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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. col
    February 27, 2017 @ 3:17 pm

    as one of the “fabled few” (er, isn’t this most of the US population over age 43 or so?) who first heard the line in the theater, i recall a sense of confusion—was it possibly a Vader mind-fuck, a way to try to turn Luke (& maybe Obi-wan was his real father, etc?). also without the prequels, Vader’s motives become more interesting and opaque–did he know this all along & only now reveals it? did he just find out? the sense of mysterious gamemanship goes away once the prequel mythos is added as backdrop.

    yeah the cross-cutting of the two storylines really doesn’t work, time-wise; surprised there hasn’t been a recon in which it’s shown that Dagobah is in some alternate dimension where 1 week = 2 years or somesuch.

    one point to add is that it’s among the more visually striking of the movies (mainly due to Kasdan/Kershner?)–Chewbacca carrying around the dismembered C-3PO on his back, the hellish carbonite chamber scenes.


    • Aylwin
      February 27, 2017 @ 5:01 pm

      Dagobah is a place where intensive and demanding training takes place. As such, the well-known physical principle of Training Montage Time Dilation applies.

      A good dojo is just an enlightened black hole that knows how to kick an opponent’s kidneys out through his ears.


      • James Brough
        March 11, 2017 @ 3:16 pm

        As the hyperspace drive on the Millenium Falcon is bust, is it possible that it actually takes months to get to Bespin? I know it’s not really what the film’s saying, but maybe there’s enough wiggle room…


    • Eric Gimlin
      February 28, 2017 @ 8:05 am

      I know that I, with the level of obsession only a 9-year old geek could muster, was wondering until RotJ came out how they were going to explain Vader’s claim. “It’s the truth” was a candidate, and it may even have been the leading candidate much of the time because there was no other clear explanation as an alternative.

      The mind boggles at what the flame wars would have been like 15 years later…


    • Roderick T. Long
      March 2, 2017 @ 10:28 pm

      In those days they used to release the comic-book adaptations before the movies. So I went in already knowing the big reveal.


  2. Lance Parkin
    February 27, 2017 @ 3:30 pm

    ‘Luke’s reaction’ isn’t ‘nooooo!’, though, Luke’s reaction is to be given the chance to rule the galaxy or to die, and to decide that, OK, he’ll kill himself.

    … the problem being that because every single thing Yoda told him is wrong, it’s a decision based on the false premise that he will inevitably fall to the dark side.


    • Roderick T. Long
      March 2, 2017 @ 10:29 pm

      Yeah, Satan offering Christ the kingdoms of the earth is the clear intended parallel.


  3. Lance Parkin
    February 27, 2017 @ 3:32 pm

    Also, I’ve always loved the passive aggressiveness of ‘don’t make me destroy you’. But then last night, I rewatched the Dawn of the Gods episode of Blakes 7 and the Thaarn says that to Cally, so definitionally, that can’t be a clever line, after all.


    • Jarl
      February 28, 2017 @ 2:44 pm

      Also, I’ve always loved the passive aggressiveness of ‘don’t make me destroy you’

      Now that you mention it, that line sorta echoes/”rhymes” with “Don’t try it, Anakin.”


    • Prole Hole
      February 28, 2017 @ 6:06 pm

      I hope you’re not trying to suggest the Thaarn is anything other than a towering intellect worthy of respect and worship…


  4. Lambda
    February 27, 2017 @ 4:08 pm

    I think The Empire Strikes Back has tended to appeal to me over the others mostly because “the heroes fight the powerful evil empire… and survive, just about” is a far more relatable story than the standard “the heroes fight the powerful evil empire and win”. (Whilst also being far less routine and familiar.) Being able to keep doing the right thing even when it doesn’t seem to be doing much good and there’s no victory on the horizon is important.

    (It’s certainly not “the sequel to Star Wars”. For most of my childhood, I thought there were episodes 2, 3 and 4 which had just never been on telly for some reason.)


