Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back – The 3D Breakdown, Part 1

Continuing the original Star Wars Trilogy breakdown, 10 mins at a time – starting with the first 10 minutes of A New Hope and ending with the last 10 minutes of Return of the Jedi. Each segment will include a brief synopsis, some truly nerdy trivia, thoughts about the scenes, as well as the moments that were Good, Bad, and Bantha Poodoo. All this leads to the premiere of the new Star Wars film The Force Awakens!”

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) 00:00:00 – 00:10:00

I’d just as soon kiss a Wookie.

• Here we go! The opening crawl, this one written by screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan and not Brian De Palma.
• According to the crawl, Darth Vader now knows it was Luke Skywalker that blew up the Death Star. I betcha Luke bragged WAY too much about “Oh man, did I tell you about that time I blew up The Death Star?” and eventually he ended up telling the wrong dude and it got back to Vader.
• The Imperial Probe Droid’s beautiful design was courtesy of comic book artist Moebius.
• The stop-motion used in this film holds up remarkably well. Phil Tippet had come up with a new technique called “Go Motion” and for all intents and purposes it was the CGI of its day. This shot of the Tauntaun running through the frozen landscape of Hoth is superb.
• Wampa attack!
• Luke’s all messed up. Mark Hamill was in a car accident before filming Empire and had to get reconstuctive surgery. There is a legend that the writers wrote in the Wampa attack to explain why Luke’s face looks different. But after reading some article on the subject, it’s clear that the Wampa scene was written before Mark even had his car wreck. Just chalk it up to luck.
• The full size set of the Millennium Falcon is amazing.
• Princess Leia was cute in A New Hope but now she’s hot, and don’t think Han hasn’t recognized that.
• I want Han Solo’s winter jacket.
• Okay, the scene where Han is getting ready to go out on his Tauntaun to find Luke, there is a dead Tauntaun on the ground. When Han says, “That’s right, and my friend is out in it.” you can see a big blood splatter on the wall behind him. This came as a result of a Wampa attack inside the Base. There was a whole side plot about Wampas inside the base and the rebels having to deal with them that got edited out of the movie. If you do enough searching on the Internet you can find footage and stills and storyboards of these scenes. Pretty cool stuff.
• There is not a Star Wars fan alive that hasn’t tried to move an object into their hand by using the force.
• The Hoth exterior scenes where filmed in Norway. No fake snow here; this is the real deal.
The Good: Han and Leia’s exchange in the hallway.
The Bad: Harrison Ford’s over-reliance on “the pointy finger” acting technique.
Bantha Poodoo: The Wampas scene getting cut.

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) 00:10:01 – 00:20:00

That’s two you owe me junior.

• During the scenes with Luke stumbling through the snow, the film crew was actually inside the doorway of the Norwegian hotel they were all staying in, all nice and warm and cozy.
• The guy telling Leia the shield doors must be closed is John Ratzenberger from Cheers. You know, the bar where everybody knows your name? I’m not sure that is his voice though. It might have been dubbed. Lets go find out… Well, after perusing the Internet it seems that it WAS John Ratzenberger’s voice.
• Well look who it is, the ghost of Know-It-All Kenobi.
• Han must have reached the first marke, because down goes his Tauntaun.
• Han uses Luke’s lightsaber to cut open the Tauntaun. I guess ancient weapons can be useful, huh Han?
• “I thought they smelled bad on the outside.”
• These flying scenes with the snowspeeders are super cool, although ILM ran into problems with matting in the snowspeeders on the white backgrounds of Hoth. You can actually see through the cockpit and windshield supports of the speeders. Whatchagonnado? It was 1980.
• That stuff Luke is floating in is called Bacta. Bacta is a powerful healing agent created by the alien species The Vratix. It promotes rapid healing and was extremely hard to find during the reign of The Empire.
• That medical droid’s name is 2-1B, or Too-Onebee if you prefer.
• Luke looks like he was in a car wreck.
• “I guess you don’t know everything about women.” Leia, there isn’t a man alive that knows everything about women. Give a smuggler a break.
• Now that’s a kiss you wouldn’t give your brother. Huh, ummm, wait a sec…
• It’s kind of a small thing but I really love the sound of the Imperial Probe Droid’s antennas clicking down. Nothing escapes Ben Burtt’s touch!
• Han shoots the Probe Droid first and blows it up!
The Good: “Laugh it up Fuzzball.”
The Bad: R2D2 really needs to stop spouting off depressing odds calculations.
Bantha Poodoo: Luke leaning back after Leia kisses him. Bro, nobody likes a braggart.

