Revisiting Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

As much as I dislike the whole "Han shot first" from A New Hope, the change in the special editions that bothered me the most was the replacing of the original ending Ewok song in Return of the Jedi. This is due to the fact that it kind of served as the end credits to my wedding back in 1996. When my wife and I watched the special edition in 1997 we were disappointed to see the song had been replaced. So let's start off with "Yub Nub". I seem to recall it actually got some radio airplay back in 1983.

Return of the Jedi is generally regarded as the weakest of the original trilogy. While all of the movies have their moments of goofiness, Return of the Jedi certainly has more than it's fair share. Having rewatched it, I'm still trying to figure out how Ewoks provided enough force to hurt Imperial Stormtroopers with their spears...

With that all of the way, let's walk our way through the film. We open with Darth Vader visiting the new Death Star, still under construction. He warns the commander that the Emperor is not pleased the construction pace and is on his way - and the Emperor is not as forgiving as Darth Vader. One little irk is though I've never quite been able to figure out the Imperial rank insignia of the previous two movies, in Return of the Jedi, all Imperial officers wear the same insignia. Though oddly, I seem to recall reading somewhere in combat zones officers often do not wear rank insignia to avoid being targeted. 

After this prologue, the movie is divided into two main acts. The first involves the rescue of Han Solo from the palace of Jabba the Hutt on Tatooine. The droids go in first, with a message from Luke Skywalker, indicating he'd like to bargain for Han's life. Jabba and his entourage are not impressed - though as a kid I was, with Luke all in black and referring to himself as a Jedi Knight. In the hologram recording Luke also gives Jabba R2-D2 and C-3PO as a gift. There's another blog post waiting to discuss the creepiness of the treatment of droids in the Star Wars universe... C-3PO is assigned to Jabba as translator and R2-D2 is to serve drinks on Jabba's sail barge. And in the background droids are being tortured. That's just creepy...

Anyways, next up is Chewbacca, taken in by a bounty hunter that anyone with action figures knew to be the Ubese bounty hunter Boushh. And also we'll later discover, he is actually Princess Leia in disguise. Chewbacca is taken to the dungeon. We are then treated to, in the special edition, a fairly dreadful musical number which I'm trying to block from my mind... Later that night Boushh unfreezes Han but is caught by Jabba and company. Han, temporarily blind as an effect of hibernation sickness, is sent to the dungeon with Chewbacca while Princess Leia is made Jabba's slave and decked out in a costume that will provide cosplay inspiration for thousands ans confirm those of us who were in kindergarten when the first movie came out were now entering puberty... We also learn that Lando is here, disguised as one of Jabba's guards. He does not end up decked out in a metal bikini.

Luke arrives next. He uses the Force to briefly choke a pair of guards and then uses a mind trick on Jabba's henchman, Bib Fortuna. The mind trick does not work on Jabba, who does not respond to Luke's attempt at both being reasonable and threatening. Unarmed, Luke uses the Force to steal a guard's blaster and threatens Jabba, only to fall into the rancor pit below.

It's an interesting battle, with Luke again unarmed facing off against a big, hulking brute of a monster. He eventually triumphs by using his wits to survive long enough to drop a door on the beast. It's worth noting that the rancor fight is one of the poorer special effects in the films - it was never particularly convincing that Luke and the rancor were in the same room and at the same scale with each other.

Jabba is not happy about this and sentences Han, Luke, and Chewbacca to be killed in the Pit of Carkoon, nesting place of the Sarlaac. The trio of prisoners is taken on a small skiff, accompanied by another skiff and Jabba's palatial sail barge. However, it seems Luke's complicated plan was to get them out of the palace - he leaps off the gangplank over the pit but catches himself and springs back behind his guards while R2-D2, aboard the sail barge, "tosses" Luke his lightsaber. Armed with his new green lightsaber, Luke proceeds to further illustrate how much more of a bad-ass he has become. Meanwhile Leia chokes Jabba to death with the very chain he used to imprison her. 

Our heroes prove triumphant and split up, with Luke and R2 headed for Dagobah while the rest go the Rebel Fleet.

Meanwhile, the Emperor arrives at the Death Star. In the original viewing order, this was our first full view of the Emperor, save for a hologram vision of him in The Empire Strikes Back. In comparison with the Emperor of the prequels, the years have not been kind. 

On Daogobah, Luke gets a brief info-dump from a dying Yoda. Luke no longer needs training, though to be a full Jedi he must confront Vader. He confirms Vader to be Luke's father and that it was unfortunate Luke learned this from Vader - not that he knew the truth, but that Luke wasn't ready for that burden. He warns Luke not to underestimate the Emperor and also tells him that there is another Skywalker. And then expires.

Next up Luke meets up with Obi-Wan who explains what he said about Vader killing Anakin was true... from a certain point of view. Interestingly, while Yoda says Luke must confront Vader again, Obi-Wan suggests he must kill him, and not to think of him as Luke's father, being more machine than man, "twisted and evil". This fits in nicely with the prequel ending of Obi-Wan leaving Vader to die only to have him survive. Obi-Wan also confirms that there is another Skywalker, Luke's twin sister who was also put into hiding. Luke deduces that Leia is his sister, which really isn't much of a guess given that there's a pretty big shortage of named women in the films...

Back at the Rebel Fleet we see the Rebels have learned Palpatine is indeed supervising the Death Star's completion. Lando is to lead a fighter attack against the Death Star, flying into it's unfinished superstructure to knock out it's main reactor. I remember criticism that both Death Stars had the same weakness but that doesn't seem to be the case to me - the weakness of this one is the station is unfinished, allowing ships to fly into it. In any case, first a shield from the moon of Endor will need to be deactivated so the attack can commence. Han is to lead that mission, with Luke, Leia, Chewbacca, and the droids accompanying him and the Rebel commandos. 

