Friday, May 07, 2010

Flashback Friday: The Empire Strikes Back

Since May the 4th has become the Star Wars fans chosen "holiday", and this year marks the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back, its only natural that I feature my favourite episode in the science fiction saga for a Flashback Friday post.

Star Wars was released in 1977, the year I began Kindergarten. I remember being so entralled with the movie. Even today, when I stare at the original poster for the film, I'm taken back to my childhood. The poster was enough to get me excited. One thing I most remember, though, was that I had asked my dad why Darth Vader was not killed at the end of the film. He told me that it was so that there would be a sequel. "What's a sequel?" I asked him. When he told me that there would be more films coming out, I got really excited.

In 1980, we moved to Hill Air Force Base, Utah. I would be starting the third grade in the fall. While waiting for base housing, my father rented a house off base (in Layton), which was near a Mormon church. I'm not sure when we went to see The Empire Strikes Back, but I remember that before the movie, we had dinner at Burger King and bought special glassware that featured characters and scenes from the movie (back in the day before fast food restaurants switched to souvenir plastic drinking cups). I was really excited to see this sequel and it did not disappoint.

My parents did not seem to like it very much, mostly because of the cliff-hanger ending. But among my friends and I, this movie fired our imaginations like nothing else. Sure, there were plenty of "scary" moments (to this day, I'm still spooked by the scene where Yoda speaks in a grave voice and says: "You will be. You-will-be!" in response to Luke's boast that he's not afraid). However, the scenes on Dagobah are some of the most profound spiritual concepts I've ever come across.

In fact, I used "the force" to learn how to ride a bicycle. In the summer of 1980, I wanted dad to buy me a Big Wheel, but he wisely felt that I was getting too big to have a Big Wheel and convinced me that a bicycle was better. Dad bought bicycles for my brother and I (the same style...a perpetual habit, as I was pretty much raised as my brother's twin even though were are separated by 14 months). Because of my brother's disability, he was given training wheels. Dad felt that I didn't need training wheels, so he taught me how to ride the bicycle in the empty parking lot of the Mormon church. This is where I "used the force" to achieve balance, and each time I looked behind me to see if my dad was still holding my bicycle up and jogging behind me, I'd see that he let go quite a distance back and then I'd crash. This was in the days when there were no bicycle helmets. I received enough cuts and bruises, but I always heard a voice in my mind to "use the force." In fact, I thought of my bicycle as my own X-Wing fighter, and the garage of the house as the docking bay of a space cruiser.

During the winter time, when there was snow on the ground, my friends and I would pretend that we were rebels on the ice planet of Hoth and reenact the opening scenes from The Empire Strikes Back. At the time, though, I thought I was the only one who liked Empire more than Star Wars. Later on, it was actually a surprise to me that other Star Wars fans also consider Empire to be the best of the saga.

In 1989, when I lived in Atlanta, the church congregation used materials from a conservative Christian group, Focus on the Family, for the senior high Sunday School class. I was able to convince the teacher to drop the materials after Dr. James Dobson attacked two things in different issues: the inherent Buddhism in The Empire Strikes Back and the Mormon church (our religious "cousins"). Despite disagreeing with Dobson that The Empire Strikes Back opened young people's minds towards "un-Christian" ideas, I had no idea that the things Yoda told Luke Skywalker was taken from Buddhist ideas. Up until that period of my life, I took people's words that Buddhism was a false religion and didn't bother to learn about it on my own. I have Dr. Dobson to thank for pointing out the Buddhism in The Empire Strikes Back, which helped lead me on the spiritual journey I've been on for the past twenty-some years. I'm glad my mind has been open by spiritual ideas that come from other traditions that some Christians feel threatened by. The narrow-mindedness of conservative Christians over the years pushed me towards the ideas promoted by this most incredible religion (even though I'm not a Buddhist, I consider Buddhism to be the truest spiritual idea I've come across. And one of the best things about Buddhism is that they don't require you to become a Buddhist. I can incorporate the beliefs into my own faith tradition, even if it puts me at odds with fellow church members. However, I'm loyal to my family religion, mostly due to the lifelong relationships with people within my church).

