My top 10 Harrison Ford characters

Harrison Ford has been one of my favourite actors for a very long time. Being about five years old and realising that the same man played both Han Solo and Indiana Jones was possibly the exact moment I became a film geek. So to celebrate his 75th birthday here’s a rundown of his best characters…

10. President James Marshall

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Appears in: Air Force One (1997)
Quote: “Get off my plane!”
In this silly but fun thriller, Ford is a fictional US President fighting terrorists who have taken over his personal airliner. It’s one of the actor’s *many* roles in which he plays a husband/father whose family is threatened by bad guys. This motif in his CV was spoofed in a very funny YouTube mash-up.

9. Martin Stett

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Appears in: The Conversation (1974)
Quote: “I’m not following you. I’m looking for you. There’s a big difference.”
A relatively minor role in a paranoia thriller directed by Francis Ford Coppola. In the original script Stett was just an unnamed underling, but Coppola liked Ford’s approach so much – he played him with a cool menace and decided he was gay – that the character was given extra screentime.

8. Allie Fox

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Appears in: The Mosquito Coast (1986)
Quote: “Look around you. How did America get this way? Land of promise, land of opportunity. Give us the wretched refuse of your teeming shores. Have a Coke. Watch TV.”
Based on a Paul Theroux novel, the film tells the story of an American man who moves his family to Belize in search of a purer, simpler life. Ford plays Allie’s increasingly unhinged behaviour really well.

7. Jack Trainer

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Appears in: Working Girl (1988)
Quote: “Me? Nah.”
Harrison shows off his skill with light comedy in this likeable 80s film about big business. He plays the object of the lead character’s affections: a honest, undemanding guy in a cut-throat world.

6. Rusty Sabich

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Appears in: Presumed Innocent (1990)
Quote: “Next time you talk to him, tell him to call me so I can find out what’s going on in my own fucking investigation.”
In this taut mystery movie, Ford plays an assistant district attorney who must investigate the murder of his own mistress. It’s his story, so we’re seeing events through his eyes, yet the longer the film goes on the more you doubt his sincerity. Is Rusty actually the killer?

5. Dr Richard Kimble

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Appears in: The Fugitive (1993)
Quote: “I didn’t kill my wife!”
Wrongly accused of murdering his other half, Kimble goes on the run and is chased by a US marshal played by Tommy Lee Jones. It’s a classic everyman role for Ford – well, a successful and rich everyman – and he’s excellent at playing an innocent who’s overtaken by events.

4. Jack Ryan

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Appears in: Patriot Games (1992), Clear and Present Danger (1994)
Quote: “I couldn’t just stand there and watch him shoot those people right in front of me. It was… rage. Pure rage… Just made me mad.”
This character – a CIA analyst and family man – was first played by Alec Baldwin in The Hunt for Red October (1990), a superb thriller about a rogue submarine. When Baldwin dropped out of the sequel, Harrison Ford took over. He played Jack Ryan in two very entertaining and well made movies, and brought bags of decency and guile to the role.

3. Rick Deckard

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Appears in: Blade Runner (1982), Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Quote: “I was quit when I come in here, Bryant. I’m twice as quit now.”
Harrison Ford’s skill at conveying a huge amount with relatively little dialogue has never been better used than in this magnificent movie. Deckard is a classic film-noir private detective working in a futuristic LA. He’s world-weary, laconic and damaged.

2. Dr Henry ‘Indiana’ Jones Jnr

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Appears in: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles: Young Indiana Jones and the Mystery of the Blues (1993, TV), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Quote: “It’s not the years, honey. It’s the mileage.”
Indy is part college professor, part archaeologist and part globetrotting, Nazi-beating, wisecracking adventurer. With his fedora hat, leather jacket and whip, he’s a comic-book character come to life. A swashbuckling hero for the ages.

1. Han Solo

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Appears in: Star Wars (1977), The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Return of the Jedi (1983), Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
Quote: “Sometimes I amaze even myself.”
The words swagger and charisma could have been coined to describe Han Solo, the untrustworthy-smuggler-turned-hero-of-the-rebellion. He’s a dry, droll presence in the Star Wars series, adding cynicism and sarcasm to the otherwise earnest first film and then romance and soul to the sequels. He has the best spaceship in all of sci-fi, dresses like a cowboy, and is capable of a man-crush-generating smirk. Peerlessly, effortlessly, relentlessly cool.

Best of the rest: Also worth mentioning are… Boy racer Bob Falfa in American Graffiti (1973) and More American Graffiti (1979)… Colonel Lucas, the nervous military toady in Apocalypse Now (1979)… David Halloran, the US soldier in soppy war film Hanover Street (1979)… Policeman John Book in Amish thriller Witness (1985)… and Richard Walker, yet another husband worried about his under-threat wife, in Frantic (1988).

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Blade Runner: The Final Cut (2007, Ridley Scott)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Twenty-five years after its release, director Ridley Scott returned to Blade Runner and oversaw another new version – this one was touted as the last one ever, definitely, we promise. As well as reversing changes he’d been forced into making in 1982, Scott took the opportunity to carry out numerous other tweaks. The film and soundtrack were also digitally remastered. Scott considers this the definitive version. As I’ve already written about the original movie and its 1990s re-edit, this is a discussion of the notable changes made in 2007. It’s far from a full list – just those that I spotted and thought interesting.

* This version uses the ‘International Cut’ as its basis, so contains the shots of violence missing from the 1982 US edition and the 1992 Director’s Cut.
* The whole film has been graded more brightly, which allows us to see extra detail in the glorious production design.
* The voiceover is absent.
* During the briefing scene, a plot hole has been fixed. Originally, Bryant told us that *one* escaped replicant was killed while trying to break into Tyrell’s headquarters; now, he says two. It was a genuine mistake in 1982 that the ‘one’ line was used. It was filmed that way because there was going to be a fifth rogue replicant in the story. Actress Stacey Nelkin was even cast as Mary, but the scenes were dropped before she filmed anything.
* In the same conversation, Bryant now goes into more detail about Leon.
* The first shot of Roy Batty is a close-up that was actually stolen from a different scene – and in the earlier versions of the film you can see Tyrell’s thumb on Batty’s shoulder! For this Final Cut, the thumb has been digitally removed.
* The unicorn dream is included, but in a different way from the 1992 Director’s Cut. It’s now clear that Deckard is awake and specifically thinking about the unicorn. We cut between reality and dream a couple of times. The sound mix of the unicorn shots has also been redone.
* A photograph we see of Zhora now features Joanna Cassidy, the actress who played her, rather than whoever-the-fuck-it-was in the 1982 version.
* The scene between Deckard and snake-seller Abdul Ben Hassan has had its lip-syncing issues fixed. In both the original version and the Director’s Cut, Deckard’s voice doesn’t match his mouth movements *at all*. Now it does, thanks to some astonishing moviemaking magic. The lower portion of Harrison Ford’s face has been digital replaced with newly shot footage of his son Ben’s mouth saying the dialogue! Talk about attention to detail.
* There are some extra shots of the LA streets. Amongst them, we see two near-naked women dancing in a plastic tube. They’re wearing hockey masks for some reason.
* When Deckard is searching for nightclub owner Taffy Lewis, he now asks a cop for directions.
* Perhaps the most famous goof in Blade Runner has been corrected. In Zhora’s death scene, the head of the obvious stuntwoman has been digitally replaced by new footage of Joanna Cassidy shot 25 years after the fact.
* When Roy Batty confronts Tyrell, he now says, “I want more life, father!” rather than “I want more life, fucker!” It’s a toss-up which version is better. The new one speaks to the theme, I suppose, but I miss the punk attitude of the original.
* Originally, the shadows of two crewmembers – said to be Ridley Scott and cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth – could be seen on a wall during Deckard’s chase of Batty. They’ve now been silently erased.
* When a dying Batty lets go of the dove he’s been holding, the shot of it flying away has been changed. Originally, it was a jarring image of a drab warehouse wall and a daytime sky – no one was happy with it. Now, the architecture and mood of the shot match the rest of the scene.
* As in the Director’s Cut, the ‘happy ending’ scene of Deckard and Rachel driving off together has been dropped.

