The Rise of Skywalker is almost here, and it’s supposedly the conclusion to the Skywalker Saga. So, I’ve decided to attempt a full canon rewatch before it releases, reviewing each chapter as I go. That’s all the movies, as well as the Clone Wars, Rebels, and Resistance TV series. We continue today with Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.
You know who’s great in this movie? C-3PO. The bit in the beginning where he knocks on the door as lightly as possible so he doesn’t have to deal with whatever’s behind it? Great gag. But when that crazy eyeball thing pops out and makes a bunch of noise at him and he replies with flawless comedic timing “Goodness gracious me!” cracks me up every time. It might be my favorite piece of comedy in all of Star Wars. C-3PO rules.
Now that I have that out of my system, let’s get to work. Return of the Jedi is a bit of a mess. It’s brilliant overall and hits some seriously high notes, but if you remove nostalgia from the equation this movie has some real problems.
First and foremost, this one got absolutely wrecked by the Special Edition changes. The problems with Return of the Jedi aren’t exclusively related to the Special Editions, but of all three original films, the absolute worst of the worst got crammed into this poor movie, including my most hated scene in all of Star Wars.
George Lucas apparently always thought it would be pretty funny to have a musical number in Star Wars. He tried to do it in Jabba’s palace, but the puppetry never really made it where he wanted it to. So when it came time to do a Special Edition of Return of the Jedi, he took this funny little musical bit in Jabba’s palace and turned it into the repugnant “Jedi Rocks” number. I hate this more than pointless lightsaber twirls. I hate this more than Jar Jar Binks. I hate this more than Anakin and Padme. This is the worst Star Wars ever gets. It’s flat out putrid in every way. It’s intentionally obnoxious with the close ups of this one fuzzy dude’s mouth and all the spit flying everywhere.
The dumb close up of the other singer’s snoot with the red lips and googly eyes is equally barf-enducing, and the live action stuff isn’t any better either. They had all these folks in what looks like combat gear playing instruments that make no sense. The thing that makes so much of the weirdness in Star Wars work is that there’s an inherent utility in most of its design. But here we have some dude swinging at cymbals placed nonsensically high around him. None of the new instrument shots had any thought put into them other than “what can we make that looks weird?” Every shred of this scene is 100% pure trash, and I hate it.
The good news is, the Special Edition changes going forward aren’t as bad as this, because nothing is as bad as this, but that’s not saying much.
There’s good stuff on the way, I promise, but we have to talk about Hayden Christiansen. Probably the most offensive change made to this movie (and I do mean offensive because this movie’s director passed away before George Lucas started tinkering with these things, so he’s messing around with someone else’s movie without their permission, and effectively erasing the original director’s vision by presenting the new version as the only version, but I guess that’s another conversation entirely) was digitally gluing Hayden Christiansen’s head on Anakin’s body at the end of the film. Not only is this a tremendous insult to the actor who originally played Anakin, it doesn’t actually make any kind of sense. Why is he all young looking while Obi-Wan and Yoda have to be old guys? Anakin reverts to the way he looked when he was fully organic? He had his hand chopped off in Attack of the Clones and this is what he looked like in Revenge of the Sith. He reverts to what he looked like before he turned to the dark side? I guess, but isn’t there something a little off-putting about Anakin standing there looking pretty much exactly how he did when he was slaughtering children? This is stupid, and unnecessarily confusing. And if we’re bringing the prequels into all this, I still don’t know how I feel about Anakin standing there at the end. This dude committed some seriously awful atrocities. When we were kids and Vader was just a big evil guy murdering soldiers and other evil dudes left and right, his redemption was a nice believable thing that we could root for. This guy’s lost his way, but he can find it back with the help and love of his son! But now we’ve seen Vader choke his pregnant wife AND literally murder a classroom full of children. I’m sorry, but putting that specific flavor Anakin in this only really serves to further drive home just how much they broke this character.
On the subject of changes, it’s actually not all bad. At first I thought it was stupid that they made the Ewoks blink. Now though, I find it way more unsettling when they don’t. We all would have been just fine without this change, but now that it’s been made, I can’t unsee it. So I guess I’ll put that change in the win column. The other “good” change is one i’m honestly far more torn on, and that’s the celebration sequence at the end.
