As the fan debate continues to rage over whether Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a bold new entry in an ongoing saga or a betrayal over what has come before, let’s take some time to celebrate the anniversary of one of the best middle chapters in any cinematic trilogy: The Two Towers. Released in theaters on Dec. 18, 2002, the film marked the halfway point in Peter Jackson’s three-part adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s towering work of fantasy, The Lord of the Rings. Much like The Last Jedi today, at the time of its release, The Two Towers received some criticism for juggling too many plot threads and keeping its core cast separated. Watched again 15 years later, though, the film is clearly the entry with the series’ best battle scene (Helm’s Deep), most impactful effects work (Andy Serkis’s motion-capture performance as Gollum), and slimiest villain (Brad Dourif’s Wormtongue).
The Two Towers also houses that speech. You know the one: with the weight of bearing the One Ring threatening to drown him in trauma, Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) looks to his friend and companion, Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin), to raise his spirits back up again as they continue their journey to Mordor. “It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered,” the humble hobbit gardener says, quoting text adapted by Jackson and his co-writers, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Stephen Sinclair from Tolkien’s novel. “Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. … But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.” Heck, why are we typing it out for you? Watch the whole sequence below, and try not to tear up.
Superior to any and all of the multiple finales crammed into The Return of the King one year later, Sam’s stirring speech in The Two Towers is arguably the most frequently quoted scene from any one of Jackson’s films. As Astin revealed to Yahoo Entertainment recently, it’s a speech that almost didn’t exist. “That scene was not written in the original script,” the actor says, explaining that Jackson decided to insert it into the film as a direct response to the Sept. 11 attacks, which had overshadowed the release of The Fellowship of the Ring the previous year. (In fact, in the run-up to the release of The Two Towers, there were a handful of online petitions requesting that the title be changed.) “The writers went back to the book, found that speech, and we went back and filmed it,” Astin remembers. “In the middle of a billion-dollar [franchise] and all that comes with that, Peter Jackson was able to navigate that space in a way that was really heartfelt and meaningful.”
Even though that scene was written in the wake of 9/11, Astin feels that Sam’s words still reverberate today in the wake of tragic events. The actor posted the speech to his Facebook page in the summer of 2016 after the Orlando nightclub shooting. The clip was also widely circulated in the wake of Donald Trump’s election win. “We’ve gotten to a place in the development of society where people are afraid more than they’re brave, in my estimation,” says Astin, who has been an outspoken critic of Trump on Twitter. “Violence and natural disasters — there are calamities all around the world. I’m so grateful that I get to be a part of something that, when any of these things happen, people can turn to them for a couple of hours and exist in a space where that speech feeds into [bravery].” Asked whether he had hoped to return for Jackson’s less well-received Hobbit trilogy, Astin confesses that he did have a specific role in mind. “I wanted to play Hamfast Gamgee, Sam’s father and Bilbo’s gardener, but they just didn’t do it.” Now we’ll always be left wondering whether Ham is as beautiful an orator as Sam.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is available to rent or purchase on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu and YouTube.
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