Tag: altman

The Impossible Situation: Altman Doing Star Wars

by on Jan.01, 2014


Kershner making it happen on the Carbon Freeze set of The Empire Strikes Back

George Lucas’ first choice to direct Return of the Jedi was David Lynch. He wanted a gun for hire that didn’t belong to the Director’s Guild of America (i.e. someone not American) or an up-and-comer brazen enough to not care about getting blacklisted by the DGA (Lucas quit the DGA after they fined him for having his director credit appear at the end rather than the beginning of Star Wars). Lynch was the latter and declined the offer to make Dune instead, so Lucas went with British television veteran Richard Marquand.

I’ve seen Dune a thousand times and I still can’t really imagine what a Star Wars directed by David Lynch would be like, though I guess we get glimpses of what could’ve been in Jedi’s opening act, with Jabba’s plump grossness akin to the fat repulsive Baron of House Harkonnen in Dune, along with an entire action sequence staged around an abyssal/vaginal/rectal hole in the ground.


The sick Sarlacc Pit from Return of the Jedi

But I can imagine what Robert Altman would do to Star Wars, thanks to The Making of Empire Strikes Back and whoever had the genius idea to strap a mic to director Irvin Kershner and record him on set the day they put Han Solo in carbon freeze (a full transcript of the recording appears in the book).

The star of Altman’s Star Wars is not Luke or Lucas, but Kershner as he relentlessly works out his most problematic scene, hitting up Ford, Fisher et al while trying to get at the truth of what Billy Dee Williams calls offhandedly “an impossible situation:” our heroes’ loss of agency as Han Solo is frozen in carbonite in front of his horrified friends and shipped off to his presumable death. This is one of two impossible situations orchestrated by Vader on Cloud City, the other occurring a few minutes later when Luke’s solution to losing his lightsaber hand and learning he is Vader’s son is to toss himself into the oblivion of an air shaft (also to his presumable death). In both situations, our heroes’ knowledge of the impossibility of their situation is key. This is Vader’s signature move and one Kershner wrestles out of the script. As he explains on set to Fisher: “See, the whole scene was based on ignorance before and I want it to be based on knowledge.”

Other highlights from the transcript include Fisher obsessing over her professional insecurities especially as they relate to Ford, which plays out like a recurring gag (Fisher: “So now he’s pissed off because I’m pissed off, because I have no right to be pissed off at him.”), David Prowse (Darth Vader’s body) unsolicitedly pitching Kershner his new fitness book called Fitness Is Fun, and Ford coming up with the iconic Leia/Han “I love you” / “I know” refrain on the spot.

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