One of the problems in the original Return of the Jedi was hope anticlimactic the final celebration scene seemed. They blew up the Death Star in A New Hope and there was this big ceremony. They actually toppled the entire Galactic Empire this time, and they had a party with some Ewoks. An event that big affects the entire galaxy, and we don’t get to see any of it. So the new celebration scenes they added in the Special Editions and then altered again for the DVD release makes sense, and add an appropriate amount of weight to this being the conclusion to the whole trilogy, and at the time, two trilogies. Even taking out the prequels, these new scenes speak for themselves. The galaxy is glad to be rid of the evil Empire.
But with this scene being expanded so much, John Williams had to write new music to accompany it. The original’s “yub nub” song was great. It’s a classic, and I honestly miss it. But I also really like the new music Williams made for these scenes too. As great as yub nub was, this new piece feels more like an ending. I don’t know if there was a better way to handle it, somehow keeping the original celebration and then transitioning to a larger celebratory scene with the new music. It doesn’t work in my head. Either way, I’m honestly torn on this one, leaning toward Lucas having made the right decision. It’s a shame the original Ewok song had to be sacrificed, but I ultimately think the new ending is better.
So there’s one change that is questionably an improvement, and another that’s just Ewoks blinking, but they stand next to two of the most disgusting alterations I’ve ever seen made to a movie post-release.
And these were done by George Lucas, not Disney.
For everyone out there vocally longing for the days of George Lucas before Disney bought and ruined their precious franchise, George did this. You know what he didn’t do? Direct Empire and Jedi. He directed A New Hope and the prequels. Disney didn’t ruin Star Wars, George Lucas did. He also created it and deserves all the credit in the world for that, but you gotta take the good with the bad, and whoo boy, is there a LOT of bad, especially in the prequels.
But enough about that. Let’s get to the movie itself, which while flawed, is still quite a joy to watch. Like the bit at the top of the review, there’s a ton of great C-3PO in this movie. This is a character that’s pretty easy to get wrong or overuse, and they don’t do any of that here. Not only is he still great at bickering with R2, and an excellent source of comic relief when he needs to be, but there’s really something magical about him telling the story of Star Wars so far to the Ewoks. 3PO is great.
The whole opening of the film is also really cool. It’s a chance to see these characters go on a different kind of adventure while paying off on the ending to Empire. Jabba is such a gross and wonderful design too. CG Jabba bothers me more often than not. This big gross puppet is the one true Jabba, and I love him. But man, all the breaking in, sneaking around, disguises, monsters, explosions, lightsabers, it’s all really fun, especially when you remove Jedi Rocks from the equation.
I’ve never really bought the Rancor, myself. Something about this thing never felt right. It’s a little better than I remember, but the fight is so slow and disjointed. I get why, because of the kind of effects they had to use to make the creature in the first place, but I don’t know. It just doesn’t work for me. And I’m not going to lie, I don’t love how Luke just kills the thing. How many Rancors are really out there? This thing wasn’t being malicious. It lives chained up in a pit, and you’re food. Killing the poor creature just comes off as a dick move. I know, I’m being a nut, but still. I feel like a Jedi would have found a way to get out of that mess without actually killing it.
I have to mention again that I’ve never really understood the draw of Boba Fett, either. He doesn’t exactly do much of anything, and then he goes out like a chump. Not that that’s the fault of the character, more of the director’s weird decision to make random things WAY more fragile and explodey than they make any sense to be. Like Boba Fett’s backpack. It’s a jetpack. Han accidentally taps it with a stick (and not very hard, I might add) which immediately causes Fett’s pack to take off on its own, ultimately leading to his death by Sarlaac. What kind of jetpack does that? How could that thing possibly be that fragile? There’s a lot more along these lines too, but they’re tied into the Ewoks, so I’ll get back to them in a bit.
Anyway, once we get past the whole Jabba business, we catch up with the movie proper and while I feel I have to say again that I do really like this movie, the things it does wrong start piling up a bit.
