Category Archives: History

Alice in Wonderland (1951) takes us down the rabbit hole

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On July 26th, 1951, Disney’s Alice in Wonderland was released in theaters. The 13th Disney Animated Feature was based on Lewis Carroll’s 1865 children’s novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

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Alice (Kathryn Beaumont, perhaps better known as the voice of Wendy in Peter Pan (1953)), finds herself drawn into an adventure in the topsy-turvy Wonderland after following a White Rabbit down a rabbit hole and falling down into the magical place.

While seeking a way out, Alice encounters a wide variety of crazy creatures, from singing flowers, a caterpillar that smokes a hookah, Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum, the Mad Hatter and the March Hare and perhaps most importantly, the semi-deranged Queen of Hearts, who has a thing for shouting “off with their heads!!”

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Alice in Wonderland failed spectacularly at the box office and unlike other Disney films, was not re-released to theaters during Walt Disney’s lifetime. At the time of release, critics (and fans of the books) did not appreciate the liberties Disney had taken with the story and felt that he was trying to “Americanize” a great piece of British literature. The film’s reputation has improved in the following decades, but (in my opinion) it still remains one of the lesser known (and somewhat under-appreciated) entries in Disney’s animated film series.

One flaw that I’ve come to recognize in the film is that it is not so much a unified story as it is a series of vignettes (short scenes) ostensibly tied together by the presence of Alice. A notable exception is “The Walrus and the Carpenter” which, being a story told by Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, doesn’t feature Alice at all and really feels like it’s from another story entirely.

Alice in Wonderland “Painting the Roses Red” (1951)

Interestingly, during the production process, almost the entire film was shot live-action for reference, and the footage that survives is a fascinating look into how the earlier Disney films were put together. This was actually a common practice for the Disney studio, though unfortunately not all of the footage has survived to the present day. Some films that I know had live-action footage shot include: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; Sleeping Beauty; Peter Pan (particularly for scenes involving Tinker Bell interacting with the drawer in the Darling home); Cinderella and Pinocchio.

 

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One of my favorite pieces involves the Un-Birthday Party/The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Broadway Classixs on YouTube synched up the live-action footage with the animated result and it’s amazing to watch the voice actors at work.

Alice in Wonderland Tea Party: Live action vs. animation

What do you think of the animated Alice in Wonderland? Do you think it’s been neglected compared to other Disney films? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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Alice in Wonderland “In a World of My Own” (1951)

Alice in Wonderland “The Un-Birthday Song” (1951)

Alice in Wonderland “All in the Golden Afternoon” (1951)

Alice in Wonderland “Painting the Roses Red” (1951)

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*all images are the property of Walt Disney Studios

My thoughts on: Contact (1997)

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I’ve seen Contact several times and I distinctly remember being royally confused by it when I was younger. The first part of the plot is fairly straightforward: Dr. Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster), working for the SETI program, discovers a transmitted signal being sent from the star system Vega. Using help from a reclusive billionaire named S.R Hadden, Arroway discovers that the information in the signal are instructions on how to build a machine that would allow a single person to apparently travel to meet the aliens transmitting the signal.

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A machine is duly built at Cape Canaveral, and while Arroway is a frontrunner to go, because she is an atheist, she is passed over for David Drumlin (Tom Skerrit), Science advisor to the President instead. But on the day of launch, the machine is bombed moments before launch and Drumlin is killed as a result. Hadden informs Arroway that a second machine was built in Japan and this time she is going to be the one to go.

From this point on, things get weird, and I mean REALLY weird. Arroway is in a pod-like structure, dangling above the whirling machine that is apparently generating a wormhole for her capsule to pass into. Upon launch, Arroway passes through a long series of wormholes and experiences a lot of strange phenomena, including distant starscapes and planets that appear to contain intelligent life.

Last of all, Arroway finds herself standing on a beach that exactly resembles one in South Florida from her childhood (only a look up at the sky gives away that she’s not on Earth). An alien appears in the form of her deceased father and the two have a brief conversation. Apparently, all of this (the signal, the machine, Arroway’s visit), was only the first step in helping humanity become a spacefaring race. The visit abruptly ends and suddenly Arroway is back in her capsule on the other side of the machine.

