DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

Friday 28 October 2011

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983) dir. Richard Marquand
Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Billie Dee Williams, David Prowse, Anthony Daniels


By Alan Bacchus

Even at age 8, after seeing this film in the theatre, I remember having a feeling of being let down. I even remember my reaction to the revelation that Leia was Luke’s sister. Even to my then unsophisticated movie brain I knew this twist was unnecessary and didn’t add anything substantial to the big picture story at play. I also remember my disappointment at Lucas for his decision to bring back another Death Star for Jedi, robbing us of a fresh new piece of cinematic awesomeness to top what came before it. Another Death Star, even to an eight-year-old, felt like lazy writing.

But I also remember the fear that overcame me when Luke Skywalker surrendered himself to Darth Vader and resigned himself to facing the Emperor, putting his own life on the line to convert his father back from the dark side. This is the strength of Return of the Jedi, a flawed finale, which, as I mentioned in my Empire Strikes Back review, has the daunting task of having to wrap up a beautifully unveiled story of moral corruption and one man’s redemption across generations through his estranged son. Space, lightsabers, Wookies and Ewoks aren’t even mentioned in this one-sentence summary, which demonstrates the thematically profound story that is the foundation of this popcorn franchise.

It’s a similarly structured film as Empire containing a lengthy opening action-packed set piece like the Hoth sequence. Here, the heroes from Empire have convened on Tatooine to rescue Han Solo from Jabba the Hut. Looking back, the scene is hit-and-miss. Luke’s introduction is terrific. No longer an innocent teenager, he’s wearing his new all-black duds and has a strong air of Jedi-confidence – a long way from his introduction two films prior. The idiotic musical sequence, which attempts to trump the original Cantine sequence, is just plain awful – as awful to my 8-year-old eyes as it is to my 36-year-old eyes. The barge siege from Luke, Leia, Chewy, Lando and the droids is well shot and cut, and Carrie Fisher still looks sexy in her Jabba-bikini. If there was something Lucas did right in his revamped ‘Special Editions’ it’s the digital touch-up work he did to erase those ugly green-screen lines around the actors superimposed in front of the Rancor.

Once outside of Tatooine, the film hits a funk. Han Solo’s recruitment as the squad leader for the Endor attack doesn't befit the former selfish space smuggler. His lovestruck p-whipped softness is a sad trajectory for his character. And sure, the Ewoks don’t really work. The irony of the pint-sized teddy bears taking down the mighty Empire, like Solo, only results in severely softening the dangerous allure of the Stormtroopers.

Thankfully, the final confrontation between Luke and Vader is not bungled. In fact, the escalation of suspense through the Emperor’s temptations of Luke to the dark side is frightening. It’s a wholly credible threat elevated higher and more threatening than Vader’s confrontation with Obi-Wan in Star Wars and Luke and Vader’s first meeting/fight in Empire. This is really all we wanted from this chapter of the series – a moving and emotional reconciliation of father and son. Jedi, thus, does not disappoint.

And for the record, I do abhor the newly added voiceover of Vader yelling ‘NO!’ when he picks up the Emperor and throws him in the cavernous pit. No, it’s not as bad as Hayden Christensen’s Vader yelling ‘NO’ at the end of Revenge of the Sith, but it’s still unnecessary. Vader’s unspoken actions resonate infinitely stronger than his inarticulate monosyllabic grunts.

And so, while Jedi is the lesser of the three original films and lacks the freshness of the first film and the sustained suspense and urgency of the second, it adequately concludes this great trilogy – something many other franchises (The Matrix) have not been able to do.

Return of the Jedi is available on Blu-Ray from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

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