Geekenders recently returned to the Rio Theater with an entirely rewritten script from the second of their Star Wars parodies for a remount. Three members of the Living Myth offices were invited to come in and take a look: CEO and founder, Aaron Golden, COO and head of everything, Anne Honeycutt, and newcomer Meghan Duffy. All three loved what they saw, though they came at their enjoyment from very different places.
Aaron Golden says:
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back shouldn’t work.
Narratively, it looks like nothing happens: Luke leaves his friends and goes to a swamp, then goes to Cloud City and walks into a trap. Han and Leia and the rest leave Hoth, run from the Empire, run from the empire some more, and then get caught by the Empire. That’s it. That’s the movie.
And yet people seem to think it’s the strongest of the Star Wars films.
With only a bare scrap of plot, Empire has managed to carve a place for itself in the cultural consciousness, digging deeper than Episode IV did and only facing arguable competition for “Best of the Star Wars” movies by Rogue One.
The reason for this?
Empire is nothing but character development. There’s enough nuance and subtext in that movie to make the first movie stronger and set the stage for Return of the Jedi and everything to follow. We learn how powerful the Empire is and that a single military loss isn’t going to slow them down. Luke learns about himself, his family, and the Force. Han and Leia develop an actual relationship that looks to end in heartbreak. Lando…
Lando is introduced and becomes one of the most subtle characters in the whole series. A con man forced into an untenable position, he tries to drive Han off through insults while not putting his city in danger. When the Empire betrays him he’s got plans and backup plans ready. He’s a perfect shade of gray, a character in the heart of Han Solo, and he adds complexity to an already complex series of relationships.
The problem with parodying Empire, then, lies in its threadbare story. This lack has haunted previous attempts to lampoon this movie, but Geekenders does the tale right by not only acknowledging the weak plot but outright attacking it while focusing on the main characters and giving them even more depth. This is a new, punnier script, and once the curtains go up and the text crawls up you know you’re in for some insanely funny sensuality.
Luke’s farm boy idiocy, his “I’m playing a barbarian and maxed out my charisma stat,” is in full effect here as Draco Muff-boi returns to the role with their usual charm and makes Luke irritably likable. Stephen Blakley adds a note of desperation to his relationship with Jayne Fondue’s regal Leia, creating balance in their relationship and making his world-weary sense of genre-savvy impossibly more wry.
R2DoubleD and David Ten-Inch add surprising pathos to the droids and Androsia Wilde plays Lando with all of the aforementioned complexity that the character deserves. Veronica Vamp slays as Darth Vader, Kitty Glitter is riotous as Chewie, and Lithium Little adds a touch of spiritual sexuality as Yoda, but it’s the comedic turn of Seamus Fit-It-In as Boba Fett that hit the audience out of nowhere, pushing the crowd into a fit if hysterical giggling.
This was perfect. The Empire Strips Back takes everything great about the source material and celebrates it while adding a unique spin to each character and giving everyone a moment to shine. Even the Storm Troopers have personality here, and every moment Susan the Storm Trooper is stepping out of line is an utter delight.
Geekenders returns to the Rio Theater with two performances of the Empire Strips Back on May 26th and 27th, with doors opening at seven and the show starting promptly at eight. The showing we saw was completely sold out, so you’ll definitely want to order tickets in advance, which you can do by clicking here. Tickets are $20 from the interwebs or $25 day of the box office.
Anne Honeycutt says:
I have said this before but I don’t think I will ever get tired of saying it, this is the best season Geekenders’ has ever had. It is not an easy feat to sell out The Rio theatre, and it is certainly not easy with doing a remount but the Geekenders Star Wars shows are an institution.
With a newly punched up script, revamped choreography and dazzling costumes the show has been transformed into a delightful geeklesque masterpiece. You can tell that they worked so hard on this and it has paid off. They have been tireless in their goals to make burlesque a safe welcoming experience for all involved. Risque but respectful humour; permission to explore and enjoy the human form in all shapes, sizes, creeds and ability; and above all else celebrating the spirit of rebellion from oppression one shimmy-shake at a time.
Meghan Duffy says:
You won’t find their number written in a bathroom stall, but if you are looking for a good time I would highly recommend Geekenders’ Star Wars Burlesque: The Empire Strips Back.
Somewhere over the roaring of the crowd, amidst the whistles and woos, the sound of my proverbial burlesque cherry being popped could be heard as I squealed with delight. It was a scream, a blast, a show I hoped would never end. Squishy feelings aside, I want to talk about the performers. This is a production where you can really feel the amount of dedication and hard work poured into it.
Spoiler – it’s a lot.
I really felt the passion, the love, and the joy from everyone who was on stage, regardless of how much time they spent up there. It was the epitome of heart and soul.
Vader’s performance is one that stands out to me. Played by Veronica Vamp, Vader’s act was one that will be hard to dominate. There is something to be said about seeing Darth Vader played by a drag queen strutting and bouncing across the stage to NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye”. Whatever that thing was, it seems to have escaped me as I was – and still am – totally lost in amazement.
Though I have to say my heart could not remain faithful this evening – among the fabulously sexy Stormtroopers, the smoldering Han Solo, the raunchy Chewbacca, there was R2D2 (Played by R2DoubleD). Bouncy, bodacious, beautiful R2D2. Gliding around the stage like some sort of sexy droid angel, equipped with roller skates for the entire performance – an impressive feat. The skates definitely added a special flavor to dance numbers and general background tomfoolery.
There is a scene where the song “Somewhere Out There” (as many of us know from An American Tail/Fievel Goes West, and part of me wishes they had used those versions) comes on, and it’s something special. As seriously as you can take a blue haired woman on roller skates whipping around with a gold-clad man in tow, this really tugged at my heartstrings.
Judging by the audience, it tugged them too. There were a few people around me singing along to the music, and I won’t lie, I did as well. There were quite a few songs to sing along to. Each number inspired a silent – and sometimes not so silent – cheer from me, the nostalgia is strong with this one. There was a perfect level of audience interaction that I found delightful, just enough to make it fun but the performance didn’t depend on it.
I don’t want to spoil anything, but make sure you get your throwing arms ready. The only thing that didn’t quite sit right with me was one small joke where C3P0 was compared to Sheldon Cooper, but then again I was never a fan of Big Bang Theory.
Overall this was a fantastic performance. A wild ride, much like a mechanical bull bucking ‘twixt your legs on a steamy Friday night.
All photos credit Pierre Chum