In anticipation of the brand new Star Wars films, I will finally be expressing my thoughts on the original trilogy plus its prequels. And, just in time for May the Fourth, we got this one:
In the year 1983, a full six years after the release of the first Star Wars, we reached the end of the beginning. Return of the Jedi was, at the time, the third and final Star Wars movie, but as all fans and non-fans are aware, it’s not the third movie in the series any more, and shortly, it won’t be the final chapter either. Oh how I pray that the folk at Disney don’t mess it up.
I recall watching this one a lot as a kid, more so than I watched The Empire Strikes Back, and I’d wager it’s because Return of the Jedi, let’s face it, is largely the most childish and least edgy of the original movies. Today I of course think it’s a no-brainer to prefer Empire and view Jedi as bit of a step down from its predecessors, but what can I say? There are people who like slapstick and Ewoks too.
So in this movie, The Galactic Empire is rebuilding their awesome planet-exploder known as The Death Star – because it worked so well in the first movie – and the man in charge is still Darth Vader (James Earle Jones and David Prowse), who needs no introduction. However, our heroes from the last movie, a.k.a. the rebels, have other matters to attend to.
Their friend Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is kept in the palace of a Tatooine-based big fat slug of a gangster called Jabba The Hutt (Larry Ward), so for the first third or so of the movie we see what’s basically a lengthy rescue mission and I’m sure we all remember the beats. Jedi-in-training Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) sends his robot pals C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) to spy on Jabba, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) tries to break Solo out of the carbonite slab he’s sealed in but gets herself put in one of Jabba’s sexy slave outfits instead, Lando Calrissian (Billie Dee Williams) poses as a guard the whole time, and the admirably fuzzy Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) sorta just shows up and gets captured. It goes on for longer than needed, yet is heaps of fun to watch.
Next, Luke splits up from the rest of the group to talk to his dying Jedi trainer, the incredibly old puppet Yoda (Frank Oz), and the ghost of his old mentor Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi (Alec Guinness), all to confirm whether Darth Vader truly is his long-lost father Anakin Skywalker. You all know the right answer. After being told the truth, as well as warned that Vader is only a pawn to the true evil that Luke must soon face, Emperor Palpatine (the great Ian McDiarmid), he goes back to the other rebels, at which point the main gang minus Lando, who leads the attack fleet, all travel to the forest moon Endor to take down a shield generator that protects the new Death Star. It is here that we meet the Ewoks, an army of teddy bear warriors led by Warwick Davis who counter Imperial Stormtroopers with pointy sticks and mistake C-3PO for some sort of golden God. The rest is history (and no, I won’t be reviewing the Ewoks spin-off films).
So basically, when Return of the Jedi isn’t about Luke’s psychological conflict and his fears of joining his father on the Dark Side of The Force, it gives us teddy bears fighting off bad guys with spears and a character from the much darker Empire Strikes Back, in this case the vicious bounty hunter Boba Fett, getting killed off by flying his jet pack into a wall, bumping his head, and falling into a hungry anus that lives in the desert. The anus burps when it’s finished eating Boba, in case you’re still in doubt of where this movie stands on the dignity scale compared to Empire. “The anus burps”, guys.
One can easily interpret this movie as foreshadowing to the childishness and silliness that was to come when George Lucas brought Star Wars back in 1999, but thankfully, this movie never gets that bad. It still has the things that have made these films the unsurpassable classics that they are. It still has character development, it still has emotion (the final duel between Luke and Vader gets me to this day), it still has special effects that are more impressive and authentic-looking than anything most modern computers could render, and it still has that immersive tone that will always make us feel like we’re there whenever we see these movie again – right there, in the futuristic yet magical world of Star Wars. It has the John Williams music too, but that’s one of the few good things that were carried into the prequels.
But of course, as good as the original movie is, Lucas had to come along and make alterations to the subsequent home releases. I’m not gonna lie, I like changes such as the inclusion of alternate takes and the extended celebration scene at the end, which in later versions has more triumphant music and shows how other planets in the galaxy react to the fall of the Empire, which is somewhat charming if you can forgive the voice cameo from Jar-Jar Binks in the DVD version. Sigh.
Stuff like that is certainly better than having new, CGI aliens sing rap songs straight into the camera at Jabba’s palace, editing in the prequel version of Anakin at the end (Hayden Christensen), or that one infamous part in the Blu-ray version where they evidently thought that the pitch perfect complement to an originally subtle scene – in which Palpatine is torturing Luke while Darth Vader, who has a change of heart at the last minute, suddenly turns on him and saves Luke – would be Vader belching out an over-the-top “NOOO”. Just in case any hardcore Star Wars fan out there really felt that a fault of the original trilogy was “too much subtlety” or just thought Vader’s “NOO” from Revenge of the Sith wasn’t silly and out-of-place enough. Thanks for everything, Lucas. Leave Disney alone forever.
All the same, I honestly don’t know what else to say about this trilogy. I have gone through pretty much all of my favourite memories and, presumably, rehashed the criticisms most people have already made before me. I guess I can simply encourage future parents to expose their children to Star Wars, and allow them to grow up with nostalgic memories of the same awesome world the rest of us got to visit. That world in a galaxy far, far away (yet somehow still close enough for Earth-made cigarettes to be distributed there).
Also, fun fact: the Ewoks of Endor were originally going to be Wookies, like Chewbacca, and the film was at a time supposed to take place on their planet. I’m pretty sure this idea was scrapped when everyone saw how well the Star Wars Holiday Special turned out. Good call.