So I watched Return of the Jedi…
So we’ve finally reached the end (or the middle) of the saga – depending on how you look at it. This is probably my least favourite film of the original trilogy but it’s in no way a bad film. My main problem with it is that it retreads familiar ground instead of charting an original course.
Okay, basic plot: Luke Skywalker along with Princess Leia, Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian travel to Luke’s home planet of Tatooine to save Han Solo from Jabba The Hutt. Unbeknownst to our heroes The Empire has been secretly completing plans to build a new Death Star. With the galaxy’s freedom once again hanging in the balance, our heroes must band together to face and destroy the evil Empire. This time, however, facing Darth Vader will not be enough and our heroes must also contend with Vader’s master – The Emperor!
The great thing about a series of movies – in particular, the finale – is seeing the progression in characters. That progression is actually what made me fall in love with this movie. When we first meet Luke in A New Hope, he’s a young man searching for his place in the world. He’s more bravery than actual skill and is entering into a war that will affect him in ways that he can’t possibly imagine. In this movie he steps up, a Jedi Knight, and fulfils all the potential he promised in the first film. He’s confident, steady and more than competent in his abilities with The Force. Seeing him go toe-to-toe with Vader and watching Luke outmatch and outclass him was a thing of beauty. Yes, they had their fight in Empire Strikes Back but that was nowhere near as significant as their battle in this film. The choreography of the actual fight isn’t that amazing but the gravity of the father-son battle, further solidified by John Williams – once again – composing a score of absolute class, is undeniable.
That battle between Vader and Luke is one of my favourite fight scenes of all time. Though I loved that scene and think it’s delivered with great emotional intensity, it’s still just a rehash of something we saw in a previous movie. There aren’t many original moments in this film. From the opening shot of a Star Destroyer flying across the screen, to R2D2 and C-3PO once again trudging across the desert to deliver a mysterious message and, let’s not forget, another Death Star; it’s all stuff we’ve seen before. One of the main drawcards about Star Wars was that it was unlike anything I’d ever seen; where this movie just felt like a flashback to my favourite moments about the first two films. There’s even a part in the story where C-3PO gives us a recap of the first two movies. Sure, he’s explaining the story to The Ewoks but it never feels original enough.
Okay, let’s talk about Ewoks. They seem to be an issue that divides Star Wars fandom. In fact, I’m actually divided on my thoughts of them. I watched Star Wars fairly late in life so the cute, teddy-bear-appeal of Ewoks was lost on me. So when we first meet The Ewoks and they’re being cute and friendly to Leia, I didn’t appreciate that because it felt so un-Star-Wars-like. It was a clear attempt to pander at children and, perhaps, the filmmakers wanted to go for a lighter tone to offset the darkness that Empire Strikes Back had introduced. The Ewoks, however, did prove themselves to be badass! They start out all cute and cuddly but put a squad of stromtroopers in front of those guys and they will tear them to pieces. It’s a good thing that they didn’t have any blood in this movie because, if they did, every Ewok would have been covered in stormtrooper blood. I liked the more violent, crush-your-skull-with-rocks-Ewoks. Either way, The Rebellion would have failed without them.
This movie’s sense of focus was also far too divided for my liking. There’s Luke confronting Vader and The Emperor; Han and Leia on the forest moon of Endor and Lando and the rest of the rebels engaging The Death Star. These three battles are occurring simultaneously and in close proximity of each other but the constant shifting between them prevented me from engaging fully with them individually. The great thing about the previous two films was that the scope was small but the stakes large. In Return of the Jedi, the stakes are still large but the scope is as large and there are just too many new characters and you can’t engage with them the way you could when it was just Luke, Han, Leia and Vader.
I really did enjoy us finally seeing The Emperor. With all the hype and fear surrounding the character and with him being the big bad behind Vader, it could have been difficult for him to not live up to expectation. Luckily, he’s everything I wanted and more. He’s cunning, menacing and has the aura you’d expect from the dark hand who’s been pulling the strings. You can clearly see the fear he inspires in those around him, even in Vader. The two actors behind Darth Vader – David Prowse who did all the physical movements and James Earl Jones who provided the wonderfully terrifying voice – really did a great job expressing the character’s emotions. I have to single out Prowse and director, Richard Marquand, for the way they expressed emotion and conflict in the character with simple turns of the head and focused shots. Even though he’s wearing a mask, I felt like I could always tell what he was thinking and what his expression was under that mask.
Overall, Return of the Jedi, is a film that’s weak only by comparison. Following Empire Strikes Back was never going to be a simple task and, even though, this film chooses the path of familiarity instead of risking originality, it’s still a worthy addition to the saga. Go watch it 7/10