Superman II 2.22: What Really Matters

Well, obviously nobody expected The Empire Strikes Back to make as much money as Star Wars. Nothing had ever made as much money as Star Wars except for Star Wars, and everyone in 1980 knew that sequels always made less money than the original film.

In 1972, The Godfather was the highest-grossing movie of all time with a $134 million domestic gross — but Part II, released in 1974, only made $47 million.

Then in 1975, Jaws became the highest-grossing movie of all time, taking in $260 million at the box office — and followed it in 1978 with Jaws 2, which made $78 million.

The Exorcist II made half of the first film’s gross; ditto for Smokey and the Bandit II, and even more so for Damien: The Omen II. The Airport sequels dropped $20 million with every release. Herbie Goes Bananas was the fourth film in the Love Bug series, and I think they actually ended up owing the audience money.

The Superman films followed the same pattern: the first movie in 1978 made $134 million, Superman II in 1981 made $108 million, and in 1983, Superman III made an embarrassing $60 million, which didn’t even crack the top 10.

But that same year, the Star Wars series did something surprising: the third film actually made more money than the second one did. Star Wars got $307 million in 1977, The Empire Strikes Back made $203 million in 1980, and then in 1983, Return of the Jedi made $253 million. So obviously George Lucas did something right with The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, because his series made more money as it went along.

Still, money isn’t everything. Oh, wait, of course it fucking is.

For the big-ticket tentpole Hollywood blockbusters, it is millions first, and everything else is a distant second at best.

For this kind of movie, “quality” as an aesthetic concept does not matter. There are a number of successful blockbuster films that also happen to be very good films. There are also many successful blockbusters that are terrible films, and even the people who made them would admit that they’re terrible. That is not an important fact about movies.

The thing that determines whether a blockbuster is good or bad is the number of millions: opening weekend, total domestic gross, and these days, total worldwide gross. Merchandise and home video and television sales kind of matter, if you add it all up and it’s a big enough number, but really those things only register in the sense that literally nothing else matters at all.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a very good movie ($402m domestic). The live-action version of The Lion King is a great movie ($544m), and Jurassic World is even better ($652m). Avengers: Endgame is the second-greatest movie of all time ($858m). Avatar was the greatest until Endgame came along, and then last year they re-released Avatar in China, and now Avatar is the greatest film of all time again. That’s how it works.

Now, my working definition of “blockbuster”, from my post about Jaws, is that a blockbuster is designed to get as many people as possible into a theater at the same time, and then generate an intense emotional experience that’s magnified by the responses of all the other people around you. It’s a communal moment of emotional catharsis that you experience in the dark, with a group of complete strangers.

The thing that made Jaws and Star Wars so effective is that people kept going back to the movie theater to see them again, all summer long. Both movies pull the same trick at the very end: there’s a huge buildup to an enormous action-packed climax, and then almost immediately the movie is over. Brody and Hooper paddle back to shore, Luke and Han get fancy medals, and before you’ve had time to catch your breath, the movie is over and you’re outside, still buzzing from the adrenaline rush.

But Jaws was only good enough to get you to see Jaws again; it didn’t drive people to the sequel. At the end of the movie, they killed the big shark, so the only thing to do in the sequel was to go out and get a different big shark, which didn’t work.

The Star Wars trilogy, on the other hand, pulled off the incredible trick of sustaining audience excitement for two more films. The Empire Strikes Back is the awkward middle child, which only managed to make twice as much money as anything else released that year — but watching Empire, it’s easy to see why the Star Wars series became a neverending media juggernaut, while the Superman series fizzled.

If you’re not familiar with Star Wars, it’s basically The Muppet Movie in space.

Star Wars begins with a young man in a remote backwater who meets a representative from the dream factory, and learns that he’s got a destiny. The hero sets out on the road, first stop: the El Sleezo cantina, a wretched hive of scum and villainy where he picks up a new best friend. Then they drive a beat-up Studebaker across the cosmos, and along the way, they rescue a beautiful princess and pick up an assortment of weird-looking puppets.