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As if things weren’t already weird enough, the situation turns on its head when everyone informs Ellie that her trip never happened. As far as they could tell, she simply dropped from the top of the machine to the bottom in a matter of seconds. Yet Ellie swears she was gone for 18 hours, but the video footage she recorded is only static, leaving no proof to verify what she saw. After a long hearing, Ellie returns to work at SETI, still believing in what occurred, despite the fact that almost no one believes her, and hopeful that they will be contacted again someday. Meanwhile, in one last strange conversation, two government officials discuss the question of, if the mission was a failure, why did the recording devices record 18 HOURS of static? Hmmmmmm, a good question.

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The film is based on a book written by astronomer Carl Sagan and depicts how he thinks a first contact between humanity and aliens might go. Like I said before, this film gets really weird in some places, but if you’re okay with that, this is the film for you.

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*film poster is the property of Warner Bros. Pictures

King Arthur (2004) tells the old story in a new way

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On July 7th, 2004, the adventure film King Arthur was released into theaters. Rather than showing a traditional portrayal of the fabled king of legend, Arthur (Clive Owen) is shown here as a Roman officer in the waning years of the Roman Empire, with his “knights” of the Round Table (Bors, Gawain, Lancelot, Tristan, Galahad and Dagonet) being fellow officers under his command.

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For the last fifteen years, Arthur and his fellow soldiers have been guarding Hadrian’s Wall and preventing the Woads from crossing into Roman territory. However, now that Rome is officially abandoning Britain, they all expect to receive their freedom (as their length of service to Rome is set to expire the very next day).

However, at the last possible moment, Bishop Germanus arrives and insists that Arthur and his knights travel past the wall to rescue a wealthy Roman family, as their son is the favorite godson of the Pope. The mission is nearly suicidal in nature, but they won’t receive their freedom unless they go.

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At the same time as Arthur and a company set out to rescue the Roman family, the Saxons, led by Cedric and his son Cynric, are seen landing on another coast, set to plunder and destroy as they go. In the course of the mission, Arthur rescues a Woad woman named Guinevere (Keira Knightley rocks in this role), who has been trapped alive inside a wall. Her father is a Woad chieftain named Merlin, and he desires to join forces with Arthur’s so that they can fight the coming Saxon incursion.

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A lot of this film revolves around Arthur accepting who and what he really is: that he’s not really a Roman (his mother was Celtic) and that the Rome he dreams of doesn’t really exist. In the end, the Saxons are defeated and Arthur and Guinevere marry, with Arthur being proclaimed king by Merlin.

At the time this film came out, I was deeply obsessed with the legend of King Arthur and Merlin and anything remotely connected to them, so I naturally took this movie in like a sponge. I recognize now that the story is deeply flawed, but if you forget about historical accuracy (and the blatant lack thereof that exists in this film), you can spend an enjoyable two hours watching this film.

King Arthur “Knight’s March” (2004)

One positive the film does have is a great score composed by Hans Zimmer, who once again proved why he is a master of writing scores for action and adventure films. The music for the Woads is particularly well-done, fitting their mysterious nature.

Sadly, the film wasn’t very well-received (it’s currently rated “Rotten” at Rotten Tomatoes), which is a shame, because there are some great moments in this film, and the score as I said is another Hans Zimmer gem.If you haven’t seen this film, I recommend borrowing a copy and checking it out.

*film poster is the property of Buena Vista Pictures

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Blade Runner (1982): A misunderstood gem

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On June 25th, 1982, the world was introduced to the dystopian world of Blade Runner. Starring Harrison Ford and set in the “distant future” of 2019 Los Angeles, the film tells the story of Rick Deckard, a “blade runner” whose job is to hunt down and “retire” replicants (i.e. robots that look identical to humans in appearance) that have illegally returned to Earth from the distant space colonies.

For many years, the only thing I knew about Blade Runner was: don’t watch it, it’s a mess, great concept, bad execution, etc. And then the “Final Cut” of the film was released in 2007, and suddenly (as far as I could perceive), everyone’s opinion of the film began to change. It went from being an awkward cult film to one of the greatest films ever. Or maybe it was always that way and I didn’t notice until now. I think it’s been about two years since I saw Blade Runner the first time (my first copy was the “Director’s Cut”, I only got the “Final Cut” last year) and I remember sitting slack-jawed the entire time.

