Friday, January 13, 2012

Star (The Deleted Scenes) Wars: Episode II: The Empire Strikes Out

Last week, Adam Throne wrote about the deleted scene from Star Wars: A New Hope that are featured on the Blu-Ray box set.  This week, he follows up with an analysis of the deleted scenes from The Empire Strikes Back...

A long time ago in a decade far away…

Disco was fading, Pop rock was about to explode, and Star Wars was a film phenomenon (as opposed to being a film phenomenon AND handy political shorthand for the Strategic Defense Initiative, which, at the time was only a glimmer in the eye of a former actor-turned politician who was running for President. But I digress).

Meanwhile, back at the ranch….well, actually, there was no ranch (Skywalker Ranch, that is). The ranch was a dream, a place where filmmakers could work and create films of great artistic vision; it was the ultimate goal of a filmmaker who had nearly been defeated in his efforts to get an unappreciated science fiction film made, and who had beaten the odds and bucked the Hollywood system as he found success in doing so.

Then he had to top himself.

The result was a film that was met with sharply divided reviews from fans and critics. On the one hand, diversity came to the galaxy in the form of a character played by a popular African-American actor, the alien effects were state-of-the-art for their day, and the lightsaber fight was the coolest thing ever. On the other hand, some of the films’ concepts irked fans by seriously contradicting what had come before. One of the characters was excessively annoying and juvenile. And of course, the science of the film was still ludicrous.

I’m not talking about The Phantom Menace. I’m talking about The Empire Strikes Back.

Many people forget that back in the day, the film was savaged by many for being different from the original and (gasp!) not a retread. Many felt that the lack of a true ending hurt the picture. And many felt that the explosion of toys and merchandise, especially the uber-cute Muppet Yoda, was the epitome of selling out (They had not yet heard of Ewoks). But the film did well at the box office and earned George Lucas his ranch (though at the expense of many other things). It kept the Star Wars fire burning, ensured a third film in the then nine-part series, stoked further love of the Science Fiction genre, and is today considered the best of the Star Wars films, if not an all-out masterpiece. But it could so easily NOT have been…

The “Han and Leia Extended Echo Base Argument,” the first of the “Empire”-related deleted scenes featured on Blu-Ray, reveals why. The scene is an extension from the film, right after Han storms off with his famous, “You could use a good kiss” line after Leia says her famous “I’d just as soon kiss a Wookie” line. The dialogue in this extension is atrocious (almost like a dry run for the laughable exchanges between Anakin and Padme in the Star Wars prequels), and the delivery is forced (for lack of a better term). The scene adds nothing to what had already been established, although it does show Leia to be more resistant to Han as she drops the ice mask and loses her cool (and, being on the planet Hoth, this is not an easy thing to do). The scene was rightfully trimmed. If you’re lacking a blue-ray player, you can still read it in the film’s novelization.

“Luke’s Recovery” is a nice little scene in the medical bay; it shows his friends’ concern for him (especially Han) as he heals in the Bacta tank, and there is a little more footage of the ultra cool medical droids.

Suddenly we’re back to groans with “Luke and Leia: Medical Center.” The dialogue here as Luke and Leia share a quiet moment (after Luke’s recovery) is weak, and the acting isn’t anything to rave about. The groans don’t just come from the dialogue, though; they come from the notion that Luke uses this time to hit on Leia and then try to kiss her (fortunately the droids interrupt, as usual). At the time, Luke and Leia’s relationship as siblings wasn’t a conscious thought, so the kiss was innocent and probably made the Luke/Leia “shippers” as happy as X-Files Shippers became when Scully kissed Mulder. Unfortunately, between the weak acting, the lame dialogue, and the Freudian overtones that would make even Oedipus blink, it’s best that this scene ended up getting chopped. The scene is shown in the Marvel Comics’ adaptation, in case you’re wondering.

