La stroncatura di Vincent Canby
New York Times, 1980
||a cura di Davide G. Canavero
È molto istruttivo osservare con attenzione le parole che Vincent Canby scrisse nel 1980 all'uscita di quello che in seguito è stato poi riconosciuto come il migliore episodio della saga di Lucas: è una lezione per tutti coloro che hanno dato troppo peso alle parole negative di certa critica (e di certi fan) contro Episode I e i Prequel. Non esiste opera capace di raccogliere il plauso di tutti, neppure la più riuscita.
The Force is with us but let's try to keep our heads. These things are certifiable: "The Empire Strikes Back," George Lucas's sequel to his "Star Wars," the biggest grossing motion picture of all time, has opened. On the basis of the early receipts, "The Empire Strikes Back" could make more money than any other movie in history, except, maybe, "Star Wars." It is the second film in a projected series that may last longer than the civilization that produced it.
Confession: When I went to see "The Empire Strikes Back" I found myself glancing at my watch almost as often as I did when I was sitting through a truly terrible movie called "The Island."
The Empire Strikes Back" is not a truly terrible movie. It's a nice movie. It's not, by any means, as nice as "Star Wars." It's not as fresh and funny and surprising and witty, but it is nice and inoffensive and, in a way that no one associated with it need be ashamed of, it's also silly. Attending to it is a lot like reading the middle of a comic book. It is amusing in fitful patches but you're likely to find more beauty, suspense, discipline, craft and art when watching a New York harbor pilot bring the Queen Elizabeth 2 into her Hudson River berth, which is what "The Empire Strikes Back" most reminds me of. It's a big, expensive, time-consuming, essentially mechanical operation.
Gone from "The Empire Strikes Back" are those associations that so enchanted us in "Star Wars," reminders of everything from the Passion of Jesus and the stories of Beowulf and King Arthur to those of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, the Oz books, Buck Rogers and Peanuts. Strictly speaking, "The Empire Strikes Back" isn't even a complete narrative. It has no beginning or end, being simply another chapter in a serial that appears to be continuing not onward and upward but sideways. How, then, to review it?
The fact that I am here at this minute facing a reproachful typewriter and attempting to get a fix on "The Empire Strikes Back" is, perhaps, proof of something I've been suspecting for some time now. That is, that there is more nonsense being written, spoken and rumored about movies today than about any of the other so-called popular arts except rock music. The Force is with us, indeed, and a lot of it is hot air.
Ordinarily when one reviews a movie one attempts to tell a little something about the story. It's a measure of my mixed feelings about "The Empire Strikes Back" that I'm not at all sure that I understand the plot. That was actually one of the more charming conceits of "Star Wars," which began with a long, intensely complicated message about who was doing what to whom in the galactic confrontations we were about to witness and which, when we did see them, looked sort of like a game of neighborhood hide-and-seek at the Hayden Planetarium. One didn't worry about its politics. One only had to distinguish the good persons from the bad. This is pretty much the way one is supposed to feel about "The Empire Strikes Back," but one's impulse to know, to understand, cannot be arrested indefinitely without doing psychic damage or, worse, without risking boredom.
This much about "The Empire Strikes Back" I do understand: When the movie begins, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and their gang are hanging out on a cold, snowy planet where soldiers ride patrols on animals that look like ostrich-kangaroos, where there are white-furred animals that are not polar bears and where Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) almost freezes to death.
Under the command of Darth Vader, the forces of the Empire attack, employing planes, missiles and some awfully inefficient tanks that have the shape of armor-plated camels. Somehow Han Solo and Princess Leia escape. At that point Luke Skywalker flies off to find Yoda, a guru who will teach him more about the Force, Yoda being the successor to Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi (Alec Guinness), the "Star Wars" guru who was immolated in that movie but whose shade turns up from time to time in the new movie for what looks to have been about three weeks of work.
As Han Solo and Princess Leia wrestle with the forces of darkness and those of a new character played by Billy Dee Williams, an unreliable fellow who has future sainthood written all over him, Luke Skywalker finds his guru, Yoda, a small, delightful, Muppet-like troll created and operated by Frank Oz of the Muppet Show. Eventually these two stories come together for still another blazing display of special effects that, after approximately two hours, leave Han Solo, Leia and Luke no better off than they were at the beginning.
I'm not as bothered by the film's lack of resolution as I am about my suspicion that I really don't care. After one has one's fill of the special effects and after one identifies the source of the facetious banter that passes for wit between Han Solo and Leia (it's straight out of B-picture comedies of the 30's), there isn't a great deal for the eye or the mind to focus on. Ford, as cheerfully nondescript as one could wish a comic strip hero to be, and Miss Fisher, as sexlessly pretty as the base of a porcelain lamp, become (is it rude to say?) tiresome. One finally looks around them, even through them, at the decor. If Miss Fisher does much more of this sort of thing, she's going to wind up with the Vera Hruba Ralston Lifetime Achievement Award.
The other performers are no better or worse, being similarly limited by the not-super material. Hamill may one day become a real movie star, an identifiable personality, but right now it's difficult to remember what he looks like. Even the appeal of those immensely popular robots, C-3PO and R2-D2, starts to run out.
In this context it's no wonder that Oz's contribution, the rubbery little Yoda with the pointy ears and his old-man's frieze of wispy hair, is the hit of the movie. But even he can be taken only in small doses, possibly because the lines of wisdom he must speak sound as if they should be sung to a tune by Jimmy Van Heusen.
I'm also puzzled by the praise that some of my colleagues have heaped on the work of Irvin Kershner, whom Lucas, who directed "Star Wars" and who is the executive producer of this one, hired to direct "The Empire Strikes Back." Perhaps my colleagues have information denied to those of us who have to judge the movie by what is on the screen. Did Kershner oversee the screenplay, too? Did he do the special effects? After working tirelessly with Miss Fisher to get those special nuances of utter blandness, did he edit the film? Who, exactly, did what in this movie? I cannot tell, and even a certain knowledge of Kershner's past work ("Eyes of Laura Mars," "The Return of a Man Called Horse," "Loving") gives me no hints about the extent of his contributions to this movie. "The Empire Strikes Back" is about as personal as a Christmas card from a bank.
I assume that Lucas supervised the entire production and made the major decisions or, at least, approved of them. It looks like a movie that was directed at a distance. At this point the adventures of Luke, Leia and Han Solo appear to be a self-sustaining organism, beyond criticism except on a corporate level.
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