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Credit: The Empire Strips Back

The Empire Strips Back: My first Star Wars burlesque show

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Jun 5, 2018, 2:01 PM EDT (Updated)

It’s a Friday night in Los Angeles and I’m downtown at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel watching a bunch of women dressed as Stormtroopers dancing to a remix of “Gimme Some Lovin’.” So, yes, you could argue that my weekend can only go downhill from here. I’m about to see my very first burlesque show, which is sure to shock my delicate, WASP-y sensibilities. But it’s a Star Wars burlesque show, and that alone makes it 1,000 times more comforting.

After Stormtrooper practice, two of the dancers, Asher and Kael (who I later discover play Luke and Leia) lead me through the winding backstage as they carry the pieces of their Stormtrooper costumes with them. They hustle around the dressing room, putting on makeup and changing as I talk to them about The Empire Strips Back, an (unauthorized) Star Wars burlesque parody show which made the leap across the Pacific Ocean from Australia to the west coast of the United States for a run of shows this month.


Credit: Heather Mason

I've never been to a show like this before. What should I expect?

Kael: That's a tough one, isn't it?

Asher: Expect nothing. And just keep an open mind.

Kael: It's so varied. You're going to be, I think, surprised for lots of different reasons, and I don't want to give anything away because I still want it to be a surprise for you. Just expect to have an enjoyable night — a really enjoyable, really fun-filled night. And expect to sort of see things that you may not have expected from burlesque. Have you seen burlesque before?


Kael: Wow. OK. So even better. I love it when people haven't seen it... are you familiar with Star Wars?


Kael: See, this is great. This is a great position to be in. Some people haven't seen Star Wars, haven't seen burlesque who come to the show. Some people are burlesque fans. Some people that are just Star Wars fans, like yourself. I think that's a really fun position to sit in. A lot of people will see it and then they say, "Oh my God, this was my first burlesque experience. This was the best."

Asher: It appeals to lots of different demographics — like people who are regular to seeing live performance and people that have never seen anyone dance in front of them in their lives. So I feel like we tick a lot of boxes. We, hopefully, offer something for everyone.

The moment the curtains open and a woman gets topless next to a dead Tauntaun as she pulls out its guts, I realize why they've said I should have no expectations. There was never a second I anticipated THAT happening for sure. Then there's Kael, dressed as Luke Skywalker, dancing to “Starships” by Nicki Minaj and sexily soaping up a Speedracer, egging on the audience as if it's a wet T-shirt contest. STARSHIPS!!! GET IT?!? It's on the nose but, honestly, it still makes me laugh.

There's a bit of audience participation in between sets, including a "who can make the best Wookiee sounds" competition. Then Asher, who comes from a contemporary dance background, performs a stunning and heartbreaking Leia number to Lana Del Rey's "Young and Beautiful," reminding me of what she said she liked most about the show — the variety.

"It's completely changed how I think about performance and how I think about dance," she says. "To just be in a group of dancers that aren't all from your background, it's really awesome because you just get so inspired. And you just realize how much more is out there and how important it is to be a good performer rather than a technician."

Immediately after the emotional number which asks the (too real) question, "Will you still love me when I'm no longer young and beautiful?" she starts stripping to "Dirty" by Christina Aguilera and grinding on R2D2. Girl has got range.


Credit: The Empire Strips Back

Sure, anybody can appreciate good music, dancing, stripping, and production quality, but Star Wars fans will 100% appreciate the moment when Boba Fett breaks Han out of carbonite just so they can dance sexily to Michael Jackson's “Smooth Criminal.” I never thought I'd say this but to all of the Boba/Han shippers out there, I SEE IT.

While loving Star Wars obviously isn't a requirement to dance in the show, both Kael and Asher do.

"I used to have a white Princess Leia costume when I was a kid, so I would always wear it as much as I could," says Asher. "Sometimes I'd even wear it to school. And then I always wanted the Slave Leia outfit but my mom said it was too grown up so I wasn't allowed one. And now I get to wear it."

She laughs as she says it, and that's pretty much all I can think about during the number where she wears the outfit while strutting around the stage before strangling Jabba. She truly gets her Slave Leia moment. I'm glad the guy behind me who yells, "Naked Jabba!" early in the show gets his moment too.

The Empire Strips Back, Star Wars burlesque

Credit: The Empire Strips Back

After intermission, the show is all over the place tonally but still certainly fun. There's an erotic Twi'lek scene, a mashup where Han and Chewie pump up the audience while dancing to Limp Bizkit's "Nookie" with the words changed to "I did it all for the Wookiee." There's a disturbing scene involving a naked Emperor Palpatine and a Miley Cyrus song. I can't unsee it, but I won't traumatize you with the details. Overall, it's just fun, high energy, and not at all what I could've ever expected. 

At the beginning of the night, Kael and Asher had told me that The Empire Strips Back has "something for everyone." As a weirdo who typically hates audience participation and is sorta a prude, even I can admit after seeing it that they're not wrong.

The Empire Strips Back is touring the west coast of the United States through June 9. Tickets are available through their website.

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