There was a lot of bad juju going down on this date 30 years ago today.
A guy got his hand chopped off. By his own dad. The same dad who froze his best friend alive. The same best friend who macked down on handless guy’s girlfriend. The same girlfriend who would later turn out to be handless guy’s sister.
We’re not talking about the Maury Povich show.
We’re talking about the release of Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back on this date in 1980. It is for many fans, hands down, the best of the six Star Wars films.
I remember sitting in a Perkins restaurant in upstate New York with Mama Thies, Papa Thies and Big Brother Thies, post-Empire screening. The Family Thies, like many families of the era, was furiously debating the great question that would perplex and titillate the entire world for the next three years: was he or wasn’t he Luke’s father?
If I remember correctly, the scorecard for the Family Thies debate was Papa Thies (“Yes, he is Luke’s father”); Mama Thies (“No, he’s a liar trying to get into Luke’s head”); and Big Brother Thies (“Can I have more bacon, please?”).
Me? Well, to tell the truth, during that fateful meal I was more preoccupied with the whole chopped off hand thing. And frozen Solo. I mean, I was 10, those were my two favorite action figures, and they both got their butts seriously kicked. I thought the world was coming to an end.
Empire single-handedly assured that big budget science fiction in the modern era could be meaningful and challenging, without losing its grip on the razzle and the dazzle. Plus, you had to wait three long years to find out the answer. None of this, “We’ll pump out the sequel in six months, with the DVD to follow two months afterwards, assuming the Internet hasn’t already spoiled the surprise for you.”
In honor of its release, I had planned to do a feature on 10 Famous Carpal Tunnel Procedures in Science Fiction (you know, because Luke got his hand cut off, yadda yadda).
But I got scooped.
Earlier this month, the guys at Den of Geek released a list of 10 movie characters who didn’t need hands, to celebrate the release of the new Nightmare on Elm Street movie.
This was a bummer, as my list was going to feature the David Carradine character “Frankenstein” from Death Race 2000 (whose right hand was a grenade. Get it? Hand grenade!), as well as “C. A. Rotwang” from Metropolis. You know, 1927, Fritz Lang, robot lady movie. The mad scientist in that film had a mechanical right hand. Going way old school on that pick.
I was also going to include Michael Ironside as “Overdog” from 1983’s Spacehunter, but I have learned there’s this whole subculture devoted to Michael Ironside films where he loses his hand. Bravo! I’m not sure if that’s really cool, or pathological.
Well, of course with these developments I couldn’t proceed with the Carpal Tunnel list. What to do?
I started to ruminate over Empire Strikes Back. What, if anything, about this movie hasn’t been scrutinized to death? What small aspect of its overwhelming cultural influence hasn’t been explored and appreciated?
Then it hit me. The answer was pretty obvious.
Lando Calrissian’s mustache.
It is a mustache worthy of entry into the Barney Miller Hall of Fame of Mustaches. Sleek and elegant, it literally purrs the words “space pirate”. This led me to consider what other Dr. Philtastic mustaches have been proudly displayed in science fiction. And so we give you, on this 30th anniversary of Empire Strikes Back:
The 30 Greatest Mustaches in Science Fiction:
- Don Ameche as Art Selwyn / Cocoon (1985)
- Richard Benjamin as Peter Martin / Westworld (1973)
- Michael Biehn as Lt. Hiram Coffey / The Abyss (1989)
- Rubén Blades as Danny Archuleta / Predator 2 (1990)
- Ernest Borgnine as Harry Booth / The Black Hole (1979)
- Mel Brooks as President Skroob / Spaceballs (1987)
- Dabney Coleman as McKittrick / Wargames (1983)
- Sean Connery as Zed / Zardoz (1974)
- Keith David as Childs / The Thing (1982)
- Robert De Niro as Archibald ’Harry’ Tuttle / Brazil (1985)
- Ron Glass as Shepherd Book / Serenity (2005)
- John Goodman as Pops Racer / Speed Racer (2008)
- Garrick Hagon as Biggs Darklighter / Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
- Charles Laughton as Dr. Moreau / Island of Lost Souls (1932)
- Al Matthews as Sgt. Apone / Aliens (1986)
- Edward James Olmos as Gaff / Blade Runner (1982)
- Joe Pantoliano as Cypher / The Matrix (1999)
- Vincent Price as Dr. Robert Morgan / The Last Man on Earth (1964)
- Tom Selleck as Sgt. Jack R. Ramsay / Runaway (1984)
- Peter Sellers as Group Captain Lionel Mandrake / Dr. Strangelove (1964)
- Tom Skerritt as David Drumlin / Contact (1997)
- Will Smith as Agent J / Men in Black (1997)
- Dean Stockwell as Doctor Wellington Yueh / Dune (1984)
- Donald Sutherland as Matthew Bennell / Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
- Danny Trejo as Machete / Planet Terror (2007)
- Les Tremayne as Maj. Gen. Mann / The War of the Worlds (1953)
- Jesse Ventura as Blain / Predator (1987)
- Gene Wilder as Victor Von Frankenstein / Young Frankenstein (1974)
- Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian / Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
- Paul Winfield as Lieutenant Ed Traxler / The Terminator (1984)
Happy birthday, Empire.