The next movie down in my #watchemall series has been completed – Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. It is a week late, due to some illness in the family. I need to get them all in before Episode IX, which as I write this is now 12 days away. Anyway, I watched it last night, and as expected, I really enjoyed it. While Empire is still the King of all Star Wars movies, it’s difficult for me to decide which of the other two OG movies I like second. I tend to vacillate, but there’s a lot in this one that’s fun.
First off, I was the absolute target of this movie when it came out originally. I was 18 years old, and as an 18 year old Teen, a Star Wars movie was definitely right up my alley. Space battles, light saber duels, some great action, and of course Carrie Fisher’s slave girl outfit. I remember going to see this immediately, at something like the 3PM showing on the first day, when I came out afterwards, the line was around the block for the 6PM showing – or whatever the times were.
One thing I wanted to get out of the way first was this reaction. I remember well my thoughts on that afternoon in 1983. When they got to the big battle at Endor, I was amazed by the special effects with a ton of Tie Fighters on screen all at once with the Star Destroyers. My thought right then was “if this is how special effects have improved just from 1977 to 1983, imagine how good they’ll look when they finally get around to doing the lat one” (at the time there was a plan to do 12 movies over four trilogies, which got reduced later). To an extent, that happened. The special effects in Episode III’s opening battle are just a whole different universe than anything we see here, and in 1983 – this was the shit. It was amazing.
I know I’ve spent some time in my reviews for Episodes IV & V talking about the changes that George Lucas has made, and I need to make a reference to that subject again, as two of my most detested changes to a movie are in this one. Again, for the most part the tweaks aren’t a huge issue. Things like making the Ewoks blink are fine. Cleaning up/enhancing special effects are fine (like making the Sarlacc pit more menacing). Even some of the lesser ones – like changing a line from Han Solo from “It’s alright, trust me” to “It’s alright I can see a lot better”, while odd aren’t bad. The environmental changes are all good. But the bad ones are fairly bad in this movie. To me the worst ones are:
- The dancing and singing in Jabba’s Palace. While I get from a story standpoint why it’s there, they changed it to something positively dreadful in the Special Editions. It’s completely unlistenable now, and might be the worst scene in any Star Wars movie now.
- Darth Vader saying “Noooooo” twice when he throws the Emperor over the chasm and he (seemingly) dies. Additionally, the Emperor screaming as he’s falling down. As a secondary note, he’s the most powerful Sith/bad guy there is, a simple fall down a chasm shouldn’t have killed him.
- The changing of Sebastian Shaw as Anakin’s Force Ghost to Hayden Christensen.
- The changing of the final music in the Ewok celebration.
I started trying to rank these changes, and they’re pretty bad, so I changed it from a numbered list to an unnumbered list. If you want to see all of them, then check out this video..
There’s a few other things that always bugged me too (I promise this whole thing isn’t bad, I really do love this movie). They are…
- Why does Jabba The Hut say that you’ll learn a new definition of pain as you’re digested over 1,000 years? You’d die WAY earlier than that. there isn’t enough material for the creature to feed off your body for that long. Even if there was, you’d have died of natural causes in like 1/10 of the time.
- Boba Fett. I never understood where his reputation came from. We’re supposed to believe he’s this respected, badass bounty hunter, but every time you see him, he is ineffective. He gets eaten in this movie.
- The Empire needs to stop making Death Stars. If you count the third one in Episode VII (Starkiller Base), that’s three of them that were built and blown up – in more or less the same way. You’d think they’d learn after one, but after two your solution is “Oh, just make it larger”? Uh, OK.
- How does Leia remember her mother? She shouldn’t be able to, because Luke doesn’t. I know it’s a retcon thing, but it still bugs me a bit that it doesn’t match with the later-invented events of Episode III.
- Yoda looks SO MUCH better as a puppet. When they made him CGI after the second release of Episode I, it was never as good. He was way better as a puppet – but of course a puppet can’t have a light saber duel, either. :)
But seriously, I’m not here to totally dump on the movie, I really do love it. The thing is, despite all the stuff I listed above, the whole movie works. It’s far better than I remember it. Over the years, I had Empire on such a high pedestal that Jedi felt like a bit of an afterthought. I never ever disliked it, but it wasn’t anywhere near Empire to me. As I age, I’ve changed on that – while I still think Empire is clearly the best, Jedi is better than I remembered it being. What I do remember is totally buying into the plot when I first saw it. I didn’t find fault with anything, and perhaps my snark above comes from 30+ years of watching it. But I have strong memory of being emotionally involved in it, thinking “Oh shit” when the Emperor sprung his trip.
I loved the scene with Yoda – it feels stronger now given I’ve seen the movies that came after this. Seeing the subsequent appearances of Yoda (Episodes I, II, III, & VIII) – seeing him die again here made his death scene a bit more cool. Of all the movies he’s in, this is close to the shortest appearance, yet it’s one of my favorites. I remember at the time thinking the same thing Luke did.. “You can’t die, Master Yoda!” Wish we got more Yoda, although his reappearance in Episode VIII was quite nice.
This movie had a nice mix of comedy, and what was in there, it wasn’t totally in your face, it felt natural. I loved the joke about the Rancor keeper being sad when the creature was killed. The group getting stuck in a rope trap on Endor, and having to get out, C3PO flying around like a God, and a scene where Han was talking to C3PO and kept interrupting him. The Ewoks being drug by a walker when they tried to trip it… All good stuff.
