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A Preview Of The Empire Strips Back: A Burlesque Parody

There is a great disturbance in the Force.

Star Wars the sleeping bag! Star Wars the tape dispenser! Star Wars the tackle box! Turns out the “merchandising” scene in Mel Brooks’ 1987 parody, Spaceballs, was spot-on. Since the release of Star Wars more than 40 years ago, the franchise has permeated practically every part of our culture. There are lightsaber academies, including one in Indianapolis. There are build-your-own droid workshops, too. And then there’s “The Empire Strips Back,” a touring burlesque show complete with custom-built costumes and gyrating Stormtroopers.

Following a sold-out, six-city tour in California, “The Empire Strips Back” comes to the Murat Theatre at Old National Center on April 14. This (unauthorized) burlesque parody is not your typical strip show. Rather, a combination of cosplay and comedy transports the audience through the original Star Wars trilogy. Chewbacca gets down, Yoda rocks out, and the Death Star—à la Miley Cyrus—swings in like a wrecking ball. There’s also a fair amount of gender-swapping, as women portray Luke Skywalker, Boba Fett, C-3PO, and a latex-clad Darth Vader.

The original production, which creator Russall S. Beattie conceived in 2011, was held in a small, 150-seat room in Sydney. The show was an immediate hit. Seven sold-out Australian tours, tens of thousands of audience members, and a viral Huffington Post video later, “The Empire Strips Back” is on a six-week tour of the United States and Canada.

“It’s been an amazing journey from the little stage we started on to the majestic theatres we play now,” says Beattie. “We never stop developing the show–always trying to make it bigger and crazier, and, yes, reach the standard of quality of the films.”

To create this one-of-a-kind entertainment experience, Beattie teamed with people who worked on the Star Wars franchise. Together, they designed props suitable for burlesque, including a dancing tauntaun. (A creature best described as a two-legged, horse-sized reptile that can survive in illegally cold weather.) The costumes were also custom-made, as they had to accommodate the performers’ movements or cater to a more feminized form. Take, for example, the scene in which some Jawas de-metal a sensual C-3PO. This is burlesque at its finest. It demystifyies the body and challenges sexual politics head-on. But burlesque has always been in on the joke. The word itself, “burlesque,” gets its roots from the Italian “burla” – joke. That’s why it’s perfect for parody, and why Beattie believes his production celebrates both the art form and the classic film series. “The artistic direction guiding every Star Wars-inspired burlesque show has its own personality, giving audiences the opportunity to appreciate different versions of genre,” he says.

Sci-fi fans and burlesque aficionados alike will appreciate the show. And as long as they are at least 18 years old, walking carpets and scruffy-looking nerf herders are welcome, too. Tickets for the 8 p.m., April 14 show start at $22. VIP packages are available for $195 and guarantee a seat in the first 10 rows, a prime spot to watch galactic characters drop trou and twirl their tassels. VIP packages also include a post-show opportunity to meet with cast members and take a photograph with them. For tickets and information, visit empirestripsback.com.

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