WARNING: Mild spoilers and a subtle Firefly reference follow. You have been warned (and challenged).
Looking for a solid, passion-fueled Star Wars documentary that doesn’t take itself seriously and has a blast with its concept? Enter The Empire Strikes Door, a relentlessly funny, incredibly in-touch documentary attempting to solve one of the Star Wars saga’s most confounding flubs.
The Empire Strikes Door introduces viewers to journalist and Star Wars die-hard Jamie Stangroom, who spent three years putting together an investigative documentary that sought the answer to a hilariously inconsequential question: who famously bumped his head against that Death Star door in A New Hope? Whom do we have to thank for decades of rewinding our VHS tapes and laughing hysterically? By the time Stangroom reaches his conclusion, we’re already so invested that the big reveal almost doesn’t matter. He is that fucking good.
Following his stint as a reporter for The Star Wars Show during Star War Celebration 2017, Stangroom continued to write for starwars.com, if only occasionally. He filmed a chunk of The Empire Strikes Door at that convention, scoring interviews with sequel trilogy star John Boyega and other actors who played First Order stormtroopers in The Force Awakens.
The 40-minute documentary acquaints us with costume designers, actors, and others attached to the original’s production and walks us through how such a lazy mistake made it into the film’s final cut. Do we point fingers at concept artist Ralph McQuarrie’s original designs or is industrial designer Andrew Ainsworth the man at whom we can toss blame (and eggs)? I’m opting to do neither, but you can spend your eggs however you’d like.
So, broken down, we’re dealing with: Multiple people, multiple claims, and multiple possible culprits. On paper, the idea probably read like a post-truth era whodunnit dripping with mock-seriousness. Now that the film is out, Stangroom has polished the thing so that every moment, every bad hair joke is delivered to deadpanned perfection. The subject is intriguing enough on its own, but Stangroom’s charm and charisma make it impossible to imagine someone better suited to walk us through these bizarre developments.
Stangroom guides us to his conclusion even as he guards his findings, giving us tidbits and clues piecemeal so that we feel as if we’re with him during his investigative process. It’s an immersive, almost interactive experience that tells a story viewers can feel involved with, and that’s all Stangroom.
The guy went to exhaustive lengths to bring us something unique and interesting, and he succeeded. He asks logical follow-ups and has one hell of a good time doing so, even when his chosen style prevents him from emoting.
The Empire Strikes Door showcases the better, sillier side of the Star Wars fandom. The humor, playfulness, and earnestness it so unabashedly displays serve as reminders that we all enjoy the franchise for similar reasons. If nothing else, Stangroom’s doc honors the Star Wars fans who want everything explained and respects the passion and energy so many have put into George Lucas’s seminal creation.
I’d follow Stangroom to the edge of the galaxy and back. And that’s a fact.