Friday, May 17, 2013

May the 4th: Return of the Jedi

 (Originally written for Jedi News)

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…


Episode VI

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…

Favorite Lines:
·         “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…”
·         “Eee-chewawa….”
·         “Nyub-nyub!”
·         “…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!”
·         “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)
Personal: 4/6
As a Film: 6/6


  1. I don't really see the issue with Leia saying "Somehow I've Always Known''. I think that she always felt some connection with him through the Force, and for some time they didn't know how to deal with it. They had some romantic interest at first, but later when Luke says that she is her sister, she probably connects the dots and realizes that it makes sense.

    1. But there's no time to connect. It's too clean, too fast. Nothing will make it not bother me the way it is now.

      That being said, I still love the movie and still think it's a good one.

  2. "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."

    I think the phrasing "left Lucas in the dust" is being a just a bit harsh. And to be fair to Kurtz, his leaving had just as much to do with the rewrites on Raiders as it did Jedi being reworked- it was a combination of things that he was seeing from Lucas after the success of the initial film (have you read the full interview? Very insightful on the nature of producing and how it's changed in the past few decades. Definitely worth a read).

    Also with the ending- we don't know enough about it to know exactly how much of a downer it would've been. The most we gleam from Kurtz is that it was more "bittersweet", Luke would go off his own way, and Han would've died (though I'm very doubtful on that last point based on other evidence, and I do think Lucas was right to keep him alive). It's possible that would've all translated to a massive downer of an ending, but bittersweet =/= depressing. It's just as possible that it would've still been uplifting and satisfying, just not as outright happy- and I'm inclined to think that's the direction they were planning. It's just that making a fulfilling bittersweet ending can be really hard to do (there are also social and cultural factors to consider- particularly the fact that Return is the first of the Star Wars films to really be an 80s film and be noticeably influenced by the first film over the things that inspired it. I could write an essay on the difference, but I'm lazy. :P).

    I have more to say, but I'm getting a bit busy. Stay tuned for my exciting rebuttal on the nature of the Ewoks and the handling of the Emperor as he relates to the film's views on good & evil!
    (preamble: I like one and find the other problematic)

    1. Since I said I like both these things, I'm curious on which one you don't.

      As for Kurtz, I don't mean to be too harsh, but he hasn't exactly done anything to dissuade the He-Man Lucas Haters from using him as a rallying point. They had a disagreement, which he was entitled to his opinion, and he left and Lucas made his art the way he wanted (with the help of Marquand, of course, who I discovered was also the voice of EV-9D9 in this film making me like him even more).

    2. Allright, then- Of Ewoks and Emperors!

      So the Ewoks I actually really like. Maybe I'm just being nostalgic or overly fond of their cute li'l teddy bear looks, but they're fun and nicely representative of the rebellion itself. My issue comes with how the film seems to actively work against them as characters- the intent seems to be a recurrence of the whole "underestimating the little guy" theme, a la "I think you overestimate their chances" in the original film, or even "your faith in your friends is [your weakness]" here.

      Which would be all well and good, except that the film works against that because the Ewoks aren't underestimated. The base on Endor is meant to be a misdirection (thus not *as* important as the Death Star itself), and it's heavily guarded- the Emperor even explicitly says "a legion of my best troops await them". The whole thing is built to be a trap in which the Empire is underestimated, which dashes against the Ewoks taking that place. Thus the final battle, when it happens, is less "the little guys showing them what's what" and more "the little guys beating them in improbably and contrived ways".

      It's worth stressing it's a small point, but indicative of a script that needed another rewrite before shooting started. It's not a flaw that inhibits my enjoyment of the film, though- just an objective flaw that unfortunately stands.

    3. Now, getting to a flaw that *does* inhibit my enjoyment of the film...the Emperor.

      I would like to preface this by saying that Ian McDiarmid is a phenomenal actor who delivers a phenomenal performance here and in the prequels. Every scene is worth watching if only because of him, and the scenes between the Emperor, Vader, and Luke are some of the highlights of the film, and arguably the entire saga. Palpatine's manipulation of Luke, Luke's final confrontation with Vader and his rejection of the Emperor's temptations, Vader's redemption- great stuff.

      That said, it's marred by how the Emperor is conceived as a character. To understand this we have to look at morality as portrayed through the films.

