So this is it. The final (current) installment of the Star Wars Saga. We’ve seen wars. We’ve seen stars. We’ve seen wars that take place in the stars, Star Wars if you will. We’ve seen Anakin be drawn into the Darkside. We’ve seen Luke Skywalker learn about the force and become a hero. We’ve heard the phrases ‘I’ve got a bad feeling about this” and “Search your feelings, you know it to be true.” about 4 billion times. We’ve also seen just how difficult George Lucas finds it to internalise conflict… “Nooooooooooo!” for example. Also see “No Noo Nooooo!” and as this film features “No…. Noooooaahhhhhhh!!!” Click the link.
Did you know this film was originally going to be called Revenge Of The Jedi? Or at least that was the name that was announced as a macguffin to catch cheap knock off toy makers off guard. Of course you did. It’s one of the oldest facts about this film there is. There’s no mystery surrounding it’s title. just as there’s no mystery in the film. Empire Strikes Back excelled by being foreboding and mysterious with it’s drama but that has all been lost for this film. I’ll sum up the story here. Luke and co rescue Han for 45 minutes. Luke watches Yoda die as we’re just told that the other hope was Leia, goodbye mystery. The Rebels discuss how they’ll take out the new Death Star. Then we spend over an hour watching them do that while The Emperor tries to tempt Luke to the Darkside by pretty much goading him into it. I swear, he pretty much spends half an hour going “Go on, please, I dare ya, do it. Oh go on, be evil”.
The major issue that comes from this film is that for the first time we have a George Lucas that isn’t restrained by budget or a producer that says no to him. See Lucas fired the producer of the first two films, Gary Kurtz, in order to get him one that would agree with anything he wanted. Kurtz was dead set against the Ewoks and various other stuff so out he went and in came novelty alien puppets for the little kids to get giddy about. Don’t believe ma that George Lucas without a leash is a bad thing. After this he made Temple Of Doom and Howard The Duck. And Temple Of Doom had an at his peak Spielberg restraining him. If you think that film was good you really have a high threshold for the sound of screaming women and racist stereotypes.
So this film lacks mystery and as it progresses it loses the tone Empire did so much to establish. It honestly does start off quite well if a little slowly. The Jabba’s palace sequences are classic Star Wars for sure. The whole film is classic Star Wars. It’s just not as good as Empire or A New Hope. It’s inability to keep you hooked with any sort of character based conflict or mysterious dealings force the film into a state where it feels like there is no drama. Stuff may be blowing up but the reasons why aren’t good enough.
Now I might be wrong here but I’m pretty sure there’s a massive plot whole in this film too. It is revealed later that it was The Emperor who leaked the plans to the new Death Star to the Rebels and details of how to bring it down. Now that’s not a bad idea when setting a trap as he does. He has Stormtroopers ready to pounce on the ground forces and Star Destroyers ready to bring about a shocking realisation to Admiral Akbar in space. My issue is, why tell them the actual real weakness of the Death Star? I suppose you could say it’s a case of arrogance, and I may have agreed with that 10 or so years ago. But the Prequels spent the entirety of their time with Palpatine telling you just how clever and cunning he was. Every single plan he put into action had every outcome, even the defeats, written into them. What you’re watching in the prequel trilogy is a 3 film long evil plan executed to perfection, albeit a confusing and plot hole filled one. So after seeing the prequels would you believe that The Emperor would really tell the Rebels just how to destroy his new Death Star, with him in it? Why not tell them a lie that would set them up for one last massive trap like the tunnels lead to a big empty room full of laser death? Oh well.
The effects in Jedi are pretty spectacular at times. they really did go all out to make the final space battle the largest ever put on a cinema screen at the time. It’s also a lot clearer and easy to read visually than the massive space battle that opened Revenge Of The Sith. The Speeder Bike chase sequence has become a memorable classic of sci-fi action too. It’s worth remembering that for all this films character and storytelling faults it still manages to convey a visual feast. It seems that’s all George Lucas is capable of these days.
The cinematography takes a hit in this film which is a shame because the look of Empire was superb. Everything is shot in such a plain and straight forward way with nothing in the way of emotive lighting that we have what feels like a step back. Remember how in Empire the lightsabre duel between Darth and Luke was accompanied by lots of well placed red and blue light with copious amounts of shadow creating an atmosphere of dread? Nothing like that in this film at all. It’s a real shame because for such a visual universe Star Wars has rarely done anything with it beyond the most basic of presentations.
Overall though Return Of The Jedi has it’s enjoyable moments. It is more a series of events than a well told story as what story there is is merely the funnel down which the characters are propelled. Especially in the second half where pretty much all character development is lost in favour of big action set pieces. The only purpose of this film appears to be to reach a conclusion. Obviously Lucas never learned that story is the journey not the end. It’s been said many a time that there may well be 3 more Star Wars films in this particular saga to go. if there is I’d rather Lucas took a back seat, maybe only providing the framework for the story and allowed people that grew up with these films to tell the story the way they’d like to. George Lucas has proven multiple times that he is not the same director that gave us great films such as American Graffiti and THX 1138. He may have created one of the richest film universes ever but his inability to self edit has caused it to gradually be more of a setting than a story. It’s time to pass the torch I say.