Review: Sumptuous. This is the version to watch.

Ten skinjobs out of 10

Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut (1992, Ridley Scott)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

In 1982, during post-production of Blade Runner, a work-in-progress edit was shown to preview audiences in Dallas and Denver. Negative feedback led to numerous changes for the release version, such as the addition of both Deckard’s voiceover and a ‘happy ending’ scene of Deckard and Rachel escaping the city. Eight years after the movie came out, a 70mm copy of that early rough cut (known to Blade Runner fans as the workprint) was found and screened at film festivals. A buzz quickly grew, so Warner Bros decided to cash in. Despite its name, Ridley Scott was too busy to oversee this ‘Director’s Cut’ for its 1992 release, though it was an attempt to restore more of his original vision. As I’ve already reviewed the 1982 version of the film, this is instead a discussion of the changes made a decade later.

* The Director’s Cut uses the US theatrical version as its base, so it’s missing the 16 extra seconds of violence that were seen in other countries. A shame.
* Deckard’s narration has thankfully been completely removed. Early in the film, to plug a gap where voiceover used to be, we hear a longer Tannoy announcement coming from the massive blimp flying above the city.
* As Deckard sits at the piano in his apartment, he now has a 12-second daydream about a unicorn running through the woods.
* The film ends one scene earlier than before, with the lift doors closing on Deckard and Rachel. So the daytime shots of them driving into the countryside are missing.

Review: At the original film’s climax, Deckard finds a small origami unicorn outside his apartment. The fact it’s a unicorn is neither here nor there; it’s simply a tip-off that Gaff tracked down Rachel but let her live. However, the Director’s Cut introduces the daydream mentioned above, which gives the story new meaning. Now we must ask: is Gaff actually revealing that he knows what Deckard has been dreaming about? If so, does that mean Deckard himself is a replicant? Of course, a unicorn is a mythical, fictional creature: in other words, not real. The dream also acts as a magnet, pulling other pre-existing clues into focus:
* When asked if he ever took a replicant-spotting Voight-Kampff test, Deckard doesn’t answer.
* Deckard’s eyes glint in the light at one point, in the same way replicants’ eyes do at various times in the film. (Harrison Ford says this was an accident when he stepped across Sean Young’s mark – but of course the fact Ridley Scott used the take is significant.)
* Deckard’s apartment is littered with photographs. Not only are they mostly old-fashioned and black-and-white, so therefore seem to be from someone else’s life, but we’re told that replicants collect photos as a way of forming their own histories.
* When Deckard is briefed about his mission, his boss tells him that six replicants have escaped and that one was killed trying to infiltrate Tyrell HQ. That leaves five: Roy, Leon, Pris, Zhora… and Deckard? Could he actually be one of Roy’s gang reprogrammed to hunt them down? (Again, this plot ambiguity is actually a mistake: the line should have been that two were killed before the film began, but the wrong take was used and no one noticed the mathematical error.)
Pleasingly, the film never comes out and says for certain either way. But on balance, the Director’s Cut suggests that Deckard is a replicant. This was the first version of Blade Runner I ever saw, on VHS in 1992 or so. Perhaps that means I’m biased, but because it erases the dreary voiceover and adds ambiguity via the daydream I’d say it’s even better than the original.

Ten attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion out of 10

Next time… Blade Runner: The Final Cut

Ten Things I Love About Blade Runner (1982, Ridley Scott)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

1. The script.
Los Angeles, November 2019. Six replicants – strong, skilful, synthetic humans – have escaped and are on the run. So a detective called Deckard is pulled out of retirement to hunt them down… Philip K Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a thoughtful book set in a post-apocalyptic world and is full of complex sci-fi ideas. However, in adapting it for the cinema, writers Hampton Fancher and David Peoples unashamedly stripped the story down and repurposed it as a film noir. There’s a world-weary detective on one last job, a gruff boss who wants results, a classy broad with a secret past, a dark, rain-sodden city… Despite being about robots, it’s a pleasingly old-fashioned plot. And it’s remarkably simple: detective Deckard simply moves from A to B, following clues and tracking down the ‘bad guys’. There’s virtually no intrigue. Director Ridley Scott’s previous film, Alien, was about a dispassionate creature killing a group one-by-one. Here’s the same concept, but from the killer’s point of view. But with so much going on visually and thematically, the story needs to be linear and clear. (The combination of sci-fi concepts and film-noir conventions resulted in a new sub-genre called Tech Noir, named for a nightclub in 1984’s The Terminator. Blade Runner is its definitive text.)

2. Deckard.
This is Harrison Ford in the middle of one of *the* great CV runs. For a decade or so from 1973, he appeared in American Graffiti, The Conversation, a Star Wars trilogy, Apocalypse Now, two Indiana Jones movies and Blade Runner (and was cut out of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial). Not too shabby. Philip K Dick certainly approved of the casting, calling Ford “more like Rick Deckard than I could have ever imagined… Seeing him as a character I created is a stunning and almost supernatural experience to me.” Here, Ford’s hair is closely cropped rather than Han Solo shaggy, while the Indy charisma has gone too. It’s a terrifically controlled, unshowy performance. Deckard is a classic film-noir gumshoe – he works reluctantly for the police’s Blade Runner Unit (what the name means is never explained), is a loner (the droll voiceover tells us he has an ex-wife) and barely raises a smile. The character’s name is a pun on René Descartes, a philosopher whose most famous maxim was “I think therefore I am.” And that rings with the film’s central question: what does it mean to be alive? Deckard is initially cruel to Rachel, the first robot he meets, because he doesn’t see her as a genuine person. But he gradually grows fascinated by her, falls in love, and this helps with his mission: he only starts finding the rogue replicants once he accepts they have emotions and personalities… In one scene, Ford gets to step outside the private-eye persona. When he meets Zhora, he pretends to be an unctuous union rep with a whiny voice. It’s a better bit of acting than Harrison Ford’s Scottish accent when does a similar thing in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. (Note: because it’s less relevant to this version of the film, I’ll save discussion of who Deckard really is for the next review.)

3. Futurism.
When released, the movie was set 37 years into the future – a date we’re now only 36 months away from hitting. But like all the best science fiction, it looks back as much as it looks forward. This is not a Star Trek world of gleaming perfection and utopian lushness. The city still has garish 1980s commercialism, such as billboards for Coke, Atari and Pan Am; there are flying cars, but they mostly have the silhouette of vehicles from the mid-20th century; and every street is full of bustling, chaotic crowds. There’s just as much decay as there is progress. As a fictional setting, it’s *totally* convincing. (It’s also constantly raining. This helps with the relentlessly gloomy vibe, but Ridley Scott had a more prosaic reason: the water disguised how small the exterior sets were.) Blade Runner is also the key example of cinematic cyberpunk, which is perhaps surprising given that it pointedly sidelines computers and has little concept of a digital world. Machines here are functional and analogue. (Check out Deckard’s chunky, juddering photo scanner!) But the clash of ‘high tech and low life’ is what cyberpunk is all about – the more advanced the technology gets, the more rotten the society becomes. And Blade Runner’s world is built on that conflict.

