Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Star Wars Watch: Return of the Jedi (1983)

Ah, Return of the Jedi (1983).  The much-debated finale to the original trilogy, where people get mad that the Empire is defeated by a band of teddy bears.

Look, it doesn't bother me.  In fact, I like it.  The Emperor has "foreseen" how all will unfold.  He's moved the pieces into place so that the Alliance will finally be crushed, caught in a Battle of the Bulge scenario as the Rebel Fleet is trapped between the fully-operational Death Star and some portion of the Imperial Fleet.  But ol' Darth Sidious here did not account for the forest weirdos he considered so lowly they couldn't play a part in his schemes.  And, not only do they show the Rebels a backdoor to the Imperial Base/ Generator - they take out local security in guerrilla warfare.  So they were kinda cute mammal things.  So what?

Admittedly, the "Han, Chewie and Luke get caught in a net" scene may be the silliest bit in the run-time of the original trilogy, and one could argue it presages the "where are we going with this?" issues of Jar-Jar's role in Phantom Menace.  I was eight when I saw it the first time and it worked for me, so I don't know what to tell you.  It is a reminder that the audience for these movies was not the same folks going to see Ghandi that same year.

But this is also the movie where it really does feel like "all is lost" when things get bad.  Luke is trapped and has to either die or join the Dark Side, Han and Leia's plan is rubbish and they're going to get executed (if they're lucky), and Lando and the fleet are going to get atomized.

Lucas attempted this same multi-front battle in The Phantom Menace, but didn't quite nail it the same way.  A lot was happening in that film, but you really just wanted to see the Lightsaber fight with Qui-Gon and Darth Maul.  In Jedi, though, you're absorbed in all three fronts.

I also want to give props to everyone involved in making The Emperor just as despicable as possible.  Not only is the make-up job just awful/ amazing, but he's just eeeeevil.  And a jerk about it.  I still want to punch the guy in the face, and I've seen this movie dozens of times.  No wonder Luke goes bananas on him.

But that's all the end of the movie.  In the first forty minutes we have to deal with both The Emperor as a customer with unreasonable expectations (surely as a former bureaucrat and lifelong government flunky, Palpatine can read a costs spreadsheet or waterfall project plan to see how they're falling behind), and getting Han out of Carbon Freeze.

Despite the set-back with the Rancor, you have to admit that our heroes actually do pull off a fairly complicated scheme - and, again, Luke is a total bad-ass once the lasers start flying.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my least favorite of the Special Edition changes across all three movies, and that's Lucas' desire to wipe Meco's influence from the Star Wars legacy by replacing the innocuous Lapti Nek sequence with whatever the hell is going on in Lucas' Blues-Rock version of that sequence.

It's kind of hard to believe how little of the movie's run-time takes place in Jabba's presence, but it's about 35 minutes of a more than two-hour film.  Everything about the Jabba's Palace sequence is pretty great, from Leia's infiltration to getting found out, Lando playing it on the down-low, C3PO in the dark about the plan (Luke has this utter trust in R2 that, wisely, he does not place on his protocol droid, and it's just gold*).

Leia's gold bikini no doubt is a topic of hot debate, especially as Slave Leia gear is supposedly getting discontinued by Disney.  While a portion of me will always have a place in my heart for the bikini, and while I do understand the issues some fans take with the angle, Carrie Fisher recently pointed out that - hey, some miserable jerk makes her wear the thing, and she kills him with the very chain he had put on her.  So, I'm calling it a tie.

Leia also gets some decent action in during this movie, shooting her way around the sail barge, then on Endor, she's kind of a rock star in both the speeder-bike and final fight scenes.  And check out that pistol shot she takes to knock out the AT-ST driver.

ladies, I cannot guarantee that the "helmet and poncho" look will work for all of you as well as it does for  Princess Leia

The Skywalker family stuff that gets unfolded in this movie is pretty fast and furious, and this is where I compare it to a blunt instrument.  And yet - Luke's arc is pretty fascinating.  His own salvation and future is tied up not in defeating the Emperor, but confronting and, really, turning Vader.  And, of course, having to fight Vader once he's on to the fact Leia could be recruited.  It's that whole family-story played out on a galactic scale but that makes Jedi resonate in it's own way.

And, man, are the space battle scenes in Jedi incredible.  No longer focused on just a trench, we get some phenomenal stuff that I've not really seen done again at that scale in a movie or work that well.

Sure, there's some clunky dialog in this movie, and Han has lost a bit of his edge, but it's not quite the disaster fanboys pretend it is.  I was too young when I first saw it to think the Ewoks weren't edgy enough, and I'm too old now to think there's a better solution out there that really works or matters (that's the privilege of the 16-30 year old movie watcher, and DC is making plenty of superhero movies for you at the moment).

Anyway, I had fun watching it again, even with the tacked on scenes of Coruscant, Naboo, Bespin, et al (I wanted a one-armed Wampa to be cheering with a Tauntaun in the snow, but no dice).

For more of what I said pretty recently on the movie, go here.

*spoiler for Force Awakens - C3PO's arrival was my second favorite gag in the movie.  Perfect use of the character.  My first favorite gag was "stop holding my hand!"

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