Luke goes back to Dagobah to complete his training, and it’s pretty unclear how much time has passed since Empire, but it can’t be that much, right? How many times did he go back for more training with Yoda? His “keeping a promise to an old friend” line seems to indicate none. This is his first trip back since Empire. Luke sure became a Jedi in a hurry! What a Mary Sue! (Oh, sorry. Wrong movie.) So he goes to talk to a dying Yoda, who is wonderful, and Yoda drops the “There is another Skywalker” bomb on him. Then Obi-Wan shows up and defends himself for lying to Luke about Vader, and again goes into his relationship with Anakin that completely contradicts the relationship they portrayed in the prequels. This is also where Luke figures out Leia is his sister, and I never really noticed before how out of place that reveal is. Like, the whole concept of Luke and Leia as siblings comes off as just being shoehorned into this movie in an attempt to follow up the whole Vader “I am your father” reveal somehow. I can honestly say it’s never struck me before as that weird, but now doing all these deep dives into the whole mythology and really thinking about them, why did they make Luke and Leia siblings? All that really does is make the previous scenes where Luke was trying to get with her more uncomfortable. Leia didn’t need to be related to Luke to be awesome, and I can’t imagine that was the plan when they wrote the whole “No, there is another” line in Empire because it doesn’t really make sense there (as I discussed in my review). It doesn’t exactly break anything, per se, but it isn’t put together very well. Leia doesn’t’ have any confrontations with Vader going forward, she was already a complete badass before learning Luke was her brother, it just doesn’t need to be a thing. All it really seems to accomplish in the confines of the movie is take Luke off the table as a romantic interest for her, which wasn’t even really necessary in the first place. (Side note: Where did she get that dress? Why would the Ewoks even have that?)
Of course it goes deeper than that because when Luke tells her who she is, they have the conversation about her mother which really doesn’t match with the way they presented the whole thing in the prequels. Padme was alive for like 3 minutes after Leia was born, but the way this scene is written, it seems to pretty well insinuate that Padme survived childbirth, went to live with Leia and Bail for a while, before eventually passing away for some reason (presumably NOT a broken heart… barf). She was beautiful, kind, but sad. Sad because she lived to see Leia, but she had to give Luke away so they would be hidden from the Emperor. That’s character establishment right there, and they completely abandoned it in the prequels!
Revenge of the Sith breaks Star Wars.
Sorry. Anyway, another thing I never really realized about this movie is just how little Han had to do as a character. He did stuff, he lead troops and stuff, had some funny one-liners, but his actual arc was get rescued, be in love with Leia, be jealous of Luke, the end. I’ve Heard for years that Harrison Ford thought they should have killed off Han in Jedi, but I never really understood it before now. I hate to say it but I think he’s (mostly) right. Han didn’t have a real character arc in this movie. Killing him off would have given him a purpose. Thankfully they didn’t play that card, leaving it on the table for the absolutely gutting yet brilliant way they killed him off in The Force Awakens, so ultimately it worked out, but what I’m getting at here is a lot of the writing in this movie is pretty weak. We’re nowhere near prequel levels here, but all those folks out there still yelling about how terrible Disney, Rian Johnson, Kathleen Kennedy, and everything related to The Last Jedi is, and how it betrays and ruins Star Wars, should try to watch this movie with a critical eye.
I watched a YouTube video this morning because it came across my feed and I found the headline fascinating. It was called “Disney Doesn’t Understand Lightsabers.” It has over 6 million views and 229 thousand likes, and it’s simply awful. This guy is going down this “intellectual” deep dive into why the lightsaber stuff in the new movies doesn’t make any sense, all of which is complete bunk by the way, holding up the original trilogy as some sort of high water mark. He actually says to look for problems with the lightsaber fights in the prequels, and you won’t find any. Yeah? I found a couple, and they weren’t exactly hard to spot. This whole channel seems to be almost entirely devoted to hating The Last Jedi and anything else Disney Star Wars-related. Even the Mandalorian (which is apparently bad because it stars someone in Mandalorian armor who isn’t someone we already know… right…)
This page has 184 thousand subscribers, and it’s not alone. The well of people who love to hate on new Star Wars is freaking bottomless, and the things they complain about aren’t all invalid. The Last Jedi has problems, and not in short supply. But so does Return of the Jedi. And the problems here are no worse than the things folks love to relentlessly pick at The Last Jedi for. I love good debate about this kind of stuff, but it’s distressingly rare. Either you like The Last Jedi and you’re a Disney shill with no taste, or you hate The Last Jedi because it’s awful and Disney has no taste. It’s gotten so far off base that these folks are even jumping on the bizarro train to “the prequels weren’t even this bad” town, WHICH IS ABSOLUTELY BANANAS. George Lucas has personally done more damage to Star Wars than Rian Johnson could ever hope to. The Original Trilogy is a masterpiece, but I would argue (and am doing so now, I guess) that Return of the Jedi is just as flawed as The Last Jedi.