Throughout the journey, the hero is haunted by an implacable force of evil, who wants him to join the dark side and make commercials for french-fried frog legs. The group finally reaches their destination, and they do a big musical number that ends with the destruction of a movie studio and/or a planet-crushing space weapon. Then they become rich and famous, and they all get fancy medals. But in space.

The first movie was all about collecting a group of awesome new friends, so the second movie starts with everyone together — and then over the course of the movie, the friends all disperse in different directions. (So it’s kind of like the first half of The Muppets Take Manhattan, but at that point the Muppet analogy sort of breaks down, so I’ll leave it there.)

That’s a weird structure for an exciting movie sequel. One of the major sources of pleasure in the first movie was watching this ragtag crew become friends, and then Empire splits them up again. The lead character spends a big chunk of the movie alone in the swamp with a puppet (so maybe the Muppet analogy is still relevant).

Meanwhile, the romantic comedy couple takes the other puppets and they go on a different adventure, where they smash one of the characters to pieces, and get caught by the villain that they were trying to avoid. At that point, the most popular character is put in a box and shipped off to a completely different storyline that has nothing to do with what anybody else is doing.

The rest of the characters try to come together again at the end, but they’re broken and sad and scared, which is basically the opposite of the way that the first movie ended.

You’d imagine that this depressing sequel would kill the franchise, and nobody would be interested in the third film. For all its flaws, at least Superman II made the effort to defeat the villains by the end of the movie. So why did the third Star Wars film feel like a worldwide must-see event, while the third Superman film landed with a thud?

The answer is that the Star Wars trilogy told a complete story in three parts. The end of Empire is a downer, but that’s because it’s setting up plot points and character arcs which it explicitly promises the audience will continue in the third film. The events of the second movie actually matter, and happily, the filmmakers managed to pull off a satisfying conclusion by the end of the third.

Meanwhile, in Metropolis, the story at the end of Superman II is in exactly the same place as it was in Superman. Clark’s love for Lois is still unrequited, Luthor’s back in prison where he belongs, and the flag is still flying at the White House.

The filmmakers are operating on the idea that Superman is a premise, not a story, and once they’ve established that premise in the first movie, they’re not allowed to change it. For the rest of the series, Superman will be working undercover as Clark Kent at the Daily Planet, with his pals Lois, Jimmy and Perry, and Lex Luthor is safely tucked away in prison, until the next time he breaks out. Superman II, III and IV are practically interchangeable, except that everybody looks a little older and the scripts get worse.

If you recall the 1977 Super Symposium where the Superman writers and editors agreed that Lois should never marry Superman, The Empire Strikes Back is the movie that proves how utterly wrong they all were.

The story should move forward from one installment to the next, because a story is more engaging than a static premise. To get people to show up to the third movie, you need to demonstrate that the events of the second movie matter. If you feel the need to go back in time and undo stuff at the end of two movies in a row, then maybe telling stories is not for you.

Tomorrow:
2.23: The One Where Lois Finds Out

Chapters
Movie list

— Danny Horn

34 thoughts on “Superman II 2.22: What Really Matters

  1. I’m reminded of the MUPPET BABIES episode where a reenactment of Little Riding Hood developed to Red (Baby Miss Piggy) learning Grandma moved to the Dagooba system and she had to pilot an X Wing to get there. The Animated series used a lot of STAR WARS footage in their episodes.
    Any love for THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER?

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  2. So much to unpack!
    “Star Wars” as “The Muppet Movie” in space. Yes, I can see a basic similarity.
    “Empire” ends as a cliffhanger while Superman II ends as a rerun. And Marvel has managed to turn its movies into interlocking puzzle pieces where every movie matters to the multi-year arc which is both brilliant from a money-making standpoint and annoying from the “How much time do I really want to spend watching not only dozens of movies but tv series also?” standpoint.
    “Force” and following unfortunately decided to go the rerun route, assuming, I guess, that if you liked it the first time you’d like it again, with a girl. The problem is, if there are no surprises, why not just watch the superior original? I just wish people would stop entrusting reboots to J. J. Abrams.
    I have just watched “Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse” and I am SO sorry these have to be live action movies because that is an excellent movie! I had forgotten what that was like.
    Wait. Superman IV ends with a mind wipe, too?!
    I’m out.
    Where is the final photo from? I know Frank Oz did Yoda and Miss Piggy. Did Kermit and Jim Henson visit the set?
    Finally, Solo deserved carbonite for “I know.”

