September 11, 2011 1 Comment
Arriving at its much anticipated third instalment, Star Wars had a choice of three trilogy-standard options: sell out, jump the shark or cast Sofia Coppola. Lucas, however – never one to meet audience’s expectations (ZING!) – decided instead to replace the previous film’s battle of Hoth with a giant intergalactic slug, pit our hero against a veritable geriatric, and end everything with cinema’s least welcome Teddy Bear’s Picnic. Have seen this coming, not even Yoda could.
The point, however, is that Return of the Jedi didn’t sully what came before. It might be the weak link in the original trilogy, but in relation to Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back that’s broaching on a regrettable inevitability. Boasting its fair share of iconic moments and franchise highs, Return of the Jedi is still first-rate entertainment, and a film that – at the age of six – I honestly couldn’t get enough of.
R2D2 (Kenny Baker) and C3PO (Anthony Daniels) are once again wandering the Tatooine desert, bickering as though nothing has changed. The truth, however, is that everything has changed: Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is a now one-armed Jedi coming to terms with the revelation that his nemesis is also his father; Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is encased in carbonite and occupying prime space on Jabba the Hut’s mantle; and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) can’t find any shoes to go with her shiny new gold bikini. Inadvertently offering themselves to Jabba as gifts, R2D2 and C3PO could be forgiven for thinking things couldn’t get much worse.
When Jabba soon has near enough the entire Rebel Alliance captive, they begin an uprising which leaves Jabba choking on a slave-girl, Boba Fett waiting it out in the Sarlaac’s stomach and our heroes liberated and ready to fight another day. Departing once again for Dagobah, Luke says his goodbyes to Yoda (Frank Oz) and learns that he may or may not be related to everyone with a name credit in the entire franchise. Han and Leia, on the other hand, rendezvous with the rebel fleet and plan their latest assault on the Imperial Empire.
Landing on The Forest Moon Of Endor (clearly distinguishing it from all those other moons called Endor), our heroes befriend the natives and set about destroying the structure responsible for the new Death Star’s protective shield so that the fleet can attack. Luke confronts Vader only to find himself hauled before the Emperor himself, earning himself a prime view of the destruction of the alliance. When the shield is deactivated, however, Lando Calrissian leads the fleet into the Death Star aboard the Millennium Falcon, successfully destroying the main reactor. Saved from the Emperor by a repentant and injured Vader, Luke escapes in time to catch the fireworks with his friends in a cosy treehouse in the Endor woodland.
Many people chastise George Lucas for continually meddling with his creation, but really, who are they to tell the man how to do his job? It’s an issue that – with the release of the full franchise on Blu-ray – I think is of particular relevance. With the high-definition format suddenly shining a spot light on older movies’ unfortunate wrinkles, we should really be thanking Lucas for maintaining such a level of involvement in his creation so that it moves with the times. It’s value for money really, every time you revisit the movies there is always something new to spot.
I have found myself looking at this phenomenon as a microcosm for the prequel trilogy, the reactions of fans to these tweaks representative of their feelings towards Episodes I, II and III. Think about it, it isn’t that George Lucas has suddenly lost his mojo and decided to urinate all over your favourite movies; it’s just that nostalgia is blinding you to the director’s trademark style. The new song sung in Jabba’s chamber is no more or less awful than the song which preceded it. It’s you that has changed – and while you might have been willing to let the first one slide, having become too familiar to judge it objectively, there is no childhood nostalgia to blind you to the God-awfulness of its replacement.
Return of the Jedi is no better or worse for Lucas’ modifications, I’m just thankful to the director for showing such loyalty to his creation. Whatever Sy Snootles decides to sing, whoever plays Anakin Skywalker’s ghost, it really is completely inconsequential. For those watching the film for the very first time, these changes are likely to have no impact whatsoever.
What makes Return of the Jedi such an enjoyable movie has well and truly stood the test of time. It’s funny, exciting and resolves the numerous plot threads with total satisfaction. It is this dénouement, the final battle, that had – and still has – me foaming like an enchanted school boy. While Luke’s final confrontation with Vader may pail in comparison to the high-octane lightsaber battles of the prequels, it still packs a punch as Luke tries one last time to save his father. Intercut with a large scale ambush on The Forest Moon Of Endor and the second best space-battle this side of Coruscant’s atmosphere, it sees the franchise out on a pulse-pounding high.
Yes the Ewoks are about as agreeable as asbestos; yes Boba Fett bites the Sarlaac without much of a fight; yes that shot during Luke’s tussle with the Rancor still makes no sense (seriously George, all that tinkering and you still haven’t fixed that!?), but I still wouldn’t believe you claimed not to punch the air every time the Falcon escaped the exploding Death Star. Liar liar TIE Fighter on fire.