To this day, I see nothing wrong with anything Yoda spoke of in those scenes on Dagobah. In fact, I agree with much of what he says. Often, I feel like Luke Skywalker in my ability to manifest the small things (best represented in the film by the moving of rocks and even R2-D2), but seem unable to manifest the big thing (a new and better career for myself, or in the film's example, the moving of the X-Wing from the swamp onto dry land). In reality, there is no difference in the small thing or the big thing. Only different in my mind. Until I can manifest the new job reality for myself, I feel like a sullen Luke Skywalker, sulking on a rock about my failure as a Jedi warrior.

Sometimes, when I need a huge dose of inspiration, I'll watch this scene on DVD (I love DVDs for the easy access to specific scenes). I always feel goosebumps whenever I watch it. The scenes on Dagobah are truly some of the most spiritually important scenes I've ever seen in any movie.
The above photo of Darth Vader is representative of the poster a friend of mine bought for my birthday gift during my only birthday party that my parents had for me. Though my best friend at the time threatened not to come if I invited another friend of mine (one of my biggest regrets in life that I would definitely do differently), he also promised me a Walkman for a gift (it was the rage at the time). I was disappointed to get a poster of Darth Vader, because I hated Darth Vader (he thought Darth Vader was cool). I was always a Luke Skywalker guy. I pretended that I was Luke Skywalker, I took the lessons of Yoda to heart, and I was sorely disappointed when Princess Leia fell for "the bad boy" (and worse, turned out to be Luke's twin sister!). Story of my life (girls I like always seem to fall for "the bad boy").

When The Return of the Jedi came out in 1983, I was mildly excited, but I also felt that it would not be as good. Its funny in retrospect to think back on that I actually felt quite deeply that I would not like the final installment as much as The Empire Strikes Back. I wonder why that's so. What is it about the second film in this trilogy that so many people find to be the best one of the entire six-episode series? My tastes are not too far off from most everyone else. It was an amazing discovery in adulthood to learn that other guys loved the second film the best.

Happy 30th Anniversary, Empire! May the Force continue to be with you.

(Here's an interesting take on the Star Wars saga as it relates to the American political situation between 2001 and 2008).


Anonymous said...

There are a lot of reasons why Empire resonates more with many than the other installments of this saga. In Star Wars the heroes sort of stumbled into their adventure.

In Empire, the heroes -both Luke and Han - made the choice to be within the journey, and vowed loyalty and responsibility to "the cause". It was so much greater than themselves as heroes and both were happy to die in pursuit of the cause and for the other.

In EMPIRE, the ultimate goal is defined as free of control from the evil empire. And the heroes will embrace all avenues to gain their freedom from being controlled. Certainly The Empire was evil - because it was into control and fear. However, freedom from The Empire as in "Return" meant mass chaos and - what now?

The appeal of Empire is comparable to the appeal of military engagements. The objectives are clearly defined and the leaders have an admirable cause (both sides feel this way). Within this designated military scenario there is the opportunity for phenomenal individual growth. Bonds of brothers, life and death feats of courage, duty to a greater cause, life in the moment where every twig snap is a big deal.

In times of peace, as Luke was on Dagobah, the warrior energy is unsettled. There is no leader designating how to use the warrior energy. Instead, Luke flies off while his training is incomplete.

The lack of blockbuster appeal of the rest of the saga has more to do with the lack of drama required to live within peace.

Within an environment of peace there is no greater enemy to fight except the spiritual one within.

As a result, the war machine rolls forth. And the father we despise is also the mirror of what we can become.

All the Star Wars stories were/are based on mythic facts about the human condition. Only with awareness is there any hope for change. If change is desired.

Many fear change. They'd rather die for the cause against an enemy that prevents their individual freedom to embrace change - than have to create change within during peace. Conflict is so much easier. It's black and white, good vs. evil. Peace contains all the colors of the rainbow.

Anonymous said...

快樂是你與生俱來的權力,它不應該取決於你完成什麼。 ..................................................

Sansego said...

Thanks Terripatrick for your in depth thoughts about why "Empire" resonates so deeply with people, compared to the other episodes in the saga.

I have an excellent book about "Star Wars" and Joseph Campbell's "The Hero's Journey" idea. Its an awesome book to read, with a lot of great pictures. George Lucas was inspired by Joseph Campbell's "A Hero With a Thousand Faces", which is a book that should be required reading in high school.