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    1. I believe the photo is a digital composite combining Mark Hamill from his MUPPET guest appearance with Yoda and Dagobah.
      I think Solo’s original line was “I love you too” but was changed.

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      1. Not a composite. The Muppets did indeed visit the set! (They were all shooting in London at the time.) Basically done as a gag or publicity.

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    2. The “I know” scene has grown on me as I get older and I understand that Han is a noir hero and Leia the rich society girl; he knows it’ll never work out kid, but he also knows he loves her, inside carbonite and a thousand light years away, in the grip of his giant blob of an enemy, his last thought in his frozen noggin is of her.

      As for the morass of endlessness that is the SW protomolecule, what’s really frustrating is when you can see gleams and glimmers of what are clearly good ideas, and character moments, that dammit coulda led back to the magic that the first three films caught not once, not twice, but three times.

      Like how Rey still wears her hair the way she did as a child so when her parents come back for her they’ll recognize her. Or the salt foxes, assisting the heroes to an escape hatch—that is salt fox sized, a genuine laugh out loud moment. If only Disney would trust the stories it swallows in its maw more.

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    3. “assuming, I guess, that if you liked it the first time you’d like it again, with a girl. The problem is, if there are no surprises, why not just watch the superior original?”

      That’s not the problem. Many lit-crit analysts have found the problem. The new execs apparently wanted to inspire girls, or at least sell them action figures. But they took a wrong turn.

      In the original trilogy, Luke bravely faces difficulty, learns new things, gradually gains control of his powers, makes mistakes, ultimately triumphs. Hero stuck up in the tree, rocks thrown at him, he survives.

      It should have been that Rey could just as heroically face difficulties, make mistakes, gradually learn, overcome challenge, ultimately triumph. Surprises aren’t needed. CHALLENGES are needed.

      But no, for no reason other than that she’s the Magical Girl, everything comes easy to Rey. She does everything perfectly on the first try. She doesn’t overcome adversity because she never really faces any. She has no need for a mentor or tutor. She figures it all out perfectly at first glance. She never misunderstands.

      That’s why nobody wanted to learn how to become like Pippi Longstocking. You can’t, if you aren’t already born blessed as the Magical Girl. Unlike Luke, there’s no progression from farm boy to hero. Boys AND girls can identify with the kid who beats the odds. Let’s see it again! Boys AND girls can’t identify with the kid who’s given the golden key to win every hand. Why go back for another round of THAT?

      Plenty of film theory bloggers and Youtubers rip apart this fundamental flaw in Rey, Carol Danvers, and some other “everything comes easy to the Magical Girl” heroines that just bore and annoy audiences. With this criticism of basic storytelling failure then retconned into alleged online trolling by anti-feminist knuckle-draggers. No, the fellas would’ve loved seeing a feisty Force gal who, like Luke, actually HAD PROBLEMS but then overcame them!

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      1. It felt to me like their stories were basically the same. Luke and Rey are both orphans from a desert planet who join the rebellion. They both have older men who help them (Obi-Wan for Luke and Han for Rey) who are killed. The Force is strong in both of them. They both train with Jedi masters (Yoda and Leia). They both find out they’re descended from evil men. They both destroy Palpatine with the help of evil Skywalkers (Anakin/Vader and Ben Solo) who are redeemed. It’s largely the same story arc with different actors. The lack of originality was a problem for me.

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  3. “If you feel the need to go back in time and undo stuff… maybe telling stories is not for you.”

    When I have time to do extra writing (i.e. never), I’d like to write an essay about how soap operas and comic books are the same genre. The tropes are different, but they’re both serial narratives with low quality and constant retcons, and the characters are the brand.

    Oh, yeah, I hated RotJ. Eps 4&5 raised a lot of questions, but Ep 6 refused to answer them. Eps 1-3 sucked so I gave up on Star Wars. Seriously, how do people forget that Lucas made ‘Howard the Duck”?

