Watching EMPIRE STRIKES BACK with my son.

by waxbanks

My wife had only seen Empire once, my son had only seen A New Hope (once). I’ve seen them a hundred times. OK, press play.

They loved it. You forget what a visually striking film it is — the colours are dazzling, ‘painterly,’ Hoth bleached white crosshatched with livid red and green lasers, Bespin startling sunset orange, Dagobah an organic riot despite being shot in a studio. The fight in the freezing chamber is shot half in silhouette. And that final tableau…

Great film. A peculiar one as well. The middlest of middle chapters, ‘unsatisfying’ in theory but exhilarating and unsettling in practice. Two hours of unremitting tension and trouble (40ish minutes of nonstop movement to begin), culminating in about three minutes of ‘relief’ as the heroes, hanging around in a hospital, vow to fix things. Best dialogue in the series, best direction, richest material design. Contrarians are, in this case, merely wrong — Empire is straightforwardly the best thing about Star Wars.

My son’s reaction was interesting. He made me turn off the sound at two points: hand-removal and ‘Noooo!’ Turns out he has a really hard time watching film of grownups in terrible pain and confusion. (During Finding Dory he went to pieces when Dory spied her mom crying, right before she got lost.)

When we say kids have a hard time separating reality and fantasy in film, that’s partly (mostly?) because we do a poor job explaining what ‘acting’ and ‘filming’ and ‘special effects’ are — there’s so much we adults take for granted in film, never mind the up-down curve of a narrative… How would a kid figure out what a cartoon is, without being carefully told? It moves, it speaks. It feels pain.

Now we’re ready for Return of the Jedi, which he’ll love and I’ll have mixed feelings about. If my son wants to watch the prequels, we will, but I won’t push them. They’re a bit much.