Tag Archives: The Empire Strikes Back

Throwback Thursday: Levi’s science fiction advertising posters

This ought to be an obscure Throwback Thursday — although I’d be thrilled if somebody else remembered these.  For a brief period in the early 1980’s, Levi’s produced some wicked cool in-store posters with science fiction themes.  I had several of them hanging in my room; the one below dates from 1981, and was advertised on eBay for a while for the modest sum of $20.

For decades, Levi’s had relied on endless cowboy imagery to sell its brand.  And that makes sense, given the rugged individualism they wished to associate with their product.  Portraying people wearing their jeans alongside strange aliens on fantastic worlds seems like an odd marketing choice.  (I don’t think it lasted very long.)  I can only guess that the success of “Star Wars” (1977) and “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) had something to do with the marketing strategy.  (You can also sometimes find Levi’s posters from the 1970’s featuring psychedelic imagery.)

The poster appears to feature the name “McClure” as the artist.  If any of you guys know the artist’s full name (or can point me in the direction of other posters like this), I’d be grateful.

 

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Throwback Thursday: MPC’s “AT-AT” model kit!

Every kid in America in 1981 wanted that huge “AT-AT” imperial walker toy that Kenner produced for their “Star Wars” figures.  (And, hey, if you still want one — they’re fetching around $300 on eBay.)  Well, I didn’t get they AT-AT toy, but I did receive the below model kit from MPC, which was pretty damned cool.  Its legs and feet were movable; this made it a little more complicated to assemble, but more fun to play with.  It was detailed and looked good.  And it came with a pair of rebel cannon turrets and a pair of the snow speeders we saw in 1980’s “The Empire Strikes Back.”

Just about any photos you’ll find of this model online will be misleading — trust me, it was very small.  (The snow speeders, for example, were about the width of a quarter.)

Models were a much bigger thing in the 1980’s.  Most of them weren’t sci-fi models, like this one — there were far more real-world military tanks, ships, and aircraft, along with a lot of cars.  They simplified grade-school-age birthday parties — a model was always a decent gift to give, and there was always a row or two of them for sale at your local mom-and-pop drugstore.  (I can’t remember seeing any models for sale at a CVS or Rite-Aid.)  Most boys in my neighborhood had at least a couple, although only the older kids who were serious hobbyists would go so far as to paint them.  They were the toys you had to pay attention not to break.

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A short review of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (2016)

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is every bit as good as you’ve heard; even this non-“Star Wars” geek had great fun with it.  I’d cheerfully give it a 9 out of 10, and I’d recommend you give it a try even if you don’t typically enjoy the franchise.

Die-hard fans are currently noting all of the things that make this film unique in the series: it’s the first “Star Wars” movie without a Jedi, the first without the trademark opening text-crawl, the first one without a lightsaber duel.

Casual fans might be more impressed with more general differences.  Two stood out for me.

One, this is the first Star Wars film since “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) that seems aimed mainly at adults.  Yes, the fairy tale elements are still there — we have an underdog orphan searching for her father, the requisite anthropomorphic aliens, and a humorous robot mascot (which surprisingly worked quite well).  But those elements are absolutely upstaged by a bona fide war film, complete with tactics, strategy, panic, collateral damage and casualties.  I remember thinking during a surprisingly gritty urban warfare scene that it was as though some filmmakers had taken a scene from a film like “The Hurt Locker” (2008) and set it within the “Star Wars” universe.

Two, I think that this is the most human Star Wars movie we’ve had since “Empire.”  It wouldn’t be “Star Wars” without the aforementioned aliens and robots, and plenty of references are made to the Force and the Jedi.  But this is a movie about ordinary people.  Yes, there is one larger-than-life character who appears … force-sensitive?  This universe’s equivalent of Marvel’s “Daredevil?”  (This was a confusing story element that didn’t always work for me.)  But we are presented primarily with all-too-human anti-heroes who feel fear, suffer, and die.

Isn’t that more exciting than watching cartoonish aliens fight armies of equally cute battle-droids?  In this film’s better moments, it made me feel like a was watching a “real” war with “real” people, and I was surprised to find myself actually rooting for the good guys in a “Star Wars” film — this has been a series that I’ve long half-dismissed as being essentially children’s stories.

Seriously, this was a good movie.  Check it out.

 

Throwback Thursday: Olivia Newton John’s “Xanadu” (1980)

No, I was never a fan of Olivia Newton John, nor am I old enough to recall her stardom in any great detail.  I need to mention “Xanadu” at least once here at this blog, however, as it is forever linked in my mind with the summer of 1980.

