(Originally written for Jedi News)
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…
RETURN OF THE JEDI
Luke Skywalker has returned to
his home planet of Tatooine in
an attempt to rescue his
friend Han Solo from the
clutches of the vile gangster
Jabba the Hutt.
Little does Luke know that the
GALACTIC EMPIRE has secretly
begun construction on a new
armored space station even
more powerful than the first
dreaded Death Star.
When completed, this ultimate
weapon will spell certain doom
for the small band of rebels
struggling to restore freedom
to the galaxy...
George Lucas was in a bad way. His marriage was falling apart, and though he had some of the biggest success in history, he was becoming more and more burnt out by the monstrosity of Star Wars. Still, by hook or by crook as he put it, he had to get what he was beginning to think was his final part made. Figuring it would be the end, he did away with the original bittersweet ending in favor of a happy one more in keeping with the classic adventures Star Wars was a love-letter to. Why leave Star Wars on such a down-note?
Kershner was out. Gary Kurtz, the producer who convinced 20th Century Fox to take a risk on New Hope and helped Empire along, left Lucas in the dust under the unfair assumption that his happy ending was more about the merchandising than anything else. But Lucas still had his co-writers, and still had his cast. After a lengthy search, Lucas tapped Richard Marquand to direct the film, though ended up having to take over on numerous occasions due to Marquand’s inexperience with special effects.
By the time Return of the Jedi came out in 1983, the film had gone through a number of re-writes and even went back and forth on the title a few times. And I’d be lying if I said it’s not obvious in hindsight. If you look at the film critically, it’s clear everyone involved had a lot to get across in a short amount of time, both in terms of running time and time given to make the film in the first place. Between its narrative issues and the fact that the effects, while still very good, were no longer groundbreaking and showing more of their seams, Jedi is easily the weakest of the Saga from a filmmaking standpoint.
That being said, it’s still a really good movie, and while its flaws are more glaring it makes up for it largely by hitting all the emotional beats dead on. I usually list it fourth in my personal list of favorites, mostly because I want to keep that list one film per number, but the truth is it’s really tied in third place.
So what are Jedi’s narrative issues? Well, first comes Death Star II: Electric Boogaloo. This is a holdover from the version of the story where IV-VI was one movie. They shifted most of the Death Star to Hope, but Lucas still had a number of scenes he liked involving it. While its role is different enough to not be a complete rehash, and I personally really like what they do with it here, it does feel at times like a little bit of bad déjà vu and the story probably would have been served better by a different device.
Secondly, if George wanted to prove Kurtz wrong and that he wasn’t interested merely in merchandising, creating the Ewoks probably did him more harm than good. Okay, this is technically more of a design flaw than a narrative one, because narratively what the Ewoks represent is great. It’s nature overcoming the unnatural, and the little guy beating down the big bullies. I also think the original plan of using the Wookiees wouldn’t have worked quite as well because they’re harder to underestimate, and this whole thing hinges on the underdog being woefully underestimated. For all these reasons, I do genuinely love the Ewoks and their role in the story. But this doesn’t change the fact that the first thing that’s going to pop into anyone’s mind when seeing them for the first time is “Mutant teddy bears? Really?” That is supremely distracting. I mean, I know I just criticized Empire for not having enough fun with itself, but the design of the Ewoks is almost – almost – going too far in the other direction. You will never hear me badmouth the little fuzzballs, but I can understand the knee-jerk reaction to them.
But the biggest flaw in Return of the Jedi is arguably the biggest narrative flaw in the Saga, and the one thing I truly, truly can’t stand on a personal level. That’s the revelation of the twins. Now, let me be perfectly clear: The fact that Luke and Leia are twin brother and sister is a GREAT twist. It has so much potential for drama, comedy, insight, oh there are so many places you could go with this. And none of that happens. Okay, so Luke pulls Leia’s name out of some orifice pretty much as soon as Obi-Wan mentions that a sister exists. Okay, fine, I can accept that. I’d have loved a little more deduction on Luke’s part, but maybe; just maybe, it’s meant to show how in tune with the Force he’s become. Fine. But when he drops the bomb on Leia, how does she react?