“Deleted Wampa Scenes”: Great concept here for a subplot that’s alluded to in the final film (in an Echo base scene where the medical droid is tending to a fallen Tauntaun), but the plot’s only payoff is for a joke that comes later as the Stormtoopers enter the base where a captured Wampa grabs a Snowtrooper and hauls him past a sliding door. Vader enters almost immediately and seems to ask where the other trooper went. Stormtroopers may have no visible face, but the “expression” from the surviving trooper is priceless—but tonally off balance for the film.  The other neat part of this is that C-3PO plays a role in what happens. The other Wampa shots don’t help, and are largely the reason for the cut: the scenes show Wampas attacking rebels in the base and R2-D2, but the staging of the rampaging beat flinging metal boxes that bounce is hokey; “unconvincing” is a word that does not do justice to how fake the stilted creature appears (If you’ve ever played the arcade “Star Wars Trilogy” game released in 1997 and have made it to the Hoth stage, then imagine the way that primitive CGI renders the Wampas movements, only done with a man in a furry stilt costume rather than digital technology). The Wampa trying to claw its way out of an ice patch as R2-D2 passes by is also easy to dismiss because, rather than looking like a claw trying to scrape through ice, the motion looks like X-Men’s “Beast” using a squeezie ball.

“The Fate of General Veers” is a neat but unfinished scene that shows Rebel pilot Hobbie crashing his downed snowspeeder into Julian Glover’s AT-AT. The shot is very rough and in black and white, and the AT-AT Crash is rendered through crude animated storyboards (again, this scene appears in the book).

Moving onto the “Dagobah” menu, we find “Yoda’s Test,” a black-and-white scene where Yoda throws bars of metal out into the air from his place on Luke’s back, and Luke attempts to slice the bars with his saber. It’s very rough, and poor Luke looks like he’s not having an easy time coordinating the actions. The scene is better visualized by Al Williamson in his comic adaptation.

The “Pursued by the Imperial Fleet” menu takes us to “Hiding in the Asteroid,” a neat series of shots of Han and Leia in the Falcon as it gets battered by asteroids. Nothing vital, but some deliberately shaky camerawork in the “Classic Star Trek” vein.

The “Alternate Han and Leia Kiss” has Leia practically attacking Han with her mouth after he kisses her for the first time in the Falcon. As with the extended argument in Echo Base, there’s more telling than showing from the dialogue, and there’s no comic release (as given by C-3PO when he interrupts the kiss in the finished film), but it does add another side to Leia and her relationship to Han; it seems that deleted scenes related to these two were excised to shift the tone towards a more “hard-to-get” attitude from her (something that paid off in spades in the final film with Han’s famous, “I know”).

Now we’re on to Cloud City, with “Lobot’s Capture.” I’ve been a Star Wars fan for a long time, and never knew about this scene or that it existed. It shows us the fate of Lando Calrisson’s cybernetic aide Lobot after he helps Lando, Leia, Chewie and 3PO escape from their stormtooper captors. And. It’s Hilarious. I won’t spoil it for you, except to say that it’s clear what inspired “Robot Chicken’s” “Dancing Lobot” routine.

The final deleted “Empire” scene is “Leia Tends to Luke.” This is an extension of the very brief scene where Leia leaves the now one-handed Luke in the Falcon’s Medical Bay; here she spends more time with him and we see her tend to his severed hand. Neat, but not necessary, plus it’s marred by some exposition as Leia tells Luke what we already know: Han has been taken by the bounty hunter. And the Bounty Hunter is even named here, whereas in the finished film, he remains an enigma.So if you missed the Star Wars Holiday Special in ’78 and ever wanted to hear Luke say “Boba Fett,” this is the scene for you.

What’s Missing?

More scenes with Luke and Yoda; the book mentions a scene where, as a test by Yoda, several remote seeker balls stalk Luke as he fends them off with his lightsaber.

A Cloud City scene with Han and Leia, as Han puts the moves on the Princess as she slyly turns away. It’s cute, if a bit “sitcommy,” and while the character’s actions follow through from the other deleted scenes, they are ultimately unimportant to the more serious tone of the film’s final cut, and are deservedly gone.

The Darth Vader Energizer Bunny commercial: Kidding of course. Although this is a real commercial, and introduced us to the concept that Vader could shout, “Noooooooooo!” whenever something didn’t go his way, it definitely does not belong in the film (Lucas would save that cry for Revenge of the Sith and the Blu-Ray edition of Return of the Jedi...which we will look at next time!

Overall Verdict: While the Star Wars deleted scenes mostly enhanced that film’s characterizations, the Empire scenes alter them. The subplots introduced are unnecessary, unlike the organic nature of the original film’s deletions. So yes, sometimes there is too much of a good thing; had these scenes been used, we’d be seeing a very different "Empire" today -- and probably not like it as much.