Friday, October 18, 2019

Green Phoenix - Star Wars: Return of the Jedi Review

Image result for return of the jediAt long last, we come to the conclusion of the Star Wars saga, as determined by the Machete Order. I will not be exploring the new trilogy until the release of The Rise of Skywalker and can properly analyze the entire trilogy in retrospect and with hindsight.

That being said, with the first two films in the original trilogy now explored, and the two flashback episodes that show us the rise of Darth Vader and the fall of the Jedi, its time for both prequel and original series storylines to come to an end in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.

Released in 1983 as the final film in the original trilogy, the Machete Order treats Episode VI as the final conclusion to the Skywalker story and was also the conclusion of the series in Episode Order, one of the very few strong points of that viewing order.

With this basic introduction out of the way, let's take a look at the final story in the Star Wars saga (until Disney completes their first trilogy).

***
  • Directed by Richard Marquand
  • Produced by Lucasfilm
  • MPAA Rating: PG
  • Running Time: 132 Minutes

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SUMMARY

Following the imprisonment of Han Solo at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, Luke and his friends must undergo a dangerous mission to rescue their friend from the clutches of the evil crime lord, Jabba the Hutt. All the while, Darth Vader and the Emperor prepare a trap for young Luke Skywalker aboard a brand new Death Star. Can Luke redeem Darth Vader and overcome the evil influences of the Emperor, and free the galaxy from the terror of both the Sith and the Empire?

***

REVIEW

I will be honest.

I actually am not all that big a fan of Return of the Jedi. If I had to list out the Star Wars series by favorite to least favorite, Return would score on the lower end of the franchise. Not The Last Jedi or Attack of the Clones, but down there.

It's not that the visuals, soundtrack, or characters are bad; and even the story is intrinsically worse. Honestly, it is just that Return of the Jedi isn't nearly as engaging narratively to me, with some story and character elements that make little sense or seem more toyetic than essential.


VISUALS - 7/10

Much like the rest of the Special Editions of the Original Trilogy, Return of the Jedi relies on a combination of stellar practical effects and numerous post-release digital additions. Some of the changes are quite entertaining and enjoyable and help to better integrate the world.

But most?

Image result for sarlacc pit
FEED ME SEYMOUR!!!
Completely pointless or a waste of time and money. I can't think of anything that was specifically added to this film digitally that utterly transformed the viewing experience. The random musical number? Nope. Turning the butthole in the sand into a giant worm? Didn't really need it.

Darth Vader screaming "No!"? Absolutely not.

These changes are largely superfluous or pointless and I will be taking points from the score as a result. But despite that, the visuals in this film are still absolutely wonderful. Even the weird Build-a-Bear Ewoks look amazing and feel like real living beings.

Even after so many years, the practical effects have aged well on Return of the Jedi and stand as some of the best in the original trilogy. With that in mind, the score for visuals will remain on the above average range, I just wish that Lucas' meddling hadn't hurt this film so much.

SOUNDTRACK - 7/10

Don't feel like going into too much detail on this one really. It's a John Williams' score just like all the other Star Wars entries. If you don't yet understand why that is absolutely incredible and amazing to listen to, especially the final battle theme between Luke, Vader, and the Emperor; I really don't know what to tell you.

Well...

There is one thing I could complain about. See these reviews have been detailing the special editions of the original trilogy, and with Return of the Jedi, that means that there is one song sequence that really, REALLY sucks.

This one.


What the fuck, George!? Why was this absolutely necessary. I didn't need a fucking musical sequence in my Star Wars movie. What does this contribute to the franchise except to be exceptionally awkward and out of place. Do these guys even show up in anything (other than in The Clone Wars TV show)?

In fact, I dislike this one single scene and song so much that I am taking off three points on what would otherwise be a wonderful soundtrack.

Boo George. Boo on you.

CHARACTERS - 8/10

Not much to say here except that all the characters bring their A-Game. By this point in the franchise, everyone knew just how monumental Star Wars was going to be. And beyond the original cast, we were introduced to the phenomenal acting of Ian McDiarmid as Emperor Palpatine (though if you are watching in Machete Order, you've met and already know the power of the Emperor).

In fact, watching in Machete Order actually improves not only the story (as I will explain) but now the inter-connectivity of the characters and their personal drama feels far more impactful with the prequels now present to give context.
Image result for Palpatine
"I Do It All Because I'm Evil!"

