Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Return of the Jedi

Episode VI of the STAR WARS saga, RETURN OF THE JEDI, was for my fourteen year old self a tremendously satisfying film going experience.  By 1983, my affection for these characters and their plight was at levels that might've been cause for concern. The way some of my female classmates were involved with characters from soap operas like General Hospital, speaking of them as if they were friends or family, was how I felt towards Luke, Han, Princess Leia, C3PO, R2-D2, et al.  Never had I been so engaged in fictional worlds and their inhabitants, even in novels. George Lucas had created something engaging, so unlike anything else, yet with all the trappings of your average science fiction opus.  It's still hard to explain.

By this time, Luke has almost completed his Jedi training. He indeed returns to free Han Solo (who was imprisoned in carbonite at the close of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK) from the clutches of the disgusting Jabba the Hutt.  The action occurs on his home planet of Tattooine amongst another large gallery of weird creatures, including with an arthropod-like sand beast that is essentially a large mouth with rows of teeth and a deep belly into which its victims are digested forever.  This battle sequence is very imaginatively designed and directed by Richard Marquand.  It provides pubescent boys with thrills not limited to Leia's much discussed two piece.

But most of RETURN takes place on the forest planet of Endor, home of the teddy bear-like Ewoks, beloved by many series devotees, detested by others.  The Ewoks are cute, but fierce when they need to be and help the rebels push Imperial forces back while the Empire completes repair of the Death Star.  Luke will visit Yoda one last time and again faces Darth Vader, who continues his urgent campaign to recruit his son to the Dark Side. You know the rest.

After the potent drama of EMPIRE, RETURN OF THE JEDI seems a bit weak, content with itself.  Maybe coasting a bit.  Harrison Ford appears to be on auto pilot, though entertainingly so. Many fans decry the willing embrace of sentiment in this episode, with its abundance of cuddly creatures and a finale that left many misty eyed and red faced. For me, this was exactly how it was supposed to be.  The movie is a relief after its heart thumping predecessor, but no less thrilling.  A chase through Endor's forest and the final battle are standouts.  The characters are compelling as ever and my heart warms for them every time I watch the film.

After RETURN's theatrical run, Lucas announced that there would not be nine movies as advertised. I was disappointed but also delighted, as I loved how everything was tied up at the end.  I liked leaving these characters frozen in their happily ever after.  I could always revisit the trilogy and I did read many of the spinoff novels like Splinter of the Mind's Eye.  But time has proven differently, and as you know Episode Seven will be released this December. Lucas was not involved this time.  After my reactions to Episodes One through Three, I am not saddened.  We shall see.

But first, let's revisit those prequels, all directed by Lucas himself.  How could they miss....?

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