Fasten your seatbelts! The Force is with you again

I wrote this column some thirty-six years ago on the eve of the release of the Star Wars sequel, The Empire Strikes Back. Trapped in a maelstrom of political uncertainty, South Africa in the ’80s was like Berlin before the war. People tried to blot out the reality of what was happening in the country with the same desperation. I think that this piece captures the spirit of my young avatar, spellbound by the magic and escapism of the epic space opera franchise.


THE Empire Strikes Back! Slide into your spacesuits and leap onto the spacewagon (again) with Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Darth Vader, extra-terrestrial, celestial Uncle Tom Cobbly and all.

Hold onto your PLSS (Portable Life Support System) and get ready to make the jump into cyberspace!

Swop your Maserati Mercedes or Mini for a Millenium Falk, and when he says ‘Your place or mine?’ remember he might just mean ‘galaxy’ and not ‘pad’!

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away …

Pretty impressive it was, with the heroic trumpet fanfare of the ‘Star Wars’ theme causing your popcorn to quiver and a ‘gee-golly-wiz-wow’ to inadvertently escape from your open mouth. Oh boy, was I ‘Star Wars’ junkie.

Now we’re invited into the brave new world of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, the R15-million sequel to the most commercially successful movie ever made, which is due to open in Johannesburg on June 18.

The novelty is gone but the ‘gee-whiz’ spirit lives on, encased in a production that sets a new standard for technical wizardry.

Intergalatic joy! Once again we will be able to greet friends with the salutation: ‘May the force be with you!’

Once again we will be able to drool over the gallactic hunk of he-man and hype, Han Solo, lust for Luke (are those cannons or is it my heart?) Skywalker, and shiver with delicious dread at the magnificently malevolent deeds of Darth Vader.

The droids, the Jedi, the Sand People, the Wookie, Darth Vader, C3P0 and of course R2D2 – all these comicstrip characters will be back in a sequel, slicker and sleeker that the first ‘Star Wars’.

Who cares if it’s as shallow as the enamel on a tin tray.

The movie hurtles along at twice the speed of sound – from the ice planet Hoth, where the imperiled Rebels are routed by Darth Vader’s Imperial Forces, through a menacing asteroid field, the innards of a monster one might call Moby Eel, to a swamp-like reptile-infested planet where Luke (Mark Hamill) meets Yoda, the wizened Jedi master who will give him a Force-fed course in homogenised Oriental philosophies.

The romantic interplay between Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) comes out into the open – or should that be the galaxy? – until Han is put on ice by the bad guys.

(Must say I wouldn’t mind finding him in MY deepfreeze!)

Other major characters are introduced – Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), a jive-talking tycoon of a ‘deco-designed mining station and a bounty hunter, one Boba Fett.

And there’s a lulo of a twists in this celestial class act that will whet the appetite for the second sequel.

It’s all been an out-of-this-world bonanza for the hot-rodding, comic-book loving kid from California, George (‘American Graffiti’) Lucas. Lucas, 36, who wrote the original 200-page screenplay for ‘Star Wars’. He admits to having personally cleared R9.5-million, after taxes, on ‘Star Wars’.

George is not, however, directing ‘The Empire Strikes Back’.

This mammoth task has been delegated to hawkishly handsome, bearded 56-year-old Irvin Kershner.

Not the bright whizkid beloved of Hollywood moguls, he built his reputation with gentle, humorous films in the sixties – ‘A Fine Madness’ and ‘Loving.’

‘Kershner asked me why I didn’t direct ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ myself . I told him: ‘You’ll see’, said Lucas.

After eight months of 19-hours-a-day labour, including shooting during a blizzard on a Norway glacier, he announced he would positively not be doing the next sequel.

Kershner is annoyed when people suggest that ‘The Empire’ is just another George Lucas film.

‘I was the director, this is my picture.’ he says.

And ask him how he had the chutzpah to make a sequel to the film that has taken more than R300-million at the box office, he says: ‘I was grabbed by the fairytale which Lucas invented and wanted to be part of keeping it alive.’

Whatever his motives, he will probably be boogying all the way to the bank.

May the force be with him.

This column was originally published by the Sunday Times Colour Magazine on 1 June 1980.