So after the quirky fun of the first film A New Hope (read that as Part IV or just Star Wars to purists) and then following on after the majestic climax of the second film, The Empire Strikes Back (Part V); Return of the Jedi (or Revenge of the Jedi to the smug, Blue Harvest to losers) could very easily have been a no brainer. And it very nearly was after certain fur balls took centre stage in amidst the war.
The problem with writing about a Star Wars film is that it has been done to death. Do I think Return is the weakest in the trilogy? Yes! Like most people. Do I also think it is perhaps better than most of the new trilogy – again YES! Do I hate the Ewoks? Yes. Did I when I was a kid? No! Now that we have dealt with the obvious – let’s take a deeper look at my response to the film now as it stands – not the seven year old who saw it on release in 1983.
So three years had passed and everyone wanted to know what had happened, or what was going to happen after the real downer of Empire. The film begins, justifiably so, in a remote way with our two droids inexplicably wandering Tatooine in search of Jabba’s palace. Why? Well all gets revealed once we discover that each and every member of our heroes’ team is on a mission to free their comrade Han Solo from his carbonite prison.
The set up is wonderfully dark and foreboding, giving much credence to Jabba’s digs and the hierarchy of guards and servants there within. There was just a huge variety of creatures here that bettered the cantina sequence from the original film (Just check out the cheering Ree Yees with his three eyes and giraffes pout!). This is of course completely destroyed in the special editions with a rather poppy song number (proving that Lucas has lost his touch with audiences and reality). I will try not to harp on about the special editions too much here suffice to say the band sucked; Bobba Fett hitting on women is just mind-blowingly surreal; adding a beak to the Sarlacc Pit doesn’t make the Bounty Hunter’s death any less dumb; and all the Stormtroopers sounding alike just reminds us of the awful new trilogy. But I’m not as bothered by the young ghost of Skywalker at the end as some others; because who was that old bastard anyway?
So this opening third chapter or so was originally wonderfully played out; ending with its own little mini climax out on the dunes in an action spectacle that worked more than it screwed things up (In fact I think it’s just Bobba Fett going out like a punk that bothers me about the original version).
From here we go back to space and get with the program which then leads us into the awkwardly weird second act. Lando takes Han’s ship while Han goes down to the moon to lead a land assault on a radar station? But after a bit of a chase they get split up and eventually get kidnapped by cuddly bears; that eventually come round to the side of the “Rebel Scum” and help them fight the imperials.
It is this midsection that the film has most of its problems. Yeah ok I know what is next on the conveyer belt; a cuddle toy! I have more issues with things like – Han Solo being a bit of a pussy. Yeah Han – instead of tiptoeing over twigs and tapping Imperial Scouts on shoulders, why doesn’t he go heels and blow a hole in them? Why does Luke go all emo on the mission before finally going off to confront his “destiny”? And what is up with the melted cheeks on the co-pilot of the Falcon? And yes the teddy-bears picnic that Leia gets to attend. If I’d been an adult back then I may have cheered the “You Rebel Scum” Line.
So it is the third act that we look to for something to absolve this film of its sins. And the three strands we are following are resolved in tandem. Han and Leia on the moon, Luke on the station and Lando out in space taking part in the biggest dog fight we have seen yet in a Star Wars film. Jedi should have been an indicator of having too many fights going on at once, as they do get a bit iffy at times, but for the most part they all retain a serious tone, even if that means frying the occasional care bear.
Lando and his weirdo looking sidekick (Nien Nunb) got to fly to the centre of the newly constructed Death Star or “fully operational battle station!” which suggests it is a lot bigger than the first one with its pipe hole! The cuddle bears beating up on Stormtroopers is more fun for kids, but full of randomness for us adults. Although with the new voice-overs you kind of wish you could get involved as it is sometimes the only place you will find Stormtroopers getting a right kicking as opposed to just being shot.
Han Solo seems to suffer the worst as his role is fairly defunct compare to others which makes you wonder what may have happened if Harrison Ford got his wish to be killed off. He’s a much nicer guy in this one, with a few comedic moments as he blunders his way through the forest, flipping Scouts over his shoulder and bashing them up against trees (well he fluked the death of Bobba Fett at the start, so why bother trying now).
I do think though that as long as you remember that you probably had less of a problem with it all when you were a kid then you can let it go now. And also it is almost all made up for with what they do with Luke’s story. Mark Hamill finally got to bring his character of age. Less the eager farm-boy, less the hot-headed pilot desperate to get stuck in there. Luke is wiser. He is calm. He is collected; and it takes some doing from his own father in order to make his temper break.
Once he has been taken aboard the Death Star, the scenes are nothing short of gripping as he is forced to keep the smarmy and provocative Emperor company (A terrific Ian McDiarmid – in his 30’s!) watching the battle rage on in space through a glass plate. It is a couple of scenes in before he even considers using his lightsaber against the old man (gotta love that “you want this, don’t you?” taunt). And when he does, John Williams provides us with a cue that makes us feel his sudden rush of hate against the Emperor; and just as shocking is the red blade of light that shoots into frame to block Luke’s attempt.