Han lets Lando take the Millennium Falcon while he takes a stolen Imperial shuttle to Endor. Vader senses Luke but let's the shuttle land. Luke and Leia quickly get involved in a bike chase when Han fails on his sneak check... Luke makes it back but they can't find Leia who has met an Ewok...

So Ewoks... I'm still not 100% certain how I feel about them. I know from first hand knowledge the younger kids loved them - my brother, five at the the time Return of the Jedi came out loved all things Ewoks. I think my problem with them is they weren't quite realized well. They look all cute and fuzzy - but when you think about it, they were downright creepy at times. They were going to cook Han Solo and eat him. They used Stormtrooper helmets as drums - and I'm really hoping the heads were no longer in them... But at the same time, they had a certain clumsiness. I know they're just people in bulky costumes, but I cannot believe for a second their spears, especially the way they wielded them, could penetrate Stormtrooper armor. I did like the way the Ewoks were crazy-prepared to attack the Empire, with gliders, log traps, etc. All kidding aside, it does seem likely they were getting ready to assault the bunker which was presumably the Empire's base on Endor.

After Luke via the Ewok deity C-3PO convinces the Ewoks not to eat them, the Rebels have an alliance with the Ewoks. However, Luke  leaves to confront Vader himself, though not before discussing it with Leia. There's a lot to that scene. In an apparent contradiction with the prequels, Leia indicates she has just images and feelings from her real mother. However, that seems to be a stretch given Padme died almost immediately after giving birth. Yes, I know, the Force and all but it doesn't quite seem what was intended originally. My own supposition was that Leia's mother was in hiding with her for a few years and then died, possibly posing as a handmaiden on Alderaan. One thing I can swear I remember is somehow knowing Leia was adopted well before Return of the Jedi, though that could be my imagination... 

Luke's belief there is good in Vader seems, to be honest, a bit of wishful thinking. The best evidence in favor of this seems to be that Vader did not kill him in Cloud City and that seems a stretch - after all, Vader wanted to recruit him. Leia doesn't seem to think it as likely - after all, her memories of Vader would be him being a party to the destruction of Alderaan.

Another interesting moment is after Luke's departure Han's assumption that there was something going on between Luke and Leia. Han gets frustrated but then apologizes - an actual sincere apology, the first I believe he gave in the trilogy. He's definitely no longer the man he was at Mos Eisley Spaceport.

We'll focus on each of the three final battles individually. The space battle is probably the most straight-forward, with the Rebel Fleet arriving to discover the shield is still operational - and that the Death Star itself, though not complete, has a fully operational superlaser that can blast any Rebel ship into oblivion. To quote Admiral Ackbar, it's a trap. Lando convinces Ackbar to hold off retreating and engages the Star Destroyers at point-blank range. Once the shield is down Lando leads fighters into the superstructure of the Death Star. Meanwhile, with help from a ramming A-wing fighter, a Super Star Destroyer crashes into the Death Star. An awesome sight to behold. 

Lando breaks his promise to Han about not getting a scratch on the Falcon, knowing off its circular dish (explaining why The Force Awakens features a rectangular one). Lando and Wedge make it to the center of the Death Star and knock out its main reactor. It looks like Lando isn't going to make it out and there's a lot of internet lore that says he originally did not.

The battle around the shield generator involves Ewok assistance - which is good, because the Empire was waiting for the strike team which got captured and needed rescue by the Ewoks. Here we also get one of the trilogy's most slapstick moments, with Chewbacca giving a Tarzan-yell as he swings on a vine. Losing to the Ewoks cannot be the Empire's proudest moment.

Luke's confrontation with the Emperor and Vader is my favorite of the final battles. The Emperor isn't quite as manipulative as he was/would be in the Prequels. Here, he is constantly goading Luke, trying to get him to give in to hatred and fear. He indicates he wanted the Rebels here so he could crush them and that "the deflector shield will be quite operational when your friends arrive".

To be fair to the Emperor, he had years and years to work on Anakin while this is his first meeting with Luke. Even with that though, he does goad Luke into frequent bursts of anger. And Luke is far more of a match for Vader in this fight, eventually severing his father's hand - and in so doing, catching himself from going further and casting his saber away. "I'll never turn to the Dark Side. You've failed your highness. I am a Jedi like my father before me."

However, the Emperor responds by proceeding to fire Force Lightning on Luke - the first time we ever see it being used. Given that a failed attempt at protecting his family is what led Anakin to the Dark Side, it is nice symmetry (and bad judgement on the Emperor's part) that this is what brings him back - he cannot stand there and watch his son be killed. In a scene that earned cheers in the Naugatuck Valley Mall Theater back in 1983, Vader reclaims his former life as Anakin Skywalker and lifts his Emperor up and hurls him into a convenient bottomless pit, though getting fatally injured in the process. After observing Luke with his own eyes, Anakin Skywalker dies.

Cut to Endor with lots of dancing and celebration. And the brief appearance of a ghost convention consisting of Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Anakin. In the latest version, it is the Anakin as seen in the prequels. While I know some don't like seeing that version of Anakin, I think it was a proper change. It fits in with Obi-Wan's point of view - that for all intents and purposes, Anakin Skywalker died at that point. Also, in light of the Clone Wars animated series, there's a generation of kids who grew up seeing Anakin as the hero. It seems right to restore him to that state. 

Greatest Moment(s): Vader turning on the Emperor. Luke refusing to turn to the Dark Side. Seeing Luke with his new lightsaber for the first time. The death of a Star Destroyer. 

Cringeworthy Moment(s): Jedi Rocks. 

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