' ' Cinema Romantico: What's the Best Star Wars Line?

Thursday, May 24, 2018

What's the Best Star Wars Line?

Earlier this month, Star Wars Day was observed. That’s May 4th, of course, because, like, you know – heavy sigh – May the Fourth Be With You. If you wonder why “Star Wars” deserves its own day, well, I suspect it’s for the same reason that there is an action figure of General Madine. But the holiday’s origin and reason for continuing to exist is not what we are here to discuss. No, we are here to discuss the actual line of dialogue that, obviously, May the Fourth Be With You is culled from – that is, “May the force be with you.”

This is a famous line. It is so famous that it checked in at #8 on the AFI (American Film Institute) Best 100 Movie Quotes list from 2005. Mike Pesca noted this too in a recent episode of his daily podcast The Gist. He argued, however, that an 8th place finish was far too generous because the line, like other lines on the list, like “Bond, James Bond”, are less examples of great writing than merely ubiquitous, whether within the movie itself or societally speaking. That ubiquitous quality was also cited in “Rosebud”, the famous explanation, so to speak, from “Citizen Kane.” And I have to say, Pesca is right. Is “Rosebud” a better written line than “I always gagged on the silver spoon?” No, it’s not. And “May the force be with you” is not a better written line than…..

Well, that’s the thing. What is a great “Star Wars” line? I mean, a “Star Wars” line that’s really written. The obvious answer here is Leia saying “I love you” and Han replying “I know.” But then, that line wasn’t written; it was improvised by Ford. And most of the great lines in “Star Wars”, the really great lines, are as much about Ford as the writing. Ford may have famously remarked “George, you can type this shit, but you can’t say it”, but Ford could say it. He could say it really, really well.

“I’ve run outrun Imperial starships. Not the local bulk cruisers mind you, I’m talking about the big Corellian ships now.” That Solo line is really just B-movie b.s., but Ford gave it the ring not of a weary actor in a b.s. B-movie but a space stock car driver over beers. He’s even better in “The Empire Strikes Back” quarreling with Carrie Fisher (rip). When Leia accuses Han of making things so difficult, Ford’s “I do, I really do” riposte is just something else, smug acknowledgement of his own smugness. (Smug Runner-up: “ Yes, your Highnessness?”) The best lines in “Star Wars”, in other words, are Harrison Ford line readings which isn’t really the same thing. (Parenthetical shout-out here to Graham Ashley as the immortal Gold Five whose “Stabilize your rear deflectors, watch for enemy fighters” is a righteous line reading steeped in regal theatricality.)

The best written Han Solo line is maybe the smuggler cum rebel General barking at slow-moving C-3PO when quickness would suffice: “Hurry up, goldenrod! You’re gonna be a permanent resident!” I like it because at least you could picture Humphrey Bogart brusquely saying this to some supporting blowhard. Non-Solo speaking, “It’s a trap” might well be a solid choice, an effective, panicked come to Jesus cry. Yet if it is only said once in the movie, it has been repeated ad nauseum in pop culture, repetition in the manner of  “Rosebud”, and not line a where you admire the craftsmanship anyway. I am tempted to cite “That’s no moon...it’s a space station.” Except that line too seems a little less about the words and a little more about the immaculate portentous spin Guinness puts on them.

“Do or do not, there is no try,” as Yoda advises, might be ubiquitous, but it’s also infused with actual wisdom, though it skews a little too much toward classroom inspirational poster for my dialogue tastes. “But I was going into Tosche station to pick up some power converters!” gets laughed at a lot, but it is remembered. Does it not accurately capture a whiny adolescence? Even so, I think we can do better.

Pesca tossed out some options, including “I used to bullseye womp rats in my T-16 back home” and “Only a master of evil, Darth.” Those are solid. And yet, it is not “Only a master of evil, Darth” that leaps to mind when I consider Ben Kenobi observations so much as this: “You can’t win, Darth. If you strike me down I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

Obi-Wan, of course, would re-appear in the ensuing two films by way of ghostly hologram, most problematically, sadly in the “Return of the Jedi” where he is made to utter that “certain point of view” line which is one of the worst bits of dialogue in the series, less a punchy observation than narrative evasion. These re-appearances of old Ben Kenobi, in fact, merely undermine his cautioning that “If you strike me down I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

Redundancy, Pesca said in quoting an old observation that he tied back to may the force be with you, should not be mistaken for profundity. And that is sort of the whole problem with the recurring ghost of Ben Kenobi. Had the films honored his declaration that being struck down would merely make him more powerful than that sinister Sith Lord could possibly imagine and subsequently allowed the wise Jedi to exit stage left, thereby maintaining his dignity, this line would have resonated so much more, a parting shot echoing across the eons.

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