Read more here.

The Star Wars Series

Introduction

While my main quest this year has been to see 100 films I’ve never seen before by the end of 2007, I’ve obviously seen other films around this. One of these has been to watch all six Star Wars films in their narrative order, over a three-day weekend. This turned out to be the weekend just passed, from Friday 10th to Sunday 12th. This special entry documents my thoughts on the films when viewed back to back in such a way.


Star Wars

Of course, everyone knows that these films were made ‘back to front’, in that 4 to 6 were made from 1977 to 1983 and 1 to 3 were made from 1999 to 2005. One might argue that there are reasons for viewing a story in such an order (for example, Memento works because it’s back to front), but the fact that the films are numbered so suggests they should be watched that way. I’ve tried to view them with this in mind — not as two trilogies from 4 to 6 and 1 to 3, but as one continuous story across six films, 1 to 6. Hopefully my comments reflect this. To help bolster this illusion, I watched the first two on Friday, the next two on Saturday, and the final two on Sunday.

For the sake of clarification, the versions of 4 to 6 watched were the most recently remastered DVD releases, complete with all sorts of controversial changes. Details of them can be found on sites such as IMDb.


A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away....


Episode I
The Phantom Menace
1999 | George Lucas | DVD

The Phantom MenaceEverything you remember about Episode I is still true: the plot is too mired in political machinations, the dialogue is truly dire, the acting frequently wooden, the direction flat, and Jar Jar Binks is as annoying as ever. There are some good bits — the pod race is exciting and the four-way climax works, especially the excellent lightsaber battle. A lot of the CGI holds up remarkably well, but equally a lot of it wouldn’t pass muster for a computer game now.

If you’re a 10-year-old it all might be fine: you’ve grown up with CGI everywhere, you won’t notice the dialogue, most plots wash over you anyway, the action is cool, and you’re the same age as Anakin so you might not find him as whingeingly irritating. The Star Wars series would never have taken off (probably at all, let alone to the degree it has) if this had been the first entry we all saw.

2 out of 5


Episode II
Attack of the Clones
2002 | George Lucas | DVD

Attack of the ClonesTen years on from Episode I and Anakin’s a fully fledged Jedi (almost), Padme’s a senator, and Obi-Wan has a beard. Episode II benefits from improved dialogue and performances. Unfortunately it’s still far from ideal — the overuse of CGI leaves much of it looking fake (this is, almost, an animated film with a few real actors in) and the first hour is blighted by a slow pace, too much plot, and the allegedly all-important love story in which Anakin and Padme fall in love because, well, the plot says they do.

There’s also a building sense of the connectedness of all the films… well, obviously, because the Clone Wars kick off here; but it also more subtly lays the groundwork for other plot and character developments. It’s a film still filled with flaws, but it still feels a lot better than the previous one in spite of them.

3 out of 5


Episode III
Revenge of the Sith
2005 | George Lucas | DVD

Revenge of the SithThe sextet reaches its darkest point: Anakin turns to the Dark Side and slaughters the Jedi younglings before burning in the fires of Mustafar. It’s all very depressing. To the film’s credit, it doesn’t conclude; that’s to say, as the last film to be released you might’ve expected Lucas to bring things to a definite conclusion, but instead it ends with a sense that there’s more to come — exactly how things should be at the halfway point!

The rest of the film is a mixed bag. The opening and closing 25 minutes are action-filled excellence, all epic space battles and lightsaber duels; Obi-Wan vs. Anakin even manages to pack an emotional punch. But the Anakin-Padme love story still rings false, and the latter is wasted, sitting around in her apartments waiting for updates and then dying of Plot Implausibility. In trying to make Anakin a Complex and Divided character, Lucas instead makes him seem fickle and underwritten. The simpler, action/adventure-orientated characterisation of the later films is actually stronger and deeper.

But I’m getting ahead of myself: Revenge of the Sith is undoubtedly a better film than the two that precede it, but we all really know the best is yet to come.

3 out of 5


Episode IV
A New Hope
1977 / 2004 | George Lucas | DVD

A New HopeHere it is: the big crossover; the moment of truth. How does it fare? Pretty well, actually. A long time has passed since the dark finale of Episode III and there’s undoubtedly a lighter feel (despite the Empire being in control!) C-3PO and R2-D2 are onboard the ship from the end of Episode III, a useful visual link as things almost start over — it’s Luke’s story now, and, with a new actor as Obi-Wan, it’s only the droids and Darth Vader who are recognisable from before.

The events of the previous trilogy add weight to Guinness’ performance, as well as to the mythology that gets thrown about. Obi-Wan’s final duel may not be as visually stunning as the one on Mustafar, but there’s added emotion now we’ve seen the character develop. Real sets, costumes and models largely look better than CGI, though there are a few dodgy effects that you’d think they’d’ve fixed. Sadly, the CGI added in 1997 doesn’t seem to have been improved for the 2004 release, so things like Jabba look pretty dreadful; that said, its presence helps smooth the link between the trilogies, as does the music, a couple of plots (Obi-Wan vs. Vader; the Death Star) and some ship designs.

However, the biggest change is in tone: I to III present an epic fantasy story, full of wizard-like Jedi, intricate galactic politics, and ancient prophecies; by contrast, A New Hope is straight-up action/adventure, far more concerned with gunfights, tricky situations, exciting dogfights, and amusing banter than with whether the President has been granted too much executive power. It’s all the better for it — even without glossy CGI and choreographed lightsaber duels, this is by far the most fun film so far.

