The Force Was With Jason Reitman's 'Empire Strikes Back' Live Read; Full Recap And Photos

The things fans love about The Empire Strikes Back are not things present in a live read: John Williams unbelievable score, the breathtaking action set pieces, and locations like Hoth, Dagobah and Cloud City. At a live read, it's just the actors, the script, a few images and the audience. As a massive Star Wars fan that was my big concern going into the latest Jason Reitman Live Read, presented by Film Independent. Would The Empire Strikes Back hold up without so much of what makes it great?

The answer, as you'd expect, isn't that straightforward.

Below, read all about The Empire Strikes Back Live Read which not only featured Ellen Page as Han Solo and Aaron Paul as Luke Skywalker, but also Mark Hamill in a special appearance reading the Emperor, Boba Fett and Obi-wan Kenobi roles.

All images by Araya Diaz, courtesy of Wireimage and Film Independent.

Preshow

Before the movie began, Reitman explained how this script was a hybrid of the original script infused some well-known additions made into the final film. So there were a few deleted scenes, added dialogue and more. He also revealed, for the first time ever at a live read, he'd be doing a role: R2-D2.

The cast, most of which had already been announced, was introduced:

  • Aaron Paul as Luke Skywalker
  • Ellen Page as Han Solo
  • Jessica Alba as Princess Leia
  • J.K. Simmons as Darth Vader
  • Stephen Merchant as C3P0
  • Dennis Haysbert as Lando Calrissian
  • Kevin Pollack as Yoda

Film Independent Live Read: "The Empire Strikes Back"

Simmons was introduced last, and escorted through the crowd, surrounded by Stormtroopers with the Imperial March playing. Very cool.

But Reitman said he felt the cast wasn't complete. He was missing someone. So a chair was brought out and Rainn Wilson was revealed to be playing Chewbacca. And only Chewbacca.

Film Independent Live Read: "The Empire Strikes Back"

But there was still a few major roles missing. The final addition to the cast was — cue dramatic pause – Mark Hamill as the Emperor and Obi-Wan Kenobi. The crowd predictably leapt out of their seats in crazy applause as the original Luke entered, hugged Aaron Paul and shook everyone else's hand. It was time to read The Empire Strikes Back.

Hoth

As you know, the film begins on Hoth with Luke Skywalker riding his Tauntaun. The script describes the animal as a "nervous lizard," which made the crowd laugh hard. At the start, you could tell each actor was kind of flirting with what to do with their role. As Luke, Paul's delivery was direct. Confident. Page as Solo was similar. Not cocky and comfortable, just simple and straightforward. When Han tells Leia he's going to leave in the Rebel Base, the script has a bunch of other lines about Bounty Hunters before Han calls Leia "as cold as this planet." Ouch.

Film Independent Live Read: "The Empire Strikes Back"

While those actors got comfortable in their roles, Stephen Merchant jumped right in. From the first line, it was like he was born to play C-3P0. His accented, high-pitched fast delivery was very similar to Anthony Daniels' performance, but with a little more pizzaz. Through the very end of the read, Merchant got big laughs with every line, aided by the fact that 3P0 has more comic moments in the script than the final film.

JK Simmons was just as effective. Once Darth Vader is introduced on his Star Destroyer, Simmons almost willed his deep, staccato voice into the microphone, creating the menacing presence that is Darth Vader.

One big change in this version of the screenplay was that, when Luke is captured by the Wampa, Obi-Wan's voice suggests he "think the saber into your hand." Luke keeps saying, "Relax" to himself as he gets ready to use the Force. Once he escapes the cave and Han finds him, there's also bit more interaction before Han cuts open the Tauntaun. Han slaps Luke and tells him it's not his time to die, it's an interesting change to the scene.

Film Independent Live Read: "The Empire Strikes Back"

Eventually, the Hoth battle begins and, as would happen a lot over the course of the evening, it became the Jason Reitman show. The director reads all stage directions in these readings and there are many in The Empire Strikes Back. Especially in the action scenes, which are pretty meticulously written. Occasionally, there's a line thrown in from Luke or one of the gunners (of which Kevin Pollack voiced most as giddy school boys.) but for the most part it was rapid fire reading about the Imperial Walkers, tow cables and more. Another cool note, the falling walker is described as a "locomotive on stilts."

Millennium Falcon Chase

"Hang on sweetheart, we're gonna do some flying." That's one of the lines Han has in this script and yes, it's as cheesy as it sounds. In fact, the whole relationship between Han and Leia is significantly amped up in the script. One example? After evading the Empire and escaping into the asteroid, Han and Leia kiss on the Falcon. It's a great scene but, in the script, it's much more descriptive. It says Han kisses her with "slow, hot lips." He "takes his time, as if he had forever" and kisses Leia "like she had never been kissed before." Leia "almost faints" when Han kisses her.

As Reitman read all this, the crowd was surprised by the changes. Page threw her arms up in the air to be like, "Oh yeah." Meanwhile, her delivery of Solo's lines began to find a rhythm. It wasn't Harrison Ford's swagger, but more of a laid-back, fast-talking, no-nonsense bullshitter. The same can't be said for Jessica Alba, who struggled with finding the heart in Leia for most of the evening.