4. The design.
The aesthetic of the sets, costumes, vehicles, props and locations is *extraordinary*. Numerous cinematic geniuses worked on the film’s physical look, among them concept artist Syd Mead (Tron, Aliens), production designer Lawrence G Paull (Back to the Future), special-effects wizard Douglas Trumbull (2001, Close Encounters, Silent Running) and of course Ridley Scott. Their Los Angeles is a masterpiece. From a wide shot of the city, we see familiar sprawl – but with additional power plants, flaming towers and flying vehicles. Thick smog hangs over the whole area. Then when we go down to ground level, everywhere is busy, textured, overflowing with people and vehicles and activity. Again, it’s about imagining a future culture by using what’s gone before – specifically the early 20th century. To suit the story’s film-noir mood, sets and costumes (including men’s hats) often feel like they’re from the 1940s. Meanwhile, because he’s detached from the rest of the population, Tyrell’s office building is shaped like a pyramid and has a vaguely Egyptian feel inside (another logical throwback: after Howard Carter opened Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922, a streak of Egyptology ran through American theatre, film and fashion). The 1920s and 30s are also evident in the flashes of Art Deco architecture and the decadent nightclub where Deckard finds Zhora. But playing on the rise of Japanese technology in the early 80s, the city has been laced with an Asian influence – colourful neon signs pop out of almost every exterior shot, many in eastern languages, while fast-food stalls sell noodles. Ridley Scott mostly used sets, including a heavily redressed section of a pre-existing fake street, but there are also carefully chosen real locations: the cavernous Los Angeles Union Station for the police HQ, the Bradbury Building for Sebastian’s apartment, a glistening road tunnel… All of these elements build a stunning universe for the story to take place in. There is enormous detail – extras, shop fronts, stalls, vehicles, signage, screens, umbrella, bicycles, hovering sky-ships – but it’s never overwhelming or cluttered like a lumbering CGI blockbuster. Instead, the world feels alive and vibrant and menacing and fresh and dangerous and seductive. On each viewing, I want the camera to follow every single extra to see who they are and where they’re going.

5. Lighting.
Let’s not equivocate. Blade Runner is the best-lit film there is. The director of photography was Jordan Cronenweth, who was responsible for two hours of sensationally beautiful images. Not one single frame is boring or ugly. There’s a lot of smoke and shadow, flares and florescence, Venetian blinds and fan blades. Almost the entire film is set at night, yet for such a dark film there’s beauty, atmosphere and texture in *everything*.

6. Rachel.
A dame right out of the 1940s – clock her vintage outfits and victory-rolls hairdo! – Rachel is introduced with an archly lit shot where she walks into a spotlight. The camera loves her. When Deckard realises that she’s actually a replicant, he starts referring to her as ‘it’. Sean Young is maybe not the strongest actress, but you can’t help but feel the character’s pain when he then rudely confirms her fears that she’s not real. Sadly, Rachel later drops out of the story while Deckard hunts down Roy Batty. She returns for the ending, though: Rachel escapes the city with Deckard and they drive off into the countryside. For the first time in the film, it’s daytime. Ridley Scott hated being forced to include the scene, and it’s been dropped from subsequent versions. But I’ve never had a problem with it. It’s not a cosy happy-ever-after; it’s a brief glimpse of hope…

7. Music.
The famous score is by Vangelis. It’s electronica with Pink Floyd prog-rock grandeur. Elegant, seductive, hypnotic. Later, it turns appropriately grubby when Deckard’s detective works leads him deep into the bazaar-like streets. (The whole sound mix is generally terrific. Multiple viewings keep throwing up new details.)

8. Roy Batty.
We first see the film’s antagonist on a computer screen. A caption tells us that his ‘incept date’ – ie, his date of birth – is 8 January 2016. Billy Idol blond, he’s a combat model and is the leader of the replicants who have got loose. In some ways, Roy is the most human character in the story. He certainly has the biggest lust for life. His tragedy is that he’s fatally aware that his time is running out – and that means he appreciates experiences more vividly. Roy isn’t actually in the film very much, but like any great ‘villain’ he’s really charismatic. You can’t take your eyes off him. His pre-death soliloquy – partly written by actor Rutger Hauer – is rightly lauded. An action film where the climax is the baddie saving the hero’s life, sitting down, and quietly dying? That’s a pretty decent trick.

9. The rest of the cast.
We meet three other replicants… The kooky and sweet Pris (Daryl Hannah) has a punk look and is euphemistically called a leisure model. Ironically, her incept date is 14 February 2016. Tough guy Leon (Brion James) is uncovered in the opening scene, so attacks his boss and later tries to kill Deckard. The youngest of the gang, his incept date is 10 April 2017. And the beautiful Zhora (Joanna Cassidy) is hiding as an exotic dancer at a seedy nightclub. Her incept date is 12 June 2016. Sadly, her death scene features a very obvious stuntwoman in a very bad wig. Roy and Pris befriend a nervous, naïve man called JF Sebastian (William Sanderson), who lives with a gaggle of animatronic toys. They force him to take them to their creator, Tyrell (Joe Turkel), who lives in a palatial apartment of drapes and candles. Meanwhile, Deckard has two colleagues of note. His boss is Bryant (M Emmet Walsh), while a man called Gaff (Edward James Olmos) seems to have a watching brief over the Blade Runner agents. The latter uses a cane, enjoys origami and talks in Cityspeak, a mishmash of various languages.

10. Cuts.
One of the minor reasons Blade Runner has such a lasting legacy is that there are five different edits available, some with really interesting differences. For a kick-off, there were two versions released in 1982: in the rest of the world, we got 16 seconds of violence that had been trimmed from the US print. This review is based on that slightly longer ‘international version’. The bits not seen in America come during Tyrell’s murder, Deckard’s fight with Pris, and a moment when Batty pushes a nail through his own hand. I’ll discuss the other versions in the next two reviews.

Review: There’s a recurring motif of eyes in this movie. A close-up of a pupil is one of the first things we see; the machine that assesses replicants uses an iris-scanner; Leon threatens to poke Deckard’s eyes out; an ocular technician gives Roy some vital information; Batty pushes Tyrell’s eyes into his head; replicants’ eyes sometimes glint red in the light… The eyeball is a product of evolution, but is so complex and useful that many assume it must have been designed. That tension – evolution vs design, human vs replicant – runs through the whole film. Nominally a standard manhunt movie, Blade Runner is a discussion of what it means to be alive. Are the humans (evolution) any more ‘alive’ than the replicants (designed)? Do they have more right to life? The film’s biggest achievement may be that it’s so stylised, so constructed, so designed, yet feel totally organic and real. Just like a replicant. It’s also, as mentioned, the best-looking movie of all time. The craft on show in the design work, the photography and the special effects has yet to be bettered. Unfortunately, before the film was released, poor audience reactions at test screenings led to a voiceover being added against the wishes of the director and star. As a storytelling device, it’s fine in concept – it really does fit the Sam Spade idiom – but is just bad writing. All it does is spell out things we would rather be left to infer. The crassest example comes just seconds after Roy has died: the narration cuts in, spoiling the moment, to tell you the bleeding obvious. Make no mistake: this film is a masterpiece. It’s one of the most imperishable examples of popular culture. But that voiceover, man… I just can’t justify a 10. Let’s cheat:

Nine and a half Voight-Kampff machines out of 10

Next time… Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut

Return of the Jedi: Special Edition (1997, Richard Marquand)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

WHICH VERSION? This is a look at the notable changes made to Return of the Jedi for its 1997 special edition. For research, I watched the film on a 2004 DVD, for which some additional alterations were made. My review of the original cut can be found here.

* The 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm logos have been updated.

* Although I’ve not seen it, the 2011 Blu-ray release altered the shot of C-3PO and R2-D2 approaching the entrance of Jabba’s palace – it’s much wider now, so the droids seem even more dwarfed by the door.