“I know…somehow, I’ve always known.”
BULL. I’m sorry, but I call foul on this. You’ve just found out that this man who you’ve kissed twice, and therefore likely had some conflicting romantic feelings about, is your long-lost brother. On top of that, he just told you that the Emperor’s dragon is his father, which means that this walking hunk of metal and evil who tortured you and destroyed your adoptive home planet is also your father. Oh yeah, that also means you were adopted, congratulations! And now you’re okay with this? Yeah, she slightly breaks down in Han’s arms at the end of the scene, but talk about a delayed reaction. I mean she didn’t need to sit down and scream or go comatose from the revelation, but at least spare some disbelief like you did three seconds ago when Luke dropped the Vader bomb.
In the end, the only really good use of this twist was when Vader taunted Luke with it during the final battle, which was awesome. The rest of it was a major dropping of the ball on everyone’s part.
But still, in spite of that mistake, I love Return of the Jedi just as unabashedly as I do the rest of the Saga, and while it gives the Saga some of its worst (and even then, I’ve seen worse flaws in supposedly better movies), it also gives it some of its best. The Jabba’s Palace sequence, from beginning to end, is fantastic (I’ll admit I like the SE’s “Jedi Rocks” less and less as I get older, but it’s harmless). Anything involving Palpatine, and Luke’s struggle against the dark, is fantastic. C-3PO being mistaken for an Ewok deity, and everything that comes out of that, is fantastic. Admiral Ackbar, and the majority of the Battle of Endor, is fantastic. The speeder bikes, of course, are fantastic.
The ending is absolutely perfect, especially in the SE, where the music is emotional, you see the various systems celebrating, you see Anakin’s spirit has picked up where it left off giving him a second chance…ooh, I get goosebumps just thinking about it, and it’s probably one of my favorite sequences from any of the films.
Like Empire, it did well though critical and fan reaction was again extremely mixed, with some even discounting it until enough time had gone by that, like Luke, they were able to see the good in the film. For George Lucas, however, he was done. Aside from continuing some licenses in order to fund his company, Lucas was officially finished with Star Wars. The stories he had come up with during the filming of New Hope were to be buried forever.
Or were they? Meet me next week, where we see that even George Lucas can’t resist the call of Star Wars for long…
· “You may dispense with the pleasantries, Commander; I’m here to put you back on schedule.”
· “But he asks the impossible, I need more men.” “Then perhaps you can tell him when he arrives.” “…The Emperor is coming here?” “That is correct, Commander, and he is most displeased with your apparent lack of progress.” “We shall double our efforts.” “I hope so, Commander, for your sake. The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am.”
· “Of course I’m frightened. And you should be too. Lando Calrissian and poor Chewbacca never returned from this awful place.”
· “Goodness gracious me!”
· “I don’t think they’re going to let us in, R2! We’d better go.”
· “And a gift!...Gift?! What gift?!”
· “This can’t be! R2, you’re playing the wrong message!”
· “[Bargain rather than a fight?] He’s no Jedi.” “[There will be no bargain. I will not give up my favorite decoration. I like Captain Solo where he is.]”
· “Ah good. New acquisitions. You are a protocol droid, are you not?” “I am C-3PO, Human-Cy-“ “Yes or No will do.” “Oh…well, yes.” “How many languages do you speak?” “I am fluent in over 6 million forms of communication, and can readily –“ “Splendid. We have been without an interpreter since our master got angry with our last protocol droid and disintegrated him.” “Disintegrated?!”
· “You’re a feisty little one, but you’ll soon learn some respect. I have need for you on the master’s sail barge, and I think you’ll fill in nicely.”
· “[I have come for the bounty on this Wookiee.]” “[Ah, at last we have the mighty Chewbacca.]”
· “The illustrious Jabba bids you welcome and will gladly pay you the reward of 25,000.” “[I want 50,000. No less.]” “50,000. No less.”
· “The…the mighty Jabba asks why he must pay 50,000?” “[untranslated]” “…because he’s holding a THERMAL DETONATOR!” “Hohohohohoh….Ahhahahaha…[This bounty hunter is my kind of scum…fearless and inventive.]”
