The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

The Empire Strikes Back won the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation in 1981. The other finalists were Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (the Carl Sagan TV series); the glorious Flash Gordon movie, which Ian wrote about only yesterdayThe Lathe of Heaven (TV adaptation) and The Martian Chronicles (TV series). It was actually quite unusual for TV to get a majority of the spots on the Hugo ballot around this time. It's also a bit surprising not to see The Shining, Friday the 13th or Superman II on the list. I suspect that if I'd been voting in 1981, I'd probably have been caught up in the hype and voted for this one too.

This is the first (but not the last) sequel to win the Hugo, and not surprisingly we have a lot of returnees from previous Hugo (and Oscar) films; I'm also going to note the few Doctor Who crossovers. In order of billing, here's Mark Hamill, now 29 instead of 26.

Here's Harrison Ford, now 37 instead of 34 (and coming back next year in Raiders of the Lost Ark):

Here's Carrie Fisher, now 24 instead of 21:

Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, James Earl Jones, Peter Mayhew and Kenny Baker are all back as well, but we don't see any of their faces. We do see the face of Alec Guinness, who we also saw in Lawrence of Arabia and Bridge on the River Kwai.

Less famously, Denis Lawson returns as fighter pilot Wedge Antilles.

John Hollis, who is Lando's aide Lobot here, was a dimly seen Elder of Krypton in Superman two years ago, but also played Professor Sondergaard in the Doctor Who colonialism parable The Mutants in 1972:

Julian Glover is General Veers here; he was previously nasty Northerton in 1963 Oscar-winner Tom Jones. At about the same time as The Empire Strikes Back, he was Count Scarlione/Scaroth, Last of the Jagaroth in the great Doctor Who story City of Death, and also King Richard the Lion-Heart in the 1964 First Doctor story that we now call The Crusade.

Michael Shear, who plays Admiral Ozzel here, was a true Doctor Who stalwart, having played played Rhos in The Ark (First Doctor, 1966), Dr. Summers in The Mind of Evil (Third Doctor, 1971), Laurence Scarman in Pyramids of Mars (Fourth Doctor, 1975), Lowe in The Invisible Enemy (Fourth Doctor, 1977), the Mergrave in Castrovalva (Fifth Doctor, 1982), and the Headmaster in Remembrance of the Daleks (Seventh Doctor, 1988). I'm not sure if any other actor has played six different Doctor Who parts of that weight.

John Ratzenberger, later to become famous in Cheers, is Major Derlin (of the rebels) here and is another returnee from Superman, where he was a missile controller.

Finally, the body of Boba Fett is played by Jeremy Bulloch, who played Tor the rebel in the 1965 Doctor Who story The Space Museum, and Hal the archer in the 1974 story The Time Meddler.

There are inevitably a couple of others, but I've gone on long enough.

Well. The conventional wisdom is that this is the best of the original Star Wars trilogy. I do not agree with the conventional wisdom. To start with our old friend Alison Bechdel: there are not even two named women characters in The Empire Strikes Back. True, we do have Lando Calrission as a pretty prominent non-white role, which is a step ahead of the original film, but that's not saying much. However, Calrissian's flip-flops of loyalty (and his rather relaxed attitude to personal security on his own patch) are not very convincing. The Imperial Storm-Troopers' March is a great piece of music, but we hear it OVER and OVER again.

Though this does give us the funniest joke I know in French (I don't know many jokes in French) about Darth Vader at the bakery, surpriszed that they find his usual order so easy to remember.

The Vader punchline, and Luke's shick mutilation, are of course dulled by the passage of forty years. As the only named woman in the film, Carrie Fisher carries off the Leia/Han relationship very well, especially now that we know what the behind-the-scenes story is. And Yoda, I must admit, is a triumph of cinematography, exceedingly well done.

You can almost forget that Yoda has the same voice as Fozzie Bear.

But, despite my cavilling, the whole thing is still pretty good fun, even if it seems less of an artistic achievement to me now. I'm putting The Enpire Strikes Back a third of the way down my Hugo films list, behind Dr Strangelove but ahead of The Picture of Dorian Gray.

The next Hugo winner is Raiders of the Lost Ark, but I already wrote it up a few months ago, so you'll have to endure a couple more Oscar winners before I get to Blade Runner.

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