If anyone’s only seen the prequels they may be baffled why so many people love Star Wars. This is the answer.

4 out of 5


Episode V
The Empire Strikes Back
1980 / 2004 | Irvin Kershner | DVD

The Empire Strikes BackThere are a variety of elements in the series’ penultimate film that have a very different impact in light of what we’ve experienced in the first trilogy. The most obvious is the revelation that Vader is Luke’s father: it’s no longer a twist, of course, but the emotional impact on Luke still makes it an important moment. Yoda’s line, “There is another”, is less mysterious, as is Luke’s ability to telepathically alert Leia near the end. Thank God their kiss is only a brief moment of humour though!

Speaking of Yoda, he seems to have gone a little loopy after several decades alone on Dagobah; the odd little green puppet is quite far removed from the wise old CGI sage we’ve seen before. His first mention (by a ‘hallucination’ of Obi-Wan) is also far less mysterious considering we know who Yoda is.

The film finds itself lacking in the lightsaber duel department — after the long, complex fights of the prequels, the Luke/Vader duel looks decidedly weak; though, at the end of it, Vader exhibits characteristics which are very reminiscent of Anakin in Revenge of the Sith. Also, Han and Leia’s burgeoning romance is infinitely more believable than Anakin and Padme’s in only a fraction of the screen time.

With Yoda, Boba Fett, the Emperor and Jabba all cropping up, threads planted and grown in all four preceding films are coming together, and things are in place to be wrapped up in the concluding film…

4 out of 5


Episode VI
Return of the Jedi
1983 / 2004 | Richard Marquand | DVD

Return of the JediConsidering it’s the grand finale, it’s perhaps surprising that Episode VI is largely the lightest of all the films, filled with extra humour and all those cute little Ewoks. Personally, I like the Ewoks — they make me laugh, go “aww”, and it’s sad when they die! Yoda’s death is another sad moment, and even more so having seen him in full action in the first three films. The threat posed by the Emperor is also even more apparent, there’s more of a sense that Luke truly could follow in his father’s footsteps, and there’s added poetic irony in Darth Vader’s final decision — it is the same thing that caused him to turn to the Dark Side that saves him from it.

Here is also the biggest failing of the films as a single series, however: the prequel trilogy is endlessly obsessed with the prophecy about Anakin bringing balance to the Force; it isn’t mentioned once here. A dubbed line or added shot with Yoda saying something would’ve been nice. Instead, the major change at the end is adding Hayden Christensen over Sebastian Shaw. It’s a dreadful idea on paper… and so too in practice. He looks out of place and doesn’t at all match with the man we just saw die in Luke’s arms. Seeing celebrations across Bespin, Tatooine, Naboo and Coruscant neatly ties this right back to Episode I and shows the larger impact of the end of the Empire in what is an otherwise surprisingly brief and low-key post-victory epilogue.

Another thing worth a quick mention is the speederbike chase through the forests of Endor — one of the series’ very best action sequences, and all the more effective for being entirely practical instead of CGI. When all’s said and done, I think Jedi is actually the most underrated of all the films.

4 out of 5


Final Thoughts

So, does it work?

As with most things it’s a case of yes and no. As I’m sure you’ve seen, my review of A New Hope covers many of my thoughts on the changeover between the two trilogies, and my comments on The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi elaborate on how things progress across the final two episodes. In short, it is, perhaps surprisingly, not the haircuts or quality of effects that really give away the change between the two trilogies, and the 28-year gap between Episodes III and IV; rather, it’s the dramatic shift in tone, away from epic fantasy into thrilling action/adventure. This is not a bad thing, but when viewed in order it leaves you longing for Yoda and Obi-Wan to start wittering away about the fulfillment of prophecies and whatnot at the end of Episode VI.

The other thing potentially bothering is how some of the original trilogy’s plot explanations come off, considering we’ve just seen them spelt out in almost seven hours of detail. Pretty well, as it turns out — most of Obi-Wan’s explanations to Luke are surprisingly brief, coming over more as gentle reminders to the audience, or at worst well-handled instances of those always-awkward cases of “Character X must be told Information Y that audience already knows”. There’s the odd reference that doesn’t quite gel with what we’ve seen (for an example, Leia having some vague memories of her birth mother) and the lightsaber duels aren’t up to the calibre of those in the new trilogy, but that’s hardly bothersome.

If you’re a fan of the films it’s an interesting exercise to watch them in this order, and I’d recommend giving it a go. If you know someone who’s never seen them before, especially if they’re young enough to not be aware that Vader is Luke’s father, I’d say they should still watch the original trilogy first — it may still be effective in numerical order, but nothing beats that as a shocking revelation!

Star Wars – Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back – DVD Edition (1980/2004)

2007 #82a
Irvin Kershner | 122 mins | DVD | U / PG

Star Wars - Episode V: The Empire Strikes BackLittle here is visually different from the ’97 Special Edition. Cloud City benefits from the CGI windows and lighting it was given back then, though the views look as fake as ever. The big change comes in dubbing both Boba Fett and the Emperor with appropriate actors from the prequel trilogy (as well as a few other minor audio tweaks).

Other than shunning the poor original actors in such a way, Empire is much the same as ever. Widely held as the best in the series, of course, which is not something I’d dispute. The 7th best movie ever made* though? Possibly a bit of a stretch.

4 out of 5

My thoughts on the Star Wars saga as a whole — including more detail on The Empire Strikes Back — can be read here.

* Eight years on, it’s fallen to 12th.