And finally, The Return of the Jedi, in which Frodo destroys the Ring and Aragorn becomes a Jedi.
I remember the first time I saw it, a friend complained that Luke had gotten “all spiritual and shit.” Not at all; he’s become a hero, and just in time, too. The first trilogy can be seen as a three-part exploration of the process of becoming a hero, while the second is that of becoming a villain and also sucking. I don’t know if it’s easier to be a hero, but it sure seems that it’s easier to tell the story of one.
Why does Luke’s story work? I suppose because we need heroes, and we can imagine, at least, that all it takes is resolve, hard work, and a bit of luck– all things that make for a good story. But a moral fall– though all too familiar– takes wisdom to analyze, and George Lucas just doesn’t have it. (Ep. III worked as well as it did only because Ian McDiarmid sold his role– he made the seduction to the Dark Side seem possible, at least to Anakin.)
The structure is cleaner than the last movie. First we gotta clean up the mess ESB left us in; then we go win the war. It’s a reprise of the first movie to some extent– blow up the Death Star– but with a twist that allows the extended sequence on Endor. The story follows David Mamet’s proscription for tense dramas: make it look like the good guys will win; then reverse it so it looks like they’ll fail; repeat. Does a number on the cheap seats every time.
Two major flaws, and one minor one, foreshadow the problems of the prequels.
First, the cuteness starts to get out of hand. C3PO is hard enough to take; the Ewoks are just silly. It’s fine to have creatures that invite underestimation; but making them into teddy bears just seems like you want to sell toys. Note that Tolkien put all the cute stuff at the beginning of the epic, not the end.
Second, the simplicity of Lucas’s moral universe: everything comes down to families– a too-easy tool of the screenwriter. It basically leaves the movies at the level of space opera; they can’t teach us anything about real empires, evil politicians, or the loss of freedom. It contributes as well to a significant diminishing of Darth Vader as a villain here. Luke says he “sees good” in him, but of everything that Vader has seen and done in the last decades, everything he’s done for the Emperor, it all turns on this Dad business.
Plus, Darth Vader makes a great villain because he isn’t fey or over the top in any way– he’s dead serious, and he’s got style. The Emperor by contrast is your standard orcish overlord; Vader is diminished by standing in his shadow.
And the minor point is that Lucas keeps trying to write romances and failing. There’s no actual love story here; just romantic tension that happens because of convention– princesses are there to fall in love with. It doesn’t really harm the original trilogy because it’s only a subplot, but romance is central to the prequels.
Scene by scene notes:
- “Perhaps I can find new ways to motivate them”… Darth is so behind the times on effective management.
- Mark Hamill looks like a ’70s priest here, ready to revitalize Catholicism for modern youth.
- Droid torture? That’s pretty low, I guess; also pretty weird.
- The music scene at Jabba’s place is a little too muppetty.
- I totally fail to understand why Hutts drool for human women.
- I’m not following why it’s a good idea to get Chewbacca into prison.
- Ah, the famous fan service. An embarrassing moment for all concerned.
- The Rancor is a good deal scarier here than in KOTOR. Though it does help to have a light saber when you’re facing one.
- The crying rancor wrangler is a nice touch.
- The whole Hutt sequence is weird. It’s a nice set piece, but kind of a distraction…. remember that Vader fellow?
- Luke’s whole plan depended on R2 being in position? Seems a little risky. What if Jabba hadn’t bothered to take him along to the execution? Still, his bravado is intriguing.
- Boba Fett turns out to be somewhat less badass than advertised. It always felt to me like he was there to sell action figures anyway.
- Nice swashbuckling. I like Luke here, even in his black Nehru jacket.
- “Bury your feelings deep down”… kind of an odd philosophy, especially for the ’70s. Jedis can be a real bringdown sometimes.
- Lando is a general? Did no one worry about his betrayal of Luke to the Empire? All right, all right, that was so last movie, he’s a hero now.
- Never say “It’ll work!” if you’re a character in a movie.
- Sending one stolen shuttle in is bound to look suspicious. The Rebels would never be good TF2 spies.
- The forest chase scenes are fun, but hard to swallow. Going that speed, your reaction time just won’t be fast enough. And it only takes one mistake to go splat.
- Teddy bears. I don’t know about this, George.
- Did Lucas just read King Solomon’s Mines or something? We’re suddenly in a ’30s Heart of Africa movie, complete with cannibal chiefs.
- Oh fuck me, C3PO is recognized as a god. This is getting too twee for me.
- Carrie Fisher’s worst hairstyle yet, and that’s after the hair buns.
- “I’m sorry.” “Hold me.” Ergghh.
- When did Luke find time to have that suit tailored? Still, he’s the best thing in the movie. He actually has a character arc here.
- OK, the ewok on the speeder is kind of amusing. The one who hits himself with his own bolas, not so much.
- The shields are up! How entirely unexpected! Next time, maybe wait for the hyperspace jump till Han tweets that he’s got the shields down.
- Wait, wouldn’t Luke get Light Side points for killing the emperor? I don’t see that anger per se would pull Luke darkward. The scene works as suspense but not as seduction– I don’ t believe for a minute Luke is tempted to join Mr. Emperor.
- The lassooed stormtrooper spiralling round the tree– ouch.
- When did they have time to build all these traps?
- See, Luke loses his control– Darth found his weak spot. Maybe the Jedi are right to downplay emotional attachments.
- Lesson for Sith Lords: maybe don’t suggest to your Jedi challenger that he replace your #2 while #2 is standing right there. It’s bound to make #2 think about blocked career paths.
- The music at the end isn’t as horrible as I recall; I wonder if they changed it. (This isn’t, thankfully, the edition with Hayden Christensen photoshopped in.)
- On the whole Ian McDiarmid actually did a better job in the prequels. He’s a cackling old goat here– no hint about what might make evil seductive.
- They finally spelled Denis Lawson’s name right.
I checked out something in the Wookiepedia while writing this. I looked into the trap, Ray. Check out Han Solo’s biography… there’s enough events for about five human lifetimes there. And really, despite their execrable management techniques, you have to hand it to the Sith for stick-to-it-iveness. You just can’t put those guys away: every fifty years they’re back. I do not, however, have to read about them any more. For me Star Wars is the original trilogy, plus KOTOR.
What about the new Bioware game? We’ll see.