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    1. Without prejudice to how awful Jar-Jar is and other problematic content, I think many people didn’t get what Lucas was doing in _Phantom Menace_ and _Attack of the Clones_. The trade conflict as pretext, with Palpatine behind the Trade Federation’s actions, is straight from Hitler’s playbook. That’s why the “oh…a trade conflict…how exciting” critique of PM misses the mark. It’s not Anakin’s story — it’s the story of how a free society dies, with the Galactic Republic == Wiemar Germany.

      Of course, then the Global War On Terror happened and the references became more topical. Padame’s “So this is how liberty dies… with thunderous applause” in response to Palpatine using the threat of Al-Qaeda (oops, sorry, the Separatists) to declare his “New Order” is a pointed reference to how the horrors of 9/11 were used to browbeat people into accepting the Patriot Act, NSA domestic spying, US citizens being imprisoned without _habeas corpus_, and the demonization of anyone (including disabled Vietnam veteran Senator Max Cleland) who dared question the US invasion of Iraq.

      On a lighter note, the numbering always irritates me — I will go to my grave refusing to call _Star Wars_ “Episode IV”, let alone (Yog-Sothoth help us) “A New Hope”.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Well, this is what I get for not reading the full Wookieepedia entry on “Declaration of a New Order” before posting my comment. Word of God in the _RotS_ DVD commentary is that the intended historical parallel (with the reference a 10k year Empire) is still to Nazi Germany. (The author of the novelization has Palpatine say during the speech that it’s “Morning in the Republic”, which suggests a more contemporary reference.) If you look at the Wikipedia page for _RotS_ you’ll see that the reading of the film as a critique of the Bush administration was not uncommon at the time. https://usatoday30.usatoday.com/life/movies/news/2005-05-17-sith-politics_x.htm discusses conservative criticisms of the film on those grounds and Lucas’ response, and the wiki page cites a review in the Seattle _Times_ that says, “Without naming Bush or the Patriot Act, it’s all unmistakable no matter what your own politics may be.”

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  4. On a Star Wars lit-crit level (the George Lucas-created films only), I recall seeing a YouTube video once which described the narrative arcs of each individual film of Eps 4-6 and how that somehow paralleled with the whole original 4-6 trilogy. In fact, there were many interesting parallel narratives.
    I looked for this video, couldn’t find it, but found another on “The Perfect Storytelling Clarity” of Star Wars — https://youtu.be/rD2G0D-nyLA
    Although Disney’s Eps 7-9 were problematic narratively and on many levels, I had many sincere emotional moments of catharsis — I wept when Leia “died” in Ep 9 (or became “one with the Force”) and I especially wept at the end of Ep 9 when Chewbacca finally got his medial which he deserved from that great Throne Room scene at the end of Ep 4. I was lucky to see Ep 9 twice in theater – once with a friend and once with my daughter. In fact, that turned out to be the last movie I’ve seen in theater pre-pandemic. (I still have not been back to a movie theater yet in 2 years.) Yes, there is a definite personal and group emotional catharsis from seeing films in theater.

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    1. I can’t remember the last movie we saw in a theater. We’ll go to a theater to see Jurassic World III, but maybe not until a week or two after it opens, picking a lower attended matinee perhaps and then facing an internal struggle to wear a mask all through it or to actually eat popcorn. (Or maybe there will be another variant and we won’t go.)

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  5. “It’s a communal moment of emotional catharsis that you experience in the dark, with a group of complete strangers.” Kind of like this blog. Let me turn on the kitchen table light. Ah, that’s better.

    I also really miss big cinema shows!

    Lucas knew he could make cool looking scenes, but that he was in over his head for a big plot for Star Wars. He sought out people who filled him in on Campbell’s version of Mythology, and other great story telling principles. He contributed the story to Empire, but didn’t write the screenplay. He co-wrote Jedi. Fifteen years later, he did all his own writing. The results speak for themselves: Jar-Jar and midi-chlorians all the way down.