Really, what I feel the film boils down to is: what makes a human a “human” ? That is, what separates organic human beings like you or I from the “artificial” replicants like Roy Batty, Pris or Zhara, who resemble human beings in every way except they possess unnatural physical abilities (like extreme strength or the ability to touch hot liquids without being burned). It’s clear that the replicants have their own loves, wants and desires, just like humans do. In fact, the replicants appear to want life MORE than regular humans because replicants are only given a four-year lifespan before they die.

Deckard initially regards hunting down this particular group of replicants as a routine job, until he meets Rachael that is. Initially presented as the niece of Mr. Tyrell, the inventor of the replicants, Deckard is stunned to discover that SHE is a replicant also (and what’s more, she doesn’t know it). Over the course of the film, Deckard finds himself increasingly drawn to the enigmatic Rachael, until he finally realizes that, replicant or not, he’s in love with her and he’ll protect her at all costs.

I won’t go any further into the plot of the film, because I really feel that if you go in knowing what’s going to happen, you won’t enjoy the film as much (but seriously, everyone should see Blade Runner at least once in their lives, just don’t watch the theatrical cut with the voice-over narration). There is, however, one point I will address, and that is the question as to whether or not Deckard is a replicant himself. It seems like a question out of left field, because, why should that even be a question? Here’s the thing about the world of Blade Runner: all replicants are implanted with false memories so that when they wake up, they believe that they are regular people, with a past, loved ones, old friends, etc. By the time they figure out otherwise (and not all do), the four year life-span is up and they’re dead. Knowing this, it is distinctly possible that everyone we see on the screen is a programmed replicant, living their daily lives and not knowing that they’re artificial beings grown in a series of factories. And if you say “that’s ridiculous”, keep in mind that Rachael lived quite a long time believing that she was human until Deckard told her the truth.

Despite anything Ridley Scott has said in the years after Blade Runner was released, I believe that the question is never truly resolved one way or another. Deckard might be a replicant, he might be human too. As the one police man tells him, “It’s a pity she won’t live, but then again who does?” I take that to mean that, replicant or human, we’re all going to die some day anyhow, so why not live life to the fullest while we’re still here?

I know that the sequel to Blade Runner is being worked on right now, it might even be filming for all I know, and I’m not happy about it at all. Blade Runner was NOT designed to have a sequel, and I believe that creating one ruins the integrity of the original story.

Have you seen Blade Runner? What do you think of it, if you have seen it? Are you excited (nor not) about the sequel?

*poster image is the property of Warner Bros. Studios

see also:

Blade Runner 2049: A Masterpiece

Thinking about Blade Runner 2049

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Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983), the saga concludes (or does it?)

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Until the release of The Force Awakens (2015), Return of the Jedi stood as the definitive conclusion to the Star Wars saga. And what a conclusion it had to be, there were multiple loose ends to tie up: Han Solo had to be rescued from Jabba the Hutt; Luke needed to reconcile/accept the fact that his father was Darth Vader; the Rebel Alliance needed to defeat the Imperial fleet and most importantly, the Emperor needed to be defeated.

It might seem strange that the Emperor would choose to build another Death Star (considering what happened to the first one), but then again I can only presume that this one had been modified to have no weaknesses like before, that’s why it had to be destroyed before it was completed.

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Return of the Jedi Speeder Chase (1983)

For a long time Return of the Jedi was my favorite Star Wars film: it has the speeder chase, Ewoks, and it also has that final confrontation between Luke, Vader and the Emperor. I know some people don’t like the Ewoks, but I love them, they’re cute (The scene between Leia and Wicket is awesome). I have a goal to visit the forest they used for filming the speeder chase, it looks absolutely gorgeous!.