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) 00:20:01 – 00:30:00

Right now I feel like I can take on the whole Empire myself.

• “The Imperial March” is, in my opinion, John Williams’s finest hour. He perfectly captures everything about The Empire in that theme and every time you hear it you know the bad guy is coming. Brilliant work.
• Man look at the size of those Star Destroyers, they are huge… holy crap! Look at that the size of THAT one! That monster ship is Darth Vader’s personal Super Star Destroyer, The Executor. At a monumental 19,000 meters in length, it represented the largest traditional warship in the galaxy. The Executor had more then 5,000 weapon emplacements, enough firepower to blast any planetary surface to pulp in hours.
• “Groups seven and ten will stay behind to fly the speeders…” This Rebel soldie’s name is Shawn Valdez and I gotta say that’s some pretty bad acting on that guy’s part. But just who WAS that actor who played Shawn Valdez? And why was he so bad? It’s time to do some digging!

Shawn Valdez first appeared in the 1980 film Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, portrayed by uncredited Star Wars visual effects art director Joe Johnston. Each of the Echo Base extras in the brief scene in which Valdez appears are, in fact, Star Wars matte artists, including conceptual artist Ralph McQuarrie, Harrison Ellenshaw, and Michael Pangrazio. Johnston, who also has a cameo as a Death Star trooper in Star Wars: A New Hope, has gone on to direct such feature films as Jumanji, Jurassic Park III, and Captain America: The First Avenger.

valdez cardThe character was first provided a name on the “Shawn Valdez” card as part of the November 1996 Hoth Limited expansion set of Decipher’s Star Wars: Customizable Card Game. The card is named for Shawn Valdez, a Jacksonville, Florida, boy who died from leukemia at the age of thirteen after a near eight-year struggle. Valdez was an avid fan of the Star Wars franchise and the trading card game. Dreaming of having his own SW:CCG tournament rating on the Decipher website, Valdez died a day after attending a SW:CCG tournament from which he had to leave early due to weariness brought on by his condition. Due to the efforts of Gregg Keefer, who ran the tournament, and with Lucasfilm’s permission, Decipher agreed to name a Star Wars character in Valdez’s memory. The card’s text, which describes the Shawn Valdez character as a “leader” and a “poetic musician,” is a direct tribute to Valdez for his courage and for poetry he contributed to a book titled I Will Sing Life, compiled by children with life-threatening illnesses. AWESOME!

