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21. November 2013 06:40
by jedi1

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back: the Telegraph's original 1980 review

21. November 2013 06:40 by jedi1 | 0 Comments

I grew up in the UK and had a paper route during the 1980s. The Daily Telegraph was (and still is) a very right wing, Conservative broadsheet newspaper, which I would typically deliver only to the larger houses with fancier cars, while the more 'common folk' would get the Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Sun, etc. Perhaps it is a little unfair, but to this day, I still picture the readers and writers of the Daily Telegraph as looking a lot like Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse in their old Boys' club sketches:

Harry & Paul in an 'Old Boys' Club © BBC 2012

Harry & Paul © 2012 The BBC. All rights reserved.

Eric Shorter, the critic the Telegraph sent to review The Empire Strikes Back, does little to dissuade me from this bias with his review, which was published on May 23, 1980. Attempting to remain aloof throughout, as if the whole film is beneath him and his intellect is being wasted by having to sit through this twoddle, he belittles the melodrama writing: "There is talk of trilogies and myths and legends as if the enterprise had classical aspirations." I'm not sure that the movies aspired to be classical but they certainly draw upon many classical stories - the whole "villain turns out to be the hero's father" is straight out of Greek mythology, and Han Solo being encased in carbonite is like a futuristic update of the classic fairy tale Sleeping Beauty.

However, having admitted that he never saw the film's "famous predecessor", Star Wars, you have to wonder why they sent him. And this raises another interesting question that I had never considered before: can The Empire Strikes Back stand alone or can it only be viewed as a sequel, part of the trilogy. Obviously having seen the whole trilogy you can watch and appreciate any of the films at any time, but if you had never seen Star Wars and really didn't have any idea what it was all about, could you still enjoy The Empire Strikes Back? I would argue that if you saw it when you were about 10 years old, you would still love it, but if you were older and perhaps you had seen some of the poorer imitations that followed Star Wars, you might not have been so taken with this movie either. Just putting that out there...

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

By Eric Shorter

“If there's no meaning in it,” said the King to Alice, “that saves a world of trouble, you know, as we needn’t try to find any.” In the same spirit of baffled but cheerful resignation the filmgoer is advised not to worry about what’s going on in Irving Kershner’s The Empire Strikes Back. To do so would probably prove as dismaying as the makers’ grandiloquent attitude to this follow-up of “Star Wars.”

For they assure us that their latest offering is only episode five in a nine-part saga and that although we haven’t yet had the first three parts they will all reach us in good time. There is talk of trilogies and myths and legends as if the enterprise had classical aspirations.

Meanwhile what we get on the screen is the usual emphatic pride in machinery and paucity of characterisation that marks so much space fiction. Who are these people? What are they up to? Why is it so hard to care what happens to them? If you ever saw and committed to memory “Star Wars” such questions may seem naively exacting, since this episode reintroduces many of the figures and fantasies from the earlier film.

But having somewhat advertently missed the famous predecessor I had to take for granted the motives and the cues for passion in a fable of such fantasy that one quickly understands what the advocates of it mean by its appeal to children of all ages. It is violent. It is conventional. It is not without humour of the cosy Enid Blyton kind. And it is devoid of blood.

It is also of course for that reason devoid of feeling, and since some of the more engaging figures are not properly-speaking human beings but designers’ inventions it is not surprising if our affections tend towards the rude mechanicals, so to speak: the grotesque animals, the robots and the furry assistants who might be fugitives from “The Wind In The Willows” or “The Tempest” or “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

But it is hard to place one’s affections anywhere in a world which is ruled by buttons and dials, computers and bleeps, and people whose conversation is so technical, inaudible or dull that it might be better if the film gave up the idea of dialogue and settled for subtitles where necessary; though John Williams’s music sustains its imperialist theme with the kind of trumpeted fervour familiar in Shakespeare’s histories.

The thing that keeps us watching throughout the two rowdy hours is not the progress of the galactic war or the fortunes of the participants nor the sense of danger as they hurl through space or find themselves trapped by Dalek-like tricksters. What makes the time pass bearably is the decor. The special visual effects by Brian Johnson and Richard Edlund, with Norman Reynolds as production designer, create a constant source of fascination and charm to take our minds off the mindlessness of the foreground doings by the goodies and the baddies in their aerial quarrel.

Some of the sub-human creatures (in particular a big-eared gnomic Muppet with the sad expression of Peter Lorre) make you wonder why the film wasn’t conceived completely as a cartoon since the adventures bring us weapons which take almost human form (tanks on spindly legs picking their way across no man’s land like flamingos) and the hand-to-hand duelling is done with laser swords.


The Telegraph's original 1977 review of Star Wars is also online, in which reviewer Robbie Collin describes Star Wars as "one of the most exciting [science fiction films] ever made" and predicts that "People aged between seven and 70 will be jamming the box office." Perhaps not all Telegraph writers were old fuddy duddies after all.

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