Harkening back to Carrie Fisher’s look. For obvious reasons we know why this 18 year old (and the 54 year old) still likes her outfits this movie. But that issue aside, I felt she looked the best she looked in any Star Wars movie. The version of her from the newer films is nice, but she’s much older, and lived a hard life. However, in the original Trilogy, I thought the white outfit she wore all the time in the original film didn’t flatter her a lot, and in Empire, she had a militaristic look the whole film. Jedi I thought she looked amazing, and not JUST the slave girl outfit. The long hairstyles she had in the Ewok village was great – I’m a sucker for long hair anyway… But just the outfits she wore were awesome.
I also really liked Lando in this movie – he as a character is extricated from his situation on Cloud City, and is “out there” with all the other characters. I really had wished he came back when Han was still alive, but at least we’ll get him in Episode IX, which as I write this is about two weeks away from release.
Jabba the Hut was at the time this was first released I thought a better execution than the way he was inserted into the 1997 Special Edition of the original film. I’m aware of the scene that was filmed for that first movie and discarded. But the way it originally played out I thought worked better. Jabba was mentioned in both Episodes IV & V, as a background threat. Everyone seemed to respect the threat, but we never saw it, so you got to build your imagination towards it. Then we finally saw him in the third film and it was like “Oh man, we’re going to Jabba’s place finally”. The issue with the SFX aside, I never liked adding him in to the original movie, I felt it should have stayed the way it was with the slow burn over the trilogy.
I’m also not sure how I really feel about “another” Death Star. If you look at it from a practical standpoint, the Empire was probably going to build more than one of the things anyway, so building two at once isn’t a huge surprise. But from a moviegoer standpoint, I remember thinking at the time.. “Gee, another Death Star? Couldn’t they come up with something else?” I mean it was fun, but given how relatively easy Death Stars are dispatched, it doesn’t feel to me to be much of a threat.
Then there’s the Ewoks. There’s a lot of people who don’t like the prequels, nor the JJ era movies, they think Star Wars begins and ends with the original trilogy, and even a lot of them don’t like the Ewoks. They felt it was too kiddie, too non serious – boy did they get a shock some years later with Jar Jar Binks. But I always say, Star Wars isn’t made for the middle aged guy whose life has been spent digesting these movies to the nth degree – they’re made for kids, and man, do the Ewoks work that way. I’ve always been indifferent – I don’t hate them, I don’t love them, but when I watched it last night, I really enjoyed them. They had both seriousness and comedy to them. There’s some practical issues on how their bows and arrows would take down a stormtrooper, but hey – I’ll ignore that. They were fun, and I enjoyed them. Even got in probably the most emotional moment of the movie when one was blown up, and their friend (kid?) was sad over their dead body. Was a harsh moment stuck in the middle of the battle.
I did at the time really love the speeder bike chase through the forest. I’ve always known how they fixed that from a technical standpoint, but it was well executed, I thought. In 2019, it’s obvious to see the green screen stuff, but the sequence was still enjoyable. Especially the time an Ewok steals a speeder and goes off into the forest.
The battle with the Emperor at the end with Vader and Luke was well done too. Full of tension, and brought in all the other strands of the movie – I thought it was well structured. Although a nit here – when Vader finally overcomes his evil and dispatches the Emperor, what exactly kills him? I mean Luke hacked on him a bunch with his light saber, so yeah, I’d expect him to be hurt a bit – and it provides something that’s in as many Star Wars movies (meaning all of them) as “I have a bad feeling about this”… I speak of someone getting their arm/hand chopped off. But anyway, what kills Vader? He’s standing there all healthy, and Like wails on his arm, and then when the Emperor is gone, Vader is wheezing, and has to be carried off. I never understood from 1983 till 2019 what exactly causes Vader to die – he says “nothing can stop that now” – but WHAT KILLED HIM?!? At worst he’d lose an arm, but that alone shouldn’t have killed Vader. Massive plot hole, there.
One other Lucas change I needed to mention. It was replacing Sebastian Shaw as Anakin Skywalker with Hayden Christensen at the end when it’s Force Ghost time at the Ewok party. I always liked seeing Anakin as the old guy – course I was around for the originals, and remember them. It’s not just that reason, though – the Anakin we see as a force ghost with Christensen looks like he could be Luke’s drinking buddy, not his father. Here’s a couple of pictures of that. Also, when we lost Carrie Fisher a couple of years back, I saw someone edit her into this scene as a force ghost, too. So here’s a pic of the Christensen and Shaw versions of this shot – the latter having Fisher edited in by a fan. ;)
Also, don’t forget to look at that changes video I linked to above which has the far superior original ending scene music in it.
- Biggest Problem: George Lucas’ edits again – back to “Han Shot First” level annoyances
- Biggest Strength: The overall pacing and the way the various plot points intersect
- Overall Rating: B. This movie has improved in my eyes over the years.
As I said above, I didn’t use to care for this one as much – mostly due to it not being Empire Strikes Back, but I really enjoyed it last night when I watched it. It’s well constructed, has some nice emotion, a sprinkle of comedy, and some great action. Far better than my memory had it filed.
If the trailers for Episode IX are anything to go by, we’re going to revisit some bits from this movie – there’s a scene in the trailer for that movie which looks like it takes from the Emperor throne scene here. So I’m hopeful we’ll have some ROTJ references in Episode IX.
Bottom line – excellent movie, definitely worth watching again, although you really can’t without seeing Empire Strikes Back – and to a lesser extent – the original movie.
Watched @StarWars: Return of the Jedi last night, and noticed this when I was grabbing some screenshots for a pending review of it. Did Leia shoot a stormtrooper in the crotch? Kind of looks like it based on this. ;) #RIPCarrie #StarWars pic.twitter.com/kME4WKenGj— jᎾᎬ sᎥᎬᎶᏞᎬᏒ (@JoeSiegler) December 7, 2019