Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Cult Movie Review: Return of the Jedi (1983)



As I’ve expressed here on the blog before, May and June of 1983 represent the summer of my geek discontent.  The blockbuster movies of that summer -- from Superman III to Twilight Zone: The Movie -- proved very disappointing. 

But my greatest, most crushing sense of disappointment arrived after a viewing of Return of the Jedi, the final installment of the Star Wars Original Trilogy.

The long-awaited film, directed by Richard Marquand, culminated with dancing teddy bears, a song urging audiences to “Celebrate the Love,” and a trio of smiling ghosts beaming happily at the living. 

The end credits rolled, and I sat dumbfounded in my seat thinking “That’s it?  That’s all of it?”

Now, I can’t (and wouldn’t deny) that moments in Return of the Jedi remain spectacular.  A speeder bike chase in the forest still impresses with its sheer sense of velocity, as well as its special effects presentation. And Jabba the Hutt and The Emperor are two worthy additions to the mythos, and both presented with tremendous flair.  Plus, as a point of closure for the Darth Vader story, Return of the Jedi proves affecting.

But yet, something is…missing.

Although Steven Spielberg told Time Magazine that Return of the Jedi was the “definitive” Star War movie and Roger Ebert awarded the film four starts, not all critics agreed with the positive assessment.  Vincent Canby in The New York Times called the film “the dimmest adventure of the lot,” for instance. 

In this case -- and against type, I might add -- I tend to agree more with Canby’s assessment.

What do I object to about Return of the Jedi?

Mark Hamill enunciated it best (in the same Time Magazine piece, “Great Galloping Galaxies”) when he noted bluntly but honestly: “let’s face it, we made a film for children.”

Funny, because The Empire Strikes Back, with its intricate and symbolic character arc, compelling love triangle, twisted family-psychology, and downbeat ending hadn’t felt like a film for children. 

Funny, because Star Wars, with its mythic hero’s journey and canny cinematic allusions to Kurosawa and great historical war films, hadn’t felt like a film for children. 

Children could and did enjoy both films tremendously, yet there was nothing childish or simple-minded about those adventures.  Rather, they were entertaining narratives for people of every age group and every demographic.  The first two Star Wars films talked down to no audience, and didn’t rely on cheap humor.

By comparison, Return of the Jedi indeed feels simple-minded and childish.  Complex character relationships are resolved and cast aside in blasé, rapid-fire “let’s get through this scene” fashion. The personal character revelations countenanced here -- which would leave you or me absolutely reeling -- are shrugged off with instant, unqualified acceptance. 

She’s my sister?  Oh, okay.

He’s my brother?  I knew it all along…

Similarly, bald-faced lies from beloved characters are painted away as an alternate “point of view” without the filmmakers pausing to reflect on the true nature of the liars, or even the meaning and purpose behind those lies.  

Is it right to stretch the truth if your cause is just?  Is it okay to deceive someone for their own protection?

Return of the Jedi doesn’t delve that deep.  It is well-paced, exciting, and visually accomplished in many ways, but underneath the action, there is…nothing.

Perhaps worst of all, the lived-in, ultra-detailed, and very believable kitchen-sink reality of the Star Wars universe has, itself, undergone a dramatic face-lift for this film.

Suddenly, unconvincing Muppets -- by the droves -- play critical roles in the proceedings, and Return of the Jedi’s sense of humor involves them belching and otherwise mugging for the camera.

Burping Muppets?

Not why I go to see a Star Wars movies, although I do like the Muppets very much in their own universe.  And I certainly love Yoda, though he was handled in Empire with tremendous dignity and respect.  The rubbery aliens in Return of the Jedi not only look horrible by contrast, but play as one-note gags.  I remember thinking at age thirteen that for the first time in the saga,  a Star Wars film’s make-up and special effects, looked old-hat and unconvincing.  This was especially true in the scene with the giant monster called the Rancor, a scene featuring muddy brown photography, and lousy rear-projection work.

When one couples Return of the Jedi’s simplistic answers to complex questions and the shift in the universe to a more overtly kiddie-friendly “fantasy land” with the film’s campy sense of humor, the rerun threat of a Death Star (because that turned out so well for the Emperor the first time he tried it…), the insulting death of a major villain (Boba Fett), the obvious merchandising opportunity seized (in the form of the Ewoks), and the abruptness and insularity of the original ending (pre-Special Edition), Return of the Jedi proves a tremendous disappointment.  It’s not that it’s a “bad” film devoid of any pleasures. It’s that the film proves, in the end, an empty, by-the-numbers experience.

Return of the Jedi is thus the weakest of the first three Star Wars films, and one that many fans recognized, perhaps subconsciously, that represents the canary in the cold mine regarding George Lucas’s creative approach to his space saga.

No more training do you require. Already know you, that which you need. 

Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), C3PO (Anthony Daniels), and R2D2 (Kenny Baker) go to great lengths to rescue Han Solo (Harrison Ford) from the clutches of the vile gangster, Jabba the Hutt on Tattooine.

After defeating Jabba and freeing Han, Luke returns to Dagobah to complete his Jedi training. There, Yoda (Frank Oz) informs him that he requires no more training, but that he must face Darth Vader (David Prowse) to become a true Jedi Knight. 

After Yoda dies, Luke encounters Ben (Alec Guinness), who explains to him that Princess Leia is actually his sister, and that they were kept separated to protect them from their father, Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader.

Meanwhile, the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) has sprung a deadly trap for the Rebel Alliance.  In orbit of the forest moon of Endor, he is constructing a new Death Star.  He has sent out misinformation suggesting the station is not yet operational; misinformation which leads the rebels to hastily prepare an all-out attack.

While Han Solo and Princess Leia lead a team to the surface of the Endor moon to knock out a force field generator for the orbiting battle station, Lando takes command of the Millennium Falcon on the raid against the new Death Star.

Simultaneously, Luke believes that there may yet be some good within Darth Vader, and he surrenders himself to the Sith Lord in hopes of finding it.

Everything that has transpired has done so according to my design. 

The most disappointing aspect of Return of the Jedi involves its treatment of the characters and their crises. 

As we all remember from Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, there is a Luke – Leia – Han love triangle at work in the saga.  In Return of the Jedi, that history conveniently gets rewritten so that there was never a love triangle at all.

Instead, Leia has “always known” that Luke was her brother according to the script. This sudden assertion of previously unexpressed character knowledge, however, sure makes it tough to explain the kisses she plants on Luke in Star Wars and Empire.  She was just leading him on?

Why must Leia respond to the revelation of Luke’s biological connection to her with such immediate and total acceptance?  For one thing, it means that no discussion of emotions or hurt feelings or mistaken assumptions need be discussed.

I suppose one could argue that Leia is slowly awakening to the power of the Force and has “sensed” the truth, yet this isn’t how she parses her feelings in the script’s dialogue.  Again, Leia explicitly states that somehow she’s always known the truth.  This response simply doesn’t make sense in the context of the previous two films.

Luke, who responded with jealousy when Han began joking about a princess and a guy like him in Star Wars, similarly accepts instantly that Leia is his sister, managing to suppress his apparent feelings of romantic attraction to her without a single word of sorrow, without even a pained expression.  Again, such emotions would slow down the action and necessitate…talking. 

I would argue that this isn’t the behavior of characters legitimately grappling with a life-changing revelation. This is the work of a screenwriter looking for a simple-minded way out of a complex character relationship that no longer serves a narrative purpose, as a saga comes to an end.

It doesn’t help, either, that the reveal of Leia as Luke’s sister is pretty lame.  Mention is made of Luke’s sister, and since there is precisely one – and only one – significant female character in the Star Wars mythos, little mystery is generated over her identity. Ben laughably notes that Luke’s insights serve him well when he names Leia as his sister. 

Really, who else would it have been? Mon Mothma? 

My beef here is that Return of the Jedi doesn’t permit Leia and Luke the opportunity to act like fragile human beings when their own personal history is revealed to be completely different than what they have believed all their lives. 

Luke’s love for Leia immediately becomes the gentle, supporting love of a sibling, and the same is true of Leia’s love for him.  They suddenly -- as though possessed by spirits -- start acting like brother and sister.  In my experience, human emotions simply don’t work like that.  At the very least, there would be a period of surprise, and perhaps even some shame or revulsion, since the signs of romantic attraction between the two characters were not exactly subtle.

I’m not saying I want Star Wars to become Oedipus, by the way.  I’m saying that I want the characters to acknowledge the difficulty of what is clearly a transformative and emotional moment in their relationship. A moment of a little awkwardness, rather than immediate acceptance, would have been a good start.


Star Wars: Remember this?


The Empire Strikes Back: Remember this?

Return of the Jedi: "I've always known" (you were my brother...)

If Luke and Leia are denied the space to act as real human beings might act in a situation like theirs, Ben Kenobi and Yoda are handled even more shabbily in Return of the Jedi. 

Rather than admit that he lied to Luke about his father, Ben suggests that his statements were actually true, from “a certain point of view.”  But his precise words were that Darth Vader betrayed and murdered Luke’s father.  There’s no way to parse that statement as anything but a lie.  It’s not true, from any reality-based point of view. Vader didn’t actually kill Anakin. Anakin chose his own path, based on his character weaknesses and the actions of those around him. He became Darth Vader in response to his environment and his crises.

It’s one thing to believe in relativism, and indeed, I do. It’s quite another to twist the facts and hide behind relativism as an excuse for a lie.  I submit Ben does the latter, and his actions expose him as a bit cowardly.  

