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Return of the Jedi

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1983

‘…the decline that began in The Empire Strikes Back has becomes a malaise by now, with continuity stretches making nonsense of the narrative…’

Richard Marquand’s third entry in the Star Wars sequence, by 1983 a franchise, is the subject of many happy childhood memories; the Rebels win, Han is unfrozen, and the sickly-looking Emperor gets tossed off a gantry, always a occupational hazard in these movies. But the decline that began in The Empire Strikes Back has becomes a malaise by now, with continuity stretches making nonsense of the narrative. If nothing else, Return of the Jedi gets zero points for originality; we’re back to blowing up the Death Star before it becomes operational, not the last time that this idea will be revived with endlessly diminishing returns.

So chaos reigns on the big screen due to behind the scenes negotiations. Having frozen Han Solo (Harrison Ford) into a unflattering block of carbon in the previous film in case a deal with Ford wasn’t negotiated, Ford decided to return, meaning his character had to be immediately unfrozen in a long intro set on bounty-hunter Jabba the Hutt’s floating desert yacht. This inessential action gobbles up most of the film’s first forty minutes, with indestructible villain Boba Fett falling in an undignified hole and a weird emphasis on Jabb’s pervy floor-shows and NSFW attitude to Leia (Carrie Fisher looking uncomfortable in a gold lame bikini). Luke Skywalker’s hair seems to have darkened, and so do his attitudes to Leia, revealed by an ailing Yoda and a ghostly Obi-Wan (Alex Guinness) to be his actual sister. Wut? Star Wars having gone soap-opera, Luke has to tell Leia in an overwrought scene that she’s his sister, then there’s another equally overwrought scene in which Leia tries to explain this ridiculous plot twist to Han, who unsurprisingly just wants to get on with shooting things.

In short; the continuity is shot beyond repair. When Lando borrows the Millennium Falcon for the final attack, Han has a premonition that he won’t see it again; this scene presumably relates to an earlier scripted version in which either Han or Lando don’t make it to the end, but it beggars belief that this scene is still in place when everyone survives. Given that Han, Lando and the Falcon all emerge unscathed, what is Han hallucinating about here? Why wasn’t this scene removed? Never mind continuity with the other films, Return of the Jedi doesn’t even have continuity with itself.

Terrible blue and green screen process shots, evil Teddy bear Ewoks killing off the Empire’s crack troops with home-made wooden weapons, narrative-stopping discussions on incest; sure Return of the Jedi may have a few dynamic moments to play with, and does work up a head of steam in the three-stranded narrative finale, but it’s a clunky, awkward bit of world-building that feels more like world ending. Star Wars was a film that offered a unified vision, it came from one man’s instincts for storytelling. By now pinned under the inverted pyramid of success, George Lucas was being pulled in all directions, and you’d need to be a real kid-at-heart to love his garbled vision here, which is at least consistent in offering the same muddle-headedness featuring in the two trilogies to come.

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  1. You really hit the nail on the head in regards to these films being the subject of many happy childhood memories, and honestly that’s why the franchise is held to such an impossible standard, especially among fans that grew up primarily with this trilogy. Nothing will recreate the feeling of seeing the original three Star Wars films as a kid, and a lot of OT fans are blind to their faults. On the opposite end of the spectrum, prequel fans are quite the opposite, as they tend to revel in the awkward cheese of those films.

  2. While it’s hard for most Star Wars fans to find fault with ANY part of the original trilogy, I do agree with some of your critiques here. The epic lightsaber showdown at the end is quite memorable still, and provides a satisfying conclusion.

  3. You are in Paddington Bear territory again. Surprised you have not been deluged with complaints. Strangely enough, you analysis is probably spot on and I always did wonder about the purpose of the secret sister business when it would have made more sense creatively to have two men fighting over the one woman. But wouldn’t be the first film that flew above a ton of plot holes. Most cinematic sci fi has trouble holding the logic together whereas literary sci fi – ie from guys who do this for a living full-time – tends to be properly worked out.

    • Yup, I still feel cheated that Han and Luke never got to fight it out over leia; that’s what was bubbling under in the first film, but got lost in the soap opera. I’d imagine literary sci-fi writers must cringe when they see this kind of storytelling snafu.

  4. I think Return of the Jedi has some of the best movie sets in the entire franchise. I love it all, Jabba’s Palace and Luke meeting Vader on Endor are just a few. Technically, not the greatest film but it just has a charm that I adore. Plus It’s Luke Skywalker at his very best. Highly underrated film in my opinion, but I guess we all have our favourites. Great read.

    • I couldn’t award less than three stars due to the operatic sweep, and the multiple climaxes are really well done. And totally agree, the production design is outstanding.

  5. I’ve never really gotten the success of the Star Wars films. I first watched the originals many years after they were made, and thought they were pretty bad. Like a dummy, though, I seem to keep watching them, the prequels and several of the newer ones. Like the Marvel movies though, I think I’ve finally had enough!

    • There’s a gloss and sheen to these films that makes them easy eye candy, but unfortunately any serious thought means that they fall apart. Is it so hard to come up with a storyline that last for three films and makes sense? It seems to have escaped film-makers for decades….like you, I’m thinking of skipping Marvel movies too, they’re increasingly like episodes of a soap opera viewed over someone elses shoulder….

      • Yes! Exactly! Is is really so hard to make a trilogy? Especially when you’re such an established property that you KNOW you’re going to get to make all 3!!!!!

        Watching them, I feel like I’m Annie Wilkes screaming, “He didn’t get out of the COCKADOODIE CAR!”

        • That’s exactly how I felt watching Han Solo have a flash forward to his death that didn’t happen. He should have had a premonition about falling off a gantry with low railings since that’s how he and pretty much everyone else dies in Star Wars.

          TRADE AD Can you tell a children’s story that could last for three evenings? Without making the central characters motivated by incest? Without turning into a confused jumble of ideas? Apply now to Lucasfilm TM.

  6. now that you’ve wasted 50p (how is a “p” different from a bob by the way?) on the abomination that was the official dvd release, you should waste some more time and money on tracking down the special edition vhs versions. THEN you can watch the original vhs theatrical cuts. That should keep you busy for a couple of days anyway.

    That way you don’t have to worry about Chris Dolley replacing you with a robot version of you.

  7. Well, aren’t you Mister Grumpy this morning.
    Only a grump could feel this way about RotJ.

    Even though even I agree with your assessment of the ewoks. They were the warning light that Lucas was an idiot 😉

    • My grumpiness has already been established and promoted around the world as an eighth wonder.

      I am no friend to Ewoks.

                    • Have you seen any of the Ewok films? It might surprise you to know that they are utter rubbish.

                    • I saw a piece of one on tv when we first got a tv. I think my parents turned it off because it was dealing with witches or something. But I do remember being struck even then how non-heroic the storyline was.

                      I have also seen the Christmas Special in all its infamous glory. Now there was something so bad it was still bad…

                    • The Ewoks Deal with Witches is a title that would pull me in, but the Ewoks universe is weirdly pagan and magic driven.

                      The Christmas Special has similar issues, the Wookiee family don’t have enough range of expression to carry a story. Efforts to create tension and pathos fall flat.

                    • But we must ask ourselves, does ANYONE have enough range of expression to truly celebrate Life Day as it is meant to be celebrated?
                      I put forward that the answer is a resounding NO and that therefore Life Day be banished and “Buy Bookstooge Energy Drinks” Day be instituted in its place.

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