      When the original film premiered, we were treated to a universe of very black-and-white morality. Good guys were noble and heroic, bad guys were devious and ruthless. Good guys rescued princesses and saved rebellions, bad guys murdered families and destroyed planets. It's even in the costumes, with Vader in all black and Luke & Leia in all white (though this is admittedly marred by the white stormtrooper armor). And what's important to note here is that people were good or bad just because of who they were. Tarkin isn't evil because of a warped childhood and traumatic experiences, he's evil just because. Same with Vader, and Luke, Leia, and Han on the other side of the spectrum. Good people just inherently do good things, while bad people do bad.

      Now, in the original film, this is absolutely fine- especially when you consider that's exactly what the old sci-fi serials were like anyways. But when the sequels came around, it was time to update and progress this more simplistic view of morality. And that's what Empire did with the expansion of Vader's character and the character of Lando. All of a sudden this evil bad guy had a human side, a part we could understand- he was the hero's father. His actions throughout the film are not ones of malice and evil even though he does bad things- it's a father trying to save his son, in the only way he can. Similarly, we see Lando Calrissian, a friend of our own trusted rogue and who we see to be a pretty decent guy, ultimately betray our heroes to save his city from the hold of a corrupt empire. A “bad” man does what he sees as good, and a “good” man does what he sees as bad.

      Combined together, this gives the message that ”good & evil” just plain isn’t as simple as that. People aren’t just defined one way or the other- ultimately it’s things like their experiences and beliefs that shape who they are and what they do. Lando betrays his friends because he values the sanctity of his city and fears the reach of the Empire. Vader tries to bring Luke to the dark side because he legitimately believes it’s the only way he can be saved. These characters aren’t just blanket signifiers, but real and complex living beings that have experiences, beliefs, and potential that informs everything they do.

      So once that’s all been said and done, the film can’t just suddenly revert back to black & white morality and basically ignore what happened. Unfortunately, that’s what happens with the Emperor. We spend a film humanizing and understanding a so-called “evil man” only to find his master to be out-and-out evil and unredeemable- cloaked in black, cackling and manipulating as he kills and destroys. He’s just an evil guy that does evil things, simple as that.


    4. And frankly, that’s unacceptable. You can’t just throw all the complexity out of the window in favor of reverting to what it was previously- especially with something as problematic as “people are just inherently good or evil”. It’s even worse when you consider that the Emperor as originally conceived was a fundamentally good man who was twisted by the bureaucracy into basically a recluse. That right there is exactly the whole “people are defined by their experiences” thing I’m talking about (also indicative that this was the plan for the saga to take, given that it was written by Lucas) and is also just a much better and more interesting concept than and evil cackling mastermind.

      And I can’t just enjoy McDiarmid’s great performances or the great scenes that do happen because that’s standing in the way- and it’s why I can’t see Return as a great film, for all that I do love watching it. Because in the end it just feels like a reversion to the original film- throwing Empire Strikes Back away and just doing what was successful, giving us teddy bear armies fighting another Death Star, with more Tatooine and another trench run. Yeah, Jabba’s great and the Ewoks are fun and the Luke/Vader scenes are well-done…but in the end it just feels hollow. Like the shell of what had been there. And I can enjoy that shell, but I can’t call it a great conclusion.

    5. I think you make some good points there, but you're being a little hard on Palpy.

      Palpatine is clearly a devil analogue. He's a tempter and a schemer. Everyone else has levels of ambiguity, but Palpy is the living embodiment of the dark side. Now, did he have any redeeming qualities before Plagueis recruited him? Perhaps, but that's not the point. The point is more about how darkness spreads like a disease, through little cackling whispers in your own psyche, until some people just lose their minds completely.

      Palpatine's story arc is supposed to mirror how dictators like Hitler rise to power, but his personality and the role he plays in the Skywalker family is more abstract than that. And, in real life, even though there are two sides to every story, sometimes, rarely, some people are just born with misfiring synapses that make them do horrible things with no remorse - they may even enjoy it.

      Although, with what we learn in I-III, one could make the argument that Palpy is merely a religious fanatic. But that doesn't sit as well with me because he's far too cool and calculating for that sort of raw passion (as much as the Sith celebrate passion)...perhaps a cult leader then?

      In any case, while moral ambiguity is fine, and one of the reasons I love the films, it's still a fairy tale, so a couple of unambiguous personalities is no flaw at all.

    6. Although it does bother that Palpy is the Big Bad, but there's no Big Good here. Closest I can see is R2-D2, and I don't know what that says about us...