He’s a ghost, so why not just admit the lie?  It’s not like Luke can kill him…

A truly heroic or noble character would indeed admit his lie, and note it for what it was: a lie of convenience told to a boy who, at that point in the story, was not ready to learn the truth.  If Ben had made that statement, few would hold a grudge or judge his character poorly.  But to weasel out of the lie by refusing to acknowledge it as such is, actually, rather shameful. 

And tell me again why lying isn’t akin to being seduced by the “Dark Side?”

Yoda also comes off poorly in Return of the Jedi.  Luke asks the old master if Darth Vader is really his father, and Yoda turns away…to take a nap.  He just wants to go bed, you see, and attempt to avoid the question all together.  This is the tactic of a great and noble Jedi Knight in touch with the Force?  Avoid and distract?   

Uhm, rest I need.  Ask again later…”

There is a mitigating explanation here, but not one available if you dismiss the prequels out of hand (which I don’t, by the way).  And that explanation is simply this: the Jedi have become corrupt and arrogant, and Yoda and Ben are symptoms of this corruption and arrogance. 

The Jedi who “returns” in this film -- Luke Skywalker -- eschews their typical Jedi beliefs (including the edicts don’t help friends, and don’t let love impact your choices), and becomes a Jedi on his own terms.
Luke saves the universe not by loving too little, but my loving his father -- Darth Vader -- very much. I rather like that paradigm, and believe there’s a valuable lesson there. 

But the problem with this interpretation is that Return of the Jedi doesn’t play Ben or Yoda as fallen, imperfect creatures that strayed from the path of righteousness.  Rather, they are held up as the forces of good, and not held to account for their lies, distortions, and misleading statements.   What role did they play in Anakin’s fall?  Wouldn’t Luke want to know that?  Wouldn’t Luke like to know that Kenobi was the one who scarred and mortally injured his father?

After all, it was the Jedi, under Kenobi and Yoda, who took young Anakin away from his mother and never let him see her again.  They made him hide his love for Padme, and feel ashamed about it.  They didn’t just push…they practically shoved Anakin to the Dark Side. 

And now, here, they are caught, red-handed, manipulating Luke -- just like they manipulated Anakin -- and instead of recognizing that they are making the same mistake twice, they try to shirk responsibility for it.

I don’t know if this is just bad writing or muddled writing, but the scene with Ben and Yoda in Return of the Jedi feels like a splurge of (necessary) exposition that needs to be powered through, not a moment that grows organically out of the characters and the beliefs they would legitimately hold.

In short, I can accept that the Jedi became corrupt, impotent and confused as we saw in the prequels, but I need Return of the Jedi to somehow note that Luke is a different model; one whose experiences and friendships have improved the discipline. 

The movie doesn’t make that connection in any substantive way, at least as far as I can detect, and it very much needs to accomplish that task.  The core of the OT is the Luke/Leia/Han relationship. That friendship is central to everything, and it must mean something. 

And what it should mean, I submit, is a rejection of the Jedi principle that you must sacrifice “connections” to those you love if you want to be a hero.  Anakin wanted to connect to others, and wasn’t allowed to, and feared losing the connection.  But Luke saves the galaxy by building a connection to his father and, essentially, changing his father’s heart.

In broad terms, what’s being discussed here is the idea of changed or altered premises. 

The screenwriters behind Return of the Jedi (Kasdan and Lucas) are clearly operating by a different set of premises than was clearly established on-screen in Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back.  We’re supposed to forget and dismiss the love triangle of the previous films (they’re brother and sister!) and simultaneously forget the things that Ben told Luke about his heritage (it’s true…if you look at it from my point of view…really, what’s your problem, Luke?). 

To wrap things up neat and tidy the way it wants, Return of the Jedi must make mincemeat of the previous films, and especially the emotional truths we experienced in those films.  The changed premises are cheats, and they never feel right, or ring true.

On a level of simple continuity, Return of the Jedi doesn’t even track well with The Empire Strikes Back.  Yoda begged Luke not to leave for Bespin in The Empire Strikes Back because Skywalker’s training was incomplete.  He still had much to learn.

Yet as Return of the Jedi opens, Luke is a Jedi Knight…and yet he has not returned to Dagobah to complete his training as Yoda desired. He finally does go back to Dagobah, and then Yoda announces, basically that he needs no further training. The only thing left is to face Vader.

Well, Luke has already faced Vader, and at the very same point in his training.  

Which is it, Yoda?  Does he require more training or no?  Again, this is either muddled writing, or overt manipulation on the part of Yoda.

In terms of characters, I also must also note that Han Solo is given absolutely nothing of significant interest to do in this film, and that he is ill-served by a screenplay which transforms him from lovable scoundrel into a love-struck puppy.  Again, changed premises were at work here.  Han Solo was too interesting, too charismatic a hero in The Empire Strikes Back. So much so that he often overshadowed Skywalker. 

Now, the balance is restored, but not by growing Luke as a character and human being, but rather by neutering Han. He’s a non-person in this film, little more than comedic relief.

Another changed premise: the fearsome nature of Boba Fett

We were primed in 1980, in the lead-up to The Empire Strikes Back, for a new and deadly villain in the Star Wars universe: a bounty hunter named Boba Fett.  And indeed, when he finally saw him, he was a significant threat indeed. He was the only villain who saw through Han’s ruse with the Imperial garbage, and he successfully retrieved Solo at Bespin.  He escaped, unscathed, from the battle there…essentially triumphant.

Yet in Return of the Jedi, Boba Fett’s rocket pack accidentally activates when he is -- again, accidentally -- struck by a blind Han Solo’s harpoon or battle staff.  Then, with an undignified scream, he careens into the Sarlacc Pit, and it belches loudly after swallowing him whole.

All that build-up of character menace…for this?  

Return of the Jedi should have showcased a confrontation between Solo and Boba Fett as competitors and equals, not a series of comical accidents, followed up by a belch joke as punctuation.  This “end” for the Fett character renders him a buffoon, and again speaks of bad writing.

A truly undignified ending...
Return of the Jedi rather distinctly alters the reality of the Star Wars universe.  What we saw in Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back was a real, lived-in world featuring some very strange denizens.  Those denizens were weird indeed, from Ugnaughts and Jawas to Tusken Raiders, Chewbacca, and Lobot.  Yet they all seemed “true” or realistic in a critical sense.  When we looked at them, we could believe our eyes.

Return of the Jedi’s first act, set in Jabba’s palace, represents a totally different universe.  Suddenly, Muppet-sized, rubbery “cute” aliens dominate the landscape.  Salacious Crumb, Max Rebo, Sy Snootles…you name ‘em.  I knew at age thirteen in 1983 how utterly and completely phony they looked, and their very presence took me out of the film’s “reality” in a way no alien presence had taken me out of Star Wars or The Empire Strikes Back.  They looked ridiculous then and they look ridiculous now (a lot like many of the Pod Racers do in Phantom Menace, in my opinion).

These aliens look silly and childish, and that shift ties in deeply to the change in the Star Wars world, the changed premise. 

How many times does an alien belch in the first hour of Return of the Jedi?  

And how many times do they belch in Star Wars or The Empire Strikes Back

Besides farting, there’s probably nothing as funny to an eight-year old as a burp.  It’s a guaranteed rib-tickler at that age…

Then we have the Ewoks. 

I understand and enjoy George Lucas’s interesting premise, based in part on Ethiopia’s defeat of Italy in a battle in 1895.  It’s the idea, simply, of a primitive-but-organized and inspired power defeating a more technological, advanced power. 

It’s a great dramatic idea, which is why Lucas utilizes it in Jedi and then again with the Gungans in The Phantom Menace.  I also know that Lucas had wanted originally to use Wookies instead of Ewoks for Return of the Jedi. That would have been wonderful.  We have some real familiarity with the Wookies because of Chewbacca, and wouldn’t feel that we are being asked to countenance an alien race that is actually a marketing ploy.

But the problem with the Ewoks is that they indeed look and feel -- transparently -- like a strategy to sell toys.   So like Max Rebo or Sy Snootles, the Ewoks represent a kind of external force (merchandising) leaking into the Star Wars storytelling universe itself. 

Once more, that’s something that did not occur with Star Wars or The Empire Strikes Back.   Movie and product “synergy” is an accepted part of life today, of course, but I still find the Ewoks a blatant cash-grab that poisons Return of the Jedi’s narrative, and drains tension and a sense of danger from the final battles.

And speaking of robbing tension from the film, the tongue-in-cheek tone achieves the same result.  Chewbacca echoes a famous Tarzan yell at one point, like a hirsute Carol Burnett. And I could certainly do without the scenes of Ewoks learning to drive speeder bikes or knocking themselves out with bolas.

There’s a word for this: cheap laughs. 

And again, one only need look at the saga’s history. Are there any cheap laughs in Star Wars or The Empire Strikes Back?

Muppet
Muppet.
Muppet.
Muppet.

Return of the Jedi boasts other serious problems, I maintain.  The film’s main threat we’ve already seen once before: The Death Star.  

Since that battle station was destroyed by a handful of rebels in small fighters in Star Wars, you would think the Emperor might think twice about embarking on the construction of a second Death Star.  Was there no other super weapon the Emperor could have envisioned?  No new or fresh scenario, instead of a fighter attack on the planet-sized station?  Instead, we get a 32-million dollar rerun.


I've got a bad feeling about this.  Haven't we been here before?

Also -- and I realize this is probably sacrilege – the Special Edition of Return of the Jedi features a much-improved ending over the original theatrical release which was, bluntly-speaking jaw-droppingly bad. 

In the original film, the action never left the moon of Endor, and therefore there was no sense of tying the victory at the Death Star (and over the Emperor) to the fate of the galaxy at large.   Countless millions of people across the cosmos had been freed from decades of oppression, and all we saw were Ewoks using Stormtrooper helmets as drums.