Return of the Jedi- The Emperor’s Throne Room (1983)

The final duel comes at the climax of the movie. While the Rebel Alliance attempts to put their plans into motion, Luke has turned himself in to Vader and is taken to see the Emperor. Considering this is the first movie to have the Emperor in the flesh, he’s quite menacing (the eerie music accompanying him helps with that impression a great deal). The Emperor insists that Luke is on the edge of falling to the Dark Side of the Force and that he is already a servant to him (which Luke denies). The whole time, Luke’s light saber is kept in plain sight, tempting Luke to try and take it and strike the Emperor down. While Luke resists for a while, he inevitably gives in and the duel commences.

As with the Cloud City duel, Vader is portrayed by Bob Anderson, with a number of different camera angles used during the fight (to great effect I might add). There’s an interesting moment towards the end, when Luke has vaulted up onto a catwalk and is looking down at Vader. Someone (I wish I could say who to give proper credit, but I honestly don’t remember) pointed out that this mirrors the situation at the conclusion of the Mustafar duel in Revenge of the Sith, where Obi-Wan has the high-ground above Anakin, but Anakin jumps anyway and that’s when he loses. Now that Luke is in the same position as Obi-Wan was, Vader has seemingly learned his lesson and instead of jumping up after him, he throws his lightsaber instead.

Now, the big moment in this duel is when Luke finally snaps and attacks Vader in a fury when the Dark Lord threatens his sister (who we all know to be Leia). However, this detail had NOT been established when the script was written. All Lucas had written for this point was “Vader taunts Luke/Luke snaps and attacks.” They’d always put off exactly WHAT Vader does to cause this issue, and finally it got down to the wire and they had to come up with a reason, and as they considered what Vader could possibly say that would get Luke to go off, and finally the light bulb went off as they realized “Leia is his sister and Vader threatens Leia!” That’s right, up until that moment, Leia had NOT been identified as Luke’s sister, and I’m tempted to say that the only reason she was identified as such is because they needed a reason for Luke to snap. That being said, I’m still not entirely convinced that Vader knew that Leia was Luke’s sister. In the dialogue, he only discovers that a sister exists and refers to her strictly in the abstract as “she.” He may never have made the connection that Leia and Luke’s sister were one and the same.

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Return of the Jedi- Final Duel (1983)

Return of the Jedi- Final Duel (Soundtrack Version) (1983)

One moment in the duel that I’ve heard get a lot of flak is the very end, when Vader 1) discovers that Luke has a twin sister and 2) teases that he’ll get her to join the Dark Side if he won’t, inciting Luke’s fury. The problem (people argue) is, considering how powerful Vader came across in Empire Strikes Back, how is it that Luke can suddenly overpower him? It does seem odd, and for a while I couldn’t answer this argument at all, until I gave it some thought. There are several ways to solve this puzzle, and I’ll list a few here:

Solution #1: Vader’s lightsaber skills aren’t what they used to be. Yes I know how he came across in Empire Strikes Back, but in that duel Luke wasn’t fully trained and he certainly didn’t have control of his emotions (which is key if you’re going to engage in a duel with a Sith Lord). If you think about it, it’s really been close to 20 years since Vader has faced an equally powerful and skilled opponent, his fighting skills had to have deteriorated over time.

Solution #2: Vader’s connection to the Force (which helps his fighting abilities) is severely weakened. If we (reluctantly) assume that the midichlorians are canon, then Vader can’t possibly have as strong a connection to the living Force as he used to. By my calculations, the only human parts of Vader left are his torso and his head, which would have severely decreased his midichlorians, and thus his ability to use the Force.

Solution #3: Vader is not fully committed to killing Luke. Vader seemingly has no problem with potentially killing Luke in Empire Strikes Back; as he tells the Emperor “He will join us or die.” But now, in Return of the Jedi, it’s become obvious that Vader is torn between his son and his duty to the Emperor. This emotional conflict (which Luke can sense) is throwing Vader off, influencing his fighting abilities.

Solution #4: Luke is simply more powerful in the Force than Vader. Being his son, this is certainly possible, and unlike Vader, Luke has only lost a hand at this point. Also, he is fully engaging in the Dark Side of the Force and his fury has magnified his abilities many times over.

