We’re just a few days away, people. The Force Awakens arrives Thursday night, and I’ll be writing up something on Friday. Just in time for the big event: The wayback machine review/recap/whatever of Return of the Jedi.
Coming on the heels of The Empire Strikes Back, Jedi suffers from the comparison. We see glimmers of Star Wars‘ future — dry dialogue, shoehorned cuteness — and it’s certainly the weakest of the original trilogy.
But you know what? It’s really not that bad. Sure, you have to put some things aside as you watch, but the things that make Star Wars great are present here, unlike some of the prequel movies. It’s unmistakably Star Wars.
Let’s dive in.
The opening here does a good job of dropping you into mystery, especially considering the ambiguity at the end of Empire. We’re back on Tatooine, and getting our first (before the Special Editions came out) glimpse of Jabba the Hutt. It’s creepy to see C-3PO and R2-D2 entering the lion’s den, and it’s a nice hit when we see Han ice cubed. You really can’t get too graphic or nasty in a PG movie, but Jabba’s palace is most certainly not a nice place.
The pacing is perhaps a touch slow, but we get to see Chewie taken “captive,” Lando’s infiltration, Han’s thawing and Leia’s rescue attempt before Luke makes his big Jedi entrance — and promptly gets captured. Of course, that’s all part of the plan, and once we’re over the Sarlacc pit, we get a very good action scene, with Luke going Full Jedi on Jabba’s goons.
Again, a little bit slow — compared to the hard open of Star Wars and even the mystery build-up of Empire, it drags a bit. Nothing horrible though.
Then we end up with a second Death Star, which may feel like a bit of a re-tread, but heck — it destroys entire planets. If you want to use fear to keep the systems in line, Death Stars are pretty effective tools. Of course, the Rebels find out about it, many Bothans died, and we’re off to the forest moon of Endor to blow that sucker up.
This feels a little bit like fan service, frankly. Everybody wanted to see the Big Six together again, and we’re treated to Han, Luke, Leia, Chewie and the droids traipsing around the forest before they split up for the big confrontation.
A word about Ewoks: meh. I don’t hate the little buggers as much as others might, though they’re still too cute. They obviously have a savage side, though, and I wouldn’t have minded seeing that played up a bit more. But they’re there, and they help out in the end, and it’s not horrible. (Yes, a bunch of primitive bipeds should not have been able to take out an Imperial battalion. Not even with Rebel help. But the kids love it, right?)
The whole Endor thing, with blowing up the shield generator and the battle with the stormtroopers, seems a bit paint-by-numbers. We get to see Han, Leia and Chewie be creative, get into trouble, get out of trouble and win. But it was the last movie, so you kind of knew that was gonna happen. Maybe they should’ve listened to Harrison Ford, who wanted to see Han killed off, to give the whole thing some weight — but then we wouldn’t get to see him strap on his blaster for The Force Awakens. So we’ll see.
I think the Luke/Vader scenes work much better, especially when the Emperor is in the mix. Ian McDiarmid plays Palpatine with relish and Evil and it’s pretty awesome. Luke’s character goes through the wringer, and the performance is pretty damn good. And of course, we see Vader return to the Light. That wasn’t too horribly predicable going into the movie, and it worked. The one thing that the prequels did well (or didn’t mess up) was to show the beginning of Vader’s arc and how he ended up tossing the Emperor down a well and being the good guy he always wanted to be.
The rest of the characters? Eh. Han does what Han does, and he does it well. Same for Lando and the crew in space. Chewie growls, Threepio fusses, Artoo gets the job done. Nothing super revelatory here, but everyone does a fine job.
I would’ve loved to have seen Leia do more in the latter two-thirds of the film. It takes guts to infiltrate Jabba’s palace and suffer the indignity of capture and slavery, and she wins out in the end very effectively. After that? She’s the Ewok whisperer, and doesn’t freak out nearly enough at the revelation of her parentage — or that she kissed her brother. Leia does actively save Han’s bacon after being shot, though, which is pretty sweet. Still would’ve liked to have seen her doing more with the Rebellion leadership, but I think we’re getting that in The Force Awakens.
As for the slave get-up, well, I’ve dozens of people cosplaying it at every con I’ve been to. And Carrie Fisher, America’s new crazy auntie, summed it any controversy around it quite nicely:
To the father who flipped out about it: “What am I going to tell my kid about why she’s in that outfit?” Tell them that a giant slug captured me and forced me to wear that stupid outfit, and then I killed him because I didn’t like it. And then I took it off. Backstage.
Word. Carrie Fisher is awesome and needs to be on every late-night talk show on a weekly basis. Also, let her choose her own damn outfits. You’ve been warned.
So to sum up: Return of the Jedi wraps up Luke’s journey and Vader’s arc quite nicely, and we’re treated to the destruction of the Empire as we know it. It has all the great action sequences we want, all the snarky quips, all the scenery chewing. Some of it feels a bit rote, especially three decades on, and the Special Editions didn’t do this one any favors. (Seriously, what’s the pan flute music at the end? YUB NUB, y’all.) But in the end, it was a pretty good way to end an iconic movie trilogy.
And now…on to The Force Awakens!