The good, the bad, and the Force: Re-evaluating Star Wars – Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
AND NOW WE COME to the final stop on our tour of a galaxy far, far away. Perhaps the most divisive and the lowest-scored on IMDB (if that sort of thing sways you) of the original trilogy and the final instalment in the saga (J.J. Abrams, we’re coming for you), it’s Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.
Andrew Simpson: Return of the Jedi for me was a great ending to the classic series that captured by imagination when I was younger. These days it is considered the most technically accomplished of the Star Wars films and that’s something I can definitely agree with; no matter how bizarre the scene they are all pulled together in an excellent narrative of events.
The visuals of the film are a standout, with the 133 minute running time giving us some real standout sequences. One of my favourites being the opening scenes on Tatooine as all the threads from Empire are wrapped up in an elaborate rescue attempt. We also get to meet Jabba the Hutt who is represented excellently. There are other scenes and set pieces that tie in to make the film a worthy finisher, from the dramatic final confrontation between Luke, Vader and the evil Emperor, along with the climatic space battle and the eventual destruction of the Death Star and the speeder bike chase through the forests of Endor. In my mind some of these scenes were some of the best action sequences in the original trilogy.
The introduction of the Ewoks is still highly debated today, many feeling they had far too much screen time and were far too cheesy in what should have been a straight-faced and mature finale. Despite this view, the Ewoks do bring a certain charm to the films that juxtapose the fighting and evil that is going on just on their moon-step (sorry.). Who doesn’t want to see C-3PO retell the Star Wars story to the enraptured Ewok audience in pantomime fashion? It’s actually a pretty good scene and shows the Ewoks what they are fighting for. Also, it always seemed a pretty incredible thing that the most technological advanced space station was destroyed with the help of the primitive teddy bear Ewoks, heck they even manage to overrun an imperial platoon – there’s definitely some satisfaction in that.
Characterisation in the series also develops, especially after us finding out that Darth Vader is in fact Luke’s father at the end of the last film and therefore paving the way for the reunion between Luke and Leia as brother and sister. Redemption being the big arc for Vader in this film, we are able to see father and son reach out for each other at the end, where parental bonds rule over all others. George Lucas shows how that even with all the action set pieces involved, there’s still a focus on the characters and their story.
I know Joseph will likely ravage the film for its faults and somewhat goofy plot ideas, but Return of the Jedi really is a solid finisher in my mind and provides some great entertainment. I still enjoy watching it today.
Joseph Albanese: Firstly, I would like to say a thank you to Dan Abbott who showed himself to be both a gentleman and a scholar by taking my original responsibility off my hands and performing the unenviable task of attacking the best and most beloved film of an already beloved franchise.
Serendipitously, our switcheroo has left me in a much more comfortable position than before; on the dark side of Return of the Jedi. Even upon its original release, Return of the Jedi was much less critically successful than its older brothers, and upon re-watching it for the purpose of this retrospective, it is clear to see why. Almost everything I enjoyed about the film as a child now angers me as an adult, and I’m not talking about Ewoks, or retroactive CGI tampering (Lucas says it’s the only version that counts; who am I to argue?)
No, those things, though irritating, are not what destroys this movie. The simple fact is that the entire thing is woefully unoriginal. It’s the original Star Wars cash in.
Stop me if you think any of the following sounds familiar to you: an opening where a star destroyer blots out the blackness of space followed by droids walking in the desert. A confrontation by hostile aliens in a hive of scum and villainy. A nebulous and evil Empire in possession of a planet destroying battle station. A rebel alliance that intend to destroy this station by attacking its vulnerable core with everything they’ve got.
The entire key narrative framework of the film, with the exception of Jabba’s palace and the Moon of Endor, is a lazy, half-arsed recycling of A New Hope.
About halfway through the film all I could imagine was a Hollywood bathroom circa 1980. George Lucas cuts a line of coke using the wing of a miniature Tie-Fighter. As he snorts it through his hundred dollar bill, he realises that it is in fact a fifty. His face drops as he finally understands the finite nature of money through the drug-induced haze. He turns to Steven Spielberg: “What do the fans want?”
Steven thinks for a moment before lighting a crack pipe.“Well, they liked the first Star Wars, right?”
George laughs so hard he scatters a cloud of white dust into the bathroom. There goes another hundred.“Of course, it was a license to print money. We sold empty boxes for Christmas and made more money than God.”
Steven coughs on the sweet burn of his crack before pausing to shatter a mirror. “Well, why don’t you just make Star Wars… again.”
George’s concerns wash away. “You magnificent bastard. But this time, we’ll add something more… merchandisable.”
And that, my friends, brings us to the Ewoks. Toyetic, painfully saccharine departures from a first act that turns one of the major protagonists into a potential sex slave for a giant slug monster and threatens the other heroes with a painfully graphic, thousand year-long torturous death. The film is disjointed, trying to deliver the elements that made its predecessors so successful in a hodge-podge failure of watershed moments. Boba Fett appears because people thought he was cool in Empire. Leia suddenly becomes a sex object and Luke reappears after his montage training just in time for a climactic lightsaber battle with Darth Vader upon a backdrop of recycled plot.
We thought the selling out only started in 1999, but we were just blinded by childish whimsy; Star Wars has been soulless since 1983. It just took the new trilogy to deliver us our much needed perspective.