While flawed, Return of the Jedi is fitting end to Star Wars saga
That’s not to say Jedi is a massive disappointment — following Empire, one of the greatest films ever — would be a tall order for any movie. There’s a lot of great Star Wars moments, but there’s a few issues that reaching the heights of its original trilogy predecessors. And as an ardent Ewok supporter, those issues have nothing to do with the teddy bear Empire assassin squad.
Making another case to watch the films in the non-chronological order of Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith and then Return of the Jedi is it spaces out the whole destroy the Death Star plot line.
There’s just something uninspired about Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and the gang having to repeat their greatest victory to vanquish the Empire for good this time. Until Episode VII…
Problems creep up early on with the mission to rescue Han Solo (Harrison Ford) from the clutches of Jabba the Hut. Luke sends the gang undercover to spring Han, but instead of continuing the serious, desperate tone of Empire, it’s played more for unnecessary laughs.
Of all the films creator George Lucas has relentlessly tinkered with via special editions, Jedi arguably suffers the most from the “fixes.” Ironically, of the original trilogy, Jedi is the film that would benefit the most from CGI enhancing the now dated looking technology, but on that end is largely untouched.
The goofy additional dance number in Jabba’s palace further erodes what should be a seriously major moment in the franchise — Luke’s emergence signifying the return of the Jedi. Every Star Wars film has a noticeable amount of humor, but too often those bits felt forced and added little to the film.
For all the griping about the Ewoks, yes they’re a pretty obvious merchandising ploy, but at the very least those little furballs’ guerilla warfare tactics and sheer numbers put them on somewhat even footing with the Empire. And they’re not being led into battle by Jar Jar Binks.
My biggest beef with Jedi remains the puzzling switch to put Hayden Christensen’s Anakin in the final scene despite Vader’s last heroic act being as an older adult. I’d happily deal with Greedo shooting first to get that change reverted to Sebastian Shaw in his rightful place.
Reportedly there were major battles behind the scene as Lucas and some cast members reportedly clashed with Director Richard Marquand so intensely that Lucas and Marquand’s directorial assistant had to complete the film. It’s doubtful Lucas would have had similar issues with his initial choice, Stephen Spielberg, who was unable to due to Lucas’ problems with the Directors’ Guild.
Despite the behind the scenes’ strife, Jedi still has a number of iconic Star Wars scenes such as the magnificent speeder bike segment. The other is the most important scene in the entire saga — the final duel between Luke and Darth Vader (David Prowse/Bob Anderson voiced by James Earl Jones).
Empire’s duel had more layers, The Phantom Menace duel most skillfully set up and the Sith duel had more raw emotion, but this duel wasn’t just a battle, but a son redeeming his father from the corrupting influence of The Emperor (Ian McDiarmid once again outstanding as the pompous, manipulative main villain).
Beautifully lit with just the green and red from the lighsabers illuminating Vader and Luke’s silhouettes accompanied by John Williams’ score, this is a majestic moment and fitting conclusion to Vader’s tale.
I wish there were more for Han, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) to do besides essentially blowing up a bunker while Lando (Billy Dee Williams) gets the deja vu task of destroying the Death Star. C-3P0 (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) at least get some nice moments at Jabba’s palace and hanging with the Ewoks.
Han Solo doesn’t get many opportunities to be the daring, swashbuckling smuggler he was in Star Wars and Empire where he was more the conflicted hero. In Jedi, he’s cleared his debts and is a smiling, happy member of the Alliance. The edge that helped make Han such an intriguing character is completely wiped away for a kinder, gentler general and much less interesting hero.
Thankfully Luke is there to pick up the slack. As a general Jedi rule, whenever Luke is on screen, the film is pretty great — a statement that wasn’t always true previously, or at least due to Luke. This is Luke’s film and Lucas and co-screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan give him ample scenes to shine.
From the initial scene at Jabba’s palace, reuniting with Yoda (Frank Oz) to zooming along on a speeder bike on Endor to his fateful showdown with Vader, Jedi is less a terrific sci-fi ensemble and more Luke’s show. It works due to the character’s journey from frustrated farmboy to eager hero to mature Jedi.
Where Jedi truly excels is the personal connection established with the characters to make you care about the finale. Those moments with Han, Leia and Luke feel special and R2 and 3P0’s banter is always satisfying. And the climactic fight has greater meaning than good guy vs. bad guy and a conflict with the Rebellion and Empire because of the personal investment in the battle.
Jedi takes a little longer to get going, but once it does, the Star Wars finale ends on a satisfying and rewarding note for fans who watch it for the first of 50th time.
Rating: 9 out of 10
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