* Inside Jabba’s palace, the house band now performs a different song. Additionally, whereas there used to be three musicians – called Max Rebo, Droopy McCool and Sy Snootles, according to the internet – there are now loads of them. The most heavily featured new member is a CGI creation called Joh Yowza, who sings the lead vocals. The replacement song is high-tempo tosh called Jedi Rocks. The way it’s staged and filmed like a music video is horrendously out of place for the scene.

* Some new close-ups of dancing girl Oola were specifically mounted for the special edition (the same actress returned after 14 years).

* New cutaways of Boba Fett in Jabba’s palace establish his presence a bit more strongly. In one of them, he’s flirting with two of the dancers. The dog.

* There’s a new shot of Tatooine’s surface, which features a herd of banthas (woolly mammoth-type creatures also seen in Star Wars).

* The Sarlaac has been significantly changed. Rather than just a big hole in the ground, the creature now has a CGI beak and extra tentacles.

* The scene with an unmasked Darth Vader was untouched in 1997. For the DVD release seven years later, however, Anakin’s eyebrows were digital removed because the upcoming prequel, Revenge of the Sith, had the character being heavily burnt. His eyes have also been tinted to match those of Hayden Christensen, the actor who played the character in the prequel series.

* The Death Star blows up with that favourite effect of the special editions: an energy ring.

* As well as celebrations on Endor, the downfall of the Empire is marked by new CGI shots of people cheering and dancing on the planets Bespin, Tatooine, Naboo and Courascant. Whether the tone of the Tatooine image – a mass outpouring of civic jubilation – fits what we know of its seedy, crime-driven streets is another matter. The Naboo footage was only added in 2004, after the planet had been seen in the prequels. A Gungan shouts “Weesa free!” – is it meant to be Jar Jar Binks? The Courascant shots were tweaked in 2004 to take into account some design decisions from the prequel films.

* The distinctive Ewok music (“Jub jub!”) has been thoughtlessly ditched, which might be the most objectionable change in the whole trilogy (that doesn’t feature Han Solo not shooting first). In its place is a new panpipe-laced theme, written and recorded especially for this special edition. It’s pleasant enough but, vitally and sadly, is *not the Ewok celebration music*.

* In the versions of the film released from 2004 onwards, Anakin’s ghost is played by Hayden Christensen. It’s a bit nonsensical, this. Both Yoda and Ben look as they did when they died – whereas Anakin looks like he did when he became Darth Vader. It ties the film in more closely with the prequels, but it does rather undercut Anakin’s redemption within Return of the Jedi itself.

REVIEW: A mixed bag. The new Sarlaac is an improvement, while the celebrations on other planets help round off the trilogy’s story arc. But the tiresome song in Jabba’s palace, the loss of the Ewok music and the addition of Hayden Christensen mean a mark gets knocked off from the original cut’s score.

Nine delusions of grandeur out of 10

 

The Empire Strikes Back: Special Edition (1997, Irvin Kershner)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

WHICH VERSION? The special edition of The Empire Strikes Back, which added computer effects and new footage to the original version, was released in cinemas in 1997. For this review, I watched the DVD that came out in 2004. As I’ve already discussed the 1980 cut of the movie, this is a list of the notable changes made in the 1990s and since…

* The 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm logos have been updated.

* During the early sequence where Luke is attacked and captured by the bear-like wampa, newly filmed inserts give us a better look at the creature. After Luke cuts off its arm – seriously, what is it with George Lucas’s obsession with dismemberment?! – we see the wampa writhing in pain. The 1997 footage cuts in seamlessly.

* The scene between Darth Vader and the Emperor was untouched in 1997. However, there were significant changes when the film was prepared for DVD release in 2004. The original performance of the Emperor (by extra Elaine Baker and voice actor Clive Revill) was replaced by newly shot footage of Ian McDiarmid, who played the character in every Star Wars film from Return of the Jedi onwards. Bringing this film in line with the others is a nice move. Lucas also took to opportunity to tweak the dialogue so the Emperor now specifies that he knows Luke is the son of Anakin Skywalker.

* Although not altered in 1997, when the Special Edition came out on DVD Boba Fett’s dialogue had been dubbed by Temuera Morrison (the actor who had recently played the man from whom Fett was cloned in Episode II).

* The lengthy sequence in and around Bespin’s Cloud City has had a picturesque overhaul. Existing exterior scenes have been graded to push a more sunset-time vibe; a few new simple CGI shots establish the Millennium Falcon coming in to land; and whenever the city is seen in the background of shots or through windows, it’s now busier, even more artful and tonally warmer. All the additions work really well: they open out the previously studio-bound city and, by being so summer-evening-y, provide a nice contrasting bookend with the Hoth sequence.

* There are new shots – one of real actors, one a CG cityscape – showing people reacting to Lando’s panicked Tannoy announcement on Bespin.

* In order to salve a plot hole, Darth Vader’s dialogue has been changed from “Bring my shuttle” to “Alert my star destroyer to prepare for my arrival”. We then see him boarding his shuttle and arriving on the mother ship (in footage stolen from Return of the Jedi). It’s not subtle, but it does tidy up the moment in the original cut where Vader appears on the ship rather suddenly. The new dialogue sounds awfully like someone doing an impression of James Earl Jones…

REVIEW: There are far fewer changes than there were in the special edition of Star Wars. And the big, noticeable alterations actually enhance what was already a pinnacle of popular culture. Childhood nostalgia is the only thing that stops me admitting that this version might be the better one.

Ten negative power couplings out of 10

Star Wars: Special Edition (1997, George Lucas)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

WHICH VERSION? In 1997, writer/director/producer/corporate-bigwig/beard-wearer George Lucas returned to his masterpiece and rejigged it for a cinematic reissue. This new edit added some then-state-of-the-art special effects and features some never-before-seen footage. Irritatingly, this ‘special edition’ has since become the default version of the movie for home-video releases and TV screenings. Further minor tweaks were made for a 2004 DVD (that’s the version I watched for this write-up) and again for a 2011 Blu-ray box set. I’ve already reviewed the original film – so instead this is a discussion of the changes made in the 90s. It’s not a definitive list; just a look at the ones I spotted and thought interesting…

* The vintage 20th Century Fox logo has been updated, while a Lucasfilm logo has replaced its old text credit.

* The film has the subtitle ‘Episode IV – A New Hope’, which had actually been on the original too from a 1981 rerelease onwards.

* We get a few new establishing shots of Tatooine. They’re nice enough. R2-D2’s encounter with the Jawas has been colour-timed to make it seem more like dusk.

* The scene of Stormtroopers finding the crashed escape pod has had an overhaul. It’s longer now, with some newly filmed Stormtroopers and computer-generated dewbacks (we only had static models of these elephant-like creatures in the old version). They’ve been digitally added to some existing shots too.

* A nice model shot of the Jawas’ huge sandcrawler vehicle has been replaced by a CGI version, which is pleasant enough and more dynamic.

* Similarly, there’s a new establishing shot of Ben’s house, which is more detailed (and more digitally) than the old one. It tells us that his hideaway is on top of a hill and he has a nice view across the wastelands.

* Luke and Ben’s arrival at Mos Eisley is a lot more elaborate now. There’s new CGI footage of the city streets as their speeder drives into town. It’s crammed full of people and creatures and vehicles – some on newly shot film, some computer-generated. There’s even a bit of comedy. Great in theory, as it expands the city and brings it to life, but the additions stick out a mile – especially the cartoony shots of the speeder.

* In the cantina scene, one of the strange creatures seen in the montage of customers – a wolfman – has been replaced by a new frog-headed hipster alien who’s wearing a beret and smoking a pipe.