    THAT was the real hidden ingredient for Star Wars the HUGE MEGA-SERIES, vs. Superman the Amazing First Lap and Then Increasingly Tired Flops. Technically, Superman I and II are mostly as good as Star Wars. It’s the writing!

    I’d have much preferred if instead of NPR for Pod Tots featuring Chinese Details, we heard Jor-El’s Legacy Voice intoning “Some day, my son, we’ll find it. The rainbow connection. The lovers. The dreamers. And me. Well, I’m gone, so you.”

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    1. Yes, it’s the writing! When you give good writers good dialogue they can sing in a way no other art form can; they can carry the most absurd plot like it’s a feather.

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  6. “If you feel the need to go back in time and undo stuff… maybe telling stories is not for you.”

    To be fair, Marvel did this too. But not until 22 movies in, and with it really well set up, and really mattering to their cinematic universe.

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  7. I will contend that SUPERMAN III is a stronger film with a better script than SUPERMAN II, which benefits from rose-colored nostalgia glasses. SUPERMAN III is just a better Superman movie.

    I appreciate the complaint that SUPERMAN III is a glorified Richard Pryor movie, but while he drives the major plot, Clark Kent does get his own storyline, more so of one than in the past couple movies.

    There’s still the problem that the characters are maddeningly static but Lana does end up in a better/different place.

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  8. I think defenders of SUPERMAN as “premise” and not a “story” would point to the successful James Bond franchise more so than, say, STAR WARS. And by 1981, there’d been a dozen Bond films. They’d even proven that the lead was replaceable (sorry, Christopher Reeve).

    However, Bond films do a better job with the “illusion of change.” Bond is called to action. He defeats the bad guy and (this is key) he gets the girl. The last scene is usually a winking romantic moment.

    On paper, the SUPERMAN films could’ve had the same appeal as Bond. Is the problem the lack of the actual romantic arc? Lois is Moneypenny and the Bond Girl all in one but she never really “ends up” with Superman, who flies off into space and smiles at the audience.

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    1. The comparison with the Bond pictures gets at something I think about often. That’s the distinction between anthologies and serials. The Bond films make up an anthology, in which the recurring characters can always be recast because the story isn’t really about them. They are a collection of stories, each of which starts from a similar premise, but which are only as interconnected with each other as it is convenient to make them.

      The serial/ anthology distinction is a big thing in classifying TV shows. While very few scripted TV series made after the early 1960s are presented as anthologies, a great many of them really are- the recurring characters and situations are just framing devices to enable the telling of a fresh story every week.

      The classic example of a stealth anthology is the original Star Trek, where Captain Kirk and his merry men leave every story a trillion miles behind them once they’ve reached the denouement. Indeed, when the show was on other TV producers congratulated Gene Roddenberry on finding a way to make an anthology series in a period when the networks were trying to phase them out.

      Mysteries are also anthologies. You may have the same detective or group of detectives and the same formula each time, but the story is about the crime and the suspects. That’s why the crime in a mystery is always murder- once the case is solved, you’re not going to be hearing any more stories about the relationship between the villain and the victim. And medical dramas, spy thrillers, westerns (when those were a thing,) etc, all put the focus on self-contained stories and the guest stars attached to them.

      While hourlong TV dramas have been getting more and more heavily serialized in the 40 years since HILL STREET BLUES, sitcoms have been trending just as heavily towards anthology. That’s why they have so many guest stars these days.

      Anthologies certainly can be as thrilling as serials. To stick with TV for a minute, in 1990-1991 I watched two TV series and was completely absorbed in each of them. One was TWIN PEAKS, a serial. The other were reruns of THE FUGITIVE, one of the purest anthologies in the history of TV. Each episode is set hundreds of miles from the one before, with a cast including at most two (usually only one) character we’ve seen before. Each week, we see a new group of people in a new environment facing a set of challenges that represent a variation on a few basic themes. I’ve been watching that show again lately. Not only does it pull me in as deeply as it did thirty years ago, it pulls me in as deeply as any serialized drama ever has.

      If they could come up with 120 fascinating stories about people reacting to the presence of a man who claims that he was wrongly convicted of murder, it wasn’t unreasonable for the makers of the movies to assume they could come up with four or five exciting stories about Superman. That they couldn’t do so tells us more about them than it does about the advantages of serialized narrative over anthologies.