Okay, let’s talk about Ewoks.
Ewoks are cute little buggers. They’re also freaking broken as heck. You want to talk about a battle scene that doesn’t make sense? How did the ewoks beat the stormtroopers? Seriously, they’re over here shooting arrows that literally bounce off their armor, and they fall down dead like they were shot with a bullet while wearing a t-shirt. I get that it was supposed to be fun, but they really didn’t put very much thought into the way this worked. Like Boba Fett’s jetpack, everything in this scene is incredibly breakable. Knock over an AT-ST and IT EXPLODES! Toss a rock at an armored Stormtrooper and HE DIES! How exactly did those Ewoks put together that trap where the trees crush the AT-ST at the exact right height? Why aren’t the stormtroopers literally just mowing them all down with their blasters? A bunch of the little furballs start hitting armed Stormtropers and instead of shooting them point blank, they just wave their hands around and scream like they’re tourists being attacked by seagulls on the boardwalk. And what’s with Chewbacca doing the freaking Tarzan yell? Stop it!
I think that’s about all the bad stuff I have to say about this movie. That and how you can see the freaking zipper lines in some of the Ewok costumes. They didn’t do Han any favors, the whole Leia is Luke’s sister thing is kinda dumb and poorly executed, and if you factor in the prequels, a bunch of the movie just doesn’t make a ton of sense. But let’s finish off by diving into some of the good stuff, shall we?
Lando flying the Falcon against the second Death Star freaking rules. All the action is great, the design of the Death Star’s inner workings looks awesome flying by at breakneck speeds, and Lando is just plain fun to watch. Oh, and Admiral Ackbar. Great stuff.
The speeder bikes in Endor. The visuals don’t hold up 100% for some of the shots, but it’s so cool it doesn’t matter. It’s awesome and it’s fun.
There’s also so much cool lightsaber play here. When Luke busts it out to take care of business on Jabba’s sand barge is awesome. When Luke uses it to deflect the blasts from the speeder bike? Divine. The fight against Vader at the end? Spectacular!
The thing about this fight is that its emotional value, dialogue, and score make it reeeeeeally easy to overlook its flaws, but there are a couple of moments that are hard to get past regardless. There’s this one bit where Luke kicks Vader down some stairs and he just kind of floats down. It’s kind of hilarious, but not in a good way. I mean, seriously, is this any less silly than Leia force pulling herself through space? Because I don’t think it is.
There’s also the bout right before Luke cuts Vader’s hand off. It’s a beautiful scene really, but Vader just kinda falls over and grabs the railing for no reason. They’re fighting and Vader just decides to get on the floor and grab the railing. Nothing prompts this action, it just happens. All the coolness surroundung it makes it easier to swallow, and the following scenes are so good you immediately forget, but it still happens, and it’s still pretty dumb.
I just watched it again. Vader ducks Luke’s swing, then he just casually walks over and grabs the railing! Why is this a thing?
Oh yeah, this. I forgot about this. One more alteration that makes me want to puke. For reasons defying sanity and reason, George Lucas decided that this perfect scene with Vader deciding to choose his son over the Emperor and throw him over the side needed more context. Vader says no once, then follows it up with a big, stupid NOOOOOOO before saving Luke and Killing Palpatine. 100% unnecessary, and serves to make an incredibly iconic scene worse. Good job George, you found a way to break it even more.
But I digress. Return of the Jedi’s good stuff absolutely outweighs its bad, but it’s clear that a lot of the love and care put into the first two movies wasn’t there this time around. It’s still so, so good, but it reminds me of when people complained about Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Yes, it’s dumb, but when was the last time you looked at the classic Indiana Jones movies with that level of criticism? Hate on The Last Jedi if the movie really bothers you, but you can’t do that while holding the original trilogy up as the objectively superior work. They aren’t perfect, especially this one. And you know what? That’s okay! It’s a Star Wars movie, and it’s still fun as heck.
We have a few stops to make before we get to The Force Awakens. Next up is the web series Forces of Destiny. It’s… interesting. But it’s canon, so I’m going to review it! See you then!