The Special Editions commendably reveals celebrations on Naboo, Tatooine, Coruscant and on Bespin.  I submit that’s wholly appropriate update.  The original ending of Return of the Jedi -- the one I saw in 1983 -- sacrificed all sense of scope and scale in its last minutes.  The balance was wrong, as it was throughout most of the picture.


Now, allow me to harness my light saber and note that there are several elements of Return of the Jedi that I do appreciate.  They almost all concern Luke Skywalker and his quest to find the good remaining in his father, Darth Vader.  I find this portion of the film extremely rewarding, and enjoy the scenes between Vader and Luke. 

These characters have fought before, but suddenly they are forced to reckon with each other in a new light -- a family dimension – and so grave choices must be forged.  Darth Vader is given one last opportunity to look at his life and to consider his decisions.  How does he want to be remembered? Where does his allegiance rest?  With the Emperor, or with his son?

I believe in my heart that children have the ability and indeed propensity to change their parents’ hearts in ways that parents can’t possibly anticipate or predict.  So I find it wholly believable that the scourge of the galaxy, Lord Vader, might be changed at the last minute…and indeed, reminded of his humanity, by Luke.  I appreciate that Return of the Jedi takes this approach to storytelling.  It’s the most human and “real” aspect of the film. I find the unmasking scene heartbreaking, and emotionally resonant in a way the remainder of the film is not.

In terms of visualization, Luke’s struggle to overcome the Dark Side is powerfully wrought as well.  Watching the film again this week, I realize that it was more powerfully rendered than I gave it credit for in my review of Empire.  

The high point occurs after Luke cuts off Vader’s hand, and then looks at his own hand.  He makes a mental connection in that instant.  Right there, he sees one possible (unfortunate destiny), a destiny that makes him more machine than man, and beyond reach of his human heart and soul.  He decides not to take that path, and it’s a triumphant and moving moment.

My own future to choose?

Or my father's?

Finally, in regards to Return of the Jedi, I hark back again to Mark Hamill’s comment in Time Magazine, almost thirty years ago.  They made a film for children.

In Return of the Jedi, adult relationships are reduced to cartoon stereotypes, and belching aliens and tongue-in-cheek humor replace the previous film’s psychodrama and compelling personal conflicts. Every time the film threatens to prove interesting in terms of the characters, we cross cut to another action scene, and humanity is sacrificed.    Even at age thirteen, I knew I had seen a descent from genuine greatness, a substitution of pace for intelligence.  Sure, it's not the steepest fall in film history, but it is a sharp descent nonetheless.

40 comments:

  1. I remember after Star Wars came out, George Lucas talked expansively about this grand saga he had worked out and promised eight other movies. I was skeptical, figuring he probably only had a basic outline of the story arc and decided to focus on Episode Four because that was the only part he really had a handle on. By the time I saw Return of the Jedi, I knew I was right. If Lucas had truly pre-planned a large saga, there would never have been such a dramatic shift to kiddie characters and slapstick over serious character development. He was making it up as he went along, and he had no handle on the scope of the story. As you so aptly put it, this was the canary in the coal mine.

    I read somewhere that Harrison Ford wanted Han to die some sort of noble death, which seemed entirely appropriate to me. My wife, however, thought differently. As a woman, she felt that it was satisfying that Leia finally got her Prince Charming and lived happily ever after. That, to me, sums up the problem with Star Wars. Are the Ewoks so bad if the kids get a kick out of them? Is a neutered Han so bad if the ladies prefer him that way? Such a huge pop culture phenomenon can't please everyone all the time. However, if Lucas had had a steady grip on the story wheel and presented a fully realized saga, everyone would have at least respected his vision.

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    1. Hi Neal!

      You pinpoint here what I see as the problem: a shift or altering of premises behind the "vision" of Star Wars. I want children to have films for them, of course. My son loves the prequels the most (Phantom Menace is his favorite Star Wars film), so I don't want to deny that Jedi is a good children's film.

      But in the end, it seems as "less than" for being exclusively a children's film.

      Great comment!

      Delete
  2. Great review John! When discussing Obi-Wan's explanation of Vader killing Luke's father, you used the phrase from "a certain point of view". I was wondering if you have seen the Robot Chicken Star Wars episodes (3 of them)? There is a musical bit in one called "From a Certain Point of View" that deals with the same topics you mentioned above. I think you'd really get a kick out of them if you haven't seen them already.

    Chadillac

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    1. Hi Chadillac,

      I have not seen the Robot Chicken episodes. But I should. I'm really intrigued now...

      Delete
  3. Anonymous11:59 AM

    John excellent and honest Return Of The Jedi review is summed up with your thought “That’s it? That’s all of it?” that was echoed by myself in 1983. It was like the scene in A Christmas Story(1983) when Ralphie excitedly used his Little Orphan Annie decoder ring to find out that the secret message was a crummy Ovaltine commercial. George Lucas changed cinema history with Star Wars(1977) and the brilliant middle act Empire Strikes Back(1980). Something horrible happened in the writing of Return Of The Jedi because the screenplay failed to live up to the heightened expectations established in the first two films. Lucas had the budget, but lost his way to that galaxy far, far away that he created. As you stated there were elements that worked, but there definitely was something missing. I think it is correct that Jedi was not made for adults like the prior films, but simplified for young children. How did George Lucas went from the intelligent dark Empire Strikes Back to the ‘cartoon’ simple Return Of The Jedi? It felt like Muppet’s creator Jim Henson had directed it. Sadly, the Ewoks = merchandising toys, nothing else. I agree, I think that Lucas and Kasdan did not write a screenplay version of what Jedi should have been based on what we all experienced viewing the first two films. Return Of The Jedi could have been the greatest third act of one of the greatest film trilogies ever made, but the screenplay needed many more rewrites. John you are correct, a perfect example of a rewrite would have been Boba Fett v. Han Solo battle to the death that should have been a scene in Return Of The Jedi, a lost opportunity. Like you John, I do appreciate the parts of Jedi that you state that worked. Mark Hamill was right “they made a film for children”.

    SGB

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    1. SGB:

      We agree on Jedi, very much so. I was very disappointed with the film. I watched it again for this review, hoping -- really hoping -- that I would find a key to unlocking something special that my previous viewings had missed. I didn't find it. I still find the film a rather empty, disappointing experience, alas.

      All my best,
      John

      Delete
  4. Jabba, imo, was never a good character in terms of making sense. I mean he was a intergalactic crimelord and he was holding a Rebel princess hostage? I mean Rebel forces are in a fight against the EMPIRE, did he actually think that the Rebels were not going to come gunning for him and his organization? He wasn't holding out for a ransom because I think he was even offered money. Luke offered Jabba every possible out, and even offered to spare his life 'after' he killed the Rancor. Jabba the Hut's motivations and actions just didn't make sense and I know this is not a Michael Mann film, but it seems that this 'crimelord' was just placed in the film for a big action set piece.

    And the damn Ewoks. I hated them then. Hate them now, and to this day I find that 'TESB' is unwatchable precisely because of their ill-advised inclusion, or, better yet...intrusion into this film.

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  5. oops I meant ROTJ.

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  6. Anonymous4:15 PM

    John...

    I'm not sure I like this review (though no fault of yours), only because it forces me to re-evaluate one of my favorite experiences as a kid. I was only 5 when Return of the Jedi hit theaters, and I immensely enjoyed the Ewoks, along with the farts and belches.

    Of course, now I'm 34, and have to admit you're correct about all of those things. Because those elements are so obviously, and calculatingly infantile, it makes RotJ almost unwatchable. What makes this extra sad is the feeling that Lucas had already grown disinterested in Star Wars as anything other than a vehicle to make money.

    What's worse is that Lucas recycles all of these "bad" elements for The Phantom Menace, complete with the cute aliens, the infantile gags, and even the triple cross-cutting climax.

    That said, I still think the high point of the entire saga is found in RotJ;(made even more so by the prequels) when Vader successfully goads Luke into resuming the lightsaber fight, leading to Vader losing his right hand (again) and Luke's realization that what happened to him was precisely what had happened to his father. A beautiful, chilling moment.

    Jeffrey Siniard

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    1. Jeffrey,

      I don't want to contribute to any disillusionment on your part, my friend! That makes me feel terrible. I respect that for many, the Star Wars films are indeed magical, and I would take that treasure away from no one. Here, I just try to explain why the movie doesn't work for me.

      And you know, making a movie that millions of children love is no small accomplishment. We can still be grateful for that. Perhaps I encountered it first when I was already too old...

      I'm glad you point to that great moment in the climax, the cut between Luke's hand and Vader's severed stump. It is a beautiful, chilling moment indeed.

      All my best,
      John

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  7. As I said in response to your recent post/review of The Empire Strikes Back, The Return of the Jedi was the beginning of the end. In May of 1983 I knew it was all over (more or less).

    More spaceships battling, and in much larger quantities; bigger chasms; bigger spaceships; more creatures; more, I don't care! As a big SW fan friend of mine told me before I saw Jedi, "what's with all the muppets?!"

    As you suggest, the characterizations were mere flickers in comparison to the first two films'.

    Anyway, like a lot of people, I'm tired of Star Wars. But, your intelligent and well-written analyses on the subject are welcome, John. Always enjoyed. Sure beats the fan-boy stuff.

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  8. Your point, John, about a "32-million dollar rerun" of an attack on the Death Star, is a great one. And one which made for dull viewing for this, then, 21 year old.

    You are right about a different weapon being a better option. At least a scaled down DS; the actual weapon, without all the Pufnstuf around it.

    The Empire had to be pretty 'thick'.

    Besides, did Wile E. Coyote ever use the same device more than once?....