      Indeed, saying that “If you feel the need to go back in time and undo stuff at the end of two movies in a row, then maybe telling stories is not for you” points to one of the advantages of anthologies. Serials are always going back and redoing stuff. My favorite serialized TV show is DARK SHADOWS, which consists entirely of going back in time and redoing stuff. That’s an extreme example, but every serial does it. Not only on TV, but in movies, theater, literature, mythology, etc. If you don’t want retcons, you have to forget about continuity altogether and just scrap whatever doesn’t work.

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      1. >>The other were reruns of THE FUGITIVE, one of the purest anthologies in the history of TV. Each episode is set hundreds of miles from the one before, with a cast including at most two (usually only one) character we’ve seen before

        Let’s not forget to count Paul Birch appearing in at least a dozen episodes as Capt. Carpenter. Sometimes an episode would have three characters we’d seen before.

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      2. How would the Superman TV/radio series contrast with the films? Because they seem to fit your definition of anthology: Superman is the still point, this week’s plot is the turning world. It would probably have been easier to recast Superman in those contexts, since he wouldn’t be so identified with the look of a particular actor.

        But movies are different. Each has to tell (in theory) a story with a beginning, middle and end; even if it’s part of a series of films. That’s what Lucas got right with Empire: we’re in the middle of the epic, but we understand the specific story that got us here.

        But Superman is stuck, even more than in the comics and TV shows, having finished his story before frame one is filmed. The first film tells us that story, but the second can’t be part of a larger arc. Superman is Superman. Lois is his love, The Daily Planet is his job, Earth is his caretaking task. There’s nowhere to go from there.

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      3. “Superman is stuck… Lois is his love, The Daily Planet is his job, Earth is his caretaking task.” Good point- there’s so much baked in with Clark Kent that it’s hard to serialize Superman unless you put Clark to one side. You can team Superman up with Batman or integrate him into the Justice League or marry him to the Queen of the Mermaids, but so long as he’s wearing the glasses you have to do a reset at the end of each installment.

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      4. I’d argue that DARK SHADOWS rarely hit the reset button. It was pretty continuity heavy (arguably a challenge for its soap opera nature). Julia learns Barnabas’s secret and that is the new status quo. Angelique is an ongoing antagonist. Quentin doesn’t remain in 1897, etc.

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      5. @goddessoftransitory: You might be forgetting how Superman III goes. Lois Lane is basically sent away for the whole film to do her own thing. And that’s when Lana Lang enters the picture…. The ending shakes up the static Clark/Lois/Superman triangle in a way that delighted me when I rewatched the film.

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    2. The formulaic nature of the Bond films is accurate until the Daniel Craig reboot. His Bond actually gets a full arc from becoming 007 until his apparent death. I don’t know where the franchise goes from there.
      “Skyfall” is a very different James Bond film and arguably one of the best. (Using Danny’s criteria, it is the very best because it made the most money.) I like the idea of Lois as Bond girl and Moneypenny but I’m not sure if the problem with the Superman movies is the lack of resolution to the romance. It doesn’t help, obviously, but “Skyfall” has no romance and still manages to be great.
      It’s an unjust comparison, though. These Superman movies need to be compared to the Roger Moore Bond movies of the same period, which all had beautiful women, quips, crazy stunts and largely the same plot. You knew what to expect from a Bond film and they delivered on those expectations. By the third Superman movie, I’m not sure people knew what to expect anymore, other than that Lois would never remember any of it.

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  9. Danny kind of buries the lede here, which is 1) _Empire_ doesn’t really work as a standalone film; 2) this is absolutely not something audiences and critics were used to; and 3) that was reflected in audience and critical reactions at the time (as well as a “this danged well better pay off after I sat thru _Empire_” attitude when _Revenge_ came out),

    Explaining (1) requires going back to the Three Act Structure (which Danny talked about in post 1.25). While the TAS isn’t some iron-clad law of nature, most theatrical and film plots follow the structure (including the original trilogy at both the individual film and trilogy level), and audiences are used to it (and it therefore drives expectations, even if subconsciously).

