Monday, June 15, 2009

"I don't know. Fly casual."

1983’s Return of the Jedi brought the Star Wars Trilogy to a close, and appropriately that’s the next movie on the slate to watch. Once more, I’m working with the 2006 Limited Edition 2 disc set which contains the theatrical cut on one disc and the 1997 Special Editions on the erroneously named “disc 1”

Once again the director’s chair changed hands, with Richard Marquand taking over.

Han Solo is rescued from his carbonite prison and the Rebellion mounts a final offensive against the Empire and its new Death Star. In the meantime, Luke Skywalker moves toward his fated confrontation with his father, Darth Vader.

R2-D2: The little droid continues to be a Swiss Army Knife of useful MacGuffins, smuggling weapons and serving drinks at the same time.

C-3PO: So he spends almost the entire movie teamed up with Artoo, providing more comic relief. This time around though, Threepio also ends up being useful to the heroes, being revered as a god by the Ewoks of Endor. That’s definitely a first for the golden droid.

General Lando Calrissian: By this movie, Lando’s made up for his betrayal in the first movie, getting a promotion and being in on Han’s rescue. Then he separates from the other heroes to lead the assault on the Death Star and ends up being the only other person in the movies to fly the Falcon. Not bad at all.

General Han Solo: Han’s back, but doesn’t seem to really have much of an arc. He’s already become a full time hero in Empire. Here he’s more of the same and gets his romance arc with Leia completed. Still, Han Solo screen time is good screen time.

Princess Leia: Leia fully becomes an action girl, infiltrating Jabba’s Palace with style and later kicking ass on Endor. She’s also the lynchpin of this movies twist. Oh yeah, and along the way she gets captured again and turned into a pop culture sex symbol that helped usher in a generation of nerdy boys into puberty. Metal bikinis

Chewbacca: Still in the sidekick/muscle role, but Chewie finally gets a little solo time to basically turn the tide for the ground battle.

Yoda: Yoda’s not on screen much, but damn he’s still impressive. Its quite surprising how moving a puppet’s death scene can be.

Darth Vader: Vader comes across as having second thoughts. Luke’s his son, determined to confront him and the Emperor. Vader seems a little…I don’t know, mellow in this film. He doesn’t choke anyone.

The Emperor: The “guy behind the guy” and this movie’s Villain. A menacing, scheming, withered old bastard in a black bathrobe. His presence naturally lowers Vader’s menace. After all, a guy who can boss around a guy like Vader has to be bad news. Still, he doesn’t really seem to upstage Vader because the Emperor has no arc. He simply smiles sinisterly and twirls his moustache (well, if he had one)

Admiral Ackbar: It’s a trap!

Luke Skywalker: You know, considering where he was in the first movie, you wouldn’t think that Luke was this film’s badass, but he is. Okay, first he’s matured since being by his suddenly revealed father in the last film. He’s capable, powerful and one of the most powerful assets in the Rebellion. He orchestrates Han’s rescue with a LOT of contingency plans (like being captured), and kills a giant monster with only a skull. Luke’s a Machiavellian genius in this film. The real arc for him is his struggle with his bloodline. Just how much of his father’s weaknesses are in him. How much does he want to kill the Emperor? How close does he dare get to becoming amorally powerful? Its rather compelling stuff without lessening Luke’s “just as planned” gambit to redeem his father.

Visuals (Direction/Effects)
Three years after Empire, the special effects are the tightest of the three movies, as well as being central to the action scenes. Jabba’s a fantastic visual, the stop motion for the walkers is outstanding, and the rancor is a fantastic monster in the Ray Harryhausen tradition. In terms of fighting, the Battle of Endor probably has the best dogfight of the three. The ground battle on the other hand feels a little long to me.

In terms of directing, I’d equate it below Empire but a little bit above Star Wars. The playing around with lighting and framing to create mood is great, but the pacing is slower and has a little less tension than Empire.

I have to admit, I think the writing on Jedi is maybe the weakest of the three. Its much more serious than most of Empire’s dialogue and probably the least enjoyably quotable of the trilogy. Han and Lando are still pretty snarky, but Threepio & Artoo’s lines aren’t quite as good as in the other films. The serious dialogue seems a little too hamfisted as well.

If saying the Star Wars trilogy has epic sound effects and music sounds like a broken record, then I don’t want to be fixed. John Williams’ score + Ben Burtt sound direction = Epic Win. Some of the music in Jabba’s Palace delves into synthesizers, but I can forgive that for the “Yub Yub” song at the end. Its impossible to listen to it without a grin.

Return of the Jedi was my favorite of the Trilogy growing up, but after the passage of time and a BA in English later, I have to give in to the prevailing wind and admit that The Empire Strikes Back is the best of the three. Doesn’t mean that I like Jedi less than I used to, but Empire is better crafted. I think that part of the problem with Jedi is that it mirrors the first Star Wars A LOT, and not just because of the Death Star. The movie starts with Vader making a strong entrance, then shifts to the two droids on a desert planet getting captured by strange and dangerous aliens before Luke shows up.

Still, the movie has worth. It is fun and a pretty good conclusion to the Star Wars ADVENTURE! Ultimately I recommend it.

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