“Empire” Recreated

05Nov12

The first thing I thought when I saw the fan-created, shot-for-shot tribute video “Star Wars Uncut” was, “How can I participate in the next one?”

You just had to sign up. Which I did. And then I did it! Or we did it (me and some friends). You can watch it HERE.

Knowing what resources we had, we thought a Lando scene would be fun, and I’ve always loved the post-Carbonite moment where Lando looks to Lobot, as if to say, “We gotta figure out a way out of this.” And Lobot looks back as if to say, “Don’t look at me, man.” So that’s the one I grabbed.

Here are some things I noticed in recreating “Chunk 387.”

1.) Simple and Not Simple. As far as production work flow goes, I could have picked an easier thing to shoot. Sure, it’s only 15 seconds, but my designated 15 seconds had a total of FIVE set-ups in three-ish different locations, including the Carbonite chamber (dark with red spooky stair lighting) and a large Bespin hallway. There were tons of simple two-shots in this movie, why did I have to go for this one? It expanded the work load a bit, though it did allow me to get more friends involved. We also didn’t have to schedule everyone at one spot at the exact same time. So for Tim (“Luke”)’s moment, I just went to his house one afternoon and grabbed it. Then did the Lando/Lobot thing another time entirely. This sounds elementary, but it took me a moment to realize it. There was also no dialog in the chunk, which was nice, since I have limited access to great sound equipment. Which brings me to…

2.) Golden Silences. Our chunk had no dialog and was almost entirely fueled by music. In watching and re-watching this chunk a ton of times, I realized there is a lot of meditative silence in “Empire.” This may contribute to the elegance of the film. No, I’m damn POSITIVE that it makes it elegant. Off the top of my head we have: Luke in the Wampa cave, Han searching for Luke in the snow storm, Leia sitting in the Falcon’s cockpit before being scared by a Mynoc, Yoda lifting the X-Wing out of the swamp (surrounded by dialog, but still…), Vader staring at the stars on the Super Star Destroyer bridge, Luke’s Dagoba “cave dream,” our chunk, and a good deal of the Vader/Luke fight. There’s even a moment of “unsaid” dialog in that little moment between Luke and Han where they say goodbye in the Hoth hangar. Try to think of silences in the prequels. The only ones I can come up with happen in Episode III, and they both involve Anakin crying. The lessons here seem to be: don’t put dialog in the way of feelings, and when dealing with magic, don’t try to explain it with dialog. Show don’t tell. Always.

3.) They REALLY Thought A Lot About These Shots. Again, this only proves my foolishness, but when you look at the same 15 seconds of a movie over and over again, you really do appreciate the work that went in to it, if only from a production standpoint. That Carbonite chamber is (in the words of my friend Kate Edler) “just movie magic.” It’s pretty much just smoke, lights and a bunch of bars, and that’s the background. It feels limitless, but enclosed. Part of that “enclosed” feeling comes from the jump to the exteriors, where it’s still daylight. I get the same feeling as when I exit a matinee; your eyes take time to adjust. It’s almost as if that the Carbonite chamber’s walls are constructed by the surrounding scenes. It’s some sort of infinite interior.

I’ve already picked another scene — earlier in “Empire,” when Leia is giving instruction to the X-Wing pilots about shepherding the transports — and it’s sort of simpler, in that it’s only 2 shots of the same set-up. However, there is some nice, graceful composure in that opening shot. Inside the hangar, it descends from the Falcon being repaired, following some jogging pilots who are late for the most important meeting of the day. When the camera settles on Leia’s huddle, the Falcon is still in view, just in the upper portion of the screen. The inclusion of the Falcon’s repairs at the top and bottom of the shot gives a few subtle (and not subtle) messages: A.) The Falcon needs lots of work and B.) things are stressed in this hangar.  It’s not quite on par with Kubrick hanging knives over Danny’s head in “The Shining,” but it sends a visual message: Things are not going well.

4.) Annnnnd… ACT BREAK! Another challenge for our production, but I love strong act breaks, and I realized that we’d landed right on one. Our big picked up right after Vader has screwed over Lando for the last time — with that sweet short inhale! — leaving everyone in a lurch. How are they going to get out of this one asks the act break, and to the movie’s credit, we don’t know. Well, we kind of know, but it FEELS like we don’t know, and that’s what counts. The post-act break moment of Luke walking around the corridors feels like a small rest, but it’s a tense rest. The music — the MVP of the scene and movies, really — gets less intense, but keeps a tremor of that low moan from the previous crescendo. We can see it all there: Luke is walking into danger.

So great.

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