• Han and Luke’s goodbye at the Falcon is the last time they will see each other until they meet again in Jabba’s Palace in Return of the Jedi.
• Vader’s ship is so evil that its engines burn RED instead of BLUE like the other Star Destroyers.
• Admiral Ozzel is pretty clumsy and stupid. The scene where Vader force-chokes Ozzel through the video screen is disturbingly hilarious. Watch the guy behind Ozzel as he drops to the ground. Classic and one of the reasons we love Vader as a bad guy. He’s kinda got a sense of humor. Kinda.
• Ion cannons fired particles that seriously interfered with the operation of electronics and computer systems, shorting circuits and often disabling them outright, in much the same manner as an electromagnetic pulse. The actual physical damage would sometimes result in fused joints on machines, due to the heat produced.
• AT-AT’s! Which stands for “All Terrain-Armored Transport.”
• And now it’s time to get to know the members of Rogue Squadron.
Rogue Leader: Luke Skywalker and gunner Dak Ralter (KIA)
Rogue Two: Zev Senesca (KIA) and gunner Kit Valent (KIA)
Rogue Three: Wedge Antilles and gunner Wes Janson
Rogue Four: Derek “Hobbie” Klivian and gunner Kesin Ommis
• I’d now like to take a moment to talk about the horrible treatment and sad, unnecessary, death of Dak, Luke’s snowspeeder gunner. At the start of the battle Dak is all gung-ho and ready to take on the Empire. He’s got everything in order and you can tell he takes his gunner position seriously. He even asks Luke how he is feeling. Truly a nice guy and someone that you want to hang out with. I mean look at that smile he’s got on his face – so happy to be alive and flying with the hero of the Battle of Yavin. As he and Luke are flying towards the oncoming AT-AT’s he informs Luke, “Luke I have no approach vector. I’m not set.” Luke totally blows him off, like it’s not a big deal. Then Dak warns Luke, “Oh Luke we’ve got a malfunction in fire control,” and that he’ll “have to cut into the auxiliary power.” Again Luke blows him off and tells him not to worry about it. A couple of moments later the fire control panel explodes, killing Dak. Dak knew the danger of the malfunction but because of Luke’s impatience to take out one of the AT-AT’s first, before Wedge did, he ended up getting Dak killed. Then to add insult to injury, Luke informs Wedge, “I’ve lost my gunner.” Doesn’t even call him by name, just “my gunner.” Sad. R.I.P Dak, we hardly knew you.
• Wedge and Janson take out the AT-AT and blow it up, “Yoo haa, that got’em!” Wait, I thought that that armor was too strong for blasters? Nice shooting Wedge.
The Good: John Williams’s “Imperial March Theme.” Too good not to be THE GOOD.
The Bad: Joe Johnston’s acting. Stick with directing bud.
Bantha Poodoo: The sad life and death of Dak.

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) 00:30:01 – 00:40:00

Never tell me the odds.

• Han and Chewie still working on The Falcon as The Battle of Hoth rages. “No, this one goes here, that one goes there.”
• Inspiration for the AT-AT came from Paraceratherium, an extinct rhino-like species and the largest land mammal in history. George Lucas later dismissed claims that the AT-AT design was inspired by container cranes at the Port of Oakland (across San Francisco Bay from ILM’s San Rafael offices), calling it a “myth”; animator Phil Tippett told the San Francisco Chronicle the same thing.

ILM created models ranging from 6 to 50 centimeters in height. ILM filmed the AT-ATs using stop-motion animation against matte paintings created by Michael Pangrazio because attempts at compositing miniature footage against live-action background footage yielded mediocre results. Additionally, ILM studied elephants to determine the best way to animate the four-legged AT-ATs. Although the stop-motion animation style gave the AT-ATs a jerky, “staccato-like” effect on film, ILM found this movement acceptable because of the AT-ATs’ mechanical nature.

The sound of the AT-AT walking was created by Sound Designer Ben Burtt, by using the sound of an industrial sheet metal stamper.
• Oh look, a little baby AT-AT. awww.
• Luke gets shot down. An AT-AT is bearing down on the crashed speeder. Luke scrambles to get out and even looks like he is going pull out his dead gunner, Dak, so he can give him a proper burial, but no, he’s just grabbing that magnetic grappling hook. Dak gets completely crushed by the AT-AT’s foot. The horror. The horror.
• Luke pulls the ol’ “Throw a Grenade in the AT-AT’s Belly” trick.
• I love how the lead AT-AT moves back on one hind leg to shoot down the speeder flying by. Super sick move!
• Snowtroopers! Now it’s even harder to see out of those helmets!
• “Would it help if I got out and pushed?” “It might!”
• Han hitting the Falcon like The Fonz to start it. “Aaaayyyyy.”
• R2D2’s beeps and whistles are translated by Luke’s X-Wing and he can read what R2 is saying on his heads-up display in the cockpit.
• Now those are some maneuvers, unlike the last time the Falcon got chased by Star Destroyers. ILM really upped their game with Empire. The effects are 10 times better then in A New Hope. Lucas had the money now to get things rolling and spared no expense to do things right. It shows, and the effects hold up astonishingly well even 35 years later. Not a CGI shot to be had either! Nice work, ILM.
• Asteroids!
The Good: Phil Tippett and Industrial Light and Magic for killing it in the Battle of Hoth.
The Bad: Should have been MORE AT-AT action.
Bantha Poodoo: The continued desecration of Dak.

