It's astounding that "The Empire Strikes Back" has been so rarely revived on the big screen. Directed with sustained passion and inspiration by Irvin Kershner, the second of George Lucas' Star Wars movies -- Episode V in the whole Skywalker saga -- is a classic fantasy in its own right. The AFI Silver has wisely made this movie the centerpiece attraction for its opening weekend of "Totally Awesome: More Films of the 80s." (It plays Saturday at 8 p.m.)
With "Empire" celebrating its 30th anniversary while a documentary called "The People Vs. George Lucas" makes the festival rounds (no word yet on that doc landing in Baltimore), I'd like to present some apt quotes from my 2002 interview with writer-turned-writer-director Lawrence Kasdan ("Body Heat," "The Big Chill"). Kasdan shares script credit with Leigh Brackett on "The Empire Strikes Back."
Kasdan on the authorship of "Empire Strikes Back":
The truth is these movies are all George. I wouldn't say that of "Raiders," but I would say that of all the "Star Wars" movies. He has the stories in mind and the difference in each film is how they're executed.
George had hired Leigh the way anyone would -- because, oh my God, she's Leigh Brackett [her script credits include Howard Hawks' "The Big Sleep" and "Rio Bravo"], and because he wanted a Hawksian, goading humor between Han Solo and Princess Leia. But Leigh couldn't serve George the way he wanted to be served. Out of all our respect for her, she was always going to get a credit for the movie, but if you get your hands on her draft you won't find one item that's in the finished film. [Brackett died before she could do any rewrites.]
George said, "I'm under the gun -- we have to start from scratch." And I was pumped up over [writing] "Raiders" and was never going to say no to the second "Star Wars" movie.
I wrote it very fast to George's outline and tried to bring it everything I'm capable of bringing to a script. But I was George's tool -- and don't get me wrong, that was fun!
Kasdan on the reasons for the film's peculiar greatness:
A lot of things came together in a good way on the movie. The sensibility of Kersh [director Irvin Kershner] was so different, with a strain of bleakness to it; it was so peculiarly Kersh, that it was not overwhelmed by George's sensibility. Kersh is a great director and it turned out to be one of Kersh's best movies.
Kasdan on what interests Lucas in movie characters:
He's always filling out some large scheme, and the people are there in his movies to represent different philosophical [constructs].
Yoda is one of the great creations. How many directors have been interested in Zen masters over the years? Just think of Kurosawa or Hawks or John Sturges ["The Great Escape," "The Magnificent Seven"]. But George created this little creature who did a lot of the same stuff as their heroes and I wrote him good and he was huge.
Yoda in "The Empire Strikes Back" is the equivalent [in impact] of Dustin Hoffman in "The Graduate" and Robert De Niro in "Taxi Driver." Like I said, a lot came together in "Empire." Kersh's bleakness -- and Frank Oz, who "played" Yoda [he was the puppeteer and the Jedi's voice], did great.
So you had the introduction of this incredible character and it really worked. And because [the movie] had all of that it will always be more acceptable to people who write about movies, who after all are not 8-year-olds.