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  9. I've long had a troubled relationship with ROTJ. I'm enough of an original-trilogy fanboy that I can't bring myself to be too harsh with it, and yet... when you're right, you're right. I'm the same age as you, John, and I too thought from my very first viewing that the second Death Star and the Ewoks and the belching and Boba Fett's death were all lame. And yet... this was Star Wars, a film series that served as the defining framework of my young identity for many, many years. In many ways, it still is. And it's damn hard to have to admit, finally, after decades of sticking up for it and the man who created it, that it (and he, and by extension my own sense of identity) is flawed. Hugely disillusioning.

    I think one major change that occurred between TESB and ROTJ, which may help explain the sudden switch in tone, was the departure of producer Gary Kurtz after Empire. Without Kurtz to act as a brake on Lucas' less-sophisticated instincts, we get a film for children... and the pattern was repeated, in my estimation, with the prequels, which aren't THAT bad but very obviously suffer from George not having anyone around who was willing to tell him "no, that's really not a very good idea."

    One final comment on the matter of the Special Editions: while I agree the original ending of ROTJ was not really logical or entirely satisfying, I cannot approve of the revisions, even if they are (arguably) an improvement. (I say arguably, because I think the insertions are badly paced.) Not because the original trilogy is some holy tablet that's never to be touched; I'm not a fan of director's cuts or special editions in general. I strongly believe movies ought to remain as they were when they were released, warts and all... and I find it very telling that the only films that receive the digital revision treatment are ones that might still have some box-office life left in them. Nobody's agitating for a digitally revised version of Buckaroo Banzai, for example. Revising the trilogy 20 years after the fact was no different than changing the tone of the trilogy to sell more action figures, as far as I'm concerned. It was just a way of "extending the brand."

    I can't tell you how much I hate being so cynical about something that used to provide such joy.

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  10. Jedi holds a special memory for me. About a week after I was scheduled for hernia surgery at the age of 12. It was a nice pre op present and helped me to take my mind off of the upcoming procedure. I still love this movie, even if yes, I recognize it as the weakest of the first trilogy. I'm not as vehement in my disappointment as others though. I won't be joining the Ewok fanclub anytime soon, but did not hate them as much as others. Still don't. I'm always reminded of how the cute and cuddly little guys were more than willing to roast our heroes alive before eating them! Not nice behavior if you ask me (for that matter, did they eat the Storm Troopers post battle?). The climactic clash between Darth and Luke is awesome to behold. Icing on the cake was of course the final space battle, still for my money the best space battle ever shot for a Hollywood film. Miles ahead of the mess that opens Revenge of the Sith. Nice to see Wedge and Lando kick some ass. Action, action, action! The letdowns? Harrison Ford's more jokey approach as Han, the totally abrupt conclusion to the love triangle, no more Jedi training. That one really struck me. I think I would have preferred to see Luke train some more before the last encounter, even if he wasn't high on the idea of fighting his father. Still, Yoda's death did affect me. Before Lucas parted ways with Gary Kurtz and others, a far more expansive vision was planned for the film. A shame we didn't get that one. Even so, warts and all, I'm content with Jedi and will certainly visit it more that the prequel trilogy.

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  11. This is gonna be big.

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    1. Cannon,

      Welcome, old friend. An alternate point of view regarding ROTJ is absolutely welcome. I'm going to start reading it now.

      best,
      John

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  12. 1

    Star Wars is, and always has been, episodic storytelling, hence the inclusion of the very word in each of the six titles. What this means in terms of narrative structure is that each film simply follows the immediate succession of events without flashbacks, long transitions or heavy passages of time; nor does any one installment cover plot elements not relevant to its immediate narrative or attempt the kind of extended pacing akin to more traditional "epic" films.

    I’ve always considered the Star Wars installments rather breezy in terms of pacing, even when they do leisure about during bureaucratic shop-talk or romantic interludes. There is something rather direct and matter-of-fact to virtually every non-action oriented scene: a case is made, exposition delivered or a key set of emotions expressed with melodramatic clarity ...and that’s it, cue screenwipe.

    Of course, this makes perfect sense aesthetically speaking, as these films are fashioned after the B-serials of weekly, Saturday matinee cinema, which itself was the predecessor to the various Sci-Fi/Western programs of 1950s television. I’ve long since viewed Star Wars as a 'tune-in-next-week!' serialized narrative, only deeply engrained with the kind of anamorphic and surround sound artistry best experienced on the big screen. Under this sensibility I think each of the films moves along quite nicely. But the episodic format itself also puts into perspective the larger story as a whole, and criticizing Return of the Jedi for lacking a its own story heft fails to recognize that perspective.

    It’s only natural that The Empire Strikes Back is the weightiest in terms of characters and thematic expanse; it is the middle act, the center of the original trilogy’s gravity, if you will. Episode IV, A New Hope, introduces us to the world(s), characters, conflicts and ideas. It follows the hero’s journey as he starts off, crosses his first thresholds and achieves his first great victory. Episode V follows the same characters (and a couple new ones) into transition, with uncertainties, love loss and a deeper psychology writ large.

    Episode VI is the closer.

    Ask yourself this: what other story is there to tell? By the time we get to JedI all the pieces are in place. It’s not about introducing new conflicts, but resolving the ones carried over from the previous films. Thematically speaking, A New Hope introduces, Empire expands and subverts while JedI reflects and reinterprets, though it is not without a thematic angle of its own (we’ll get to the Ewoks in a moment). This shapes the tone of each film in a different way.

    Empire is a dreamy, meditative experience due to the aforementioned nature of its content whereas JedI is more stripped down to the basics of plot and action. However, its dramatic conflict is not weaker, just different. The crux of Han and Leia’s story belongs to Empire; by film’s end they come together emotionally and profess their love. This story has its footing in Jedi but mostly in the remaining physical conflict that is the first to be resolved; that is, the rescuing of Han Solo from Jabba the Hut. One might argue that, compared to the second film, this particular storyline gets the shaft in the third.

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    1. Hi Cannon,

      So far so good.

      I agree with your thoughts on the nature of the Star Wars films, and your classification of the films as updates of old serials, essentially a pastiche of 1930s matinee movie tropes.

      I also agree with you in regards to the structure of a trilogy, and how each unit in the trilogy ought to fit into the larger whole.

      I wrote about this some in my review of Empire in regards to the "incomplete narrative" of that film (Canby's term, not mine). Not a problem, absolutely, because as you suggest, it's the middle piece.

      I agree that Episode VI is "the closer," and in terms of "the closer," there are two critical aspects here, vis-a-vis the mythological hero's journey:

      A. The threat must be at its greatest ever (the MOST important threat to the hero's success.)

      and

      B. The story must resolve, as you say, the conflicts carried over from the earlier two parts.

      And indeed, these two points are where I consider Jedi a disappointment.

      Instead of satisfactory resolution, we get by-the-numbers, shallow answers to deep questions, before being shunted to the next battle scene.

      And in terms of the danger being greater than ever before, I submit that it's a mixed bag. We do get to meet the Emperor in the flesh here -- and he is terrifying and effective (as I indicate in my review), but Boba Fett -- formerly a grave threat -- is handled like a (bad) joke, and the tool utilized by the Emperor is one we've seen before (and importantly, seen VANQUISHED before), thus mitigating its ability to create a "high point" of tension in the saga before resolution.

      Moving on...

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  13. 2

    But remember, this is not Star Wars: Episode VI - The Han and Leia Movie. Instead, the final installment fittingly narrows its attention down to the two main characters of the entire saga: Vader and Luke. As a result I disagree that Harrison Ford’s performance is any less earnest than before; he’s simply working with the material he was given. When analyzing such things, always begin with the story, its shape, nature and degree; how each character is and should be emphasized at any given point amidst the larger saga. Han Solo serves his purpose in Jedi. Plot-wise it is up to him to lead the Rebel ground assault and shut down the shield generator (which he alone figures out rather cleverly). Story-wise he is to reunite with Leia and complete the one remaining step of his character’s development: "You love him, don’t you ...Alright. I understand. Fine. When he comes back, I won’t get in the way."

    This may seem like a mere throwaway joke hat Han’s expense, but it’s actually a rather poignant closing gesture of the characters a whole, his entire arc from the beginning of the trilogy to the end. Han loves Leia deeply and yet, in a surprising act of maturity, is willing to put those feelings aside if it means her ultimate happiness in being with Luke. He cares about the both of them more than his own desires. Of course, the joke IS on Han, but not without a genuine expression of his character’s growth at the same time.

    That joke, by the way, is all I ever really attributed to the whole love triangle between Han, Leia and Luke. This is an element of the trilogy that I think many have blown out of proportion. John, at what point in the prior two films was any serious groundwork laid in establishing a legitimate emotional conflict regarding Luke as the romantic foil between Han and Leia? Yes, the element was there, but always more as a humorous, off-handed means of illustrating the characters for who they are, like, in A New Hope, when Han peppers a green Luke Skywalker with some shit about a "princess and a guy like me..." before following it up with his classic grin.

    When Leia kisses Luke in Empire, was that really about the two sharing some genuine romantic link or was it the drollery of a screwball scenario where the girl thwarts the come'ons of her true love interest by giving the goods to another dude? This is really the only instance where the three characters are played together for anything that might resemble a love triangle, and even then it seems to me that what Leia harbors for Luke is different from what is going on between her and Han; Empire is clearly about the latter two falling on love.

