The Empire Strikes Bach?

I didn’t get enough sleep last night.  I got home from the epic St Matthew Passion I wrote about from March 21st aka Bach’s birthday at roughly 11:30 pm, had some vino & pizza with the Mrs and only finished writing at about 1:30 am.  I’m always up at 6:30, being both a morning person and someone who loves to stay up late. I had all sorts of things to do today on March 22nd, which is not Bach’s birthday, but is birthday for Stephen Sondheim & Andrew Lloyd Webber (isn’t it curious, that the two most popular recent music-theatre composers share a birthday?), William Shatner, Dave Keon and also me. That’s why we had the vino & the pizza.

On a day when I was tired all day, the highlight was getting to see The Empire Strikes BacK (spelled correctly this time) with its score played live by the Toronto Symphony at Roy Thomson Hall. Sarah Hicks conducted in high heels, coming in to begin with Yoda (or a good facsimile thereof) riding on her back.  While she may not be Ginger Rogers I’m reminded of a saying about the dance partner of Fred Astaire, something about doing it backwards and in high- heels.

The TSO now have a devoted following for these events. It was all but sold out, one of four showings, and greeted with rapturous applause.  Hicks encouraged us to be vocal, so it was. No we didn’t boo and hiss for Darth Vader. But there were marvelous moments when a scene ended and the audience erupted.  Famous lines drew applause.  I couldn’t resist joining in with Princess Leia, telling C3P0 to “shut up”.

They’re all so young.  You see it even more when they’re on the big screen, accompanied by that big vivid score performed live.  We just saw Singin’ in the Rain on TCM last week, a reminder of Leia’s mom aka Debbie Reynolds.  Carrie Fisher never had the innocence of her mom, especially the freshness we see in her debut opposite Gene Kelly & Donald O’Connor.  Carrie’s Leia is already world-weary when she tells Obe Wan that he’s her only hope.  When she’s instructing he rebels during the siege that opens the film, she’s already full of gravitas beyond her years.

This is the first time I understood some of the lines of the film, thanks to the subtitles. I suspect that if I had bought the DVDs I could have done the same thing, to solve the mystery of those lines spoken quickly by Yoda in the forest.  For someone who has seen this film dozens of times, it’s ridiculous that I didn’t know these lines.  I’m not really a devoted fan of the Star Wars franchise.  I love this film and mostly dislike the others. Episodes seven and eight are my next favourites after this one (episode five).


And even so there are parts of episode V that I still dislike with a passion.  The last five minutes are the worst.  Never mind the repeated  “Ben why didn’t you tell me”, a line that’s repeated.  Did he have to say it? couldn’t it have been the voice inside his head? It’s something decidedly operatic, and I say that in an attempt to apologize for what they’re doing, at a moment that is all but indefensible as good dialogue, but might just work as melodrama.

And those shots at the end, where they’re looking out the window of a space-ship, and all the other ships are like boats, aligned the same way as though there were a mysterious source of gravity creating up and down for people who –as far as I know—should be weightless.  It’s very odd, perhaps the creators seeking to give the story something like a warm fuzzy ending, to offset the darkness of the story. Meanwhile, the darkness is what makes it so wonderful.

Any scene with Yoda is pure gold.  The scenes between Luke & his father (hopefully you don’t need a spoiler alert… oh well too late)? wonderful.  Hamill transforms his character in this film, and if only the other films could have stayed at such a high level of intensity.  The big powerful orchestra changes the experience so that even the weakest scenes acquire luster in the presence of all that music. I think Williams raised his game for this film, because it has so much genuine emotion, so much authenticity, especially when the tiny 900 year old master is onscreen.

I will be interested to see what other films the TSO offer next year. But I do know that we’re getting more Star Wars.  Return of the Jedi (aka Episode VI) is coming at the beginning of October 2019, while The Force Awakens (aka Episode VII) will be shown in May 2020.

For tickets click here.

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