  5. T.Hartwell
    February 27, 2017 @ 5:51 pm

    Fascinating essay as always (and I love the slight trolling inherent in ranking Attack above this film), but I do think you’re underselling the extent to which Empire works on its own merits. A lot of it comes down to Luke’s arc—I think we’re meant to interpret most of what happens with him as Luke starting to fear that he is not all good, that there is a level of darkness within him (most obvious in the cave scene, which with the prequels behind it just looks like obvious foreshadowing, but on its own terms can only be read as Luke fearing that he may become like Vader). So Vader’s revelation at the end serves as a natural escalation of that fear—of Luke being forced to confront the fact he has a darker side within him.

    I think what makes the Vader twist work isn’t that it’s just a shock reveal, but in how it recasts your perception of both Luke and Vader—Luke I talked about, but Vader is also subtly reconceptualized from an unforgivably evil man to someone with…well, not good necessarily, but more complex motivations. This extends outwards in Empire on a thematic level, which is predominately concerned with deepening the morality of the original film. I think much of the Han/Leia romance is focused on this (the film is clearly setting Leia up to make a choice between Luke and Han, which Return absolutely punts on), and Lando is the most obvious manifestation of that goal—a fundamentally good person who betrays his friends for what he feels is a worthy cause. As a sequel to Star Wars, Empire is concerned not about being ‘bigger’ or ‘better’, but about taking the fundamental bases on which Star Wars is built and deepening them to provide a more complex universe.

    None of this is extraordinarily brilliant, of course, and you can argue the film as going against itself with Yoda (who should be just as grey as the other characters but the film unequivocally supports—one thing the prequels actually help with, as you note). And it’s interesting to note just how nondescript Empire’s advances look when you watch the films in Episode order—Empire’s plays at morality are fascinating when it’s the second film in the franchise, and dull as shit when it’s the fifth one. But I still like it—at the very least I find it the prettiest of the films along with Phantom, and Kershner’s direction here is actually something pretty special. Mostly I just appreciate the cohesion, and think it gets undersold by the droves of people who praise it as being “the dark one” (in actuality, I find it to be one of the most uplifting of the films once you get to the end, but that’s just me).


  6. David Anderson
    February 27, 2017 @ 7:13 pm

    I was inclined to disagree that Han is the protagonist of his section of the film. Which is odd, because he obviously is if you look at the plot. Thinking about why I was inclined to think of the Han section as an ensemble I realised that the film splits the formal protagonist and the viewpoint character: Leia is the viewpoint character. We’re being introduced to things that Han knows about already as Han introduces them to her; we’re being asked to evaluate characters as she does.
    I can’t work out all the implications (though it means that Han is seducing the audience who are gendered female).

    I haven’t seen anyone complement you on the title of the series which is brilliant.


    • Ozyman.Jones
      February 28, 2017 @ 2:08 pm

      The series title is, knowing the reading habits of our revered writer as he has revealed them across the years, probably an homage to the tag-line on the cover of Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams.


      Which doesn’t detract from its use, but adds a nice layer of absurdist humour to the whole proceedings, what with Star Wars fandom being so damned po-faced much of the time.


      • David Anderson
        February 28, 2017 @ 9:04 pm

        The clever bit is that Star Wars and THHGttG are almost contemporaneous. Phil’s title raises the spectre of a world in which Star Wars is a well-respected and loved fan favourite and THHGttG a massively influential cultural gravitation well.


  7. John Galbraith
    February 28, 2017 @ 9:29 am

    No mention of Lando ?


  8. prandeamus
    February 28, 2017 @ 11:26 am

    So, (not being scholared in literary theory) what’s the comparison between “Ring Theory” and a Chaistic structure: (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiastic_structure)? At first glance, looks the same sort of thing to me.

    At least it’s not the Hero’s Journey this time.


    • Jarl
      February 28, 2017 @ 2:46 pm

      According to that Wikipedia link, they’re different names for the same thing.


