Friday, September 3, 2010

Return of the Jedi Review

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

I always wished I had lived through the old Star Wars phenomenon and seen their debuts on the bigscreens. However, audiences at the time had to wait THREE YEARS between each film, and I don’t know if I could handle that. I don’t even think I could wait three days between watching them back-to-back… to-back. Kersh was asked to return to the director’s chair, but sadly, the aging filmmaker declined, unwilling to dedicate another three years to a film like he did on Empire. Lucas wanted Spielberg instead, but was legally unable to hire him since Lucas had quit the Director’s Guild. See, Lucas hated Hollywood. He was a martyr for independent filmmakers who constantly fought for creative freedom. He founded Lucasfilm, his own production company, ILM, his own special effects company, and THX, his own high-quality audio company. Lucas ended up funding Jedi out of his own pocket and hiring a foreign director, Richard Marquand, to master the reigns of Jedi (although reports say Lucas was quite the backseat driver). Episode VI is often considered the weakest of the original trilogy. However, I feel the opposite.

Jedi is actually my favorite chapter of the old testament. It’s such a satisfying conclusion. All the cliffhangers are resolved, all the plants get great payoffs, the villains that were only in the background of the previous films finally get the spotlight, and Luke gets to unleash all his awesome newfound abilities. The moment he “Forces” open the gate to Jabba’s palace, you just know he’s a full-fledged, ass-kicking jedi. He barely touched his lightsaber in New Hope, and in Empire, he mainly used it in his duel against Vader. But in Jedi, he always has it activated, slicin' up gangstas, stormtroopas, and of course, Vada. Their rematch is fantastic. VADER THROWS HIS SABER! It’s the only time anyone ever does that in a saber duel. Other than that, the two don’t use The Force for anything “physical” like they did frequently in their first duel. Instead, they’re constantly using it for “mental” abilities. The entire battle, Vader is trying to turn Luke to the Dark Side while Luke attempts to turn Vader back. Vader even violates Luke’s mind to expose and exploit his weaknesses. It’s very well-done, down to the symbolic lighting; Luke is lit half and half when he’s conflicted, in darkness when he goes apeshit, and returns to the light once he defeats the temptation. Watching Vader finally have a character arc is just as powerful and emotional every time I see it.

The action scenes are top-notch. And unlike Lord of the Rings, where a pretty blonde boy hogs all the action-hero moments, each Star Wars character is given an equal piece of the action. Han and Chewy get to kill Boba Fett. Lando and Wedge get to blow up the second Death Star. Leia gets to strangle Jabba with the very chains he enslaved her in -- feminists, eat your heart out. Even little Artoo gets to kick some ass. And Luke is wisely given the most “action-hero moments” of all, as the main protagonist should (I’m lookin’ at you, Frodo). The climax masterfully cross-cuts between three terrific battles. I love how the tide of the three battles shift in tune with each other and that the outcome of each battle effects the other. It’s extremely exciting. The main reason people rag on Jedi are the Ewoks. Many have complained at how unrealistic it was that a primitive race could have defeated a legion of stormtroopers. Psh, I can’t believe this attracted so much criticism! The less likely victory is, the more engaging the battle is! I love seeing the underdogs overthrow much greater adversaries. That’s like a law of cinema. And I don’t see how the battle could leave you with any doubt -- we see every single little attempt the Ewoks make against the Empire, many of which fail. If the Ewoks were all 7-foot tall Wookiees like Lucas had originally planned, no one would have objected. But too many people can’t see past the “cutesy” factor. Judge them by their size, do you?

The original trilogy had an ensemble of great characters. Even the minor roles obtained major popularity -- Greedo, Wedge and Admiral Ackbar, to name a few. I think the reason the characters are so charming is the same reason the cheap special effects are: they arouse the imagination. The characters all have such interesting histories and the supporting roles have such a strong and memorable presence that we can’t help but wish we could see more of them. Just look at Jabba the Hutt, Boba Fett and the Rancor. Jabba is a morbidly obese slug that’s practically immobile. It really makes you wonder how he became such a powerful and respected crimelord. Everyone knows Boba Fett, despite that fact that his name is only dropped once in the entire trilogy. But his intelligence, centurion helmet, and iconic jetpack made him fondly memorable (and my favorite character in Lego Star Wars II). The Rancor is my all-time favorite movie monster. He’s a gigantic, terrifying, ugly mess of sharp objects. But after Luke defeats it, something very interesting happens: a chubby bastard rushes into the scene and breaks into tears. The Rancor wasn’t such a savage monster after all. Someone loved it like a pet, and it probably loved him, too. I imagine the owner taking it for walks in the dune sea and teaching it to fetch Jawas. It's little touches like that that made the characters so endearing.

The special effects in Jedi were outstanding. I can’t believe most of them were still oldschool techniques. Believe it or not, the spaceships and Walkers are still models shot in stop-motion. The treetop Ewok village was a painting. The speeder-bike chase scene was done by shooting “walks through the forest” in fast-motion. It took three puppeteers to bring the Rancor model to life and thirteen puppeteers to operate Jabba. Man, I love all these retro techniques! To me, they look far more real than CGI, probably because they’re actually created with real, tangible objects. You can feel their texture. And despite being the third film, Jedi actually features more indie, B-movie tricks than either of its predecessors. The mix of super-cool and super-cheesy effects creates a very special appeal that I can’t even explain. Either you get it or you don’t. All three films in the original trilogy won a special achievement awards for their visual effects, making a total of 10 Academy Awards and 19 Saturn Awards. Overall, I consider A New Hope the most historically important, Empire the “best” and Jedi my favorite. I also consider the original triptych as one film, which I personally deem the greatest film of all time. 5/5 stars.

There you have it: my fanboy love letters to the old ones. But how will the new trilogy compare? Reviews coming soon. In the meantime, here’s a little bonus review: my thoughts on the alterations made to the original trilogy: I have a bad feeling about this…

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