‘Empire Strips Back’ review: ‘Star Wars’ burlesque is a strange nerd fantasy

“Star Wars” and nudity are a dangerous combo.


Give a nerd both Tatooine and girls in tassels, and who knows what untold havoc will be wrought?


Yet that’s what “The Empire Strips Back,” a funny sci-fi burlesque show in the East Village, has on offer: A gung-ho evening for ticket buyers who know what made the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs and/or would like to see women tantalizingly remove articles of clothing.

Unsurprisingly, there is a lot of overlap between those two fan groups.


That’s clearly evidenced early in the show by the howls of approval when a scantily clad dancer gives Luke Skywalker’s landspeeder a car wash onstage as Nicki Minaj’s “Starships” blares.


“Turns out Luke wasn’t such an innocent farm boy after all!” says “Strips” emcee Eric Newton.

Later, when Princess Leia gyrates alongside a remote-controlled R2-D2 — its red-and-blue light blinking in electronic ecstasy — I had a disconcerting suspicion that the taboo dreams of many of those around me were finally coming true.


Skinbaring “Star Wars” favorites abound in the extremely weird production created by Australian Russall S. Beattie that’s toured around the world. It last played New York in 2019.


Now, “Strips” is sitting down for an open-ended run at the Orpheum Theatre, which has been decked out with white panels to look like the inside of an Imperial Star Destroyer.

Most die-hards will be relieved to find just about every character here is from the original trilogy, with no Rey or Anakin in sight.


When Newton asked if there were any Jar Jar Binks fans in the house, he received surprising number of (probably drunken) cheers.

“I love finding out who the Jar Jar fans are,” he said. “Because then I know who’s on drugs!”


A newly feminized C-3PO sheds her bronze armor piece by piece; Darth Vader gets sexy with Stormtrooper background dancers in their signature white armor; Two Twi’leks (Jabba the Hutt’s green slave girls) have a serene duet; Boba Fett is a bounty stunner; Greedo even shows up for a bit.

At the start, a woman playing Luke comes out riding a tauntaun. The beast keels over, she takes her top off facing away from the audience and uses the animal’s insides for warmth — just like Luke did in “The Empire Strikes Back,” but with more va-va-voom.


That bizarre first scene establishes the real star of this “Star Wars” parody — the design.


For a production that is in no way endorsed by Lucasfilm or Disney, the costumes, masks and set pieces are impressively detailed and will leave even the pickiest of fans satisfied.

The evening’s gimmick is repetitive — as much of burlesque tends to be — but the technical elements are always visually enamoring.

Being a strip show, “Empire” reverses the usual “Star Wars” cast breakdown, which is a sprinkle of women in a sea of dudes. Here, it’s mostly gals and a couple of guys to mix things up.


A ripped Han Solo dramatically breaks free from his carbonite prison and goes full Chippendales with Chewbacca as they groove to a medley of songs including Run-DMC’s “It’s Tricky” and the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way.”

The scary hooded Emperor takes the stage as Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” plays.


He proceeds to get practically nude, stripping down to a blue bodysuit with vulgar appendages. Not yet finished, he straddles a Death Star-shaped disco ball and is hoisted into the air to Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball.”


It was a nightmarish sight that made me desperate for a few stiff drinks at the Cantina in Mos Eisley.

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