Any of these could be viable solutions (or a combination of all four), and therefore I have no trouble with Luke overwhelming Vader at the end. This is really the first moment where the music plays into a lightsaber duel in the same way that “Duel of the Fates” and “Battle of the Heroes” will in the prequel films. The chorus is eerie and foreshadowing: by attacking Vader in anger, Luke is basically throwing himself off of a cliff into the Dark Side, and if he’d cut off Vader’s head instead of his hand, there would’ve been no going back. The Emperor knows this, that’s why he pushes Luke to finish the job. But for once, the Emperor has gravely miscalculated. The last time he tried this (pushing Anakin to kill Dooku), he was able to succeed because Anakin had no blood connection to Dooku, in fact, he had every reason in the world to kill him. But with Luke…he’s asking Luke to kill his own father, and that’s something the Jedi can’t do, no matter what Vader has done.

Of course the Emperor responds by trying to kill Luke with Force Lightning, and the sight of his own son being tortured finally snaps Anakin back into existence and he throws the Emperor down the core shaft, where he (presumably) dies (but I have my own theories about that which I’ll discuss another time).

To summarize the ending, Luke and Anakin make their way to the shuttle, but the former Sith Lord has been too badly injured and makes a last request to see Luke “with his own eyes”, leading to an all too brief reunion between father and son. I honestly wasn’t sure what to think when Luke went through the motions of taking the helmet and mask off. Considering how terrifying Vader looked (and sounded), there was no telling what might be found underneath the mask. I thought Sebastian Shaw’s brief performance as the redeemed Anakin was good though. The final touch on this scene that I’ll mention is, just after he dies, there is a final refrain of the Imperial March, plucked out on a harp. It’s fitting and symbolic of how Anakin was finally brought back to the Light Side of the Force.

Return of the Jedi- ORIGINAL ending (1983)

Now, the ending of Return of the Jedi…well, I have a lot to say (I probably need to make a separate post on my feelings regarding the various changes). I for one, liked the original ending with the cute Ewok sound. True, what John Williams created to replace it is also good, but I didn’t feel the change was necessary. I did like how Luke looked back and saw the ghosts of Obi-Wan and Yoda with Anakin appearing to join them (I still think it was wrong to put Hayden Christensen in that scene, but at least they didn’t put Ewan McGregor in Obi-Wan’s place too). And at the very end, all the heroes are together, celebrating, the Empire has been overthrown…or has it?

For over thirty years the impression was given that the Empire was dead and the good guys had won. But now, with the Expanded Universe being discarded and a new Star Wars Universe coming out instead, we know this isn’t true. The victory at Endor was not total, and it now seems that the fight is far from over.

I still like watching Return of the Jedi, even though Empire Strikes Back is now my favorite, and I hope that someday, somehow, I can watch the original cut of this film again. Hope you enjoyed this, I know it ran a little long (but then again I had a lot to say, lol).

*all images are the property of 20th century Fox/Walt Disney Studios

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See also:

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Star Wars, the one that started it all! (1977)

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

A Random Thought on “The Force Awakens”

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, My Thoughts!!

Star Wars: The Last Jedi: The Good

Star Wars: The Last Jedi- The Bad

Star Wars: The Last Jedi-The Ugly

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Star Wars, the one that started it all! (1977)

I have to start this post with a significant piece of irony: everyone knows that the Star Wars franchise is now owned by Disney, but did you know that it was almost that way from the beginning? Believe it or not, when George Lucas created Star Wars, he initially thought of it as a Disney film and took the story to Disney (back in 1976)…and Disney turned him down!! Over thirty years later, they bought the entire franchise from Lucas for a sweet $4 BILLION dollars (of course no one could’ve foreseen that before the movie premiered in May of 1977).

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Star Wars (1977) was a cinematic revolution on multiple levels. Along with the release of Jaws (1975), Star Wars introduced Hollywood to the concept of a “blockbuster”: a single film on a relatively small budget that brings in HUGE profits (Hollywood still exists on this model today). The film also proved revolutionary in the realm of special effects; raising the bar so high that hitherto successful stop-motion films fell flat in the wake of this phenomenon (an example being Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)). Using what was then state of the art technology, George Lucas created lightsabers, huge starships that filled the screen, lasers that blew up planets and fantastic droids of all shapes and sizes. (of course many of these practical effects were ruined by the later updates, but that’s a discussion for another time).

