Saturday, 1 June 2013

30 Years Later: 'Return of the Jedi'

Yub Nub indeed.

How about, instead of beating around the bush for the next few hundred words, I just take a chainsaw to it right now? I mean, I can only delay the inevitable for so long, and even though it’s been three decades, George Lucas still catches an ungodly amount of shit over it. So, cards on the table... I like the Ewoks. They’re cute, they’re cuddly, and I want one. I even own the Ewok Adventures spinoff movies on DVD, and should they ever receive a Blu-ray upgrade, I’ll be all over them too.

HOWEVER, that doesn’t automatically mean I’m willing to give Richard Marquand’s Return of the Jedi a free pass. Let’s face it, when your epic finale features a three-way-split between an emotionally fraught lightsaber duel, a perilous space battle... and a legion of fuzzy whatsits taking down a battalion of technologically superior Stormtroopers... then yeah, some objective thinking may be in order.

That said, you can defend the Ewoks. The most common excuses go something like: “Oh, they were just a distraction while the Rebels did all the damage!” and “The Ewoks were getting their collective asses kicked until Chewbacca commandeered the AT-ST!” or “Stormtroopers suck.” All solid arguments, but I think there’s an even better explanation we’ve never seriously considered before.    

Close your eyes, take a deep breath... and picture yourself as an Imperial Stormtrooper (bear with me). You have been trained as part of the elite force in the galaxy – ready to face anything from rampaging Krayt Dragons to giant, sewer-dwelling Dianogas. You survived the Battle of Yavin, assaulted Echo Base on Hoth, and now you’re patrolling the Death Star’s shield generator installation base on the forest moon of Endor. Suddenly, there’s a rustle from the bushes off to your left. You raise your blaster rifle, bracing yourself for whatever native horror might emerge... and a teddy bear waddles out. Oh sure, it’s clutching a spear and has that unmistakable killer look in its soulless, unblinking eyes (unless it’s a Blu-ray Ewok)... but it’s still a teddy bear... and it’s getting closer. So what do you do?   


Hell, I know I couldn’t shoot anything that cute; and I believe that, more than any other reason, is why the Ewoks emerged victorious.

Then again, need I remind you that in spite of their adorable superficial appearance, the Ewoks are still savagely primal beasts from beyond the stars?! Remember all those empty trooper helmets during the celebration scene? Yeah, well what do you think they did with the bodies? Hell, if Luke hadn’t intervened with the Force earlier on, then 3PO and R2 would’ve been forced to watch their friends get roasted alive and torn apart like Sean Pertwee in Doomsday! Want to try something? Go watch the Battle of Endor scenes while listening to THIS MUSIC and get back to me. Seriously, all that’s missing is an extended sequence where Wicket sexually assaults Leia with a spiked mud ball (guess I’ll just have to settle for when he humps the crap out of Han’s leg).

Oh man, this review got dark. 

... Moving on, another well documented issue is Harrison Ford’s serious lack of stuff to do except pull faces and step on Ben Burtt’s Foley effects. For the record, I think Ford does as good a job as ever, but Han feels criminally underwritten here. I dunno, maybe Lucas wanted to reduce the focus on Solo after all-but giving him the lead role in Empire (and Jedi is clearly more of a Luke Skywalker story), but it’s sad to see much of the spark that once made Han a clear fan-favourite now diminished. Though to be fair, he does get to shoot one unlucky Stormtrooper in the FACE. That was pretty badass.

 Again, I find myself wishing Paul Verhoven was the director.

You know what else was pretty badass? How about the whole first act, for starters. If the original Star Wars was the classic space adventure movie, and if Empire has the most heart and soul, then Jedi quickly cements its status as the most wildly imaginative saga entry to date.  Jabba the Hutt’s palace is a menagerie of weird and wonderful aliens (including the brilliantly realised Hutt crime lord himself), the Rancor remains a practical effects demonstration that rivals even the best of modern CGI (which you can read more about right here); and the Sarlacc Pit battle plays out like a sci-fi Indiana Jones set-piece. 

It’s not even a big deal when Boba Fett gets taken out by a blind man. Really, it’s a fitting end for a character who spends his time standing around doing, uh... not a lot. Viewing his surprisingly piss-poor skills in action at long last, before he finally tumbles into a fanged orifice (okay, so it’s not quite H.R. Giger, but it’s getting there) feels like a perfect send-off when all’s said and done.