    7. Luke isn't the Big Good? He acts unequivocally on the side of good the whole movie, and though he's tempted at the end, it never seriously comes into question that he'll reject his training and join the Emperor.

      And yeah, sometimes people like that do exist, but Palpatine is no Cathy Ames (and Lucas no Steinbeck), and isn't presented complexly enough for me to take that defense. And the difficulty with just making him the Devil (which I'm sure was the intent, especially with all the damned Campbell stuff that unfortunately creeps in by this point) is that it's still too sweeping and simplistic to work after the story has already gone complex. You can't go from Vader being part good to his master being all evil because the latter weakens the former- Vader went from being a man who did bad things in the name of good to a fundamentally good man who was twisted by someone fundamentally evil.

    8. 1. No, Luke is not the Big Good. Until Jedi, he's been whiny and impatient. While he is fundamentally good, he has the same potential for darkness his father did, and was actually almost on the dark side near the end. The turning point came when he made the decision to throw the saber away and face death rather than become a monster, where his father didn't. He is a hero, and helps his father fulfill his destiny by being a better man, but he still had to take that ybumpy road.

      2. Ah, you've revealed your hand. How can you possibly love and appreciate the Saga if you think Campbell is a crock? Campell is the thematic basis of the entire story of all six movies. There's deviations, sure, but Lucas practically worshiped the man, and that shows in every episode, even Empire. I want to ask you what you have against him.

    9. 3. Well, Vader is where I-III are invaluable. We see Palpatine has seduced Anakin, but it was his own fears and choices that landed him where he was. He probably would have made different choices if he had a confidant other than Palpatine, but he still made those choices himself. He was afraid to let go, and it cost him everything.

    10. But in Jedi, Luke isn't whiny and impatient, and is portrayed through the film as unequivocally on the side of good. We don't really see the potential for darkness in him in Return. And that's true for Vader, but it still leaves Palpatine in the position of 'the bad guy', which is what is problematic.

      Campbell in the next post, since I'm gonna be quoting something that'll likely be a little lengthy.

    11. No, Luke's grown out of his whine at that point, but we still see his potential dark. His entrance to Jabba's palace is frightening. It almost appears as if he chokes the Gammoreans (though I don't think he does), and the fact that he promoted himself to Knight without Yoda's say-so reeks of quick and easy - the dark side. Of course he uses it for the greater good, but so did Anakin...

    12. So, Campbell. First thing to note is that his connection to the saga, while obviously present (especially by the time of Return), is also rather truth Lucas didn't discover Campbell until I think the scripting process of the original film, saw how closely it matched what he was writing, and tweaked later versions to hew more closely to the structure.

      And I have a lot of issues with Campbell- his ludicrous theories, how the "monomyth" has been wildly overused, and how it supports a Western and patriarchal view of mythology that ignores and twists other cultures to work. But all I could say has been summed up in this post much more eloquently than I could write, so allow me to quote:

      "The thing about Joseph Campbell that should immediately make you enormously suspicious is that he claims to have identified a fundamental structure to mythology and heroism that establishes a universal vision of human greatness. This is just too sweeping a claim. But that's not actually the biggest problem. The problem is how cack-handed his approach to it is. He provides an appallingly eurocentric view of mythology that manages to argue that all Eastern mythology is descended from Egyptian mythology and that culture flows primarily west-to-east. On top of that, his view of the hero is absurdly patriarchal. Given that he believes in a fundamental structure in human consciousness that creates the monomyth and that the monomyth is overtly male dominated, the necessary conclusion of Campbell's thought is that patriarchy is a fundamental structure in human consciousness, which, frankly, fuck him. (There are points in reasoned debate about literary theory where it is necessary to tell people to go fuck themselves, and most of them involve Joseph Campbell.)

      No. Campbell is a crank. A well-read crank, but a crank nevertheless. Basically, he identified one story he liked about death and resurrection and proceeded to find every instance of it he could in world mythology. Having discovered a vast expanse of nails for his newfound hammer he declared that it was a fundamental aspect of human existence, ignoring the fact that there were a thousand other "fundamental stories" that you could find in world mythology and that he'd twisted large amounts of world culture badly out of shape in order to suit his pre-selected conclusion. The stuff Miles and Wood suggested Image of the Fendahl was demonstrating the absurdity of? That's Campbell. He has zero credibility in any of the actual academic fields his "research" intersects with. He's pseudohumanities. Which is an impressive feat, and I'm not sure I can actually think of anyone else who qualifies as that. He is Timecube Man with a Bill Moyers special.