* In Han Solo’s confrontation with Greedo, Han no longer simply kills the guy rather than deal with him. He now shoots only in self-defence, after Greedo takes a shot at him. At point-blank range. And misses. This is a justifiably ridiculed, infamously unpopular change, which undermines Han’s entire character arc for the film. It’s like painting in eyebrows on the Mona Lisa or dubbing a new bassline onto a Beatles song.

* The Stormtroopers searching Mos Eisley now have little floating devices following them around (cameras, I guess?).

* An entire unused scene from the 1976 shoot has been added in. Han returns to the Millennium Falcon to find Jabba the Hutt and his cronies waiting for him, and has to use his silky charisma to buy more time before he has to pay off his debt. Jabba is a computer-generated character and is pretty corny-looking (he was even worse in the 1997 cinema version, but the DVD I watched carried out some repair work). The raw footage featured actor Declan Mulholland playing Jabba, but George Lucas claims he shot the scene that way only as a guide. The notion, he says, was that Mulholland would be replaced in post-production, probably by a stop-motion puppet. Well, that’s clearly bullshit. Not only was Mullholland is full costume, but Harrison Ford walks behind and in front of him and even touches his chest at one point – not things you’d get an actor to do in 1976 if the intention is to matte in a special effect. (Han also calls him a ‘wonderful human being’ in the dialogue, though admittedly he’s being sarcastic.) The whole thing is awful. On a story level, it adds little and slows down the momentum. It robs the viewer of first seeing the Millennium Falcon through Luke’s eyes. And the clash of 1970s film and 1990s technology is nothing but distracting. The worst moment comes when, in the original shot, Harrison Ford walks behind Jabba. When later designed for Return of the Jedi, Jabba was given a huge tail – so how can Han avoid it? The solution – to have Han walk up and over it, and for Jabba to grimace in pain – is a pathetic idea and looks absolutely terrible. On the plus side, although not part of the original shoot, Boba Fett has been digitally added to the scene. Nice touch.

* There’s a new shot of the Millennium Falcon taking off.

* When Dantooine explodes, it does so mainly with a focused arc of energy for some reason. The Death Star does the same later on.

* The Death Star hanger now looks more like it does in Return of the Jedi.

* The gag of Han turning a corner on the Death Star and bumping into six Stormtroopers has been altered: he now finds dozens of them.

* There are some new CG shots of the Falcon approaching Yavin.

* The Aztec-style temple on Yavin 4 now looks a lot more weatherworn.

* In the original cut, Luke goes from maudlin about Ben’s death to excited about the upcoming battle very quickly. Now we can see why: a deleted scene of him bumping into old pal Biggs Darklighter has been slotted in. (Biggs’s other deleted scenes from the shooting script haven’t been used – it seems the footage hasn’t survived in good enough quality.)

* We get new computer-generated shots of X-Wings taking off from Yavin 4, then shots of them approaching the Death Star have been replaced by CG versions with significantly more craft. A few CGI shots have been slipped into the main battle montage too. As a surgical bit of editing, it works really well: the geography of the dogfight is a bit clearer and none of the urgency is lost.

* James Earl Jones is now credited for playing the voice of Darth Vader. It’s astonishing to realise he wasn’t listed originally.

REVIEW: First and foremost, it’s really enjoyable to see a good quality copy of Star Wars. Little restoration work was done to the 2006 DVD release of the original cut, allegedly because Lucasfilm felt guilt-tripped into releasing it. So it’s smashing to see the movie shining and gleaming and popping through the TV screen. Most of the alterations in this version are good in theory and liveable-with in practice, but the two big changes to the Mos Eisley sequence – Han and Greedo, Han and Jabba – damage the film significantly. Let’s knock a mark off because of that.

Nine explosion rings out of 10

Return of the Jedi (1983, Richard Marquand)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The Rebel Alliance discover that the Empire is building a new, even deadlier Death Star…

WHICH VERSION? The original cut from 1983 (as available on a 2006 DVD). Officially, the film is called Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi.

GOOD GUYS

* R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) begins the film by going with C-3PO to the palace of Jabba the Hutt, the gangster who has Han Solo captive. It’s part of a convoluted rescue mission. After delivering a message from Luke, R2 is press ganged into serving drinks on Jabba’s pleasure barge – which is a stroke of luck, as this puts him where he needs to be for our heroes’ escape attempt. He goes with Luke to Dagobah, then with him and others to the forest moon of Endor.

* C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) is taken aback when Luke gives him up to Jabba (don’t worry, it’s all part of a master plan). Before being rescued, he acts as the mobster’s interpreter. Later, the natives on Endor – short, bearlike creatures called Ewoks – assume he’s a god. He explains the series’s plot so far to them, a story that comes complete with authentic sound effects.

* Commander Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) turns up at Jabba’s palace in a hooded cloak and throws Jedi mind tricks around, but Jabba’s not impressed and chucks him into a pit with a huge monster called the Rancor. Luke is more confident now, especially with his Force skills, and his meticulously planned rescue of Han succeeds. As he lost his original lightsaber in the last film – the one Ben gave him, which used to belong to Luke’s dad – he now has a new (green) one. After saving Han, Luke nips off to Dagobah to see Yoda, then joins the others on the mission to destroy the Death Star. In a fantastic scene that’s quoted in the trailer for 2015’s The Force Awakens, he tells Leia that she’s his sister (oh, and Darth Vader’s their dad). He believes he can ‘save’ Vader, so gives himself up to the Imperial forces in order to get close to him. He’s taken to see the Emperor, who taunts Luke until his anger boils over and he duels with Darth Vader. Luke bests him and chops his hand off, but then has a moment of clarity and stops attacking him. He refuses to murder his father, so the Emperor decides to kill Luke – but then Vader comes to his son’s aid. Luke then has a nice moment of reconciliation before Vader dies.

* General Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is still frozen in carbonite, but his pals mount a rescue. When woken up, his eyesight takes a while to return. His relationship with Leia is warmer now that they’ve admitted they love each other; he’s also getting on fine with Lando and even lends him the Millennium Falcon. (I suppose Han has had plenty of cooling-off time since their row in The Empire Strikes Back.) At some point, this selfish smuggler who only got involved because of the money has been raised to the rank of general by the Rebel Alliance – he was called ‘Captain’ in the last film, so was he promoted in absentia while frozen? He volunteers to lead the strike team that’ll destroy the Death Star’s defences, so takes Chewbacca, Luke, Leia and the droids to Endor, the moon that contains the force-field generator. After a misunderstanding that almost involves Han and Luke being roasted alive, the Ewoks agree to help with the mission. At the end of the film, Han graciously says he’ll step aside and let Leia be with Luke, seeing how she clearly loves him. When she patiently explains that they’re siblings, Han’s expression is 50 per cent “ARE YOU SHITTING ME?” and 50 per cent “I’m getting some tonight!”

* Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) is first seen seemingly being sold by a bounty hunter to Jabba the Hutt. It’s a ruse to get him into the palace. On Endor, he’s distracted by a dead animal hanging from a tree and sets off a trap that snares the gang in a net. He later yelps like Tarzan as he swings through the forest.

* Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) pretends to be a bounty hunter in order to infiltrate Jabba’s palace. Once inside, she defrosts Han – but they’re caught by Jabba. He then forces Leia to sit by his throne in a kinky slave-girl outfit, which [COMMENT REDACTED]. When it all kicks off, she strangles Jabba with the chain he was using to keep her in place (GO, FEMINIST SUBTEXT!). On Endor, she’s knocked unconscious and found by a young Ewok called Wicket. She later learns that she’s Luke’s sister – she claims that somehow she’s always known this, but why she was snogging him in the last film is not mentioned. After her superb scene with Luke, she has a similarly classy moment with Han – he gets the wrong idea about her emotional state, but still comforts her when she’s upset. During the fight at the bunker, Leia is shot in the arm. As Han squats down to see if she’s okay, stormtroopers surround them. Out of their view, Leia draws a gun. “I love you,” says Han, well aware that repeating classic dialogue in a new context is often a pleasing moment in a movie. “I know,” she replies knowingly before shooting the bad guys.

