If Yoda was still around, how exactly are the Jedi returning?
Screenplay By: Lawrence Kasdan & George Lucas
Directed By: Richard Marquand
It’s always been hard for me to watch Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi. Coming off of the extreme high of Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, otherwise known as the most epic movie ever made, there was very little chance that Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi wouldn’t be anything but a letdown. It certainly does try, and it feels like Star Wars, but it can’t match that previous high and thus no matter how much it tries it can never be good enough. It is in all but production order, the middle child of the family, it can do some things greater than the oldest or youngest child, but because it has to follow directly in the footsteps of its overachieving older sibling it’s always going to get the shaft so to speak.
It’s also a bit harder to write about Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi, and that has nothing to do with any of the previous films but with the structure of Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi itself. The last thirty to forty minutes of Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi really grabbed me and drew me in to what was happening on screen, yes, even the Ewoks. The problem, however, is all those preceding minutes that are formulaic and seem to exist only to buy time until the final moments. It’s a bit of a rough haul, that first hour and a half. We know where the story is going and the wrap-up effect that the screenplay goes into, “This is the final movie in the saga, we have to tie up as many loose ends as possible, so let’s tie this bow nicely, and then this one, and then this one before we get to the finale,” makes that haul even more tedious. I know I sound harsh, and I am being a bit harsh, but with each new viewing of Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi the first two-thirds of the film take on a more and more tedious feel.
Let’s take a break from the negativity for a second, and I’m going to do so by letting my readers at The Domain Of Nihilus know that I do have issues with Vader becoming a Force Ghost, the way Yoda and Ben treat Luke like an assassin and a few other meta subjects. But, as I said in a previous film review, I’m going to save my thoughts on those subjects for other avenues from the Expanded Universe.
One last major area of negativity before I move on to what I liked about Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi, the character of Leia Organa. In my review of Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith I took George Lucas and company to task for what they did to Padmé’s character. Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi leaves Leia in much the same neutered state. No, Leia was never quite as independent or as strong of a character as her mother was portrayed as, but she was still her own woman. In Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi, her independent streak is gone, replaced by a rather meek character who exists only for information to be expressed by either Han or Luke. Although, as chauvinistic as it may be, she did look smoking hot in the slave outfit!
Okay, negativity go away, let’s dig into what I liked about Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi. I already talked a bit about those final forty or so minutes, but the reason I love them so much and why in the end they make this movie for me is because it is about the redemption of a character I really love. The action is still there, the wit is present, the sense of epic has returned, but more than any of that the finale is about bringing a hero back from the brink. Good triumphs over evil, Vader redeems himself and finally finds an avenue for himself other than self-hatred.
That does bring us to an interesting dilemma, the lightsaber duel between Vader and Luke. It is perhaps my favorite duel of the entire saga, this and the Obi-Wan/Anakin duel from Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith switch places for me after every viewing, and the reason for that resides in how emotionally charged the atmosphere of this duel is. As a physical display it works fine and is structured well, but the true greatness in the duel can be found in the atmosphere the score and the emotions present in the duel create. The dilemma I spoke of comes out in the fact that Vader loses to Luke. I’m sorry, but no amount of arguing will ever convince me that Vader didn’t hold back in this duel, and I think it’s thematically important that he does hold back. Vader holding back represents the conflict that is raging within him, with each lightsaber strike a little bit of Vader leaves and more of Anakin seeps back in. Yes, Vader does hold back, but if he doesn’t hold back then the theme of redemption falls apart.
Deserving is the word I will leave you with. Most of the sentences I wrote in my notebook while watching Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi had the word deserving in them. “Boba Fett deserves a better end (I know he’s still alive but you know what I mean)”, “The Empire deserves more than to lose to a bunch of fur balls”, “Leia’s character deserved more,” and so on. I like Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi, it is a fun movie and a nice return to the universe of Star Wars but ultimately it is my least favorite film of the entire saga because I as a fan deserved so much more.
That is that, I know I still have a rebuttal to go, but it is a bit of a downer knowing that Edgar’s thoughts on this movie will represent the finality of our marathon, but either way I look forward yet again to reading what Edgar has to say.
You can check out Edgar’s review at Between The Seats.