      That said, the story he identified does work. It's not a transcendent and fundamental aspect of human experience, but it's a pretty good story, and George Lucas was savvy to nick it for the plot of Star Wars. Unfortunately, because Campbell was a lunatic blowhard who claimed that he'd identified a fundamental aspect of human existence, once Lucas showed that it also made money it became the mandatory structure of any piece of science fiction or fantasy made in Hollywood. I mean, unfortunately, this was the real legacy of Star Wars. Hollywood got suckered by a literary crank and came to believe there's only one way to do a large number of movies. And so we continue to get a formulaic structure applied to all manner of things as though it's the only story in the world. When, in fact, it's frankly gotten boring.

      There. I said it. The Hero's Journey has gotten boring. There should be an outright moratorium on the Hero's Journey across all narrative forms for at least a decade. The world would be a better place for it."


  3. The idea of Han dying was just one of the many ideas being tossed around before writing had even started. It didn't even make it into early ROTJ scripts.

    Not to bash Kurtz, but I think there was money issures involved too. I read that Kurtz really did not want Irvin Kershner to direct TESB, and fought with Lucas about hiring him. Part of a producer's job is to keep filming on budget and time, Kurtz failed at this and the production for TESB almost failed because he didn't keep things on time and budget. Lucas had to go crawing back to the studios for a loan to finish the film, then had to fly out and fix the filming himself. He had to take over Kurtz's job and ended up getting ulcers from the stress. After all that, I am sure they were no longer on the best terms.

    From what I can tell, Kurtz was only in the bluesky stage for ROTJ, and left before script writing had started. Also Kurtz has been inconsistent with his statements.

    1. From what I understand, Han dying was always mainly Harrison's idea.

    2. Um, where's your evidence for these statements, Anonymous?

    3. Well, it's a fact that Empire went over budget, and Lucas needed to ask the studios for extra. As to how much of it was Kurtz's fault, if at all, I don't know and this original poster can answer. Still, it technically was his job to make sure that didn't happen...

    4. Reading the links provided, it appears to me the main thing that made them part ways was that Kurtz was more focused on storytelling and Lucas more on budgeting- hence the film going overbudget (which annoyed Lucas) and Lucas rescripting Raiders and Return (which annoyed Kurtz).

      This actually goes a long way to explain both their actions and makes me a bit more forgiving of Lucas- after having such a miserable experience directing the original film and then having the problems with Empire, of *course* he would rescript later films to make them more financially profitable and later direct in a more passive style.

      Similarly, given the nature of how Kurtz approaches producing (in which it's less about finances and more about creative storytelling), it makes total sense that the film would go overbudget because of him caring more about a proper project.

      So in the end you can parse out the blame until you're blue in the face, but it was really their experiences and ideologies that formed the rift and caused them to separate. Man, I never thought the production of Star Wars would give so much insight to the creator's beliefs and frames of mind in such a fascinating fashion. I know I say this a lot, but I have *got* to write an essay on this. Maybe a whole series chronicling from American Graffiti to Phantom Menace studying Lucas and how much he's changed over the years.

    5. I still take issue with what you describe as a "passivity" in I-III that I just don't see, or the implication that Lucas cared more about the money than the art even if it would be understandible. The sheer imagination of design and the sheer nuance of the thematic material suggest the art was at least as important if not more. But that's a topic for another time.

    6. See, when I watch the docs on I-III, it's very hard to describe his actual on-set directing as anything but passive, and most of the thematic content I find is usually just parallelism and foreshadowing. But you're right- a discussion for another time.

    7. I also don't see Lucas being so passive directing the PT films. I don't think Lucas has changed, if anything it was the environment around him that changed. Making ANH, almost everyone on the crew thought it would flop and were not supportive, he lacked clout, he had very limited resources and time. With TPM, he had much better support from the crew after so much success, alot more clout, more control, more resources, and not as pressed for time.

      The other thing is Kurtz seemed to want to take Star Wars in a darker, more arty direction while Lucas wanted it to stay like ANH, a little more light and "fun". To keep it in the style of old serials like ANH.