Never Forget

Even with all this excitement, Jedi still manages to pull those heartstrings (due in no small part to John Williams’ score). A major blow comes straight after the enormously fun opening forty minutes, with the untimely death of Yoda. Watching the little guy’s final moments is goddamn heartbreaking, and the fact that I get choked up over a little green puppet speaks volumes for Frank Oz’s skills. Well, either that, or I'm a wuss.

The mood is alleviated somewhat once Luke discovers the truth about Leia (thanks in part to Alec Guiness returning for a quick paycheque). Their newfound bond ensures the human drama from Empire isn’t totally forgotten here (gotta say, though, the creepy incest vibe is a little hard to shake off), and helps elevate Jedi above simply being “that one with all the muppets”.

If there’s one other big problem a lot of fans have with Jedi, it’s the overall toning down of Darth Vader. You might remember his weird chocking fetish (no, not like that) from the first two movies, but the Sith Lord must have mellowed in the intervening years, as not a single Imperial oesophagus is damaged aboard the second Death Star (though Luke does Force throttle a couple of Gamorrean guards early on, so it must be a family thing).

Besides allowing the underappreciated David Prowse to give a more nuanced performance beneath the helmet, there’s a very good reason for this reduction in homicidal behaviour. If Vader was still choking bitches left and right, it would take much of the focus off Jedi’s new uber villain: The Emperor. Until the prequels (and I’m not counting the scary cabbage lady from Empire), this was our formal introduction to Ian McDiarmid’s wrinkly overlord of evil. As such, it was vitally important that his dominance be felt over the Empire, up to and including Vader himself. So even if Darth isn’t the exact same merciless cyborg from before, we’ve still got Palpatine ready to take charge and bust out the ol’ lightening fingers.

 "Well... looks like you've got this covered."
And don't forget, Jedi scores major points in the vehicular warfare department. I don’t know or particularly care if the folks at LucasArts are still going ahead with the 3D conversions, but I would certainly consider checking out the sixth film for the thrill of its speeder bike chase alone. On top of that, you’ve got one of the greatest space battles ever made. I reckon you could base your entire college dissertation on the execution of these masterful interstellar combat sequences. Just be sure to reference the importance of Admiral Ackbar’s sliding chair and quick, trap-based thinking. Don’t forget to spare a thought for Lando Calrissian’s alien co-pilot buddy either, ‘cos the little guy’s clearly baked throughout the whole attack.

 "We're goin' to a galaxy far, far away, DUDES!"

As the war around and below the Death Star rages on, Luke and Vader engage in one last, inevitable lightsaber duel. Whichever episode you start from, they’ve all built to this final confrontation, and it’s been worth the wait. While it lacks the overall finesse you’d find in the acrobatically choreographed prequel trilogy, it makes up for style with raw power, as Luke is forced to unleash his feelings and risk losing himself to the Dark Side – resulting in a gripping climax that makes us question why the hundreds-of-kilometres-deep lift shaft wasn't covered up prior to Palpatine’s arrival.

C'mon, nobody thought this might be a problem?

Up until a matter of months ago, we’d all figured Star Wars was over (from a cinematic point of view). After all, the Empire was defeated, Han and Leia officially hooked up, Chewbacca seemed okay with this, Luke became a true Jedi, Anakin had redeemed himself and there was much Ewok dancing. Return of the Jedi may not have been perfect, but you couldn’t hope for a more conclusive, feel-good end to the saga. Now, however, it turns out we’re still only two thirds of the way through. I don’t know what Kathleen Kennedy and JJ Abrams have in store for us, but I hope it doesn’t completely sully the happy ending our heroes deserve.   

Huh... can’t believe I got through this without ranting about the Special Editions or the DVDs oncccarghblargle-


1 comment:

  1. Awesome review, and I agree with most of what you say! The Ewoks I was always neutral with, but I do think the film would benefit from a different Ewok design altogether (I did like them better with the fish, no-eyelid eyes).

    Sarlacc shouldn't have had that 'beak' added in, I also preferred it when it was just this 'fanged orifice' as you say.

    Also, this line totally sells the review: "[...] “Stormtroopers suck.” All solid arguments" That got a good laugh from me!

    Oh, and thanks for the link to the Rancor article. :)