This song was played endlessly at the beach by sunbathing teenage girls.  They mostly went unnoticed by me, as this was the summer before I entered the third grade, and I hadn’t developed much interest in girls just yet.  But thinking of this song immediately returns me to the beach again as a little boy.  (My parents sent me there with my siblings a lot, something for which retrospect has taught me to feel thankful.)

I have a lot of memories of going to the beach in the early 80’s — burning sand, screaming for the ice cream man, and sidestepping endless arrays of discarded bottlecaps in the gravel parking lot.  (The local teenagers must have done a hell of a lot of drinking there; upturned bottlecaps hurt when you stepped on them.)  This was also the summer that my friend Brian’s little brother, Brad, erroneously told me that Han Solo died in “The Empire Strikes Back.”  (There were no “Episode” prefixes when the first Star Wars films came out.)

There was another hit by John that can transport me back the early 80’s.  That would be “Physical,” which was played and sang ubiquitously in 1981 by the girls in my fourth grade class.  (I still remember Linda, who lived on the next street, talking about John in awed tones: “A looooot of people think she is beautiful.”)

But I’d prefer not to think of that song, if I can help it.  While “Xanadu” is arguably still fun and catchy, “Physical” is best left forgotten.

 

 

My review of “Captain America: Civil War” (2016)

“Captain America: Civil War” (2016) is nearly everything I hoped it would be; it’s easily on par, if not better, than the first two “Avengers” movies.  (And I can’t help but think of this as the third “Avengers.”  Yes, Cap’s name is in the title, but this is necessarily an ensemble story about the divided superteam.)  I’d give it a 9 out of 10.

I honestly just need to be very vague in this review … this is such an eagerly awaited film, and I want to be extra cautious about spoilers.  No, there are no twists in the movie, but there are surprising character and plot elements.

The movie surprised me in a couple of ways.  One, this film appears to follow the original 2006 comic book crossover only very loosely.  (I have not read it, but I know the story.)  There is no “Superhero Registration Act” that would directly affect countless people in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It’s much narrower than that — a demand by the United Nations for direct oversight of The Avengers.

Two, this is definitely the darkest and most adult outing with The Avengers so far.  Don’t get me wrong — the levity and gee-whiz comic book fun that is the MCU’s trademark is still there, and it’s no Christopher Nolan movie.  But the movie’s central story device is set in motion by the question of who should be held accountable for civilian deaths.  And so many individual major characters are motivated by grief or rage.

This is notable throughout the film, for example, in the characterization of Tony Stark, and his portrayal by Robert Downey, Jr.  He’s no longer a wisecracking billionaire playboy who all the guys want to be.  Instead, he’s a troubled, pensive leader who often seems out of his depth.  We watch as his team and the events surrounding him spin out of control, and we no longer want to trade places with him.  He’s more sympathetic.  But he simultaneously fails to engender the viewer loyalty that he so quickly and easily won in every other Marvel movie he’s appeared in.

And yet … he isn’t, as I had suspected, a cardboard adversary for Captain America’s underdog to stand up to.  There are some sad things going on in his life, both during the events of this movie and in “Iron Man 3” (2013), and his failings and poor decisions are perfectly understandable.  (I won’t say more, besides that viewers will definitely get a different spin on “Iron Man 3” after this movie.)  And Downey displays a great range in playing this far sadder Tony.

One character in the movie even makes a quip about “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980), and it feels like a meta reference, as that film is regarded as the darkest in the “Star Wars” original trilogy.  (And their are story structure similarities as well.)

But don’t get me wrong — “Captain America: Civil War” still brings loads of fun.  It’s an effects-laden, geeky, hero-against-hero, superteam gangfight that is straight out of every Marvel fan’s dreams.  (And, needless to say, it’s far better than its analog this year from DC.)  Tom Holland might be the best Spider-Man yet.  The action is damn pleasing, and the one-liners made me laugh out loud.  (“Made ya look.”)

The bromances (including the broken ones) seemed real to me.  I found myself liking and caring about … Winter Soldier, of all people, and I kept hoping things worked out with his friendship with Cap.  (Sebastian Stan impressed me in the role for the first time.)

What didn’t I like?  Well, I had some small criticisms.  I submit that Black Panther was a complete misfire.  The character concept is boring (he’s an African Bruce Wayne), he seems like an ethnic caricature, and he absolutely is shoehorned into the plot.  When his tough female subordinate physically threatens Black Widow, he smugly opines that a fight between them “would be amusing.”  It felt creepy and sexualized, and maybe like something out of a 1970’s blaxploitation film.  He’s also pretty blandly played by Chadwick Boseman.

