Sunday, January 1, 2017

Star Wars 6: Return of the Jedi (1983, Movie Review)

       If you were to ask any fan what their favorite Star Wars movie is, they’d typically say that either “The Empire Strikes Back” or “Star Wars: A New Hope” are the best, but personally, my favorite entry in the Star Wars series has been and always will be the 1983 picture titled “Star Wars 6: Return of the Jedi”. I know I’m in the complete minority about this, as this film is often referred to as the “Black Sheep” of the series, but I’m obviously not going to lie about my opinion. Personally, I’ve always thought of the original trilogy as being completely black sheep-less, I just like some more then others. While “Return of the Jedi was still a critical success and often considered a good movie sequel, it doesn’t fare as well with the general audience the same way the first two did. Let’s find out why that is, and why I personally think it out matches its predecessors.

      The story is set several months after the events of The Empire Strikes Back”, in which Han Solo was taken prisoner by the bounty hunter Boba Fett who traded Han off to the most vile space slug of the galaxy called Jabba the Hutt. Now Luke Skywalker and company devote their time to rescuing their comrade and bringing down the slimy gangster. They couldn’t have picked a worse time to get sidetracked because Darth Vader and the mysterious Emperor have constructed a second Death Star that’s even more powerful then the first. Now with the Empire securing their grip on the galaxy, the Rebels need to make one last offensive to end the galactic civil war. Along the way it’s revealed that Princess Leia is Luke’s sister, and other conflicts ensue. Most notable of all is Luke Skywalker fighting to win back his father without falling to the dark side himself.

      A common complaint from fans is that the first act of the movie involving Jabba the Hutt over stays its welcome and has nothing to do with the main story. True, there really isn’t a proper three act structure here, it’s more like two acts with an extra 30 minutes added on to the beginning. 

Personally, I love the opening segment with Jabba the Hutt, it’s kind of like a short movie before the main feature, and sense there were no further sequels with these characters, I feel like this opening demonstrates other adventures our hero’s could have when faced with different villains in the galaxy aside from the Empire. Jabba the Hutt is one of my favorite characters in the whole series, he’s a massive, disgusting space slug with no powers or fighting capabilities, yet he stands tall and dominate over our champions, which is no small accomplishment. The animatronics and puppet work on Jabba are fantastic, and I love his wicked little chuckle. I suppose there’s also the novelty of seeing Princess leia in her classic golden bikini. I also love the battle on Jabba's barge as it's the first full on brawl of the series and the first time we see Luke using his light saber in a fight that doesn’t involve sword fighting another adversary. For whatever it's worth, I've always liked Luke best with his green light-saber, as that always felt like his signature color. The bounty hunter Boba Fett also engages our hero's during the battle, which is a real treat. While his fighting isn’t particularly impressive, we fans of the character might as well savor the moment because it’s his only real combat scene in the whole series. 

       As always, I need to quickly address the special edition changes. The scene when Luke and friends were about to be tossed into the execution pit was originally just an empty whole in the ground, but the special edition features a giant sand worm which just felt more threatening to me and adds more excitement to the scene. Most fans hated the dance number involving the Max Rebo band at Jabba’s palace, but personally ... I actually liked it. I can understand if some people may find it annoying, but let’s face it, Jabba’s palace is an ugly, claustrophobic, colorless location and the time spent with Jabba features our hero’s in bondage for a long time. Because of this, I always felt that the dance number, (while silly) at least helped balance out the mood and livened up his palace. There’s some other changes that need commenting on but for now, let’s get back to the movie as it is.

      I honestly think this film has the best variety of action scenes of the whole original trilogy, ranging from light-saber duals, to monster battles, to epic spaceship brawls and even car chase style action. I’m obviously referring to that awesome speeder bike chase, which also serves as a nice brother and sister sequence. I also love that there’s no distracting musical score, as all you hear in this scene are the motors and sounds of the bikes passing in the distance, which sound awesome. The forest setting also makes things more exciting as they can weave past trees and other obstacles. Another highlight is when Luke is dropped in a monster pit, where he faces the giant Rancor. This is easily one of the coolest giant monsters I’ve ever seen, and a testament to the art of practical creature effects. Princess Leia is also a bad ass in this film, I mean she’s always been tougher than the usual Princess stereo type, but in this movie she’s taking out main villains, gunning down troopers and rescuing herself before her allies even get the chance. 

    Even putting aside all the exciting action sequences, I think this film really nails the characters. Unlike The Empire Strikes Back” which mostly separated our hero’s, “Return of the Jedi” makes them feel more like a close family then either of the previous films. I love all the different interactions and bonding moments between the characters, we see Luke a Leia talk with each other like brother and sister, Han Solo and Lando Calrissian are now best friends again and share fun witty banter, the moments with C-3PO and R2-D2 are great as always, and master Yoda has one last touching moment to share with Luke before he becomes one with the force. We even see the hero’s and the villains in deep conversation, and that’s far more exciting than any amount of action. The moments between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker are fantastic and highlight this film as more than just another good versus evil picture. One of my favorite scenes is when C-3PO shares the stories of his adventures with the Ewok tribe, instead of explaining the situation, he conveys their story like one to be told around a camp fire, and it’s just a really charming moment that always puts a big smile on my face. The only character that I felt got annoyingly snubbed in this film is the Millennium Falcon herself, seriously we never even see our hero’s aboard the ship once, what’s up with that.  