* General Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) has already inveigled himself into Jabba’s retinue by the time the movie begins. During the rescue attempt, Han saves Lando’s life, which is good of him considering what happened in the last film. Lando is now a general in the Rebel Alliance. They just hand these things out like Jaffa Cakes, don’t they? He leads the fleet as they attack the Death Star – using a borrowed Millennium Falcon, he flies into its core and sets off a huge explosion.

* Yoda (Frank Oz) seems older than the last time we saw him (“Sicker I have become, old and weak…”) and conks out minutes after Luke arrives to say hello. He has just enough puff in his body to tell Luke that he must defeat Darth Vader in a duel in order to be a proper Jedi, and confirm that Vader is Luke’s father. Yoda then fades away, like Ben did in Star Wars.

* Ben ‘Obi-Wan’ Kenobi (Alec Guinness) shows up as a ghost again to retcon the information he gave Luke in film one. “What I told you was true,” he says, morphing into Peter Mandleson. “From a certain point of view…” He also fills in Yoda’s blanks by telling Luke that he has a twin sister – Luke guesses correctly that it’s Leia.

* Admiral Ackbar (Timothy R. Rose) commands the Alliance fleet, He’s half-man/half-prawn and has a slobbering voice. “It’s a trap!” he bellows at one point, creating a catchphrase.

* Mon Mothma (Caroline Blakiston) is a high-ranking rebel leader who gives the pre-mission briefing. Many Bothans died to bring them this information.

* General Madine (Dermot Crowley) helps with Mon Mothma’s slideshow presentation.

* Wicket (Warwick Davis) is the Ewok who finds Leia and takes her to his camp. The Ewoks are an alien race made up of warriors, witch doctors, tribal music and simple natives easily impressed by metal and the beauty of a white woman. They initially want to cook (and presumably eat?) Han and Luke, but Luke uses his Force powers to fool them into thinking C-3PO is a malevolent god who will punish them if they don’t toe the line. The Ewoks then risk life and limb to help the rebels’ mission, proving that – in the Star Wars universe, at any rate – guts, guile and Heath Robinson gadgets can overcome hundreds of well-funded troops with armour, tanks and masses of weaponry. (Kenny Baker was originally going to double up to play Wicket, but he was ill on the day of filming so the part was hastily recast with 11-year-old supporting artist Warwick Davis.)

* Wedge Antillies (Denis Lawson) is now X-Wing red leader and takes part in the assault on the Death Star.

BAD GUYS

* Moff Jerjerrod (Michael Pennington) is the nervous commander of the under-construction Death Star. Unlike Moff Tarkin in Star Wars, he is clearly Vader’s underling.

* Darth Vader (body: David Prowse, voice: James Earl Jones) arrives on the Death Star to oversea the building work. It’s over schedule, apparently. He then goes to Endor when Luke gives himself up, and in a blisteringly well written scene we learn Vader’s real name: before he turned to the Dark Side, he was called Anakin Skywalker. Luke begs him to search his feelings for any remnants of goodness. In a line that elegantly justifies the entire movie’s story arc, Vader sadly says, “It is too late for me, son…” However, he later redeems himself when the Emperor is trying to kill Luke. Wheezing, and now missing a hand, Vader looks on in horror. (Seriously, even with a mask on, his emotion turmoil is obvious.) Picking a side, he lifts up the Emperor and flings him down a vertical tunnel. Close to dying himself, Vader asks Luke to remove his mask: “Let me look on you with my own eyes,” he says. Now played by Sebastian Shaw (it would’ve been a different film if it’d been David Prowse under the mask!), he touchingly asks Luke to “tell you sister you were right” about him not being all bad. He then dies, so Luke holds a private cremation. Anakin later makes a ghostly cameo, joining Yoda and Ben Kenobi in the afterlife.

* Bib Fortuna (Michael Carter) is Jabba the Hutt’s aide-de-camp. He has squid-like appendages and talks in a strange language that sometimes sounds rude (“Deh Jabba wanga!”).

* Jabba the Hutt (voice: Larry Ward, who also voiced Greedo in Star Wars) is a Tatooine crime lord who we finally see after he was mentioned in the previous two films. He’s a giant slug, with many hangers-on and cronies. He doesn’t think twice about torturing droids or killing dancing girls, and has former employee Han Solo on show in his palace, encased in a block of carbonite. When our heroes turn up to rescue Han, Jabba underestimates them…

* Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch) is hanging out at Jabba’s palace, but during the skirmish gets knocked into the mouth of the Sarlacc – a desert-dwelling monster with a huge, vagina-dentata gob and lots of tentacles. It burps after swallowing him.

* Malakili (Paul Brooke) is the overweight, sweaty, topless keeper of the Rancor, who cries like a girl when Luke kills it.

* The Emperor (now played by Ian McDiarmid) visits the not-yet-finished Death Star as a way of motivating his workforce. He’s a manipulative, prune-faced man who wants Darth Vader to find – and turn – Luke, and has a devious plan to break the rebellion. McDiarmid takes great delight in the panto dialogue, putting chilling emphasis on terms such as ‘fully operational’, ‘Dark Side’, ‘complete’ and ‘So be it… Jedi.’

* Admiral Piett (Kenneth Colley) returns from The Empire Strikes Back.

BEST ACTION SEQUENCE: If the whole film were just two hours of the stunning model work used for the space battles, it would still be worth seeing again and again. The Millennium Falcon flying into and through the Death Star takes your breath away, even after 32 years.

BEST COMEDY MOMENT: Wicket tries using some bolas during the battle with the stormtroopers, but ends up twatting himself in the face. Maybe it’s because I first saw this film at a very young age, but I’ve never had a problem with the Ewoks. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of comic relief (even if there’s a whiff of racism in their portrayal).

MUSIC: John Williams’s score is another magnum opus. The Ewok celebration music at the end, meanwhile, will be stuck in my head for the rest of my life. We also get a cabaret song in Jabba’s palace.

PERSONAL CONNECTION: This was the first Star Wars film I can remember coming out. I was too young to go and see it, but can recall the publicity. I assume it was what motivated me to want to see the first two on video.

REVIEW: Return of the Jedi has a few problems. There’s a certain untidiness about the plotting, for example. The opening 35-minute sequence – fun though it is – isn’t really connected to the bulk of the film. It’s an extended James Bond prologue (though rather than the exciting climax of an unseen mission, this is mopping up the last movie’s cliffhanger). Other than Han now being free again, nothing in it affects the rest of the story. Another issue is that when we get to the main storyline, it’s an all-too-familiar mission: destroy yet another Death Star. If this were a weaker, less popular series, wouldn’t we be castigating film three for simply copying film one’s big action beat? Additionally, after the beauty of The Empire Strikes Back’s striking colour palette and subjective cinematography, this is sadly a step backwards. A few moments aside – Leia’s treetop chats with Luke and Han, for example – there’s a sense of just-point-the-camera-at-the-well-lit-actors. However, we’re splitting Ewok hairs here. It may be more predictable than Empire, and more simplistic, but Return of the Jedi still sits at the top table of geek cinema. The emotional journeys that Luke, Darth Vader and to a lesser extent Leia go on are superbly dramatised, while the crash-bang-wallop action and derring-do escapades are as terrifically thrilling as always.