Now it is pure Lightsaber ballet. The Phantom Menace may have speeded up the action, but this is old school sword fighting with emotional strength that helps sell the battle (no poncy and pointless wrist spins, thank you Ewan McGregor). Vadar looks like he is full intent on sending his own son to a afterlife far far away, and Luke in the last instance chooses to hide in the dark and cloud his emotions as best as possible. And this is where the fight reaches its peak as the mere suggestion that Vadar will do something to take Luke’s sister away from him causes quite the outburst and Vadar is forced into the defensive position as Luke’s rage reaches its zenith as he severs the same hand that Vadar took from him in the previous film.
It’s one of the films two strongest moments. Williams score is nothing short of gut-wrenching (in a score which honestly up to this point (despite still being masterful) has delivered little new anthems), and seeing a defeated, wheezing Vadar on the ground before his own son is quite the image.
Luke’s journey then becomes complete as the Emperor finally finds out in that “So be it, Jedi” moment that he will not turn to the dark side. Luke’s punishment for no doing so as we know is severe and, although there is no blood, it is fairly graphic and hardcore for a U certificate! We are then treated to perhaps the other best moment in the film as our attention is increasingly made to focus on Vadar as he regains his posture and watches on as the Emperor tortures his son. Luke’s pleas for help are drowned out in the electricity that burns his body, and also by William’s score that drowns out the sound. And as the camera slowly zooms in on the tarnished visor, Vadar turns upon his master in his final redemptive moment of the saga. The prequels were built purely to serve for this one moment of redemption – and in doing so Vadar, now Anakin Skywalker once more, plunges his master down a shaft and then collapses to the ground.
And get this! Lucas is at it again, this time with the Blu-ray edition of the film. Not content with making Greedo shoot first and destroying a cool moment; here Lucas is intent on poisoning Jedi with Vader crying out “Noooooooooo” once again just before he attacks the Emperor. Seriously? Do we need this moment spelled out for us? And wasn’t the backlash against Episode III not a real red hot flashing warning DON’T sign for him. And he doesn’t just say it once, he says it twice!
Here is my reaction to the new version:
The Emperor tells Luke Skywalker that if he won’t turn then he will die. He then proceeds to electrocute him.
Vader recomposes himself and joins his master as an observer. He looks on as his son pleads for help. Emperor get’s his yellow dentures out as he continues to torture the kid.
Vader looks on, then looks at Emperor, then looks back to Luke.
And then says “Nooo.”
[My mouth drops open and with disbelief in my voice I say “Nooo”]
Vader then cries “Noooooooooooooooo!”
[I burst into laughter; like Vader and I just became a new onstage comedy act with perfect timing].
Emperor takes the plunge.
Back to the REAL version of the film: We all know that after Darth has redeemed himself, if you can call it that (So if one of Hitler’s main henchmen put a bullet in Hitler would that make it ok for all the people they killed for him? I think Brad Pitt would disagree). That this is also the end of Luke’s father, and they are at least granted one more moment together before Luke takes his body on a shuttle to escape the station that is now blowing apart thanks to Lando’s successful mission.
We are given a bittersweet moment back on the moon where Luke makes a pyre and cremates his father before returning to his friends and the, now cannibalistic looking, teddy bears picnic; with the ghosts of the three male figures who probably had the most effect on him becoming the Jedi his is now looking on from the Jedi afterlife.
So by this end, this third film has been uneven. But it did remain true to the tone and tempo of the previous films and is ultimately worthy. It’s just a worthy film that has as many stinking moments as it does great.
It does not look likely that we will get the once proposed trilogy to follow these films. For Star Wars junkies that is perhaps bad news. For the rest of us, enough is enough and at least this film ended with its dignity intact. They tried to destroy the franchise with three far inferior films that spat and kicked dirt all over the first three and they lost many a fan as a result (despite the millions of new ones they made in return – I guess the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few. Woops, wrong franchise.) including myself for a prolonged period. But now that I have divorced Star Wars from my youth and my life as something that was only once important for a short time, I am able to look back and have pretty much the similar opinion about the projects, and not let it bother me so much, with less wound-licking sounds as I type.
Old George tries to find new and inventive ways to annoy me. The above mentioned “Nooooooo” being the latest. But he doesn’t even have to touch the films to do it. Look at the DVD sets that came out. Not one of them has featured classic artwork, or even the nice new poster art that tied in with the new trilogy. Instead they are a photoshopped mess. And yet, I sigh and giggle now as I think I’m really past it. I think it will be some long time before I revisit these films again. I came back, just to make sure that I wasn’t fooling myself when I said I didn’t miss them. I don’t, but it will be nice to see them again some day. In the meantime I have plenty other treasures from my past I can contend myself with.
I have to thank Robot Chicken for helping me to see the funny side of it all. Despite the fact the makers of these Star Wars spoofs are Lucas arse lickers; they created some extremely funny material which I suggest you check out.
So this is perhaps the best way I can put it. The Saga is like an ex-wife to me that I’m not angry at anymore. There are always fond memories of the good times, much less respect – but no more hate.