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) 00:40:01 – 00:50:00

Ahhh, cannot get your ship out.

• One of those asteroids is actually a potato. Can you find which one?
• Luke arrives at Dagobah, a swamp planet. Why is it in the Star Wars universe that planets are either “all or nothing” type planets? You know what I mean? All desert planet. All snow planet. All swamp planet. All city planet. All forest planet. All lava planet. All water planet. All partly cloudly with a 65 % chance of rain planet.
• “R2? Where are you?” R2 got swallowed up by a swamp creature called a Dragonsnake, but lucky for R2 it doesn’t like the taste of droids.
• Check out where R2D2 lands after the Dragonsnake spits him out: on top of a skeleton of a creature the snake had for dinner last night.
• So turns out Vader’s bald. And white.
• Admiral Piett’s look on his face says it all. “Vader, bro, next time close the meditation chamber lid!”
• Leia: “Captain, being held by you is hardly enough to get me excited.” Han: “Sorry, I haven’t got time for anything else.” we’ve definitely just entered PG-13 territory.
• The first appearance of Yoda. As you can see, Yoda has done lost his mind living on Dagobah all by himself for the last 21 years, talking only to toads and lizards. Some fans will say that Yoda was just messing with Luke when they first met, trying to fool him and show him that you should never judge a book by its cover and other mystical Jedi wisdom. But I say Yoda was off his rocker and only when Luke showed up and started talking about the Jedi and Vader and stuff did Yoda regain his wits and snap out of his lunacy.

Yoda is one of the greatest movie characters of all time which blows me away because Yoda is a MUPPET! Plastic and cloth. What brought Yoda to life was not the material outside but what was “inside” Yoda, namely Frank Oz. Yoda is Frank’s crowning achievement and probably should have won him an Academy Award (but can you see a Muppet winning an Oscar?) While 95% of what makes Yoda “Yoda” was Frank Oz, there are a bunch of other people that helped Frank bring Yoda to life and are deserving of praise. And I’m here to do just that…

RALPH MCQUARRIE –  Yoda illustrations
JOE JOHNSTON – Yoda illustrations
STUART FREEBORN  – creature designer, sculptor of Yoda, builder of the first animatronic Yoda mechanism (Yoda’s Dad)  (ANH, ESB, ROTJ )
FRANK OZ – chief puppeteer and voice of Yoda (ESB, ROTJ, TPM)
WENDY MIDENER FROUD –  Yoda body fabricator, liaison between Stu and the Muppets, puppet armature builder and Yoda puppeteer (ESB) 
NICK MALEY – Builder of the second animatronic head, Yoda mold maker, skin maker, head assembly, art worker. (ESB)
GRAHAM FREEBORN – Yoda’s make-up & hairdresser (ESB, ROTJ)
NICK DUDMAN – trainee generally assisting Stu Freeborn assembling the prototype Yoda (ESB) prosthetic make-up artist (ROTJ)
DAVID BARCLAY – trainee, Yoda lip modeler & Yoda puppeteer (Yoda’s eyes) (ESB) puppeteer (ROTJ)
BOB KEEN – trainee & mechanical assistant who worked with Nick Maley on the second animatronic Yoda head (ESB)
RON HONE – radio control supervisor (ESB)
DENNIS LOWE – radio control technician assembling the radio controlled Yoda mechanism used in Luke’s backpack (ESB)
KATHRYN “KATHY” MULLEN – Yoda puppeteer (ESB)
MIKE QUINN – Yoda puppeteer (ROTJ)
DAVID GREENAWAY – Yoda puppeteer (ROTJ)
DEEP ROY – little person inside the “walking Yoda” (ESB)

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) 00:50:01 – 00:60:00

I’m nice men.

