Thursday, December 17, 2015
Return of the Jedi Film Review
Director: Richard Marquand
Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones, Ian McDiarmid, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz
MPAA Rating: PG
Length: 136 Minutes
A Tremor in the Force
This review is of the 2004 DVD Re-Release, which includes re-touched footage and added sequences from the 1997 Special Edition (a.k.a. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi). However, while reviewing the film I actively ignored the Special Edition add-ons, and this review will be based on the original footage as well as my memories of the original cut of the film. In a specially marked section I will discuss the Special Edition footage, which includes a few spoilers for Return of the Jedi. There will also be spoilers for The Empire Strikes Back in the main article.
It had been a long time since I've seen Return of the Jedi. As a kid, I loved this movie. I loved the climactic space battle, climactic lightsaber battle, and when the ending rolled around on my first viewing of my dad's VHS copy, I wept. This movie hit all the right notes for me as a kid, but now that I'm a little older a few cracks have begun to show. This is still a fine film, and leagues ahead of the prequels, but it is the weakest of the originals.
Some time after Han Solo's (Harrison Ford) capture at the hands of Darth Vader (James Earl Jones), Luke (Mark Hamill), Leia (Carrie Fisher), Lando (Billy Dee Williams), and Chewie (Peter Mayhew) have tracked Han to Tatooine. There he is held in deep carbon freeze, under the watch of the notorious gangster Jabba the Hutt. The group launches a desperate rescue attempt to free Han, and after their daring escape they learn that The Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) has built a second Death Star over the forest moon of Endor. Now the reunited heroes must destroy a shield generator on the planet so that the Rebel Alliance can launch one final assault on the Empire to determine the fate of the galaxy.
For a third chapter, Return of the Jedi is one of the best trilogy enders out there, which really, isn't saying a whole lot. It successfully delivers on several plot points that were carried over from The Empire Strikes Back, such as the truth behind Luke's parentage, and it also builds on several other plot points in a satisfying way. Without spoiling too much the plotline that began during the climactic battle in Empire, pays off in spades. The final showdown is wonderfully epic, and it's about more than just a simple battle, there's a huge set of emotional stakes on the line as well.
As far as the acting goes, the cast all take a half step down from the last film, probably because of the slightly less focused script. Which isn't to say that performances are bad, they're just far more subdued that in Empire. Most of the heavy lifting from the performances comes from the scenes with Luke, Vader, and The Emperor (who is played so perfectly by Ian McDiarmid, that George Lucas brought him back for the prequels, and digitally added him into The Empire Strikes Back), and the rest of the cast is stuck playing sidekick for a bunch of violent teddy bears, which actually happens for those of you that don't know about the Ewoks.
The movie lingers a little too long in it's opening act, much like Revenge of the Sith. Then, unlike the third prequel, the second act drags it's heels like a pissed off Mule, and once the action picks back up the film never reaches the lofty heights reached by the first two films, or even it's own opening sequence. This is mostly due to the blatantly kid friendly Battle of Endor, which exists in stark contrast to the violent space battle raging overhead, and Luke's own confrontation with the forces of the Dark Side.
It kind of baffling just how the tone of this movie can shift so suddenly. This film is from a very different era of filmmaking. Were it made today, it would probably be just short of an "R" rating, and none of the principal cast would be allowed to smile. Instead, Richard Marquand had to make a film that would appeal to longtime fans, their (most likely) young children, and newcomers alike. With such a tall order to fill, it's no wonder that the script is a little messy, and some of the sequences feel off.
Still, in spite of its flaws, this is a solid piece of escapism. That is, until...
...the damned Special Edition content rears its ugly heads...
Perhaps the most intrusively tampered with of the three original films, Return of the Jedi is almost un-watchable because of Geroge Lucas' insane whims. There's two major sequences that have been given the "Special" treatment. The first is in Jabba's Palace, where George Lucas thought there should be 100% more song and dance routines. So, we the unsuspecting public get to be subjected to perhaps the most awkward CG musical sequence ever devised. There's no point, it's not all that interesting, and again, 2004 CGI looks like dung. There was also a beak added to the Sarlaac Pit at the climax of the first act, for some reason...
Perhaps the worst offender of all though is the addition of Hayden Christensen in the final moments. In the original cut, Luke while celebrating with the Rebels and Ewoks sees the ghosts of Obi-Wan, Yoda, and his father, smiling brightly on him. In every release of the film since 2004, Geroge Lucas replaced the actor who played the dying Darth Vader with Hayden Christensen. Not only does this not make sense (how would Luke know what his father looked like when he was young?), but it also looks awful as Hayden Christensen's eyes don't track along with the other two ghosts, and he has a look on his face like his mom just told him he couldn't have a cookie. This one shot put me in such a bad mood after my viewing today, that I almost considered giving this film a lower score, but I swallowed my rage, and remembered how much this film used to mean to me.
...Disney, where's the original cuts already?
Anyways, this is a perfectly enjoyable film, and probably one of my all time favorite trilogy enders out there. When I was a kid, I used to wonder if the story from Return of the Jedi would ever be continued. I assumed that would never happen, but back then my grasp of the film industry was less that knowledgeable, and I didn't understand that a seventh chapter was inevitable.
And it's finally come. In two hours, I'll be able to tell you if we've finally gotten the Star Wars sequel we all wanted.