Film Independent Live Read: "The Empire Strikes Back"

Mark Hamill, however, had no problem finding emotion. As Obi-Wan, he did a version of a wise man that was kind of Alec Guinness, but with a deeper timbre. Then, as the Emperor, Hamill put on one of his patented evil voices. Raspy, crackling, perfect for this evil being. Boba Fett was similar, just more metallic, just like the movie. Then there was Rainn Wilson, whose guttural roars anytime Chewbacca spoke just cracked everyone up.

Some additions: when the Falcon begins fly out of the "cave," C-3PO starts to freak out and say individual goodbyes to everyone as the teeth are closing. Plus, when they're trying to figure out a system to fly to, Han reveals that he keeps travel logs, which impresses Leia.

Dagobah

On his way to Dagobah, Luke has a little conversation with R2-D2. Which meant, at the live read, it was Jason Reitman whistling at Aaron Paul. It was funny, but somehow worked because, at this point, Paul had finally made a choice for Skywalker. He was going to portray him with a deeper voice and straightforward confidence. I applaud him for making the decision and sticking with it, but in doing so some of the essential innocence and fear of Luke's character were lost.

Film Independent Live Read: "The Empire Strikes Back"

In the original script, Yoda was a small blue creature, but no matter. Kevin Pollack channelled Frank Oz's character. He knew it was better not to mess with perfection. If you can hear the original Yoda in your head, that was basically Pollack, and really that's the best thing he could've done.

Besides Yoda's color, this section actually has several other big changes between the script and the movie. Luke tells Yoda "I feel much stronger when I'm mad," which leads to a discussion of the dark side. The tree where he decapitates Darth Vader has a huge creature outside it, is filled with a membrane like substance, and has bugs everywhere. Actually, it's much creepier. Another funny note, after Yoda's line "Do, or do not, there is no try," the script immediately says that Luke "tries" to move his X-Wing.

Film Independent Live Read: "The Empire Strikes Back"

As Luke leaves, hearing Aaron Paul, Kevin Pollack and Mark Hamill do the last big scene featuring Luke, Yoda and Obi-Wan almost brought this Star Wars fan to tears. Having the original Luke now as the old mentor felt so right; Yoda was Yoda; and having a new young, strong protagonist was simply exciting. Less than one year away from the next one, folks.

Cloud City

The arrival of Han, Leia, Chewbacca and C-3P0 on Cloud City meant Dennis Haysbert finally got into the mix as Lando. He was solid in the role. When you think about it, Lando doesn't really have a ton to do in Empire. A few walk and talk scenes, betraying his friends, then he regains their trust. In fact, the whole character of Lobot isn't in this version of the script at all, giving Lando even less to do. There is, however, some more discussion of his love of the Millennium Falcon and a joke Han does about not planning to "gamble away" Leia when Lando comments on her.

Film Independent Live Read: "The Empire Strikes Back"

This is also the section where Stephen Merchant really won the crowd. When the silver protocol droid says something rude to C-3P0, Merchant replied, "How fucking rude," which crushed the audience. He of course, then gets blown to bits, which Merchant mimed like bullet time in The Matrix.

The carbon freeze scene has the most romantic line in the film: The "I love you, I know" exchange between Han and Leia. Though Page, and Alba especially, didn't really go too deep with their roles, they definitely knew this was important. They turned to each other and threw genuine emotion into the lines. In this brief exchange, you heard that Ford swagger from Page, and the frightened naivety of Leia. It was a fleeting moment, but a nice one.

Film Independent Live Read: "The Empire Strikes Back"

The carbon freeze itself is different in the script too. In fact, it makes more sense. I always wondered how that steam created all this hard carbonite around Han. In the script, it says that fluids and sparks fell on him. Then a creature puts a box on the side of the block.

Finale

Finally, the whole movie comes down to Luke versus Darth Vader. Like the other action scenes, that meant Reitman was doing a lot of reading, interspersed with a line or two from Simmons as Vader. Rainn Wilson made lightsaber noises into the microphone to give the scene a little more tension and, when it came to the big line, Simmons took a long beat before revealing "I am your father." Paul's reaction wasn't as big as Hamill's but, it wouldn't have been considering the choices he made with the character. Simmons shined here, attempting to coax Luke to the Dark Side with his deep, seductive voice.

Conclusion

Film Independent pulled out all the stops for this particular Live Read and it paid off. The event was electric, entertaining and memorable. So, to answer that big question, did The Empire Strikes Back hold up without the music and visuals? The answer is yes. The script still has all the fun and emotion of the original movie. For the one night-only event, it was an unforgettable experience.

Not all of the actors were perfect as their characters. But when you're reading something as beloved and iconic as Star Wars, it's kind of difficult to go too far off course. Merchant, Simmons, Pollack and Hamill definitely stood out and maybe that's because those characters are better "characters." They aren't as grounded as the others, which are more difficult parts. Either way, Jason Reitman put together a fantastic cast, some great surprises, and brought home another truly awesome Live Read.

Film Independent Live Read: "The Empire Strikes Back"