Woe is the Star Wars fan of the 21st century. George Lucas hasn’t been kind to you, has he? Lets face it, Empire Strikes Back was a long time ago, and with The Force Unleashed 2 still painfully fresh in fans minds, Lucas has squeezed as much goodwill and money out of you as possible, and is complaining loudly that films are too expensive these days and Star Wars fans should grow up. Seriously, he said to Empire Magazine after they politely pointed out that maybe he’d short-changed fans of the original series with The Phantom Menace by saying: ‘I’m sorry they didn’t like it. Perhaps they should go and watch The Matrix or something’. And now it’s been announced that he’s re-releasing the original series in 3-D.
Where did it all go wrong? Well, many have coughed loudly and pointed to Star Wars Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi:
‘My, those Ewoks are annoying’ they said.
‘Gosh, that second Death Star sure was derivative! I wonder if this means Lucas has ran out of ideas? That would suck for our children in roughly twenty years time when the next Star Wars film comes out!’ they prophesised.
Well, ‘they’ can take a running jump into the nearest Saarlacc pit, because Return of the Jedi is a kick ass film with genuine emotion, real investment in the characters and one hell of a death scene and here’s why.
The film opens to that magnificent John Williams’ fanfare, almost acting as a seal of approval by the composer. Though the first thing we read is the daring rescue of Han Solo, the first thing we see is Darth Vader boarding the brand new Death Star, where we learn the Emperor is coming and is pissed with Vader. This is because Vader pleaded for his son’s life, promising Luke would turn to the Dark Side of the Force in the last film. That Vader begged the Emperor not to kill his son is the turning point in his character, the subtle shift from evil badass to repentant good guy is in full swing by the time the Emperor hove’s into view.
The next scene is Jabba’s palace, where a risky rescue mission is put into motion to save Han Solo from the evils of being a wall decoration and having tinsel put around him come Christmas. Leia spends most of her time chained to Jabba by the throat, dressed in a tiny metal bikini and ends her capture by strangling a mob boss to death. This is not seen as anti-feminist or disturbing at all because the ladies were distracted by the return of Harrison Ford, a delightfully attractive man even now, and the guys stopped paying attention after ‘tiny metal bikini’. The mission is a success, with only a minor body count of innocent bystanders (minor compared to, say, Scar Face.)
As it turns out though, a new lightsaber comes at a high price, and Luke finds out that not only is Leia his sister, he must protect her from their father at all costs, being urged by both of his mentors to kill Darth Vader. Luke sees the good in Vader and feels he can take him back to the light; bearing in mind that Vader and Luke’s lives depend on Luke turning to the Dark Side, this sets the central conflict and Luke’s transformation from farm boy to space monk in its final stages.
What follows is a few scenes where the money really is on show; where the stop motion puppetry of the previous two films now looks erratic, the smooth simple CGI of the Death Star is a lovely step in the right direction as far as effects are concerned and the break-neck speeder-bike chase still looks good and doesn’t drag on for literally ever, something Lucas didn’t learn for the next batch of films. (coughPodracingcoughWasteofTimecough).
This is forgotten though, because we are introduced to the Ewoks immediately after this scene.
Stupid Ewoks. Cutesy, irritating, rubbish, midget Wookies who insist on speaking in a cutesy, irritating, rubbish language, the discomfort of being reduced from space cowboy to teddy bear handler is clearly visible of Harrison Ford’s perfectly chiselled features. Lucas justified this rude intrusion of his next marketing ploy by saying that his daughter wanted a toy one, this is a children’s film and all Star Wars films are children’s films, for children, not single adult men who dress up as Storm Troopers on weekends and have yet to learn the art of breathing through their noses. However, the message of the Ewoks and their forest life is that technology is BAD and nature is GOOD, which sits really badly with the Star Wars tautology that technology is FUCKING COOL, which would happen to be the main selling of the whole franchise. The Ewoks don’t fit into the universe, hence why they haven’t aged as children’s toys like R2 D2 has.
Once the heroes have settled into the tribe and plan their attack, Luke decides to face his demons and confront his father, not before having an emotional scene with Leia. Han, of course, acts jealous that Leia is talking to other blokes and you really pity Leia here; she’s just been told she has a living brother and a father, and he’s going to save the man who destroyed her home planet. Carrie Fisher is not a great actress, but she does ‘strong and independent woman in need of a hug from Harrison Ford’ well, meaning that for a brief few moments, you ignore the Ewoks, the space battles and the silly fish Admiral (doomed to meme-dom as soon as the internet caught on) and the film becomes about the plight of the family at the heart of the trilogy.
Finally, Luke boards the Death Star with Vader and confronts the Emperor. After some very hammy acting from Ian McDiamid (the Emperor, do keep up) Luke finally gives in to his anger with the space battle raging and attempts to kill the Emperor. Vader, having said he’ll be a badass until the day he dies, protects the Emperor and attacks his son. Vader is fighting to save the Emperor, his life and the demands that Luke joins the Dark Side shows he’s trying to save Luke’s behind as well. Luke is trying to save his father’s soul, keep his sister’s identity a secret and resist the appeal of lashing out, as well as stopping the Emperor from attacking more of his friends. When Vader goes too far and threatens his own daughter after reading Luke’s mind, the fury in which Luke attacks is intense. Mark Hamill has been called, at best, a wooden actor, but here he shines, the power and emotion in this battle are raw and real. When the Emperor decides that stabbing Luke with his own lightsaber is too blasé and Vader chooses to save Luke’s life in more direct manner, both their souls are saved and it brings this story to a close. The Death Star is destroyed, the Emperor is dead and the Empire is toppled (because all wars are won when the Head of State is killed! Ahem.) but the path to this happy ending is not easy.
Nor should it be, since without the Skywalkers at the centre, Star Wars doesn’t work. The stories need the central theme of family and forgiveness. Screw the environmental messages and love stories; Star Wars is the reconciliation of father and son (with lasers). This is epitomised after Vader throws the Emperor down a convenient shaft. Before dragging us away from the two most complex characters in the whole damn film, the camera pulls up and away from the pair; here you can see Luke reaching for Vader’s hand, comforting his father in death. Father and son are reunited, hence why the death scene is so memorable and bittersweet. Vader is dead long before Luke takes off the helmet; Anakin Skywalker dies a free man. Return of the Jedi is the perfect ending to this saga, which is grand and epic as well as intimate and emotional, as all the best stories are.
Though you wouldn’t have known it, the amount people bang on about the bloody Ewoks.