· “Just relax for a moment. You’re free of the carbonite. Shh…you have hibernation sickness” “I can’t see…” “Your eyesight will return in time.” “Where am I?” “Jabba’s palace.” “…who are you?” “Someone who loves you.”
· “Hohohohoho….” “What’s that?” “HOhohohohoho….” “…I know that laugh…”
· “Hey…Jabba…Look, Jabba, I was just on my way to pay you back, and I got a little sidetracked…it’s not my fault!” “[It’s too late for that, Solo. You may have been a good smuggler…but now you’re bantha fodder.]”
· “Jabba, I’ll pay you triple…you’re throwing away a fortune here, don’t be a fool!”
· “We have powerful friends! You’re gonna regret this!” “[I’m sure.]”
· “A Jedi Knight?! I’m out of it for a little while, and everyone gets delusions of grandeur!”
· “You will take me to Jabba now.” “…I take you to Jabba now…”
· “At last! Master Luke’s come to rescue me!”
· “[You weak-minded fool! He’s using an old Jedi mind trick!]”
· “Master Luke, you’re standing on the…”
· “Han!” “Luke! “ “Are you all right?” “Fine. Together again, huh?” “Wouldn’t miss it.” “How we doin’?” “Same as always.” “That bad, huh?”
· “Oh dear…His high exaltedness, the great Jabba the Hutt, has decreed that you are to be terminated immediately…” “Good, I hate long waits.” “You will therefore be taken to the Dune Sea and cast into the Pit of Carkoon, the nesting place of the all-powerful Sarlacc.” “Doesn’t sound so bad…” “In his belly you will find a new definition of pain and suffering, as you are slowly digested over a…thousand years…” “On second thought, let’s pass on that…”
· “My eyes are getting better. Instead of a big dark blur I see a big light blur.” “There’s nothing to see. I used to live here, you know.” “You’re gonna die here, you know. Convenient.”
· “Oh, I’m terribly sorry…R2? What are you doing here?!...well I can see you’re serving drinks, but this place is dangerous!”
· “Victims of the almighty Sarlacc: His excellency hopes that you will die honorably…but should any of you wish to beg for mercy, the great Jabba the Hutt will now listen to your pleas.” “3PO! You tell that slimy piece of worm-ridden filth he’ll get no such pleasure form us!...right?”
· “Boba Fett? Boba Fett?! Where?!”
· “Don’t move, Lando.” “No! Wait! I thought you were blind!” “S’alright, I can see a lot better. Don’t move.” “A little higher! Just a little higher!”
· “Hey, Luke, thanks…thanks for comin’ after me. I owe you one.”
· “That’s right, R2, we’re going to the Dagobah system. I have a promise to keep…to an old friend…”
· “You’ve done well, Lord Vader. And now I sense you wish to continue your search for young Skywalker.” “…yes, my Master…” “Patience, my friend. In time, he will seek you out. And when he does, you must bring him before me. He has grown strong. Only together can we turn him to the dark side of the Force.” “…as you wish…” “Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen.”
· “That face you make…look I so old to young eyes?” “No! Of course not.” “I do…hehe…*cough*…yes I do. Sick have I become…old and weak. When 900 years old YOU reach, look as good you will not, hmm?”
· “Master Yoda, you can’t die!” “Ah, strong am I with the Force, but not that strong. Twilight is upon me, and soon night must fall. That is the way of things. The way of the Force.”
· “…Your father, he is…told you did he?” “…yes…” “Unexpected this is…and unfortunate.” “Unfortunate that I know the truth?!” “No! Unfortunate that you rushed to face him! That incomplete was your training! That…not ready for the burden were you!”