    This is why I never had any problem to the brother-sister revelation in the third film. Sure, Luke once called Leia "beautiful" (in hologram form) and ogled curiously her detention cell pose from beneath a Stormtrooper helmet. Sure, the idea of a naïve farm boy sensing sex on some basic level is certainly colored onto the screen. Sure, the discovery that said object is actually his sibling indeed raises an eyebrow. But it's supposed to. Myths can be weird that way, often dealing with psychosexual themes beneath their relatively simple, bardic (or pulpy for Star Wars) surfaces. I don't think Lucas was aiming for any specific high concept here, but rather letting loose the sticky weirdism on its own accord, as yet another way of hooking the subconscious of his prepubescent viewers. In other words, just for the fun of it.

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    1. Hi Cannon,

      Well, I understand what you are saying here, but you mention yourself the two points where the prior films laid the serious groundwork establishing legitimate emotional conflict. And you also mention (accurately) a few other times (Luke mentioning Leia's beauty, and ogling her in Death Star detention). To that tall, I would add the kiss before the chasm jump.

      The clear and serious idea in Star Wars is that Luke and Leia are beginning to form a romantic attachment, an attachment that, even at a relatively early serious stage, Luke is jealous about (vis-a-vis Han's joke in Falcon about a princess in a guy like him).

      By contrast, in The Empire Strikes Back, Leia gravitates towards the scoundrel, Han Solo. Events push them together, and they grow closer. Here, Han is the one who is jealous (in the med bay on Hoth, when Leia kisses Luke.) Again, it is seriously established in Empire that Han and Leia share a (hot) romantic attraction. The two films stand as mirror reflections. In the first Luke and Leia are linked, and Luke is jealous. In the second, Han is jealous, and he and Leia are linked. This is the classic groundwork for a romantic triangle.

      Put those two examples together and you have a serious conflict indeed.

      The third film doesn't resolve this issue, it dismisses it with a game changer. Leia is Luke's sister, and suddenly that romantic connection featured in Star Wars (1977) is absolutely negated and gone.

      It's a cheat. Not the actual revelation, perhaps, but the characters' reactions to the revelation. Luke and Han have both had romantic inclinations to Leia, and a fact of biology takes Luke out of the running.

      Then to have Leia brush it off with "she's always known" is the ultimate insult. How has she always known? How does always knowing explain her behavior in the original Star Wars?

      I would ask you to consider this: If Return of the Jedi had revealed that Leia's is Han's sister, don't you think fans would have cried foul? I submit Lucas largely skates by with this largely because of the order of the films and the order of the romances.

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  14. 3

    My point here is that there were never any scenes in the previous two films where Luke and Leia sit and discuss the potentials of a romantic relationship. Therefore, no such a scenes are necessary where they're forced to reconcile a history of what amounts to little more than a few archetypical 'hero-and-damsel' moments. It is in fact enough that Leia simply reassesses her feelings for Luke as part of a family bond. Was it a contrived reaction? Maybe.

    But all of Star Wars is contrived when get down to it. It has to be. We’re talking about a fantasy fable created entirely from scratch. The purpose is to tell a specific and ultimately limited story, not to document a reality as we know it, with a therapeutic approach to issues of potential incest. Whatever is there on the matter is, like so many other ideas in Star Wars, best left in the subtext for audiences to interpret on their own.

    The popular consensus is that Han Solo should have died at the end of Return of the Jedi. I say bullshit. First of all, Han already figuratively dies at the end of Empire. So then he is to be rescued from Jabba and reunited with the friends, only to be killed off again for realz?! More importantly, why? Look, drama for the sake of drama isn’t very interesting. It’s downright lame, in my opinion. Drama should always be subject to -- a result of -- the story, not the other way around. Return of the Jedi does have its somber end-aspect concerning the salvation-then-death of Anakin Skywalker.

    It is a tragedy that was thematically earned over the course of the story. Throwing Han’s death (or Lando’s, for that matter) into the final mix doesn’t conclude any clear thematic through-line. One could argue that it would highlight more realistically, more naturalistically, the consequences of war, but such an argument fails; because, again, Star Wars is myth and romanticism, not realism. Tragedy befalls to move along or complete an idea/theme/motif organically. The Empire Strikes Back was the darker film where everything went to shit. In Return of the Jedi the good guys win. It’s about tonal contrast, and completing the circuit from light to dark to light again.

    This is where so many blunder when criticizing the film via accusations of immaturity, namely regarding excess puppetry antics of the first act and, of course, the Ewoks. I think there has been a lasting misconception about The Empire Strikes Back in that it is somehow the more grown up and sophisticated installment of the trilogy. It isn’t. Yes, it is darker and perhaps more absorbed, but only because every elaborate myth must at one point, often midway through, explore -- or lose itself within -- the deepest recesses of turmoil, of mystery and of the psyche; it’s no coincidence that Empire is a movie about caves. But there is nothing in that film that transpires in a fashion of method drama or contemporary, naturalistic, human interaction. Not even remotely.

    The content is simply more layered, because it needs to be, while the tone is more pensive and somewhat less playful than the other two adjoining installments. Fans and critics alike (and even producer Gary Kurtz, methinks) confused this transition as an intent by the filmmakers to mature the franchise for an aging and maturing audience. Wrong. It was simply part and parcel to a larger dynamic of the mythic, fairytale tapestry. I reiterate: light and dark ...and light again.

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    1. Cannon,

      I understand your points here, and am sympathetic to them in general, but I think what disappointed viewers -- this one included -- have reacted to with Jedi is the sense of casual dismissal of the important ideas at play in the previous entries.

      We're not asking for deep psychological truths or kitchen sink realism, or as I said explicitly in my review, Oedipus, we're looking for responses that seem truthful in terms of the Star Wars universe and our experiences with these characters.

      Leia's response doesn't seem truthful, given the journey we've seen her take. Nor does Luke's. It flies in the face of the emotional truth we've already experienced. It feels facile, and I quibble with you in this one sense. Star Wars is a swashbuckling adventure, but it resonates for so many folks because it doesn't always rely on facile answers.

      I also think there is a definitive shift from Empire to Jedi.

      Again, a simple series of questions:

      How many aliens belch in Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back as compared to in Jedi's first hour?

      How many fantasy-styled muppets do we see in Star Wars and Empire as compared to Jedi?

      There's a visual shift here. It may be part of Lucas's grand vision, but it's a definitive shift.

      There's a difference between "let the wookie win" and burping aliens. There is.


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  15. 4

    Nonetheless, many, including you, are quick to chide JedI for being too silly by comparison. I don’t know; I’m trying desperately to recall this cultured level of highbrow Neil Simon-like comedy that fans seem to project onto the previous films with forced memories. Are we even talking about the same movies? Especially with Episode IV, the movie I remember is pretty ripe with Jawas, goofy droid shenanigans and punchlines about "letting the Wookie win".

    Hell, I downright consider the bulk of the second act -- Han and Luke’s fumbling rescue of the princess -- the single most slapstick stretch of the entire saga, complete with its own keystone cop gag where Han chases Stormtroopers and the Stormtroopers chase Han. Empire isn’t without its wacky times either: R2 getting hocked out of a swamp (cue Looney Tunes scream) and later engaging in an epic stick fight with a 3ft tall frog man; a tool box falling on Han’s head while C-3PO’s gets reattached backwards, to name a few.

    Watch those films over again with an objective eye. Do any of the jokes surpass the level of cheap laughs? And if so, to what degree? Does throwing a belching puppet into the mix really constitute a paradigm shift? Animatronic puppetry was blossoming in the early 80s when creating new worlds for television and feature films, and I don’t see how it was in any way inappropriate for Lucas to add the in-camera FX artistry to his oeuvre as a new means of imagining-to-life patrons of his fantastical universe. The Dark Crystal and The NeverEnding Story, among others, were free to incorporate such elements, why not this movie? We can have outlandish looking robots and outlandish looking rubber suits/prosthetics, but not outlandish puppets? Seems like an arbitrary line to me.

    Again, I agree that the tone lightens, particularly from Empire to Jedi, and that the latter may even be the silliest of the trilogy given certain features and characteristics of its peripheral settings, but I also think it earns that right. There’s a kind of stress relief that goes with the third installment as it ups the proceedings with a playful scampiness. Such mischief gives the film its charm, in my opinion, and would only be detraction if it weren’t accompanied by a sincere storyline with sincere dramatic conflict.

    People stopped talking about George Lucas years ago, if they ever did to begin with. In place of the man exists a negative caricature born from internet fan culture (“fan” -- a word with multiple meanings these days) that has long since evolved into an entirely separate reality.

    No artist is beyond criticism. And while the very word evokes harsh opinions and commentaries, I like to think there is something ultimately healthy and constructive about the process, as it allows one to examine the discrepancies between an artist’s work and his/her own personal preferences, and, ideally, to further appreciate all sides of the near endless diversity of creative aims. Furthermore, to criticize -- to criticize proper -- is to make an effort to understand, at least, the forms and intentions of an artist and their work. Therefore, you could even say that the very act of criticism is an act of respect, even if your final, personal opinion on the matter is a negative one.

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    1. I began to get at this in my last comment (sorry!), but yes, there is a difference here in terms of humor, and it is plain to see without resorting to consideration of Star Wars as a Neil Simon production, frankly.

      Accident-prone teddy bear warriors and burping aliens are different indeed, from the humor evidenced by Yoda on Dagobah or the let the wookie win moment.

      A person our ages can still laugh at Han's reckless attack on the stormtroopers, even if it's low brow. But do we, at our ages, laugh at burping aliens?

      So far as there being an arbitrary line, it's not arbitrary, I say.

      Return of the Jedi follows along as the third entry in a "universe." Dark Crystal and Neverending Story are one-offs in their own universes, and therefore cannot be judged by precedent. Those films diagram and establish the universe, and as you said yourself, Jedi is not about introductions.