The original Star Wars is responsible for introducing audiences worldwide to a “galaxy far, far away” and the adventures of Luke Skywalker, who finds himself thrust into a life of adventure after two droids crash land on his home planet. Not only that, but old Obi-wan “Ben” Kenobi reveals that he was once a Jedi Knight, the same as Luke’s father. According to Ben, Luke’s father was betrayed by a fellow Jedi named Darth Vader and murdered! As if these revelations weren’t enough, Luke must also rescue Princess Leia and safely deliver the plans for the dread Death Star battle station into Rebel hands before the Imperial fleet discovers the location of the hidden base (wow, there’s a lot going on!) Then there’s the climactic battle to destroy the Death Star, the nefarious Darth Vader on the prowl in his specially designed fighter, and the question of whether the base can be destroyed in time!

Star Wars Original Trailer (1977)

The cast was a mixture of old stars and complete strangers. Among the notable actors appearing were Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin. The three principal leads went to complete strangers: Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, Harrison Ford as Han Solo and Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia.

Of course, for me, the film music scholar, Star Wars also gave composer John Williams the chance to create some legendary music.Keep in mind that prior to Star Wars, science fiction music was largely considered to sound “futuristic” and “alien”, as in the complete opposite of a traditional orchestra (check out the soundtrack for Forbidden Planet on YouTube and you’ll see what I mean). From the minute the overture sounds at the beginning, you just KNOW that this film is something different. And truthfully, it’s somewhat wrong to call Star Wars “science fiction”, “space opera” is really the preferred way to describe this genre, both musically and visually.

Absolutely no one expected Star Wars to do very well at the box office, 20th Century Fox was essentially going out on a limb by agreeing to distribute the film at all. In fact, Lucas convinced himself that the film was going to bust and even told Steven Spielberg (who was working on Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)) that his film would surely blow Star Wars out of the water. And then the movie came out…and the movie world has never been the same since. It blew away all expectations and made a killing at the box office (my dad remembered the original film played at the local cinema for well over a YEAR after release). I remember, being rather young, asking my dad just how successful the first Star Wars was (since he saw it in theaters the first time). He put it to me like this: the original film (he said) was so profitable, that George Lucas, and Hamill, Ford and Fisher could have retired then and there and been set for life. It’s a pretty accurate statement, but I for one am glad that Lucas kept going because otherwise we wouldn’t have gotten The Empire Strikes Back.

I wish I could remember the first time I saw this movie, I can’t even tell you how old I was, but I can imagine that I sat there, bug-eyed, as this huge drama played out in front of me. I was fortunate in that my parents had recorded a copy of the original, unaltered Star Wars on a VHS tape, and so that was the version I knew first.

Trivia time!!!

There’s a very good reason why James Earl Jones dubbed over David Prowse as Darth Vader: Prowse has an exceptionally noticeable Welsh accent that, unfortunately, makes him sound the complete opposite of menacing. Allegedly, Prowse had no idea he’d been dubbed over until he watched the premiere of the film.

Darth Vader as voiced by David Prowse

Peter Cushing/Tarkin’s boots pinched his feet horribly so he wore them only when a full body shot was absolutely required. Any other time that he is on camera and his feet are not visible…he’s wearing slippers.

Right up until the first day of filming, Luke was still known as “Luke Starkiller”

Obi-Wan was NOT supposed to die in the original script. He was supposed to make it off the Death Star with everyone else and help begin Luke’s proper training with Yoda in the next installment. What happened is, Lucas looked at the outline of the story and realized that for the rest of the film and a big chunk of the (intended) sequel, Obi-Wan had absolutely nothing to do so, in an 11th-hour decision, Lucas decided to kill the character off (a decision that Guinness was not pleased with).

As strange as it might look, that is a real sword fighting style that Obi-Wan is using against Darth Vader.

This is the only Star Wars film (prior to The Force Awakens) where the Emperor does not appear in some way or another (Tarkin makes a few passing comments about the Emperor dissolving the Imperial Senate, but that is all).

*all images belong to either 20th century Fox/Walt Disney Studios

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