      Also with Kurtz, it is easier to spend someone's else's money than your own. You can't blame Lucas for becoming so upset when production went well over budget that led to his money running out. In Hollywood, those who pay for the film's production have final say, something Lucas learned the hard with with earlier films. So he learned you have to be concerned with your money and use it wisely, it is a fact of life. Kurtz seemed to be much less concerned with money, many of the films he produced went over budget. Allowing a film to go over budget is very bad since production could stall and fail, or you can lose control of the project. Lucas had to cancel several scenes that were planned to be filmed because they were out of time and money. Alot of times you have to make tough calls with money, something Lucas excels at now. This is not to say Lucas is no longer concerned with storytelling, he still very much is, he is just more realistic about money limitations.

      Walt Disney was very much like that too. I remember one story concerning a designer with a idea to improve Disneyland. The walkway leading into adventureland is a bad bottleneck due to the Jungle Cruise channel on one side limiting width. This designer came up with a plan to reroute the Jungle Cruise, allowing room to expand the walkway and get rid of the bottle neck. While Walt liked the idea, he could not justify the cost of doing it. Walt had to make a tough call there because it was his money and he had to watch it. It was easy for the designer to come up with his plan since it wasn't his money to spend. The designer became so mad he cursed Walt out to his face. However Walt like the designer's passion and kept him.

      Both Walt and Lucas have the rare combination of artistic skills and money sense which helped them go as far as they did. While there is no denying Kurtz also has artistic skills, he seems to lack money sense and may have lead to his career floundering. Who would want a producer who can't keep production on budget? Lastly, we kind have to take what Kurtz has stated with a grain of salt as it is pretty likely he harbors resentment torwards Lucas over their differing views.

    8. I don't think I ever "blamed" Lucas for getting upset- yeah, he had every right to. I'm just saying that they ended up clashing because of differing priorities. Kurtz came from a school of thought that was more concerned with artistic integrity than financial success, hence his tendency to go over-budget (which isn't strictly speaking a bad thing. A lot of great films went overbudget- Secret of NIMH comes to mind (the creators had to get second mortgages on their houses to cover the final costs), but I'm sure there's other examples). It's worth noting that a producer hasn't always been *just* the money-man- if you read Kurtz's interview, he strongly believes in a system where the producer is actively interested in the artistic side of production- not necessarily the business side.

      Lucas, on the other hand, just had a horrible experience directing and producing a film that left him unhealthily stressed, suffering physically and mentally, and cost him his marraige. The last thing he would want is for something to go overbudget. With as differing priorities as that, a clash was inevitable. I don't think anyone can really be "blamed" in this instance- who they are and what they went through in the end is what caused the rift.

  4. From what I understand, Kershner was taking way too many takes, which costs time and money, Lucas' money. You have to remember that Lucas was not nearly as rich then as he later came to be. He was using every last cent he earned from ANH to fund TESB. I have heard different accounts of what happened, some say it was Kershner's fault, others say it was Lucas for hiring Kershner, others blame Kurtz for not keeping Kershner under control. IMHO, I think it was probably a mix of all 3. Kershner thought ANH was trashy and tried to fix that with TESB. I disagree with his opinion about ANH.

    At any rate, the budget mess with the filming of TESB affected ROTJ, Lucas had to pay back the loan from profits that could have been put torwards making ROTJ. While I can't say if Lucas was right or not in blaming Kurtz, it is still fact the money problem put a strain on the two. Kurtz's fault or not, he still failed at his job. I think many of Kurtz's later films also went over budget.

    Here are some links

    1. Very interesting, especially given my thoughts on Empire...

    2. I really want to read that Cinescape article, since Kershner calling the film "trashy" is really at odds with how he's come across everywhere else (though in the context of the IMDB post his issue seemed to be more to do with characters than anything else).

    3. Also, that second link is authored by the user Supershadow, who is notorious for giving false and sensationalized info and providing it as "fact". I wouldn't trust any of the material posted on that site, especially as it appears he doesn't provide sources.

  5. Another link I found link I found.

  6. Love your review. I also agree that prefer the ending of Jedi the way it is in the Special Edition. We get to see all the other planets celebrate the fall of the Empire, a musical score to perfectly accompany the footage, and the Redeemed Ghost of Young Anakin (as it should be). I love the ending so much it's my favorite scene in the entire saga.

    I eagerly anticipate your Phantom Menace review!

    1. Yeah, it's the one bit of the special editions I actually like, and it's done really well (though IIRC they overdo it a bit in the later cuts).

    2. Aside from Anakin, all the later cuts do is add Naboo to the celebration lineup.

    3. Really? Ah, I thought they did more. I guess I was letting my dislike of the Anakin thing cloud my judgement.