Sunday, August 17, 2014

MR Star Wars Episode 6: Return of the Jedi

I just noticed I didn't cover the entire six Star Wars films yet, so let's close this on the final chapter of the original series.

"They saved the best for last" I'd like to believe so in this case, nerd-rants aside.

Don't miss out my previous Star Wars-related reviews!

Movie: Return of the Jedi or nowadays known as Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi or just Jedi by fans
Directed by Richard Marquand
Release date 1982
Genre Science-fiction/space opera epic
Country USA/UK

The third Star Wars film originally released, and the "final" episode from both the original trilogy and overall six classic George Lucas-produced films in the series (yes, I'm still weirded out by the announcement of the Disney "sequel trilogy").

Once more, George Lucas personally funded the film independently from Hollywood. Written again by Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan. With Lucas' own Industrial Light & Magic back to be in charge of the special effects of the film.

Lucas didn't really want Kershner back since he was more of an independent kind of director and Lucas wanted to be more present and have a more direct role this time than merely being a simple executive producer on his series. He wanted to retain more control of the production. But since he had left the Director's guild at time, he had a limited choice of directors available to employ. The story goes George Lucas was interested in independent directors such as David Lynch and David Cronenberg for the role of director, and while I would sure had loved to have any of those two in that chair, it would have made such a different movie at the end of the day! (Man, Disney should have considered them again nowadays for the new planned SW movies!!)

George Lucas originally approached David Lynch first who had just been nominated at the time with an Oscar fir Best Director for The Elephant Man in 1980. Lynch did want to make a big epic sci-fi film... only he ended up choosing Dune instead! 

Instead Richard Marquand was picked to direct Return of the Jedi. Marquand is a British film director, responsible for the 1979 horror film The Legacy, the spy film Eye of the Needle and the Bob Dylan musical film Hearts of Fire.  

The film was codenamed Blue Harvest during production. "Episode VI" as it has since been known was the first film to use the THX technology at time, which was developed by Lucasfilm.

Most of the filming was done in England, Arizona and California, with George Lucas handling a second unit to be as effective as possible (so much had to be done, the movie almost ran out of the schedule). Lucas was in fact so heavily invested in the filming he can be considered an unofficial co-director actually.

The story is set about a year after Empire Strikes Back.

The movie opens with Luke Skywalker having to rescue Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt on Tatooine where he was left after the end of the previous episode. Our young Jedi Master now plans an escape for Han with the help of Princess Leia disguised as a bounty hunter, Lando Calrissian, Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2-D2... which fails! They are threated to jump into a Sarlacc pit but our Jedi is able to get the better of Jabba's men and a blinded Han even throws the legendary Boba Fett into the creature by accident!

A Jedi Apprentice no more, Luke decides to go back to Dagobah to finish his training, but it is too late! Yoda is already dying. He only has time to tell Luke the truth about Darth Vader! Vader, his father, was Obi-Wan Kenobi's Padawan apprentice Anakin. And fall into the dark side of the Force, after that he became a Sith Lord under the Emperor Palpatine. Oh. And Leia is his twin sister!

Meanwhile the Empire is back with a new plan! With Palpatine now finally revealed as the big bad of the series, a second Death Star is being rushed into production to crush the alliance from the Rebels for good and destroy all their remaining camps!

Emperor Palpatine is now overseeing the whole situation personally.

A Rebel Squadron is put into motion to defeat the Empire before it's too late. Our heroes arrive first on the nearby moon of Endor, to destroy the Empire's installations. In the forests of Endor they find some strange creatures called the Ewoks.

Aboard the Millennium Falcon Lando and the others are sent to combat the forces of the Empire above the moon.

Luke accepts to meet Darth Vader on his own turf. After an epic confrontation, his attention turns towards Palpatine. But the old Sith has plenty of tricks! And attacks our hero with his lightning!

At that time the Rebels on the ground of Endor are able to disable the shield generator.

In the end, Luke is able to redeem the soul of Anakin towards the light. After all is said and done, a funeral on the ground is made in the name of Skywalker.

All over the galaxy, people celebrate the end of the Empire.

Most of the original cast from the previous two films returned. The movie stars the always fantastic Mark Hamill, the impressively badass Harrison Ford at the time, the lovely Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew and Frank Oz as (the puppet of) Yoda! Including Alec Guinness who came back for a quick cameo despite him not generally liking much Star Wars. And the great young Warwick Davis in his debut film in the infamous but memorable Ewok Wicket.

Return of the Jedi is a film so simply perfectly focused with only one goal. Closure of the entire series.

There's a lot going on in the film. Luke coming to terms with his Jedi training/heritage for example.

The movie begins on such a very original and unique opener, resolving the cliffhanger from the previous episode while sending off the story into a new direction and final destination.