• C3PO tells Han he is having a hard time understanding the Millennium Falcon. Come on 3PO, I thought you were fluent in more then 3 million forms of communication? What’s up?
• “Chewie, I think we need to replace the negative power coupling.”
• And now it’s time for an excerpt from the Harlequin Romance Novel, “The Princess and the Scoundrel.”
Han slowly moved into the Falcon doorway. “Sorry Princess!”
Leia made an effort not to look at him. “Would you stop calling me that!”
Han casually replied, “Alright… Leia.”
Leia forced herself to remain defiant. “You make it so hard sometimes.”
Han moved in closer to her, she could feel his breath on her neck. “I do. I really do. You could be a little nicer, though. Come on, admit it. Sometimes you think I’m all right.”
Leia began to tremble inside. “Occasionally, maybe… when you aren’t acting like a scoundrel.”
Han pressed up against her and took her hand in his. “Scoundrel?! Scoundrel. I like the sound of that.”
Leia tried to seem distant but she was already falling for him. “Stop that.”
Han knew she was in his hands now and he began to move. “Stop what?”
Leia could barely talk. “That. My hands are dirty.”
“My hands are dirty too. What are you afraid of?”
“I’m not afraid.”
“You’re trembling.”
Leia knew what was coming and she welcomed it at this point. “I’m not… trembling.”
Han gazed into her eyes. “You like me because I’m a scoundrel.”
Leia saw into Solo’s eyes for the first time and it was here, in the Falcon engine room, that she fell in love with Han. “I don’t like scoundrels. I like nice men.”
Han fell in love right back. “I’m nice men.”
• See that asteroid that just hit a Star Destroyer? Well the next cut, watch the hologram of the Captain of that Star Destroyer.
• Hey look out Vader, you almost tripped over a mouse droid!
• The first appearance of The Emperor. This was before Ian McDiarmid was cast to play the character in Return of the Jedi and the prequel trilogy. Instead, makeup director Rick Baker dressed up his wife, Elaine Baker, for the part. In post-production, a chimpanzee’s eyes were superimposed onto Mrs. Baker’s face to make the appearance of the Emperor more unsettling. The voice was provided by a man, veteran voice actor Clive Revill. The scene was later re-shot with McDiarmid and some slightly different dialog for the DVD release, so your best bet to see the original “woman with chimp eyes” Emperor would be on VHS or YouTube.
• R2D2 is all like, “Screw watching over the camp. It’s raining out here and I want to come inside Yoda’s cozy little hut!”
• The voice of Obi Wan Kenobi seems to even startle Yoda. Watch him look around, “Where the heck is that voice coming from?”
• Luke says, “I’m not afraid.” Yoda tells him, “ewwwahh, you will be. You will be.” Uh yeah, well right now I’m afraid of YOU Yoda! You’re freaking me out! Stop talking like that!
• Tie Bombers!
• Mynocks! Wanna know more about Mynocks? That’s what I’m here for.

Mynocks often attached themselves to passing starships to chew on power cables. A drop in the power of the hyperdrive could increase the travel time. They were considered parasites by pilots and starport personnel, and failure to properly shake them off in orbit before landing could result in quarantine.

Mynocks were one of the few species that could live in the vacuum of space. They had bat-like wings which they could use to fly in atmospheres. However, they were often limited to the vacuum of space due to an allergy to helium found in the atmosphere of many planets. This allergic reaction would cause them to inflate and nearly explode before dying. Many spacewalking sport hunters would kill mynocks by attaching helium-based grenades to them in what was called “Mynock Puffing.”
• The floor doesn’t feel like rock. Feels kinda like…… tongue.
The Good: Han and Leia falling in love.
The Bad: Freaky Yoda trying to scare Luke.
Bantha Poodoo: C3PO interrupting Han and Leia falling in love.

To be continued!

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