BWW Review: STAR WARS: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK IN CONCERT, Royal Albert Hall
As the nights draw in, taking us closer to December and the final instalment of the Skywalker story arc, it's time once again for the Empire and the Rebel Alliance to come face-to-face at the Royal Albert Hall for another of the Film in Concert series. Following on from A New Hope back in November 2018, The Empire Strikes Back now takes centre stage. The screening is accompanied by the Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by composer John Williams' long-time collaborator Dirk Brossé.
It would be easy to think that you're simply settling in for a couple of hours of action and entertainment, whereas in actual fact there is a lot about the series - and this film in particular - that rings true with real life events, both past and present.
Amongst several other historical eras, the Star Wars franchise famously draws on Hitler and the rise of Nazism in its themes, terminology and designs; the Empire has stormtroopers and uniforms for its officers that are reminiscent of those worn by German troops in the Second World War, as well as the obvious parallel of a supreme leader running a dictatorship. With the rise of the far right in several countries across the world, it actually feels quite close to the bone when you re-watch The Empire Strikes Back - even as early on as the introduction in the legendary scrolling credits.
However, even if it does draw your mind to current affairs and where the world may be heading next, there is still plenty of fun and escapism to be had. The Han and Leia romance kicks up a notch ("I love you." - "I know."), we meet the incomparable Yoda, and C-3PO is in pieces - quite literally. On top of that, there is the drama of Luke facing up to Darth Vader for the first time, and learning the truth about his past.
Some of the most iconic compositions are introduced in this instalment, including "Yoda's Theme" and "The Imperial March" - and this is where it really pays to have an orchestra there to perform it all live. Something like "The Imperial March" is up there with the Jaws theme in terms of its recognisability and the sinister feeling that it evokes, but it somehow becomes extra chilling as it rings out around the Royal Albert Hall.
As ever, there is a lot more music in the film than you might expect; the Philharmonia Orchestra is kept extraordinarily busy and, though their enthusiasm for the pieces is clear to see, they must be grateful when the requisite interval comes around. This short break also means the audience can have a "good old days" cinema experience - as well as enjoy a couple of extra musical performances as the orchestra plays out of the action, and back in again as the film restarts.
The Empire Strikes Back regularly tops rankings of people's favourite Star Wars films, and it's not difficult to see why. There is a fine balance of action, humour, drama, and social commentary that singles it out; invested in the characters from A New Hope, the audience can't help but get hooked in as the story carries on apace. A triumph of sci-fi storytelling, and one of the best films in concert to date.
Picture credit: LucasFilms Ltd/Disney