The relationship between Luke and Leia, and Luke and Vader is all the stronger now that the revelations of their past are revealed to us slowly and throughout multiple films (rather than as a single line by Obi-Wan at the start of Return).

In addition, the entire Jabba the Hutt sequence works to reintroduce us to our cast beautifully and show the strengths and improvements that they have all made since we last saw them three films ago.

On the whole, the characters come out so much stronger in this film because of its unique placement and as we finally get to see the culmination of all of their story-arcs.

STORY - 8/10

Return of the Jedi was always going to be the culmination of the Star Wars saga introduced in Episode IV. But the implementation of the Machete Order helped us to intigrate the prequels in a manner which both cut the fat from the largely inferior prequels (ahem...Episode I...ahem) whilst giving greater context to revelations and connections first introduced in Empire Strikes Back.

Return of the Jedi had an almost impossible job ahead of it. It had to resolve the conflict introduced in A New Hope in satisfying manner whilst at the same time surpassing one of the greatest sequels of all time. Making a great sequel is challenging enough, Return had to be a great sequel to an even greater sequel.

Did it succeed?

Well...kind of. There is no denying that this film is a satisfying conclusion to the overall Star Wars franchise, seeing the resolution of both the Empire and Darth Vader in a manner utterly iconic. This satisfaction is even increased when we allow the slow burn and thematic connections between the originals and prequels to be presented between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

But does it surpass its predecessor in the original series? I would have to be honest and say no. The Empire Strikes Back is a tough act to follow for any film, let alone one that makes a few narrative decisions which are kind of peculiar. I don't entirely understand why a Second Death Star was absolutely necessary, except that the Death Star was originally supposed to be the final weapon of the Empire (That's right. A New Hope wasn't even supposed to have the Death Star in it in Lucas' original plan). But because no one figured that Star Wars would be as big as it was, Lucas' had to give his one shot his best idea. And it worked incredibly.

But that cost him his planet-destroying superweapon, leaving Return of the Jedi feeling a little like a copy-cat (though they do the best they can with what they have). I can understand the issue with Death Star and don't give it too much issue. Just disappointment with what could've been.
Image result for Ewok
Introducing the new Wickett collectible doll! Only $19.99.

The Ewoks on the other hand? That's a little more difficult to stomach. The Empire's most elite fighting unit, unparalled in the entire galaxy, was beaten by a bunch of build-a-bears and beanie babies with rocks. It's a little goofy and built upon Lucas' unfortunate obsession with toys and marketable elements being introduced in the Star Wars franchise. Star Wars sells and the characters are the biggest money-makers, but Return of the Jedi marks the first really noticeable time where Lucas' (and later Disney) compromised the story in order to make an easily marketable product for toys, action figures, and cartoons. The first instant of Star Wars obession with the toyetic.
And it is a curse which has unfortunately followed the franchise since the 1980s. The prequels had it and the sequels arguably even more so. And it is the one element that leaves me truly disappointed in the Star Wars franchise and willing to admit that maybe, the Star Trek franchise might just be more enjoyable for me.

I know Star Wars fans, feel free to string me from the rafters but I mean what I say.

FINAL THOUGHTS

As I wrap up my analysis and review of the Star Wars saga (at least until Episode IX is released), I fine myself looking at the entire Machete Order with a newfound satisfaction and enjoyment. The Star Wars franchise is easily one of the most influential film series in history, and it is filled with incredible moments and incredibly goofy moments.

And nothing fits that description better than Return of the Jedi. For every epic lightsaber fight and battle against crime bosses, we get strange musical numbers and the Battle of the Build-a-Bears. Return of the Jedi really does represent so much of the Star Wars franchise. All of the epic fantasy and silly stupidity can be found in its runtime. And I think that is why it is the perfect conclusion to the entire franchise (even apart from the narrative cohesion).

Return of the Jedi is the perfect blend of the original trilogies pathos and character strength, the prequels epic moments, and an encapsulation of the silliest elements of space wizards fighting planet destroying Nazis that shoot lightning out of their fingers can get.

While Episode VI isn't my favorite in the franchise by a long shot, I believe it is the wonderful encapsulation of and conclusion to the franchise overall.


VISUALS
  • 7/10
SOUNDTRACK
  • 7/10
CHARACTERS
  • 8/10
STORY
  • 8/10

 FINAL SCORE - 7.5/10

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