      • prandeamus
        March 3, 2017 @ 11:18 am

        D’oh. Missed that…


  9. Missi Roch
    February 28, 2017 @ 5:56 pm

    I think The Empire Strikes Back has tended to appeal to me over the others mostly because “the heroes fight the powerful evil empire… and survive, just about” is a far more relatable story than the standard “the heroes fight the powerful evil empire and win”. (Whilst also being far less routine and familiar.) Being able to keep doing the right thing even when it doesn’t seem to be doing much good and there’s no victory on the horizon is important.


  10. Ozyman.Jones
    March 1, 2017 @ 2:21 am

    Thanks again, Phil. I’m rating this in your blogging oeuvre just below the Tardis Eruditorum and slightly above the GoT entries…. (Last War in Albion is interesting, but as I don’t read comics, and never did, most goes over my head…. it’s probably bloody brilliant!)

    In the days before ubiquitous VHS and the novelisations being the only, unreliable, method of revisiting the movies the ‘betrayed and killed your father’ lie and subsequent ‘I am your father’ reveal were not so jarring. At least among the group of teenaged fans I hung with, it was seen as not that big of a deal. Sure, Obi Wan lied, but to protect Luke’s feelings; truthfully, our parents did that almost every week as kids.

    I believe I would belong to a fairly small clique who didn’t find out about the Luke/Vader reveal watching the movie, or by being ‘spoiled’, but by reading the Donald F. Glut novelisation. Our family was travelling at the time of the movie release and I read the big scene at about 30000ft above Bass Strait, between Hobart and Melbourne. I must have exclaimed something out loud, and quite loudly, judging by the surprised looks from my nearby passengers, and the stern glower from my dad across the aisle.


  11. John Seavey
    March 5, 2017 @ 11:41 pm

    “The big and obvious one is Darth Vader, who has inexplicably gone from overseeing a catastrophic military defeat to being given a seemingly more expansive command than ever before, hanging out with bounty hunters and criminals, and being obsessed with Luke.”

    It’s not inexplicable when you remember that he wasn’t the one overseeing the Death Star–Tarkin was. Remember, the Emperor’s plan was to dissolve the Senate once and for all and rule through pure threat of force, with the Death Star as an ultimate weapon that would intimidate planetary governors into falling in line and prevent the Balkanization of the Empire into a thousand little fiefdroms. In that light, having his hand-picked Sith apprentice lurking around in the background acting like a Rent-a-Thug was a great plan; it kept Tarkin feeling smug and powerful, while giving Palpatine an unquestionably loyal assassin within arm’s reach of Tarkin should he ever come to the obvious conclusion that the person in charge of the Death Star was the real power in the Empire.

    But with the Death Star destroyed, suddenly there’s no ultimate threat that Palpatine can use to impose order. He has to go into crisis mode until Death Star 2.0 is ready, increasing Vader’s visibility and giving him a fuckoff gigantic Super Star Destroyer to tool around the galaxy in and kick the shit out of the Empire’s enemies. The Emperor isn’t going after the Rebels in ‘Empire’ because he legitimately believes them to be a threat, he is going after them to send a message to every Moff and Grant Moff in the galaxy, “Don’t think you can get away with fucking with me just because I can’t blow your fucking planet up from orbit.” Vader’s increased profile and willingness to fuck up Imperial admirals who piss him off makes perfect sense in light of his new role as Temporary Death Star Substitute.

    And of course, in that light it’s perfectly understandable why Death Star 2.0 has no weaknesses and a throne room for the Emperor. Why live on Coruscant when you can sit in the living embodiment of military might?


    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      March 6, 2017 @ 2:26 am

      Sorry, yes, upon further looking Gillen’s observed plot hole is that he was the sole survivor. Which strikes me as thoroughly valid – a regime such as the Empire is going to need a scapegoat for the debacle that is the Battle of Yarvin. Vader is the only available person. A promotion remains hard to envision in light of that, at least not without a presumably interesting story in the gap.


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