The Empire Strikes Back In Concert: Oh Yes, It Gets Better

Corban Mills

Staff Writer

In 1980, Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox released a sequel to the 1977 blockbuster hit “Star Wars,” calling it “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back.” Before the release of this film, sequels were not expected to do well in the box office, with exceptions of course, such as “James Bond,” “The Godfather,” and “Godzilla,” but they were few and far between. Now, thanks to this particular film, sequels come out all the time. In 2008 Empire Magazine created a list of the top 500 movies of all time, placing “Empire Strikes Back” as number 3. Additionally, in 2020 there was a worldwide celebration for the 40th anniversary of the film’s release, with plenty of merchandise to collect for the occasion (my father for one has a special Funko Pop! figurine of Luke Skywalker on a tauntaun). The Charlotte Symphony performed the entire film score, or soundtrack, to the movie this past weekend with the film playing as well. I had the opportunity to go see it, and it was a treat.

Even with all of Empire’s critical acclaim over the years, I had personally grown tired of the movie. I had seen it many, many times, watching it in the same way. I understood its value as a film, but I never quite understood why it was so glorified by so many people. When hearing the score for the film live, one realizes just exactly what George Lucas was doing with the original Star Wars trilogy. Science fiction films had been somewhat pulp phenomena in the first part of the 20th century, and not a genre that was looked at highly by the intellectuals and elites of the world. 

Lucas had originally wanted to get the rights to the Flash Gordon franchise and adapt it into a feature film. He was not able to acquire the rights, so he went and made his own “space opera,” thus, the “Star Wars” universe was born. Lucas was able to incorporate ideas from Joseph Campbell, a famous writer, who wrote a book called “A Hero With A Thousand Faces” which describes the idea of the universal “hero’s journey.” What Campbell is referring to is the universal similarities that every story featuring a hero has. One similarity is having a character realize their potential, go on a journey with obstacles and self-growth, and then bring back something great and defeat whatever enemy is at hand. That is the basis of the hero’s journey idea. Due to this concept being universal, Lucas knew that using the hero’s journey would greatly appeal to all audiences. Not only this, but the costumes, make-up, sets, and character types in Star Wars are all based on cultures around the world. Lucas was able to create a familiar human world in a galaxy far, far away.

Not just this, but the score of the film is outstanding in its breadth and beauty. John Williams, the composer who scored the film, did what Lucas did for the film, but for the music. Williams is famous for taking ideas from written music and being able to compose film scores that are loosely based on them. In hearing Gustav Holst’s “The Planets,” one can imagine how Williams could have been inspired by early masterpieces centered on space and cosmic wonder. Also, the Imperial March is famously based on many sources. Performing the score of “The Empire Strikes Back” is much more than just performing some music that some guy made for a low-budget film. The music for this film reflects the changes that Star Wars brought to the world of science fiction. Sci-fi is now a “hip” thing to enjoy, thanks to the Star Wars franchise, and most recently, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel Comics was part of pulp culture before it became mainstream in the 21st century. Marvel Comics also takes from ancient sources, with Thor and Hercules being prime examples (characters from Norse and Greek mythology respectively). This shift in culture reveals the importance of Star Wars. 

Hearing the film score performed live rejuvenated my love for this film and the beauty of cinema. In the world today, we watch so many movies on our computers, iPads, and smartphones that one tends to forget what it is like to see films in a performance space like a movie theater. Taking it one step further, and hearing the music live as well as seeing the movie on a big screen, reminds one of why cinema is considered an art. Darth Vader has never looked scarier than he did on a giant screen raised many feet above my head. 

Categories: Arts & Entertainment

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