Thursday, 19 November 2015

Film Review: Return of the Jedi

Director: Richard Marquand
Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams
Runtime: 134 minutes

Last, but certainly not least, in my series of Star Wars film reviews is Episode VI, Return of the Jedi. Released in 1983 to much fanfare, Return of the Jedi rounded off the Original Trilogy in similar a fashion to its forebears - full of fun, flash and fantastic characters.

When you follow-up your genre-defining spare opera with a sequel that pretty much outclasses it across the board, is there really anything left to prove? And how can you possibly top it again? Well, the creator of Star Wars, George Lucas, might've been asking himself the very same questions back in 1981 following the release of The Empire Strikes Back; tasked with wrapping up his iconic trilogy in the highly anticipated final chapter - Return of the Jedi (originally titled Revenge of the Jedi) - Lucas had a tough task in front of him.

Possibly, an impossible task. You see, whilst Return of the Jedi is essentially the third-best Star Wars film to date, it's still a noticeable dip in quality from the first two instalments. That's not to say it's bad; please don't quote me as saying that! All I'm saying is that it just falls short of attaining what the two preceding films captured; perfection.

The plot in Return of the Jedi is simple; our heroes - Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) - are tasked with rescuing their captured friend, Han Solo (Harrison Ford), from the slimy clutches of an Outer Rim gangster called Jabba the Hutt. After being dispatched to Tatoonie at the end of Empire, Han is sealed in a carbonite shell as a trophy for Jabba to display in his imposing palace, and it's up to Luke and the gang to sneak in and aid in Han's escape.

After that, the film kinda runs out of plot. The second half of the film sees the Rebels mount a surprise assault on the 2nd Death Star, coordinating an attack from both space and upon the ground. It's a really awesome sequence that splits the focus and sends our characters in different directions - the only problem is, this forms almost the entire second half of the film and does feel a little needlessly protracted.

The speeder bike chase, for example, whilst amazing, could've been trimmed whilst the scenes inside the Ewok village always cause me to check my watch. Can we get to the final confrontations already? I like that Lucas pauses to take a deep breath before the final plunge, but the scenes where Threepio is recounting their daring tales to the group of Ewoks slows the pace right down to a standstill.

A common complaint with Return of the Jedi is the inclusion of the Ewoks. Now, don't get me wrong - I don't hate the Ewoks. How can you dislike those adorable little fuzzy bears? But I do think they are a slight hindrance to the film as a whole.

You see, this was the first sign that Lucas had his sights set on shifting merchandise rather than striving for a sense of wonder. There's no harm in making the film family-friendly and fun for kids, but something doesn't sit right when you forcibly crowbar miniature teddy bears that are somehow capable of overthrowing a battalion of armoured stormtroopers into your sweeping space opera.

Also, as I have done with the previous two films in the Original Trilogy, I've rewatched them on the formats available to me, meaning the remastered DVD editions. This means that little details have been altered, such as the actor that plays the Force ghost version of Anakin Skywalker changes to Hayden Christensen from Sebastian Shaw. I'm not a fan of this change, nor do I like the extended celebratory scenes that follow the Emperor's death. It makes sense that the team on Endor have a party with the Ewoks (as they did in the original version), but why was it necessary to show us Tatoonie, Bespin and Coruscant, the latter of which hasn't been featured in a film since Revenge of the Sith?

However, the worst change to the remastered edition is undoubtedly the 'Jedi Rocks' song that plays in Jabba's palace. With all sorts of aliens and creatures digitally inserted into the scene, this part just doesn't fit with the rest of the film - they look more at home in Men in Black than Star Wars. It's simply awful, especially when you compare it with the older version.

The brief return of Yoda is a really lovely scene, even if it does feel a little rushed. It's still a beautiful farewell to the character though, especially when he made such an impact in such a short amount of screen time across the Original Trilogy.

As I mentioned, the finale to this film works really well because it splits the focus; Lando is leading the rebel fleet into an all-out assault against the Death Star, Han and Leia are engulfed in a battle against legions of stormtroopers and Luke is duelling with Vader with the Emperor gazing on.

It's this latter strand which is my favourite; after three whole films of build-up, we finally get to see Luke and Vader go toe to toe on equal terms, and fuelled by anger and impatience, Luke nearly throws it all away by chopping off Vader's hand. Battered and broken, Vader is all but defeated with Luke poised to take his place at the Emperor's side. The moment where Luke looks down at the frazzled wires where Vader's hand used to be is really effective and tells you everything you need to know with barely a word being said between the two.

The Verdict: 8/10

I could go on for a while, but I'll leave it there. In retrospect, Return of the Jedi is a thrilling send-off that is a little thin on plot, but richly rewarding with emotional payoff. It's been marred the most by Lucas' meddling fingers with numerous scenes being tweaked, and not for the better. Misplaced digital tinkering aside, Return of the Jedi is a brilliant film that marks the chronological conclusion for the Star Wars saga so far; where it goes from here is what we're about it find out.

Thanks for reading my retrospective series of reviews on the Star Wars series. Which is your favourite film so far? Be sure to check back exactly a month from today when I post my review of the highly-anticipated new entry, The Force Awakens

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