Culture

'Empire Strikes Back' Strikes Back In A Dismal Movie Week As Disturbances Ripple Across the Galaxy

Screenshots from the 1997 Empire Strikes Back trailer. Copyright Disney.

Variety reports that The Empire Strikes Back led this weekend’s movie box office. It’s not a misprint. A decades-old movie in theaters with no promotional fanfare is the box office king.

But its numbers would be terrible in any normal theater weekend.

The film has grossed a total of $175,000 so far at 483 locations, originally reported b Deadline, and is estimated to end the weekend in the $400,000 to $500,000 range. Directed by Irvin Kershner with executive production from George Lucas, “The Empire Strikes Back” has not had a box office lead since its reissue in February 1997.

If Empire reaches that top estimate, it’s still only making about $1000 per screen.

Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, indoor movie theaters are having a disastrous year. New movies such as the live-action Mulan, the 25th James Bond film, No Time To Die with its Love Boat font, the much-anticipated Christoper Nolan film Tenet, and the even more anticipated Wonder Woman 1984 have had their release dates delayed. Movies and theaters can’t make money when no butts are in the seats. Who knows which movie theater chains will even survive long enough for those films to drop in and have a chance of saving the industry?

It’s a little hard to remember now, but remember how theaters featuring plush recliners and serious dinner and drink menus were transforming the movie world? Alamo Drafthouse was among the pioneers of that trend. Now it’s laying off staff.

Everyone is getting stir crazy as pandemic drags on. Drive-in theaters are back as a viable way to see a movie — any movie — on the big screen outside of the house while also staying safely away from everyone else. You probably don’t even have to wear a mask. The French have added boats to the mix.

Drive-ins and boat-ins are playing safe older movies that succeeded during their first runs and appeal to Boomers and Gen X, and it’s in this environment that Empire is striking back to rule the screen.

Drive-ins are showing this version, the 1997 “special” edition, not the original from 1980. Which is fine. Han shot first in the original original anyway.

“Secrets…are at long last…revealed.” Just watching the trailer is like feasting on comfort food.

And that’s why people are going to see it at the drive-in. It’s something to take the family to and it’s still a great film. The polarizing Rise of Skywalker would probably not do as well. More on that later in this piece.

Other films doing well at the drive-in — a phrase no one has written since 1978 or so — include Jaws, Ghostbusters (the original and ridiculously quotable Bill Murray version), and Jurassic Park.

They all hold up very well. They also never preach the SJW gospel. They just entertain.

Empire’s own return to Jedi form comes at a pivotal time in the life of the Star Wars franchise. Like the Rebel Alliance in Empire, the franchise has fallen on dark times. The final sequel trilogy was met with blasts of fan rage when they debuted and none of them hold up nearly as well as the original core trilogy. Despite their visual superiority they even hold up poorly against the controversial prequel trilogy.

Those three films are painful to watch but they do less damage to the core story than the final trio, and the Rebels and Clone Wars animated series makes the prequel films work in better harmony with the originals. Revenge of the Sith is not terrible, though some of its most awkward lines lose the high ground to mockery and memes. Star Wars was moribund once TROS finished the story in a blitz of searing visuals masking a confusing story that had not completed its training.

Then Disney’s The Mandalorian came along and made Star Wars great again.

It’s no exaggeration to say that The Mandalorian changed everything. The Spaghetti Western-style tale, with its sparse dialogue, spare soundtrack, gun-fighting maybe-hero, layers of respect to the original films and the fan base, and baby Yoda, proved that there is life in the old galaxy yet.

Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni helmed The Mandalorian, and it’s nearly universally loved. The original Star Wars fan base adores it, poring over how the stories call up the tiniest details from the original trilogy to connect new to old and propel the galaxy forward. Hardcore fans, the 501st Legion re-enactors, even star in the first season’s final episodes.

In an era a long time ago, as in before coronavirus plagued the world, I cheekily proposed a solution to the problem that the VII-IX films present: Forget they exist.

 

So here’s my modest proposal: Retcon out the entire final trilogy. Get rid of ‘em. Make them Star Wars Legends, not Star Wars canon. They’re banished from the main storyline, just like the material Disney banished when it bought Star Wars. Han Solo’s “It’s all true” line in TFA gets flipped. None of the final trilogy is “true.” It’s legend and doesn’t matter.

Favreau and Filoni understand and respect the source material. So part of my retcon proposal included giving the whole Star Wars galaxy to them to rule as executive producer and…other executive producer. Or something. They’ll figure it out.

Well.

It may be happening.

A new rumor has hit the net offering that some sort of Disney Star Wars reset is in the works that will see Force AwakensLast Jedi, and Skywalker basically erased.

The rumor comes from the “future ruler of Earth,” the Doomcock Overlord DVD YouTube channel, who recently offered that a Star Wars “civil war” is happening at Lucasfilm between Kathleen Kennedy and Jon Favreau.

How this would work would involve a sort of multi-universe, alternate timeline thing. This sounds awful but it has precedent. J.J. Abrams, the director behind two of the three films and the overall story arch in the final trilogy, should be familiar with the concept. He used it to destroy the planet Vulcan in his “reimagining” (oooh, how I hate that word for so many reasons) of the Star Trek franchise. If Abrams can use alternate timelines to kill off Vulcan, Jon Favreau could use them to save Star Wars from J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy.

If this rumor is true, it would be fantastic news — if Favreau wins the civil war. He has proven he has the chops for mega franchises, including Iron Man and the Avengers. He has developed jaw-dropping technology through the live-action Lion King and Jungle Book films that enabled the production of Mandalorian on a revolutionary shooting stage and could take the Star Wars franchise in new directions for both the small and big screens.

Most importantly, he groks the material and the fans. As the sequel films prove, the story is still > the technology. The Empire Strikes Back was cutting edge in its time, but the technology used to produce it was primitive by current standards. Yet here it is reigning over the movie galaxy again. Storytelling technology changes and develops, but story is forever.

This fan’s advice to Disney: Let the Mandalorian masterminds win.

A Modest Proposal for Dealing with Star Wars VII-IX