      Well, the new cast of characters make up for that. I really like Admiral Ackbar, he’s the guy with the fish head and most famous for saying “IT’S A TRAP!”  Now lets talk about the Ewoks, because this is one part of the film that many fans have issues with. The Ewoks are a tribe of warriors that our hero’s team up with, but the catch is that their all cute little teddy bear creatures. Many fans find these guys to be really out of place as they make the film more kid friendly. Personally, I always found the Star Wars movies to be perfectly appealing to kids even when the movies were at their most adult moments, and the Ewoks never seemed any more or less marketable to children then R2-D2 was. Nope ... the Ewoks never felt that out of place to me, and it’s nice to see an army of warriors that are more in tuned with nature, as opposed to high-tech machines. It's perfectly understandable why they may annoy some viewers but thankfully they don't spoil the experience of the film ... at least not for me. The main Ewok named Wicked is played by popular midget actor Warwick Davis, and he’s always stood out to me as an iconic Star Wars character in his own right.     

      Of courses this movie introduces us to the Emperor, who’s arguably the most sinister villain in the whole series. Darth Vader may be a bad guy but the Emperor is just a pure skin of evil. He never shouts, nor shows off his powers, instead he’s kept calm and mysterious, which just makes his presence feel all the more eerie. Just about everything he says is in a quiet tone and it’s like a spider whispering into your ear, it’s just downright chilling. He also has a cheerful side with a wicked smile and sick sense of hummer. His powers of controlling lightning are also really cool, we’ve never seen another character do anything like that before, which made it all the more shocking when he unleashes his full power of the dark side. Even when at his most powerful, he still keeps that calm persona. It’s just a great portrayal on a creepy villain.       

      The climax is one of my favorite finale's of all time, and it still thrills me to this day. The Rebel’s launch one final offensive against the empire, resulting in a massive battle on the forest planet Endor, and an even bigger battle in outer space above the planet. I get hyped just hearing that awesome music when the Rebel ships begin their attack. This is also where the novelty of the Ewoks pays off because their methods of fighting against the storm troopers offers a great variety of fun and creativity. The way these guys use the forest location as an advantage against their mechanized adversaries is awesome, and there’s a fun supply of battle vehicles and weapons, including the new walkers. Of course I’ve always loved space ship battles, and this was simply the largest collection of battle ships I’ve ever seen in one outer space showdown. Best of all, these are real models against a blue screen. One of the best moments that always gets me thrilled is when the Millennium Falcon bursts out of the Death Star just before it explodes, which always triggers a “YEE-HAW!” out of me.

But the best scene of all that just elevates this into one of my favorite movies of all time is the final three way confrontation between Luke Skywalker, The Emperor and Darth Vader. This goes much deeper than a hero fighting off the villains, this is Luke Skywalker battling his fate and concurring his own demons while also trying to save his father from himself. There’s lots of visual symbolism that just adds to the quality of the scene. I love that image of Luke when he’s hiding, and half of his face is in shadows, while the other half is in the light, illustrating how he’s at the cross roads of destiny and needs to determine which path to take. The final light saber dual is very subtle and easily the best of the series because it trades over the top fighting choreography for a more human approach. There’s a hauntingly somber musical score that brings this conflict to life on a grand scale. Then the final scene in which Darth Vader sacrifices himself to save his son is one of my favorite moments in motion picture history. With zero dialog and no facial expressions you can just feel the turmoil going on his this character as he makes his choice, and it just ends this series on such a perfect high note.   

       Everything then wraps up in a nice little epilogue as father and son share one last touching moment together, and our hero’s have a triumphant celebration. Over the years there have been several alterations to this ending that I have mixed feelings about. The short montage of all the different planets celebrating the downfall of the empire certainly made it feel more triumphant, and it was a nice touch to see the Emperor’s statue brought down just like Adolf Hitler’s. I especially loved the new John Williams outro score, as it just sounded more beautiful and uplifting then the music of the original track. The only change I hated was in the 2004 DVD version that inserted Hayden Christensen as the spiritual essence of Anakin Skywalker, when the original featured Sebastian Shaw. There was just no reason to do that, he turned good before he died, so why would he revert back to his younger self, and besides he was never even good when he was young Hayden Christensen.   

     Overall, Return of the Jedi is just the perfect conclusion to a great trilogy of movies, and a rare third installment that I find to be superior to its predecessors. I can understand why some people may have issues with this movie ranging from the Ewoks to the broken three act structure, but I feel this one gets it where it counts. Not only is this a highly entertaining Sci-Fi adventure, with amazing battles both on land and in space, but this is the one with the most heart and conflict at the center of the action. It really is the father and son relation that makes this film so much more powerful, memorable and it’s one of the most triumphant endings that a great trilogy could possibly ask for. I loved this movie when I was a kid, I find myself loving it a little more every time I watch it and to this day, it’s not only my favorite entry in the Star Wars saga, it’s personally one of my favorite movies of all time.

I give Star Wars 6: Return of the Jedi a perfect 5 stars out of 5.
    To Be Continued ...

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