      Jedi can and should be judged by precedent. It's the closer, as you say, not a new bag.

      We saw few if any burping muppets in the earlier films. What are we to feel that the third film is dominated by them?

      I posted my earlier reviews of Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back on the same day as Jedi for a reason. And I have gone out on a limb to defend the prequels (particularly the Phantom Menace), often to extremely negative response from Star Wars fans.

      So I am not a Lucas hater in any way shape or form. I believe he is an individual artist capable of great heights and great lows. I don't think Return of the Jedi represents his vision at its best, but nor do I hate the guy.

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  16. 5

    So, yes, criticism can be a good thing, a great arena to share different tastes and interpretations. Discrediting, however, and in the current context, is something rather foul. Enter George Lucas. Here’s a guy that is no longer criticized, but is discredited outright as an artist and, in many extreme cases, even as a human being (bizarre, I know, but that shit is out there). It’s no longer enough for one to share a difference in taste or cinematic sensibility concerning George Lucas and his films; said differences must for some reason be justified in turn by defaming the guy with any number of accusations, namely monetary obsession.

    Enter Ewoks ...the first but certainly not the last amidst this big Star Wars thingy to be targeted as a soulless attempt to make a profit. Let’s be clear on this: Star Wars toys and merchandise did not begin with Ewoks. Lucas was gleaming that cube way back with the 1977 original; technically even before its theatrical release.

    Waiting three movies in to accuse this business model for negating the art, to me, seems ever-so convenient an argument to discredit, insinuating that greed for money has taken over only when the storied content drifts away from one’s personal tastes. This brings up a rather unfortunate, misguided de facto to which the masses are far too quick to adhere, and one that I would like to shatter right here and now as best I can: art and commercialism are NOT mutually exclusive.

    Snobby bohemians and armchair critics will forever argue otherwise, but they’re merely speaking fashionably. The human mind is not some binary, either-or highway. It’s perfectly feasible for someone to do something with two different intentions. It’s not magic. People do it every day. An artist cashing in on his/her expression does not make that expression any less sincere.

    George Lucas wanted to liven things up, perhaps to the max, with Return of the Jedi. The Ewoks were a part of that process. Yes, they were a compromise to not having the budget and practicality for countless Wookie costumes and, of course, they were alternately seized for their commercial value (uh, just like every other alien, character and spaceship from the previous films). But so what? Is that alone supposed to be an argument against them? I think the Ewoks are fun. They serve their thematic purpose as primitives outsmarting a technologically superior Empire, which is indeed presented with a marked degree of jest.

    This is one of the major qualities of Star Wars as a whole. James Cameron attempted his own 'natives versus warmongering technocrats' but failed, in my book, precisely because he took the whole affair way too seriously, inflating it with ham-fisted morals and overwrought self-importance; what took him nearly three hours Lucas got across in 30 minutes, free from pretention, with a cheery smile. A key genome in the DNA of the Star Wars saga is its absurdity. Space opera fantasy stuff is simply ridiculous and Lucas has never shied away from this truth; on the contrary, he long since embraced it.

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    1. Cannon,

      I'm glad to see your spirited defense of George Lucas. As I said in my last comment, I am not anti-Lucas, and I view his films as art. You can see that, I hope, from my approach to reviewing Star Wars, Empire and my first Ask JKM about The Phantom Menace.

      I am not discrediting the guy. Some do, but I don't. I just see him, like me, as a fallible guy. Some of my reviews are very well-written and get the point across, and some are failures of creativity. You pointed this out to me in terms of my lack of imagination regarding The Thing prequel (2011).

      My memory is different, however, regarding merchandising. My memory is that there was NO Star Wars merchandise until well after the film's release. We had to get "Early Bird" certificates for action figures not yet produced, because merchandising was so behind the ball.

      Also, as I wrote in my review, this feels like the first Star Wars film that puts the cart before the horse; that creates characters for merchandising rather than for organic reasons of the storyline. Listen, I love toys -- check out my blog -- but the Ewoks certainly do seem craven.

      I don't say that to discredit Lucas. I just want that to be clear. I say it because I believe it's true, and because it helps to explain the sudden appearance of muppets and other child-like elements of the franchise.

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  17. 6

    Beneath all the silly slapstick mayhem is the ever-so dry sense of irreverent humor; the very fact that the evil Sith Lord of the galaxy and his Imperial dominance are being circumvented in part by a tribe of singing teddy bears. It’s fucking hilarious. Absurdity makes a point just as clearly as straight-faced seriousness. And yet I don’t think what is actually shown in the film is all that hard to swallow either.

    The Ewoks have the home field advantage -- their enclosed forested surroundings -- along with the element of surprise, and their success was not in defeating the Stormtroopers per se, but distracting them long enough for Han and his Rebels strike team to get the upper hand. Also, the Ewoks aren’t as cute and cuddly as one should believe. Remember, they eat people. All those Stormtrooper helmets-turned-tribal drums; what do you think happened poor bastards inside? Yu Nub

    Another one of the sillier moments in the film that I dig just fine is the demise of Boba Fett. I suppose I can try and explain why his bitch-death is perfectly acceptable, but I think, along with the Ewoks and the Max Rebo Band etc., so much of this simply has to do with the attitude of the viewer. There’s plenty in Star Wars, even Return of the Jedi, to invest emotionally and intellectually, particularly with the central conflicts. I don’t necessarily need every other narrative element to be executed with the utmost profundity.

    I get it: Boba’s a fan favorite because he’s masked and mysterious and low-key. And, sure, it would have been cool to see him and Han Solo square off in a more dignified manner ...maybe, I guess. Yet I also can’t help but laugh at the whole scene as it actually plays out. Even Lucas himself has said that he never realized how much of a favorite the character had become until after the fact.

    Criticizing the 2nd Death Star for being repetitive is understandable. It is unoriginal, both in principle and on paper. And yet I don’t think the criticism applies to the end results. Film is inherently audiovisual, X 10 with all things Star Wars. Can any fan of the trilogy honestly say that they’ve ever confused or mistaken the Death Star attack in the third film with that of the original? Or that the two are in any way interchangeable as a cinematic endeavor? I can’t. Every condition and detail counts. The 2nd Death Star looks different than the 1st.

    The way it is fully realized as an action sequence is different in scale, proportion and as a visual dynamic, so much so that the scripted repetition is all but superficial. Audiences are treated to wholly different and more virtuoso dimensions once Lando and the rebel fighters begin their way into the battle station’s core; their breakneck departure is even more exciting, easily one of the absolute best and most thrilling, pure visual effects escapades I’ve ever enjoyed as a filmgoer.

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  18. 7

    I also think it’s kinda shortsighted to criticize this aspect without offering a clear and better alternative. Should the main physical threat been an actual planet? The home of the Emperor maybe? Or a Super-Duper-Mega Star Destroyer? How would this have played visually? Would we have Rebel fighters flying into the super structure of something else, essentially giving audiences a similar experience? I don’t know. These are things to consider, as is the limited budget and limited technology the filmmakers had at their disposal at the time.

    The space fantasy setting and this particular nature of the films as dogfighter adventures does lend itself to a certain degree of familiarity in much the same way as WWII air combat movies were about bombing factories or battleships, or more factories. How many Westerns have featured a horse chase through a desert canyon? How many Bond movies feature underwater sequences? Maybe Lucas could have managed an entirely new concept instead of reissuing yet another giant space ball of death. But, again, I think it’s the details that matter.

    As with the whole issue regarding Ben Kenobi and Luke, I’m not exactly sure what your beef is. First, in addressing some of the more general criticisms, not once has George Lucas ever made the claim that he had the storylines of all three or six or nine installments, or whatever, planned out from the beginning. This is yet another one of those odd-alternate realities where people collectively misunderstood his comments and have since proceeded from that misunderstanding with accusations of lies or contradictions whenever they spot an apparent case of retrofitting amidst the saga.

    Anakin becoming Luke’s father is no doubt one of the bigger examples of that process. Obviously, Ben’s conversation with Luke in Jedi was a retrofit, though this doesn’t necessarily make it any less meaningful. All the time do artists and storytellers rework their material. An editorial work in motion -- a changing, adapting, three part, multi-million film trilogy over the course of six years plus -- is no less valid an expression of ideas than something completed and stagnant from day one. Now, as I think I understand it, your problem is not so much with the retrofitted backstory by itself, but with the so-called blasé manner in which Ben covers his tracks irresponsibly, yes?

    Ben’s 'point of view' response makes for a valid theme. One of the more interesting aspects of these films is how the hero’s mentors and villains are in some ways morally inverted. Ben uses a lie to protect Luke; Yoda uses a lie to test Luke -- his game of identity deception -- and likewise to hide from him the truth of his father. And yet his father, Vader, uses that same truth openly to crush Luke into physical defeat.

    It’s a kind of Yin and Yang, one that Lucas evidently recognized and played up when having a character propose the very idea that truths can be subjective. Not only did Lucas seize this thematic opportunity somewhere during the making of the original trilogy, but further explored it in the prequels: Count Dooku uses truth against Obi Wan as tactical misdirection while Palpatine mixes it with sophistry when indoctrinating Anakin.

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    1. Cannon,

      Again, some good points here, and you recognize my beef: it's not that there are some loose connections (retrofits) in the lore...that's natural. It's that Ben isn't really called to account for acting badly. There's no squaring of what it means to be a Jedi (vs. a Sith) vis-a-vis using lies to press your case.

      That said, I think I contextualized this in my review in terms of the prequels. I know people hate the prequels. I don't. Jedi works a lot better after you've seen the prequels. It's an inconvenient fact for some, but not others. The prequels actually deepen the meaning of Jedi, because we are aware of the specifics of Anakin's journey, and so can compare/contrast those with Luke's.