· “Luke…Luke…do not…do not underestimate the powers of the Emperor, or suffer your father’s fate you will…Luke…when gone am I, the last of the Jedi will you be…Luke…the Force runs strong in your family…pass on what you have learned…Luke…there…is…another…s…Sky…walk…er…”
· “Yoda will always be with you.” “Obi-Wan! Why didn’t you tell me? You told me Vader betrayed and murdered my father!” “Your father…was seduced by the dark side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I told you was true…from a certain point of view.” “A certain point of view?!” “Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view. Anakin was a good friend. When I first knew him, your father was already a great pilot, but I was amazed how strongly the Force was with him. I took it upon myself to train him as a Jedi. I thought that I could instruct him just as well as Yoda. I was wrong.” “There is still good in him.” “He’s more machine now than man – twisted and evil.”
· “Bury your feelings deep down, Luke. They do you credit, but they could be made to serve the Emperor.”
· “Well look at you! A General, huh?” “Someone must have told them about my little maneuver at the Battle of Tanaab.” “Well don’t look at me, I just said you were a fair pilot. I didn’t know they were looking for someone to lead this crazy attack.” “I’m surprised they didn’t ask you to do it.” “Well who says they didn’t? But I ain’t crazy. You’re the respectable one, remember?”
· “The Emperor has made a critical error and the time for our attack has come.”
· “I want you to take her. I mean it! You need all the help you can get, and she’s the fastest ship in the fleet.” “All right, old buddy. You know I know what she means to you. I’ll take good care of her. She…she won’t get a scratch. All right?” “…right…I got your promise now, not a scratch?” “Would you get going, ya pirate?!”
· “Yeah, well I don’t think the Empire had Wookiees in mind when they designed her, Chewie.”
· “Hey, you awake?” “Yeah, I just got a funny feeling…like I’m not gonna see her again.”
· “Here we go again…”
· “What is thy bidding, my Master?” “Send the fleet to the far side of Endor. There it will stay until called for.” “What of the reports of the Rebel fleet amassing near Sullust?” “It is of no concern. Soon the Rebellion will be crushed and young Skywalker will be one of us.”
· “Vader’s on that ship…” “Now don’t get jittery, Luke. There are a lot of command ships…keep your distance though, Chewie, but don’t look like you’re trying to keep your distance…I don’t know…fly casual!”
· “I’m endangering the mission, I shouldn’t have come…”
· “Chewie and I’ll take care of this. You stay here.” “Quietly! There might be more of them out there!” “Hey! It’s me!”
· “And YOU said it was pretty here…”
· “…I told you to remain on the command ship…” “A small Rebel force has penetrated the shield and landed on Endor.” “Yes. I know.” “My…son is with them.” “Are you sure?” “I have…felt him, my Master.” “Strange that I have not…I wonder if your feelings on this matter are clear, Lord Vader…” “They are clear, my Master.” “Then you must go to the sanctuary moon and wait for him.” “He will come to me?” “I have foreseen it. His compassion for you will be his undoing. He will come to you, and then you will bring him before me.”
· “It’s just a dead animal, Chewie.”
· “What are you telling them?” “’Hello’, I think. I could be mistaken, they’re using a very primitive dialect, but I do believe they think I am some sort of god.” “Well why don’t you use your divine influence and get us out of this?” “I beg your pardon, General Solo, but that just wouldn’t be proper.” “PROPER?!” “It’s against my programming to impersonate a deity.”
· “I’ve got a really bad feeling about this…”
· “I’m rather embarrassed, General Solo, but it appears you are to be the main course at a banquet in my honor.”
· “3PO, tell them if they don’t do as you wish, you’ll become angry and use your magic.” “But Master Luke, what magic? I couldn’t possibly…” “Just tell them.”
· “I…I never knew I had it in me…”
· “[C-3PO’s recap of the Saga so far. Just…3PO’s recap]”
· “Wonderful! We are now part of the tribe!” “…just what I always wanted…”
· “The Emperor has been expecting you.” “I know, father.” “So…you have accepted the truth.” “I have accepted the truth that you were once Anakin Skywalker, my father.” “That name no longer has any meaning for me!” “It’s the name of your true self, you’ve only forgotten! I know there is good in you. The Emperor hasn’t driven it from you fully. That was why you couldn’t destroy me, and that’s why you won’t bring me to your Emperor now.” “…I see you have constructed a new lightsaber. Your skills are complete. Indeed you are powerful, as the Emperor has foreseen.” “Come with me.” “…Obi-Wan once thought as you do…you don’t know the power of the dark side. I must obey my Master.” “I will not turn, and you’ll be forced to kill me.” “…if that is your destiny…” “Search your feelings, father. You can’t do this. I feel the conflict within you, let go of your hate!” “It is…too late for me, son. The Emperor will show you the true nature of the Force. He is your master now.” “Then my father is truly dead.”