Ten gold bikinis out of 10

The Empire Strikes Back (1980, Irvin Kershner)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

After their encounter during the destruction of the Death Star, Darth Vader is determined to track down the hero of the rebellion, Luke Skywalker – but young Luke is learning more and more about the Force…

WHICH VERSION? The original 1980 cut (as released on DVD in 2006). I like pedantry as much as the next geek, but childhood habit stops me calling it Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back.

GOOD GUYS

* Commander Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and his pals in the Rebel Alliance are hiding out on the snow-covered planet of Hoth. Non-diegetic sources tend to claim this film is set three years after the events of Star Wars, but it feels more like a few weeks to me. Early on, Luke is attacked and captured by a bear-like creature – a sequence cooked up to explain some scars Mark Hamill had from a 1977 car accident – and uses his Force powers to escape. He then plays a big role as the Rebels evacuate the planet after the bad guys find them. But when Ben’s ghost pops up and tells Luke to go to the planet Dagobah, he abandons his pals with no explanation and heads off. On Dagobah, he finds Jedi master Yoda, who further teaches him the ways of the Force. One of his trials is a surreal sequence where he imagines fighting Darth Vader. After a slow-motion lightsaber duel, Vader’s mask is blown away… to reveal Luke’s face. It’s an omen of Luke’s future if he goes down a certain path. He then gets a precognitive vision of Han, Leia and the others in danger (which we don’t see, slightly oddly), so abandons his training to go help them. Fickle, isn’t he? Arriving at Bespin, he fights Vader for real and gets his hand chopped off. (Astonishingly, it’s 96 minutes into film two before Luke and Darth Vader actually meet.) In one of cinema’s best – but most widely known – plot twists, Luke then learns that Darth Vader is actually his father. Upset, he escapes Vader and is later fitted with a skin-covered robotic hand.

* Captain Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is now a full-time member of the Alliance, but he knows he’s a dead man unless he pays off his debt to Jabba the Hutt so says he’ll have to leave. (Princess Leia is clearly upset by this, but would never admit it.) While the rebels evacuate from their Hoth base, he’s frantically tinkering away on the broken-down Millennium Falcon. He won’t leave until he knows Leia is safe, though (what a hero!), and actually takes her with him when she can’t get to her transport. To avoid the Imperial ships, Solo flies into an asteroid field then hides inside a big one. Later, the gang end up in Cloud City, a floating gas mine on the planet Bespin. When the Imperial forces arrive and capture our heroes, Han is tortured then cryogenically frozen and given to bounty hunter Boba Fett.

* Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) wants to make Han jealous, so early on gives Luke a robust kiss on the lips (she’ll regret that later!). She’s in charge of the rebel forces, but is separated from them after the evacuation. She and Han trade sarcasm like petulant schoolkids, but clearly fancy the pants off each other. They actually share a sweet scene together when the facades drop for a moment, but C-3PO interrupts their first kiss. The bickering is forgotten about when Han is later captured and tortured by Darth Vader. In one of the film’s best moments (in one of *film’s* best moments), a terrified Leia says, “I love you,” and Han stoically replies, “I know.” After Han has been frozen, Leia gets her fuck-you on again as she realises they can save Han – you wouldn’t cross her – but his rescue will have to wait for the next movie. Afterwards, she psychically hears Luke’s call for help: a hint that maybe she has some Force skills of her own?

* C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) is upset when his path diverges from his friend R2-D2. On Bespin, he stumbles across some hidden Imperial troops and they dismantle him. Thankfully, Chewy soon finds all the bits and begins to reconstitute his pal. Near the end, 3PO shares a scene with Darth Vader – the only time the two are in the same room in the entire original trilogy. Given that C-3PO is in a sack on Chewy’s back, we can forgive Vader for not recognising him from the prequels.

* General Rieekan (Bruce Boa) is a high-ranking rebel leader who presumably enjoys Waldorf salads.

* R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) goes with Luke to Dagobah, but he doesn’t enjoy it: he falls in a swamp, is menaced by a monster and gets left out in the rain. He’s involved more later on in the Bespin scenes.

* Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) doesn’t get a huge amount of focus – rescuing C-3PO is his main contribution.

* Major Derlin (John Ratzenberger) is a rebel officer who presumably enjoys recounting dubious anecdotes in bars.

* Ben ‘Obi-Wan’ Kenobi (Alec Guinness) appears only as a ghostly image and gives Luke vital plot information and emotional guidance. He’s had a haircut in the afterlife.

* Wedge Antilles (Denis Lawson) is one of the rebel pilots on Hoth; he was also in Star Wars, but I neglected to mention him.

* Yoda (Frank Oz) is a muppet with the voice of Fozzie Bear. In broken, jumbled-up English speaks he does. He’s short, green and elderly, and seems to be vague and comedic, so Luke at first doesn’t realise that he’s the Jedi master Ben recommended. Yoda is at least 800 years old, and he trained both Ben and Luke’s dad. The last we see of him, he’s making an enigmatic reference to Luke not being the good guys’ *only* hope… As well as Frank Oz and his team of puppeteers, Mark Hamill must take credit for how well the character works. By playing the scenes so sincerely, he makes us believe in Yoda as a character.

* Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) is a gambler and all-round cad, who’s now the administrator of the Art Deco-styled Cloud City. He and Han go way back – Han won the Falcon from him, in fact – while he takes an instant shine to Leia. Han’s right not to trust him, though: Lando’s being blackmailed into delivering our heroes to Darth Vader. (Because of this betrayal, my six-year-old self would object to him being listed under ‘Good guys’.)

* Lobot (John Hollis, and not Mr Strickland from Back to the Future as I used to think as a child) is Lando’s mute, part-robotic sidekick.

BAD GUYS

* Darth Vader (body: David Prowse, voice: James Earl Jones) has been obsessed with finding Luke since their paths crossed in Star Wars. Now the Death Star’s gone, he hangs out on a Super Star Destroyer – a city-sized space ship – and we see him sitting in his giant, golf-ball-shaped command centre. No longer tempered by Grand Moff Tarkin, he seems to have executive power over the Imperial forces, though he kowtows to the Emperor when they talk over Skype. For the first time, we get a glimpse under Vader’s mask – he has a hairless, scarred head. Creepy!

* Admiral Ozzel (Michael Sheard) is an Imperial officer who presumably enjoys being the deputy headmaster of Grange Hill. Vader kills him after he misjudges a manoeuvre.

* Captain Piett (Ken Colley) is an officer who presumably enjoys playing Jesus in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. He gets promoted to admiral after Ozzel’s death.

* General Veers (Julian Glover) is an officer who presumably enjoys being the baddie in both For Your Eyes Only and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. He commands the Imperial troops as they attack Hoth.

* The Emperor (body: Elaine Baker, voice: Clive Revill) appears as a hologram projection when he contacts Vader wanting an update.

* Boba Fett (body: Jeremy Bulloch, voice: Jason Wingreen) is one of a gaggle of bounty hunters hired by Darth Vader to locate and capture the Millennium Falcon and its crew. Attentive fans at the time will have recognised him from the 1978 TV special. Fett easily tracks the Falcon to Bespin, then the last we see of him he’s carting Han off to Jabba the Hutt.

* Captain Bewil (Milton Johns) is an Imperial officer who presumably enjoys running the corner shop in Coronation Street. He seems to have a different voice for each of his two lines.

BEST ACTION SEQUENCE: Luke and Vader’s lightsaber duel. It begins in a smoky, archly lit industrial space. Luke gets sweaty but is able to use his Force skills to escape being frozen. The pair then end up on an unbelievably high gantry: Vader cuts Luke’s hand off and implores him to join the Dark Side, but Luke refuses. Vader then reveals that he’s Luke’s dad, and Luke is all like ‘What the actual fuck?!’