      I just feel that it's not what a movie's about, but the ways the movie is about that subject. I need for Jedi to acknowledge, in some fashion, that Obi Wan and Yoda are indeed as manipulative as Palpatine and Vader, and that's why "balance" must come to the Force.

      Jedi doesn't get there. I can extrapolate how it should get there, as I do in the review, but I can't honestly say that this insight would have come to me after a viewing of Jedi in 1983 (before the prequels were made).

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    I don’t think Ben Kenobi is hiding the fact that he lied to Luke as much as he is justifying it. Does this really make him a bad person or a coward? Ben did what he had to do at the time. If he had told Luke from the beginning (yes, I know this is a retrofit, but accepting that premise and moving on...) the truth about his father, this may have disheartened Luke from ever wanting to learn the ways of the Force because doing so could lead him down the same path of self-destruction. When the time came in the third film for Ben to explain his actions he simply takes the philosophical approach, addressing the murder of Anakin by Darth Vader as a figurative expression of what actually happened. What else can he really say at that stage? Luke already knows the truth. What’s done is done.

    The point of Ben’s message (for both Luke and the audience) about alternate truths is not really intended to be a clarification of past events, anyways. What’s happening at this interval of the remaining story is a key thematic setup for the final journey that Luke is about to embark upon. The irony of Ben’s wisdom is that he himself never fully grasps it the way Luke does, nor does any other character throughout the six-part saga, except, tragically, Padme ...on her deathbed. The mother and the son are the only two who perceive the father in a different light.

    In this same conversation Ben tells Luke that Vader is beyond redemption: "He’s more machine now than man. Twisted and evil," and if Luke cannot or will not kill his father, "Then the Emperor has already won." Ben only sees one side of the equation, as does Yoda. Both have long since concluded that Anakin’s death is the only answer. This, too, is carried over in the prequels, with an ever bigger play on verbal contradictions.

    At one point Obi Wan says to Yoda, "Send me to kill the Emperor. I will not kill Anakin.""He’s like my brother," but is nonetheless convinced by Yoda that the boy he trained is gone forever. What follows in the final confrontation is one of the more clever double-plays on this whole idea of truths and alternatives when Obi Wan himself hypocritically declares, "Only a Sith deals in absolutes."

    Even without the prequels, the theme still tracks in Return of the Jedi. Luke becomes the freestyle Jedi primarily because he denies the forgone conclusions of his mentors, his sister, the Emperor and even Vader himself ("It is too late for me, my son.") by viewing the situation of his father from a different point of view. Indeed, Luke forges his own truth, and then makes it a reality.

    This, by the way, brings up a masterful work of symbolism that runs throughout the trilogy. In A New Hope Ben tells Luke a lie about his father and, in that same scene, gives him his father’s the blue saber. In The Empire Strikes Back, when Vader tells Luke the truth, in the same scene the blue saber (and the hand gripping it) is forever severed, the lie forever gone. In Return of the Jedi Luke has constructed his own green lightsaber ...you get the idea.

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    1. I agree with you that this is all a lot richer and more evident now, in terms of the prequels and the story they told. They give us a point of comparison and clarification.

      But I don't think that, viewing Jedi in 1983, it was enough. This film needs to close the first trilogy satisfactorily, and I don't think it does that without more explicit knowledge of the prequel story line.

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    But going back to Ben, again, I don’t think he’s trying weasel his way out of anything. The retrofitting was used as a springboard to ingrain the myth with one of its final big ideas. There’s no need for Ben to further account for a lie that Luke has long since discovered. There’s an economy to consider here, and idle talk about what already is doesn’t really serve the narrative.

    If you’re simply upset that the two characters do not converse the issue like real human beings, uh, I don’t know what to say. How exactly does a real human being (or the glowing blue ghost of a real human being) act in a space opera fantasy? I think what transpires is authentic enough to support what is inherently big, bold, brushstroke storytelling. The Empire Strikes Back ain’t Serpico. Neither is this.

    And if both Yoda Ben Kenobi are being depicted as flawed, as you clearly observed, than what makes you think the intention was otherwise? The story does a thing, you recognize that thing, but then criticize the thing for NOT being the thing that the story was supposed to do. Doesn’t make any sense. I say give Lucas and Co. the benefit of the doubt. Yes, the two mentors respond to Luke in ways that directly and indirectly suggest reasonable imperfections and a checkered past.

    But the movie is not about them or their past. It seemed to me this was always the deal with Star Wars, that not every term of the backstory could be covered in full but instead remains in the ether-realm of past lore, at least until the prequel trilogy came along. But even then distant questions are left open-ended: what was Qui Gon’s true alignment? Who or what created Anakin? You have an entire fictional universe virtually limitless with possibilities, but you still have one specific story to tell.

    As for the rest, I always loved the Rancor sequence; what’s up with that criticism, John? Is it any less convincing (or less conceptually credible) than a giant asteroid slug that looks and moves like a rubber arm puppet because, well, it is? Dated, maybe, but I think the effects sequence succeeds in bringing to life a fully comprehensive creature of the imagination with the same skill (though different technique) as Vermithrax from Dragonslayer or the Kraken from the original Clash of the Titans, murky optical processing be damned.

    I fail to see how the hero fighting a giant monster (one that eats a squealing Gamorrean pig guard) and kills it rather brutally is somehow too childish for a Star Wars myth, or altogether un-Star Wars-like. I’m seriously beginning to wonder what exactly it was that you guys took away from the first two films that you think was so criminally betrayed by the third. For me, the old fashioned adventure spirit feels pretty consistent all the way through.

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    1. Hi Cannon,

      The funny thing about Return of the Jedi is that a ghost and a human do converse exactly as two humans would.

      I mean, Ben Kenobi Ghost sits down on a log, for heaven's sake.

      And that fact alone contributes to the sense of this scene as a poorly-conceived information dump.

      A ghost sits down on a log and in a three minute scene explains in a tete-a-tete that Vader is Luke's father, Leia is Luke's sister, and truth all depends on your point of view.

      Could not these answers have come up organically in a more elegant fashion?

      It's exposition by blunt, thoughtless instrument.

      Star Wars films can indeed be very elegant in terms of getting ideas across via action and symbolism. But this scene is really, really crude and basic.

      What I criticized with the Rancor was not the nature of the beast, or the situation (the battle), but the lackluster effects.

      Go back and watch the original Jedi theatrical cut. The special effects are muddy, brown and ugly. Terrible rear projection work. That's what I criticized. What I was reckoning with was the idea that, by 1983, the Star Wars saga was no longer looking particularly innovative or cutting edge in terms of effects, that's all. I felt this in the theater in 1983. Like wow...the sheen is off the effects.

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    I think Return of the Jedi is rather exceptional. It knows its place in the grand scheme of things, acts accordingly and doesn’t bite off more than it can chew. I think it makes splendid use of speed and motion, and imaginative creature-character designs. I disagree that it shortchanges the main protagonists; prepped and ready by the end of previous installment, they’re simply in mission mode at this point of the trilogy. I don’t believe in generating more drama just to fill screen time.

    If characters like Han and Leia and Lando come off rather utilitarian by this point, well, that’s because their stories -- as characters, at least -- are all but concluded by the end of the first act, sans one or two, minor aforementioned denouements. From there on the story as a whole is on its way out, wrapping up the bigger picture in a manner of action logistics. The remaining character drive belongs to Luke and Vader. Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker is not only my favorite character of the saga, but it’s this film especially that follows my favorite stage of his character.

    I like how Hamill’s performance has matured Luke with a quiet dignity, no longer the subject of angst or naiveté. He now moves and speaks -- occupies the frame -- with measured control and grounded sense of resolution. His first exchange with Vader in the corridor of the landing platform is one of more focused and confidently executed character scenes of the entire trilogy. Their final confrontation in the Emperor’s throne room is a powerful display of conceptual imagery: the black on black on black color pallet provides an abstract definition of the three characters present, how it is no longer a color of evil but, in tandem with the surrounding shadows and outer space, is now a unified cast that brings this myth to its precipice overlooking void.

    Each of the three are final forms who must cancel each other out until only one remains. Offset colors are used to delineate and articulate the very idea of these characters. The Emperor is ghostly white, and when slowly prowling under the stairway, Vader moves as a black shapeless mass, catching only enough light to render his mask spectral-like. It’s almost as if he ceases to exist as a separate entity and is now a mere taunting extension of Luke’s psyche; Luke, whose face we see divided by the light and a dark shade of blue.

    This is highly adroit visual storytelling, and is dramatically potent. The rest of the film leading up to it, and the final bang/festivities that follow, may slip in and out of juvenility, but I accept that as part of the well balanced breakfast of Star Wars fun. Anything that takes place along time ago in a galaxy far, far away deserves to have a good time while waxing classic heroic journeys.

    End.

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    1. Hi Cannon,

      Thank you for a marathon comment, and for explaining in detail and with eminent rationality the reasons why ROTJ work for you. I'm delighted you like the film, and care enough to defend it with such specificity.

      A lot of Star Wars fans love the film too, so you are not alone, rest assured.

      For me, the film didn't work, as my review makes plain. I think it points to a shift in the artistic vision that, subjectively, I don't appreciate as much. I don't deny Lucas's right to make that shift, I just don't feel that it works as well, or is consistent with what came before.

      I realize I will get scorn for saying this, but I find Revenge of the Sith a better film in terms of how it handles characters and closes a trilogy.

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  22. Another great review John. I was a bit younger when I saw ROTJ and I admit, I loved it. I loved all the creatures in Jabba's palace, I loved the speeder bikes, I loved the amazing battle around the Death Star and I thought the act of Darth Vader turning into a hero was amazing. For me the movie hit all the buttons. but yeah - I was a child.