    The key thing here is (per https://www.masterclass.com/articles/how-to-write-three-act-structure, which BTW uses the original _Star Wars_ as an example) “The second act typically ends with another turning point that makes it seem as if the protagonist will fail. This is sometimes called the ‘dark night of the soul.'” In the original movie (which had to work as a standalone film because they didn’t know if there would be sequels), the end of Act 2 is the death of Obi Wan and the escape from the Death Star, In _Emipre_, the end of Act 2 (at the film level) is Luke prematurely abandoning his training with Yoda to rescue his friends (unaware this is a trap).

    *But*…because the trilogy is a single overarching story about Luke, at the trilogy level _Empire_ functions as Act 2. As a result, there is no triumphal resolution — no leaving the theater thinking “hey, give the Wookie a medal!” or walking around with “Yub Nub” stuck in your head for days. Cold carbonite buddies may cry out for vengeance, but audiences at the time were definitely *not* lifted by their hair, and any going crazy related to a feeling of “WTF was *that*?”

    You have to think about this without benefit of hindsight, as if you’re walking out of a movie theater in 1980 (in a world where single story multi-film franchises aren’t a thing) after seeing the film for the first time. (SPOILER ALERT in case that’s really necessary at this point.) The climax of the film is Luke getting his ass kicked in a light saber fight with Darth Vader, barely escaping with his life after losing a hand and gaining some awkward daddy issues. When we last see out heroes, Luke is getting physical therapy with his new robotic hand as the rebel fleet flees to safety, and oh by the way Han is now a wall hanging (with Jabba presumably planning to recoup the money Han owes him by minting an NFT). Even audience members who had never heard of Syd Field knew something was off here — this was not how a proper Act 3 ended.

    Unfortunately Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t have reviews going back to the original release, but I’m highly confident that digging up early reviews and contemporary press coverage of audience reactions would confirm points (2) and (3).

    (P.S. — “…Chewbacca all get fancy medals,” — while there were retcons (including Word of God shortly after release — https://www.ign.com/articles/2020/01/08/chewbacca-medal-missing-explained), on screen he doesn’t in the original. Many people had heartburn with this. Captain Pedantry away!)

    (P.P.S. if you get your hands on the original theatrical release version of _Star Wars_ — which is the only way to see it for the first time regardless of how hard George Lucas has made it to do that — there is no ambiguity whatsoever, #TeamHanShotFirst)

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    1. I liked the Marvel Star Wars adaptation in 1977 that explained that Chewie would get his medal later because Leia wasn’t tall enough to present it!

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  10. It just occurred to me that the box office numbers Danny gave help make my point about reception of the film (which may show up later in the comments, as the original went into moderation): “Star Wars got $307 million in 1977, The Empire Strikes Back made $203 million in 1980, and then in 1983, Return of the Jedi made $253 million.” Making that drop from $307M to $203M even starker, inflation was high in the late 70’s. If I’m reading the CPI chart at https://www.minneapolisfed.org/about-us/monetary-policy/inflation-calculator/consumer-price-index-1913- correctly, $307M in 1977 dollars was equivalent to $417.4M in 1980 dollars. Correcting for inflation, _Empire_ made less than half of what _Star Wars_ had.

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  11. I always hear people say they love “The Empire Strikes Back.” It’s not my favorite though. My favorite Star Wars movie is “Return of the Jedi.” This isn’t very analytical, but I did want to say that Muppets Show episode with Mark Hamill and his “cousin” Luke Skywalker is the best ever. (I would have expected a Pigs in Space reference in this though.) I also want to share this which I really think this was the best Star Wars made between Return of the Jedi and Baby Yoda. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3pNNYelXItQ&t=1s

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  12. “To get people to show up to the third movie, you need to demonstrate that the events of the second movie matter.”

    This is essentially my complaint about “Rise of Skywalker”. It undid stuff from “The Last Jedi”, demonstrating that the events of the second movie didn’t matter — and since Palpatine didn’t die after all, the events of the original trilogy didn’t matter either!

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