BEST COMEDY MOMENT: Han and Leia’s relationship is a succession of smartly written and brilliantly played moments, many of them sharp and witty, all of them brimming with sexual tension. The best comes when Leia falls onto Han’s lap and he grabs hold of her. She demands to be let go. “Don’t get excited,” he says. “Captain, being held by you isn’t quite enough to get me excited,” she replies huffily. “Sorry, sweetheart,” he says with a scintillating smirk, “haven’t got time for anything else.”

MUSIC: Even better than in the first movie. Scene after scene is scored by music of world-beating quality. Just check out the action sequence in the asteroid field! John Williams has also added a killer new theme – the Nazi-like Imperial March.

PERSONAL CONNECTION: When I was a child, I was allowed to rent one film a week from the local video shop in Ormskirk. I picked a Star Wars movie most weeks, occasionally slipping in The Karate Kid or Back to the Future or Superman III or Ghostbusters or whatever just for variation. So I’d seen this film several dozen times before I even owned a copy. I first bought it on VHS when the series was released in widescreen in about 1991.

REVIEW: Like any great sequel – The Godfather Part II, Aliens, From Russia With Love, Terminator 2, Police Academy 5 – this takes what worked in the first film, and then pushes every dial up a notch or three. So while the ambition, scale and spectacle get even bigger, the emotion becomes richer, the storyline more nuanced and the comedy wittier. This is Star Wars plus complexity. Star Wars plus feeling. Star Wars plus subtext. It’s irresistible to assume the credit must lie with the new injection of behind-the-scenes talent. Not having enjoyed the first film’s shoot, George Lucas took an executive-producer role and hired his old film-school lecturer Irvin Kershner as director. His contribution is superb. The first film rode along on a swashbuckling wave. This one does too, but it also puts us much more inside people’s heads. There’s added *soul* to what’s happening. There’s also a noticeable increase of comedy and characterisation. Han and Leia’s bickering is a never-ending thrill: their dialogue constantly fizzes with energy and charisma. Han and Luke’s friendship is similarly believable and fun, though they get very little time together. Even Darth Vader is less of a cartoon villain now: he has goals and desires and moods. As well as a new director, Lucas employed two new writers. Leigh Brackett, who had plenty of film-noir credentials, worked on a draft but then died – so Lawrence Kasdan, who later wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark, was drafted in and he created magic. The script is wonderfully structured – there’s lots of edge-of-your-seat action, meaningful character moments and some terrific intercutting of the plot strands. And the story has a real sense of the shit hitting the fan again and again. Plans go awry, technology breaks down, characters are betrayed. It’s gripping stuff. Meanwhile, there’s a fresh visual tone from new director of photography Peter Suschitzky (Melody, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Krull, lots of David Cronenberg films). The cinematography is a galactic leap forward from the first film, which was actually shot quite flatly. The Empire Strikes Back is a beautiful movie. It uses shallow focus, moody and expressionistic lighting, faces lit by in-scene sources, lots of smoke, and some fantastic bold colours. (Just look at the reds and blues doing battle!) The first Star Wars film was more or less perfect. This is better.

Eleven stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herders out of 10

The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978, Steve Binder)

HolidaySpecial

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Chewbacca is keen to get home to his family in time for Life Day, but he and Han Solo are delayed by an encounter with Imperial forces …

WHICH VERSION? This 97-minute TV movie was shown on CBS on 17 November 1978. For this review, I watched it on YouTube. The cartoon segment had been removed for copyright reasons, but someone else has helpfully uploaded that separately.

GOOD GUYS

* Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) wants to get home to Kashyyk because it’s Life Day, an important date in the Wookie calendar. However, he and Han Solo come under attack from some stock footage from the first film, which delays their journey. Chewy finally arrives just in time to save his son, Lumpy, from a Stormtrooper. The Stormtrooper gives out a Wilhelm Scream as he falls to his death.

* Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is uncharacteristically sentimental about Life Day, though he clearly knows Chewy’s family well – they greet each other like old friends.

* Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is tinkering on his space ship with R2-D2 when Chewbacca’s family get in touch and tell him Chewy’s gone missing. He turns up again at the end for the Life Day celebrations.

* Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) is hanging out with C-3PO when they try to get in contact with Han. She has a vomit-churning speech at the end, praising the qualities of Life Day, then sings a song to the tune of the Star Wars theme.

* C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) interprets for Leia when she talks to the Wookies.

* R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) doesn’t get much to do.

* We meet Chewbacca’s family – wife Malla (Mickey Morton), father Itchy (Paul Gale) and son Lumpy (Patty Maloney). When he fails to show up for Life Day, they get worried and ask Luke for help. Soon some Stormtroopers and an Imperial officer arrive, and search the house.

* Saun Dann (Art Carney) is a human trader. When helping the Wookies, he has to talk in code in case he’s overheard by an Imperial officer (“…she’s done it by hand… solo…”). He brings a device to the Wookies’ home that enables Itchy to watch music videos; they later use it to distract an Imperial officer with, um, a performance from Jefferson Starship.

* Chef Gormaanda (Harvey Korman) is a camp, four-armed TV chef. No, seriously. Korman also plays a malfunctioning robot in an instruction video and Krelman, an odd customer in a bar who drinks through a hole in the top of his head.

* A hologram (Diahann Carroll) appears in a sequence that looks like a 1970s Top of the Pops when Itchy uses Saun’s virtual-reality headset.

* Ackmena (Bea Arthur) is a bar owner on Tatooine – it’s presumably meant to be the same bar as seen in Star Wars. It certainly has the same jazz band. When a curfew is called in Mos Eisley, she tries to close early but her alien punters won’t listen. So she gives everyone one more drink… then sings a song that sounds like something from Bugsy Malone.

* Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) appears in a short clip from Star Wars.

BAD GUYS

* Darth Vader (body: David Prowse, voice: James Earl Jones) appears briefly in reused footage from the first movie and in a cartoon.

* Boba Fett (Don Francks) debuts in the Star Wars series, 18 months before he appeared in a cinema movie. The character features in a cartoon sequence that Lumpy watches on a vid-screen… Han, Luke, Leia, Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2-D2 crash-land on a planet called Panna, where they encounter Fett. He initially appears friendly, but after a virus affects Han and Luke, we see Fett contact ally Darth Vader. The episode features some appalling animation with terrible likenesses of the characters.

* Chief Bast (Leslie Schofield) appears in the footage from the first movie. How he survived his apparent death when the Death Star was blown up is not addressed.

BEST ACTION SEQUENCE: Aside from shots stolen from Star Wars, there aren’t any.

BEST COMEDY MOMENT: Erm… Nope.

MUSIC: There’s an incidental score by Ian Fraser, and as mentioned a few songs.

PERSONAL CONNECTION: The Holiday Special has never been released on home video. I first saw it about 15 years ago on a pirated VHS. Like a lot of copies doing the rounds, it was an off-air recording of the show’s 1978 transmission complete with adverts.

REVIEW: Star Wars shot on videotape: it looks like Blake’s 7. But that’s far, far away from being its worst problem. After a brief opening scene of Han Solo and Chewbacca, just to remind you that movie characters are in this, there are lengthy scenes of Wookies growling at each other. Ten minutes in, there’s a sequence where one of them gleefully watches holograms dance around for what feels like eternity; later, there’s a spoof of cookery shows, some music videos and a docusoap set on Tatooine. The main storyline – Han and Chewy going missing – is routinely forgotten about in favour of this truly bizarre variety-show format. It’s beyond twee. Beyond misjudged. Beyond woeful. The actors whose faces can be seen look embarrassed. But it’s hard to take your eyes off its sheer unspeakable awfulness.

One tree of life out of 10