Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Location: United States

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Empire Strikes, Hack

After the phenomenal success of the first Star Wars movie, which, contrary to popular belief, was released in theaters as Star Wars only to have Episode IV: A New Hope added as a subtitle upon subsequent release, George Lucas set out to make a trilogy. This was and still is an unusual situation in moviemaking; it’s rare that a movie is made with absolute confidence on the part of the filmmakers that there will be a sequel. Exceptions include the second Back to the Future movie, the second Matrix movie, the first two installments of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie. It’s safe to say that all of these movies owe a debt to Lucas, although Lucas also borrowed heavily from themes in the Lord of the Rings books.

Because modern moviemaking involves huge sums of money, it’s not surprising that studios repeat elements from previous successful films. It is however, fun to point out these borrowed elements, and also to conjecture which similarities are coincidence and which are probably intentional.

Although dialogue is probably the most attention-getting part of a screenplay, structure is what drives a movie forward and ultimately leaves the audience feeling satisfied or unsatisfied. It’s not uncommon for movies to have similar structures, where similar events happen in the progression of scenes. In many ways, Jurassic Park follows Jaws' structure almost exactly.

Because it just set a record for a single weekend at the North American box office, and because it points so decidedly toward the third installment in its franchise, it’s worth comparing Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest with the ultimate second-in-a-trilogy icon, The Empire Strikes Back. (Also known as Star Wars, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.)

SPOILER WARNING: The remainder of this blog post contains information about the plots of both The Empire Strikes Back and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.

Both movies contain a young, idealistic hero character who hails from a working-class background: Empire has Luke Skywalker and Pirates has Will Turner. Both heroes have a verb in their last names.

Both movies have a protagonist rogue character who is older than the hero, and also more interesting. (Han Solo and Jack Sparrow.)

The rogue character in both movies is captain of a run-down ship which is reputed to be faster than other ships in space, or the ocean-- the Millenium Falcon and the Black Pearl.

The female lead in both movies comes from a ruling social class (Leia Organa is a princess, and Elizabeth Swann is the governor’s daughter.)

In both movies, the father of the hero is in league with the dark side. (Darth Vader and Bootstrap Turner.) It’s should be noted that Bootstrap displays redemptive qualities in this sequel that Darth Vader does not evidence until the third film.

In both movies, the “buddy rogue” character owes a debt to a powerful, slimy creature with tentacles: Jabba the Hut and Davey Jones. In both instances, the desired fee is not money but the freedom of the character in question.

Both movies feature a scene that involves going into a swamp for guidance from a weird, mystical sage character: Yoda and Tia Dalma.

Both movies have a scene where a giant monster tries to eat the ship.

Both films have a duo for comic relief: R2D2 and C3PO, and Pintel and Ragetti.

Both movies end with the buddy rogue character bravely entering a symbolic death. Han Solo is frozen in carbonite, and Jack Sparrow is apparently swallowed by the kraken.

More similarities? Leave a comment.