Spiderman, too, seems shoehorned in as fan service.  I loved seeing him in the movie, but i wish he’d been written in differently.  (Would Stark really recruit a highschooler to combat seasoned soldiers, one of whom is a superpowered psychotic assassin?)

Next is a criticism that is just a matter of personal taste.  I myself would have preferred a movie that was even darker.  Just think for a minute about the basic story.  We have civilian casualties driving the world’s governments to seek control over its superheroes — then the heroes themselves fighting each other with what must at least be considered possibly deadly force.

That’s a story pretty much brimming over with pathos, if you ask me.  But the movie underplays those plot elements considerably.  We hardly see the civilian casualties that are supposed to drive the plot — and when we do, they’re glimpsed briefly in news footage.  And all but three of the heroes (Tony, Black Panther and Winter Soldier) display any of the anger or sense of betrayal that you would expect from a violent “civil war” among former friends.  And it is violent … members of either faction fire missiles at, or try to crush, their opponents.  Does the MCU’s characteristic banter belong anywhere here?

Finally, this could have been an idea-driven movie like the latter two “Dark Knight” films.  But only Cap and Iron Man seem to genuinely fight about ideology.  Others fight according to personal or professional loyalty, personal revenge, or just because they are a “fan” of either Cap or Tony.  And neither does the script articulate their positions especially well.  Wouldn’t it be perfectly in character for Cap to quote Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin?  “Those who would exchange their liberty for a little temporary safety” and all that?

Oh, well.  I’m probably asking too much from a superhero movie.

This was a hell of a lot of fun.  Go see it.

 

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Throwback Thursday: The Blizzard of 1978

I remember.  And I was thrilled.

As a little boy, I knew what Hoth looked like before Hoth was even a thing.  The snow was over my head in some places, and the world was a wonderland of labyrinths and forts.

My siblings and I constructed a pretty neat walled compound that occupied our entire front yard; it impressed every other kid on our street.  I still remember its layout.

 

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Throwback Thursday: “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” (1982)

Young people, let me try to explain what it was like for a kid who loved movies in the early 1980’s.

There was no trivia section for the Internet Movie Database.  There was no Internet Movie Database.  There was no goddam Internet.  This meant that information about new movies came mostly from other second-, third- or fourth-graders.  And that was one imperfect grapevine.

Sometimes the information was flat out wrong.  Brad Fisher told me at the beach in the summer of 1980 that Han Solo dies in “The Empire Strikes Back.”  (Yes, “Star Wars” fanatics, I am aware that Harrison Ford wanted the character to die.  Now grow up and watch Ron Moore’s “Battlestar Galactica.”)

Other times, the information was technically accurate, but confusingly articulated.  Such was the account of Jason Huhn, the kid across the street, of Ridley Scott’s “Alien.”  (That was a 1979 movie, but I wasn’t even allowed to watch the bowdlerized version that was on television a few years later.)  “Its head is like a tube.”  Jason told me thoughtfully.  “It has, like, two mouths.  It has a mouth, and then a mouth inside a mouth.”

Finally, the other boys’ reviews were occasionally just too spoiler-heavy.  In 1984, I had the entire rope-bridge scene in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” memorized in detail before I got to see the movie myself.  (Maddeningly, most of Mr. Greiner’s sixth grade class had seen it before I did, and Jason Girnius was particularly exuberant in recounting its climactic fight.)

“Halloween III: Season of the Witch” was something of a different animal.  None of the kids in the neighborhood could figure that one out.

“Michael isn’t in it!”  That was the buzz.  To a boy in the 1982, Michael Myers was an icon on par with “Friday the 13th’s” Jason.  (Leatherface was a bit before our time, and Freddy Krueger and Pinhead hadn’t arrived in theaters just yet.)  Even those of us who weren’t allowed to watch the movies had heard all about him.  It utterly confused us that that a “Halloween” movie could be made in which he was absent.

It … looked pretty scary, at least.  Its poster and tagline suggested that young trick-or-treaters would be victimized instead of teenagers old enough to babysit, so that was more frightening to a young boy.  (As an adult today, I suggest that this movie absolutely did not turn out to be a classic horror film, despite the pretty terrifying basic plot device revealed at the end.)

Today a simple Google search would inform us of John Carpenter’s plans — an anthology series in which every subsequent “Halloween” sequel was a standalone horror story with the holiday as a theme.  (I think I’d question the wisdom of that even as a kid; the studio wisely resurrected the slasher four years later.)

But the gradeschool grapevine was not so informed.  There weren’t even any tentative hypotheses among the kids on my street.  I think we just shrugged it off and returned to talking about “Star Wars.”  We just figured that adults sometimes did some really puzzling, really stupid things.  That’s a belief I still hold today.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that I occasionally engender that belief in others.

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