[OK I appreciate that the world doesn’t need another post or article about Star Wars right at this minute, and if you’re one of the many who have no interest in the series, or actively dislike it, I’m sure this is probably one of the most frustrating cinematic weeks of the year…if not ever. Anyway, earlier in 2015 I committed to watching the existing films in the run up to Episode VII: The Force Awakens and writing about them on this blog. Unfortunately I’ve only just made it through the original trilogy by the skin of my teeth – A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back are here and here, if you’re interested – and haven’t had time to rewatch George Lucas’ fairly wretched prequels. Well, that’s a lie. I’ve had plenty of time, but life’s too short, and all that. So without further ado here are a few words on Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi, and may the Force be with you.]
Look, I won’t make any bones about it. This one is clearly the worst film in the original Star Wars trilogy, and has long been considered so by the majority of Star Wars fans (or at least the majority that are vocal about their preferences). Famously it includes some extremely wonky special effects, some of the poorest acting seen in the original series (the three leads all shoulder the blame equally, even reliable blockbuster hound Harrison Ford) and also the Ewoks, the little band of potentially lucrative toy teddy bears that represented – at the time of the original cinematic release – George Lucas’ most cynical money-spinning move to date. (As an eight-year-old boy they didn’t offend me too much, which is probably worth considering, since that’s roughly the age of viewer the movie is supposedly aimed at.) Yet it’s still recognisably a Star Wars film, and for a blind fan such as I (blindness is probably just hibernation sickness) that means all manner of unconvincing bits and pieces and terrible dialogue and poor plotting can be forgiven. There are elements of Return Of The Jedi that I still love today, such as the entire first act in Jabba’s Palace, a sequence that concisely ties up most of the loose ends left over from the previous film but is also filled with mini-twists, wit, fantastical creations and swashbuckling action, or the climactic lightsaber duel between Darth Vader (David Prowse/James Earl Jones) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), which nicely draws the father/son story to a satisfying end. If, like me, you feel the decision to revisit the same Death Star threat of Star Wars: A New Hope smacks of a lack of ideas, then at least you can enjoy the editing during the three-pronged battle that takes place in and around the giant weapon, or John Williams’ celebrated score, which changes from one passage to another as we move from space to Endor to the gruelling battle between father and son mentioned above. I still love those speeder bikes, too, zipping in between the thick trunks of giant redwood trees while some of the best sound design used in any Star Wars movie makes us believe they’re way faster than they actually are. And there’s also the film’s strong sense of finality, of simply getting on with the job of being an ending for this engrossing story: Star Wars is patently over at the end of Return Of The Jedi, but like any profitable franchise it was only a matter of time before it would be re-sold, re-made or re-imagined, though Lucas has always maintained that the first three films were the middle parts of a nine-act structure.
That re-imagining makes viewing Return Of The Jedi a little less enjoyable to sit through today. Lucas has repeatedly tinkered with some of ‘his’ films, even if this is technically Richard Marquand’s baby, and it’s becoming quite difficult to get hold of the 1983 version as it was originally released. I watched the post-2004 DVD, of course, which is also known as The One Where You Shudder When The Ghost Of Hayden Christensen Pops Up At The End. Lucas’ special edition project in the mid-to-late 90s made a couple of passable additions to Jedi, but most of it’s unnecessary filler that looks incredibly incongruous next to the old footage. The decision to include an extra-long song-and-dance number during the scenes with Jabba The Hutt is one of the poorest, though I have to register my considerable dislike of the jazzed-up finale too, with its brief detours to various celebrating planets after the Empire falls. The shot of the Imperial homeworld of Coruscant always reminds me of Times Square on New Year’s Eve, although maybe that was a deliberate joke by west-coaster Lucas.
So. If you dislike Star Wars then it may well be because of this film above any other. Personally I enjoy it for many of the same reasons I enjoy the other movies that make up the original trilogy: its strong sense of place, of world-building, as well as the gallery of silly aliens, its ability to make you laugh at and care about the characters at the same time and its simplicity. Plus (yawn yawn) it was such an important part of my childhood; I’m just another one of those guys who can’t let go, and as such I’m incredibly excited to see where the story goes next.
Directed by: Richard Marquand.
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas.
Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, David Prowse, James Earl Jones, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Ian McDiarmid, Billy Dee Williams, Frank Oz.
Cinematography: Alan Hume.
Editing: Sean Barton, Duwayne Dunham, Marcia Lucas.
Music: John Williams.
Running Time: 129 minutes.