    When I returned to the series as a teenager, I was amazed by all the strange inconsistencies you pointed out. The talk between Luke, Yoda and Ben was especially problematic. None of it made any sense and the whole scene just stopped the film cold. The death of Boba Fett was horrible (and it didn't surprise me at all that so much expanded universe fiction brought him back after that for some real show downs with Han). And while I never hated the Ewoks, I just didn't think there was much excitement generated by their battle.

    I don't remember where I read this, but it sounds correct. Originally Jedi was to have a finale either in Imperial City or on Darth Vader's palace on a lava planet (and there is some concept art that shows this idea). There was to be a wookie uprising that would lead to the destruction of the Emperor on his homeworld. No Death Star II, no Ewoks. Lucas sited cost reasons for dropping the Imperial City or Darth Vader's palace idea. Then he said it was easier to find short actors to play Ewoks as opposed to finding tall actors to play Wookies. But in both cases the scope for the planned finale was reduced - and much to the detriment of the film.

    Han Solo was my favorite character of the original trilogy for the longest time. And it took a long time for me to admit that Ford looks incredibly bored in this movie and is just going through the motions. I really really wish they had given him a meatier role, even if he didn't die, just something more to do would have been nice. I know Lucas stated that he wanted an ending without any sorrow and nothing but chanting Ewok joy. I understand the sentiment, but it feels like it weakens the whole thing. This is "Star Wars" - in war there is loss and sadness. To destroy such a great evil, we needed a little more sacrifice. Yes Vader's end was sad, but with the stakes so high, the finale still rings a bit hollow.

    Like the previous two films, I think the world created in Jedi is still of a high caliber. There are a lot of mythic links still in place and as you say the confrontation between Luke, Vader and the Emperor is excellent (and it sounds like the only element of the original concept to remain untouched by all the tinkering that obviously went on).

    I don't find Jedi to be a painfest. I enjoy watching it when I revisit the original trilogy. But it falls flat, and yes it does signal the beginning of the sharp slope that Lucas would delve into when he returned to the series in 1999. As others have remarked, I think Lucas needs someone other than a Yes-man, to help curb his ideas and shape them.

    As a side note, have you seen the book "Star Wars: The Magic of Myth"? It was released in 1997 and was a companion to the Smithsonian exhibit of the props and costumes from the original trilogy. It charts many of the visual elements of the series and ties them to historic, mythic and religious images, focusing especially on Joseph Campbell's concept of the heroic journey. An interesting read (if not a little fluffy if you are very familiar with these concepts already). But the linking of the images from the film to other elements is very enlightening, and enforces that Lucas was very conscious of his visual choices in all his films.

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    For the record, John, not all my rebukes were aimed squarely at you. My bad for not clarifying that from the start. I was simply using this as a platform to address some of the more general criticism and bogus judgments of Lucas and his filmmaking. I do recognize and appreciate that your criticisms are more fair-minded.

    I won’t bother calculating the ratio of belching puppets. There’s no need. I freely acknowledge that Return of the Jedi takes the lion’s share of bawdy alien creatures. I also agree it changes the tone of the trilogy, but not necessarily the world or the premise. It merely expands that world, or subjects our heroes to some of its sillier nooks and crannies. I don’t perceive the minions of Jabba’s palace or the Ewoks as inorganic to the story or setting because I can’t understand how such characters lack the credibility needed to exist alongside droids or non-puppet aliens, or Jawas. Some big, some small; some insulated, some animated; some blend in with the background, some act like party animals. The Mos Eisley cantina is a place for traders and criminals on the low. Jabba’s palace is a place of obscene misfits. Chewbacca is a 7ft lovable ape-dog. The Ewoks are 4ft lovable bears. This is what I mean by arbitrary lines.

    Lucas did it for the toys? Maybe the toys are what inspired him. That right there is what I see on screen. Each and every one of those wacky alien extras had to be designed and enlivened by artist puppeteers. That’s a lot of work and is not something one does without enjoying it. Likewise, I get the sense that Lucas had fun macro-producing these denizens into his film, or at least had fun seeing it all come together in the editing room. In this case, I think the integrity comes from the joy of bringing to life these imaginary creatures and mixing them into your story. Therefore, I don’t see how making good merchandizing money after the fact undermines said integrity.

    I’m still not able to extrapolate as much as you do from the first two films concerning Luke as a serious contender for Leia’s hand. Yes, there are some kisses and general displays of affection between the two. Again, I’m not denying the element was there in A New Hope for Lucas to work with had he ever wanted to write their relationship in that direction. But coming out of The Empire Strikes Back, does anyone honestly think the match is evenly set between Han and Luke? Does A New Hope end with Luke and Leia professing their love for one another? Is the story actually about them specifically? Do they even share a single scene of courtship, ever?

    If we’re to argue storylines-and-structures as evidence for the case, at what point is Luke Skywalker’s motivation as a character ever driven by the prospect of romantic love with Princess Leia? The most you could say is his initial discovery of her on Tatooine (setting aside, that is, his primary motive to help Ben fight the Empire and learn the ways of the Force) and later when rescuing her from the Death Star. But now ask the same question of Han Solo.

    In Empire my-man, Han, is all about the princes! Pimpin' it. Hell, a fitting alternate title for the film could have been Han Solo’s Game. Another point to consider is that Leia as Luke’s sister is already suggested during the second film, if not downright implied. First, of course, is the statement Yoda makes about there being another Jedi. From a writing perspective who else but Leia could Lucas have possibly considered at that point? Was he planning on introducing an entirely new character in the third film? Maybe, though I’m glad he didn’t, as there simply wasn’t enough room or time for adding a whole other dimension.

    Maybe he hadn’t yet decided on anyone at all, new or recurring, including Leia. But consider the moment when Luke is hanging for his life beneath the Cloud City and begins crying out for Leia through the Force; John Williams’ theme is centered right over her close up.


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    But pushing all of that to the side, if it’s the manner in which Leia reacts to her newly revealed brother that lacks truth or authenticity, I propose two arguments.

    1) I think you’re taking her words, "Somehow, I’ve always known," a bit too literally. It’s not an intellectual or even conscious awareness to which she’s referring. We’re talking heightened realities here, where characters and feelings and thread-lines are written (or retrofitted) in pursuit of lyrical ideas. This subconscious-metaphysical connection Leia speaks of is, perhaps, precisely why she became close and affectionate with Luke to begin with, but was never before able to recognize the bond for what it was. Maybe this would have been harder to justify her behavior towards Luke, or his toward her, if there was ever any Han Solo-like romancing going between the two. But with the prior films as they are...

    2) In A New Hope when Leia’s home world of Alderaan is obliterated before her eyes -- an entire planet of people, including her family, murdered instantly -- what does she do? How does her reaction play? Come to think of it, is there ever any moment at all where she laments such a tragedy? The most she ever says about it amounts to, "We don't have time for our sorrows, Commander," and that’s it. Does any of this ring truer than how she later takes the news that Luke is her brother? When applying conventional dramaturgical standards, perhaps the brother-sister scene in question comes up short, but I’d say it is, at the very least, baseline consistent with the prior films.

    Another example: compare Luke’s loss of Ben Kenobi with that Frodo losing Gandalf and not the marked different in dramatics.

    I think Lucas, in tandem with Kershner, Marquand and Kasdan, chose his battles in favor of what propelled the narrative directly versus any-and-everything else that was considered peripheral. Often in Star Wars (not always, but often) the drama comes more from the story -- the idea of what’s happening -- rather than the characters themselves; the latter function just enough to hyphenate some basic emotions with varying intensities, given the narrative importance of whatever the moment.

    Lucas has always preferred a streamline approach, anyways: get in, address the theme, convey the idea, give the characters a few key-card lines or gestures, get out. Maybe that’s flimsy storytelling. Maybe the scene in Return of the Jedi is flimsy storytelling. I simply think of it as a style.

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    You argue that the scene between Luke and a spirit Ben Kenobi, sitting on a log, was a crude instrument of information-dumping concerning wisdoms and backstories. By that token, how would you judge the scene in A New Hope where Ben likewise sits and talks with Luke about his father, the Clone Wars and the Force? They seem to mirror each other rather sharply as I see it. But if it’s the content of the conversation in Jedi that bothers you...*shrugs*...I don’t know.

    Ben lied to Luke. Luke knows that now. Does Ben have to explain why? Is the reason not self-evident? Does it even matter at this point? I’m not sure what you mean by having the film acknowledge the questionable deeds of Ben and Yoda. It’s already something that you can interpret without the movie talking about it. So why talk about it?

    Having the characters verbally account for their own actions, or having them called on the spot by Luke, sort of defeats the whole purpose. Leave that end for the audience to meditate over. Leave it up to the viewer to determine why and how Luke separates himself from the mindset of his mentors. The prequels further illustrate these themes, yes, but even by itself Return of the Jedi exhibits the basic concepts: mentors reflected upon as flawed individuals under trying circumstances (circumstances not discussed in detail but there difficulty nonetheless reasonably inferred), the idea of one subjugating his/her own truth, the way Luke does as much and how it aides him to save his father, spiritually speaking, and become a Jedi of his own.

    Thanks for taking the time to read through all this nonsense. I know you’ve got other stuff to do; if nothing else, other stuff to blog. And I know this debate could theoretically go on forever, and I don’t think any of us want that (I got shit to do, too, damn it!) so please don’t feel obligated to respond to every little comment I make, or at all for that matter. I’m happy enough just to have a place to get this stuff off my mind, even if no one is listening.

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