TV

'Lost' and 'The Empire Strikes Back' Are Both Pop Culture Belief Systems That Inspire Worship

Lost and The Empire Strikes Back revolve around the nature of light vs. dark, good vs. evil, science vs. faith and ultimately about the redemptive power of love and sacrifice. Ala Douglas Adams, both are about life, the universe and everything.

It is a dark time for the Candidates. Evading the dreaded Smoke Monster, a group of island castaways led by Jack Shephard have escaped the Widmore sub and established a new temporary base on the remote Dharma Island. The evil demigod Man In Black, obsessed with finding Shephard, is dispatching a final plan to kill the survivors and escape the far reaches of the island …

On 21 May 21 1980, The Empire Strikes Back opened in theaters and has been received as not just a great film in its own right, but as one of the best blockbusters and finest sequels in movie history. On 22 September, 2004, Lost premiered on ABC and has since become one of the most celebrated dramatic shows in television history.

It seems fitting – and worthy of the prologue/plot mashup above -- that the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back occurs on the same weekend that Lost will conclude with the two and a half hour series finale. In addition to being personal favorites that blew my mind, earned slavish devotion and launched countless conversations, both are significant pop culture institutions that changed what many of us can expect from entertainment, but also what entertainment can expect of us.

As a child, The Empire Strikes Back was a film I loved and loathed. It was my first “What? Aw, hell no!” movie. It ended on a down note where the villains won, the Big Bad made a shocking reveal that stomped the hero’s soul and the audience was left with a three-year cliffhanger. I was too young to remember much about the theater experience of The Empire Strikes Back, but I nonetheless consider myself lucky to be of a generation that didn’t know about Luke Skywalker’s daddy issues before reaching the movie’s final act.

As an adult, I’ve had many of the same reactions while watching Lost over the course of six seasons. I don’t remember when exactly I became a fan -- sometime around the end of the first season, I think – but I remember the impact it had on me. The many cliffhangers, even the ones that spanned only one week as well as between seasons, felt like they lasted for years. The reveals have been shocking, and “What? Aw, hell no!” has been shouted many, many times. Although I’ve loathed Lost at times, overall, I've enjoyed that it pretty much from the beginning.

From the opening credits, where one logo zooms away in space and the other floats through darkness towards the screen, the connection between Lost and the Star Wars series has always been evident. Creators J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof, along with showrunner Carlton Cuse, have allowed Lost to proudly wear its geeky heart on the sleeve. Instead of trying to hide it, the Lindelof and Cuse team frequently make direct and indirect references to the George Lucas franchise, and have quoted it within the show.

The character of Hurley even attempted to re-write The Empire Strikes Back in one episode. Instead of being merely homage, however, Lost has channeled what made The Empire Striks Back great.

With two dueling protagonists of the hero complex boy scout and the self-serving lovable rogue, with a strong but conflicted woman caught between, the Lost trio of Jack/Sawyer/Kate is the new trio of Luke/Han/Leia from The Empire Strikes Back. Jacob has the Obi-Wan act manipulating the truth and being noticeably absent when needed the most down pat. Hurley and Miles at times serve the purpose of C-3PO and R2, and Richard Alpert has remained a man of mystery who generates intense curiosity despite very little screen time – not unlike a certain bounty hunter. Finally, Locke has been both a Yoda and Vader figure as a man who preached of faith but was consumed by darkness.

Beyond the obvious comparisons, Lost and The Empire Strikes Back are alike, and probably so beloved, because they are both deceptively simple stories of ordinary people in extraordinary situations contemplating the questions about – to borrow from Douglas Adams -- life, the universe and everything. They revolve around the nature of light vs. dark, good vs. evil, science vs. faith and ultimately about the redemptive power of love and sacrifice.

Moreover, like the Dark Side cave in which Yoda warns Luke to “only what you take with you,” The Empire Strikes Back and Lost both allow the viewer to imprint his/her own experiences, philosophies, beliefs and theories upon the stories. When fans spend significant time searching or clues and connections, and twist the plots around in their brains, they become involved. The question of “what does it all mean?” becomes quite personal.

OK, so that’s admittedly a gooey nugget of a “deceptively simple story” covered in very lofty, convoluted candy coating.

Additionally, faith has been more than a recurring theme within the plots of both stories; it’s also part of the viewing experience. Both request the viewer to place trust in them, and have essentially redefined what it means to be a fan of something. The Empire Strikes Back and Lost are entertainment that requires the patience of the audience, and as a result, there is a contract with the fans that promises some sort of resolution.

That faith is why many of us have been able to stick with Lost despite Nikki and Paulo (and the Bai Ling episode, which was a hot mess of Jar Jar Binks and Ewoks rolled into one). It's also why the emotions viewers feel are real when invoked by the death of certain characters, or bad things happening to these on-screen people we’ve accepted into our lives. Frankly, if you ever want to trigger the waterworks in me, show me back-to-back scenes of Han saying goodbye to Leia, and Sun and Jin holding hands in that submarine – then you’ve got Niagara Falls, Frankie Angel.

So, you don’t have to be a member of the congregation to enjoy either, but for the converted, The Empire Strikes Back and Lost are pop-culture belief systems that inspire worship. They belong together in my best-of library, and I’m happy to say happy birthday to one, and sad to say goodbye to the other – but I’m pleased I can do both in the same fitting weekend.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta


Keep reading... Show less
Film

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

In a staid city like Washington, D.C., too many concert programs still stick to the basics. An endless litany of Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky concerti clog the schedules and parades of overeager virtuosi seem unwilling to vary their repertoire for blasé D.C. concertgoers. But occasionally you encounter a concert that refreshes your perspective of the familiar. The works presented at The Kennedy Center on 25 October 2017 might be stalwarts of 20th century repertoire, but guest conductor Antonio Pappano, leading the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, reminded us how galvanizing the canonical can still be. Though grandiose executions of Respighi's The Fountains of Rome and The Pines of Rome were the main event, the sold-out crowd gathered to see Martha Argerich perform one of her showpieces, Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto. Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image