· “I’m afraid our furry companion has gone and done something…rather rash.”
· “Oh no, my young Jedi. You will find that it is you who are mistaken. About a Great. Many. Things…”
· “You’re wrong. Soon I’ll be dead, and you with me.” “Hehehehe…perhaps you refer to the imminent attack of your Rebel fleet. Yes, I assure you, we are quite safe from your friends here.” “Your overconfidence is your weakness.” “Your faith in your friends is yours.”
· “Everything that has transpired has done so according to my design. Your friends, up there on the sanctuary moon, are walking into a trap, as is your Rebel fleet. It was I who allowed the Alliance to know the location of the shield generator. It is quite safe from your pitiful little band. An entire legion of my best troops awaits them. Oh, I’m afraid the deflector shield will be quite operational when your friends arrive.”
· “We’ve got to be able to get some sort of reading on that shield up OR down…” “[untranslated]” “But how could they be jamming us if they don’t know…if we’re coming…”
· “It’s a trap!”
· “You want this…don’t you…the hate is swelling in you now. Take your Jedi weapon. Use it. I am unarmed. Strike me down with it. Give in to your anger. With each passing moment, you make yourself more my servant.”
· “We’re not going to attack?” “I have my orders from the Emperor himself, he has something special planned for them. We only need to keep them from escaping.”
· “Now witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational battlestation!”
· “We have no choice, General Calrissian! Our cruisers can’t repel firepower of that magnitude!”
· “Yes, I said closer! Move as close as you can, and engage those Star Destroyers at point blank range!” “At that close range, we won’t last long against those Star Destroyers!” “We’ll last longer than we will against that Death Star, and we might just take a few of them with us!”
· “Your fleet is lost, and your friends on the Endor moon will not survive. There is no escape, my young apprentice. The Alliance will die, as will your friends. Good…I can feel your anger…I am defenseless. Take your weapon. Strike me down with all of your hatred and your journey towards the dark side will be complete!”
· “[Wookiee roar that sounds suspiciously like a Tarzan yell.]”
· “I will not fight you, father.” “…You are unwise to lower your defenses!” “Your thoughts betray you, father. I feel the good in you; the conflict!” “There is no conflict!”
· “…I love you…” “I know.”
· “Give yourself to the dark side. It is the only way you can save your friends. Yes, your thoughts betray you. Your feelings for them are strong. Especially for…SISTER?! So…you have a twin sister! Your feelings have now betrayed her too! Obi-Wan was wise to hide her from me. Now his failure is complete! If you will not turn to the dark side, then perhaps she will!” “NOOOOO!”
· “Hahahaha! Good! Your hate has made you powerful! Now, fulfill your destiny and take your father’s place at my side!” “….never….I’ll never turn to the dark side. You’ve failed, your highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” “So be it…Jedi…”
· “If you will not be turned, you will be destroyed! Young fool…only now, at the end, do you understand. Your feeble skills are no match for the power of the dark side! You will pay the price for your lack of vision!” “AUGH!...father…please!”
· “Now, young Skywalker…you will die.” “……..no…………..NO!”
· “That was too close…”
· “Luke…help me take this mask off…” “But you’ll die.” “Nothing…can stop that now…just for once, let me…look on you with my own eyes…Now…go, my son…leave me…” “No. You’re coming with me. I’ll not leave you here, I’ve got to save you!” “You already have…Luke…you were right…you were right about me…tell your sister…you were right…” “Father…I won’t leave you!”
· “Wesa free!”
Biggest “What Do You Mean It’s For Kids?!” Moment:
The graphic strangulation of Jabba the Hutt, as well as all the deaths caused by the Rancor (including its own).
(On a scale of 1-6, where 1 is the best)
As a Film: 6/6