The movie also juggles with a lot of characters. It's really impressive in retrospective, more so after all these years in days were most films struggle to keep a story so focused or balance such impressive cast of characters (most of the time only letting shine one or two main characters).

Sure, there are some silly musical numbers here and there. And the movie seems to tend for the children compared to Empire, but it's all in good fun.

Jedi is mostly the Ewok's show all things said and done. The little furry critters overpower the futuristic heavy firepowered-Troopers with such easy. It's a nice reverse-parallel with the moon-destroying battle station of the original film.

Return of the Jedi aged really well over the years in my eyes. Special Edition and revisions aside, the film looks and feels great.

It's packed. Well-paced. And really fun through and though.

Having the Emperor moving as the big bad in the forefront over Vader was a smart move.

Originally the Rancor creature at the beginning of the film was going to be a suit similar to Toho's Godzilla. But they were unable to get any satisfying results, so they went with a puppet instead. Making the creature's movement jarring and out of this world, making it truly unique and memorable.

They were able to make a lot of great post-production effects, improving on most fields since the last, unlike anything that had been seen at the time.

The film also features some gorgeous pre-CGi days painted backdrops that work a wonder for the film.

Return of the Jedi was originally going to be titled Revenge of the Jedi, which was still seen on some teaser trailers and posters back then. But it was changed late in the production as "Return" instead, Lucas considering Jedi should not seek "revenge".

Jedi is a movie that closes as many threads as possible, and which seeks to please all its possible audience at the same time.

The movie has more comedy in it. More thrills. More adventure. It's bigger and more ambitious than both previous films. The plot basically covers a defeat of the Empire/destruction of a Death Star like the first film and a resistance scenario taking place simultaneously like in Empire.

It's a film both enjoyable by children and adults alike (the shift focusing towards catering to young children would become more prevalent in the prequels).

Famous classic film composer John Williams returned once more along the London Symphony Orchestra to give Star Wars its definitive defining epic score. Jedi features a fantastic timeless score, appropriate fitting for the ending of the saga in terms of musical themes covering as many past cues and character-driven themes for one last hurrah.

The film was released to an almost exclusively positive reception at the time, something unlike anything you'd have seen back then. It was one of the biggest successes in movie history like the rest of the original trilogy. The movie went on winning several awards including nominations at the Academy Awards in all sorts of category (sound, effects and design).

Overall, Return of the Jedi is such an underrated classic.

People tend to dismiss it to the original film or the more refined Empire. And youngsters tend to prefer the more modern prequel episodes to it. But I believe it stands just as well next to both classic Star Wars film. Just as Highly Recommended and well deserving of the same praise.

Let it be said, I find the Ewoks perfectly fine, incessant nerd complaints aside. They have nothing to shy from Droids, Wookies or Jedi. They fit just as well next to the rest of the lore (and come on, complain about Gungans instead!). Plus they work a nice Vietnam war parallel if you consider the time. Voluntary or not. How relatively primitive people were able to beat the technologically superior US troops of this useless war.

Like the rest of the Original Trilogy, the movie went through many, many revisions over the years on both home video releases (through all sorts of medium - laserdiscs anyone?) and other later theatrical re-releases. Most coming from the 1997 Special Edition and kept onwards. A lot of subtle edits and some, well, let's say more noticeable apparent changes. Space scenes were tightened, more ships and TIE-Fighters edited on screen along cleaning/updating/dusting the old matte paintings. The scenery was giving a bit more life. Some shots were played with or reversed here and there for more consistence. Those changes? That's okay. The added "Jedi Rock" and new ending theme for the Ewoks are different but fine all things considered (perfectly fine by me, personally, since those are such silly Star Wars-esque fun songs to begin with). Then there's the questionable added CGi prequel creatures here and there, making Ewoks visibly blinking now and having Vader kept in character with  the young Anakin adding "Nooo!"... well. Those, I could do without. There's also a bunch of gungans and other places visited in the past films added in the final shot, tying the overall series.

And Hayden Christensen at the end. To be honest on this subject, the ghost of Anakin Skywalker never much sense to anyone even back then. Even before the prequels ever came out or were simply imagined, everyone knew Darth Vader was by then "more machine than man". So he probably also had no business in looking like Sebastian Shaw who portrayed the old half-dead Vader near the end in the first place. They originally just wanted to have him stand in looking like what Vader/Anakin would have looked like had he been not corrupted by the dark side of the Force. But that image was always kinda jarring with his ghost looking like that smiling old man. Hayden is detracting for purists, but for all intents and purposes makes more sense. I got used to it, do the same! 

Return of the Jedi proved Star Wars as the definitive saga of a generation. It cemented the franchise and renewed interests in it. Since then Star Wars exploded all over the multimedia, into several mediums from cartoons to made-for-TV movies, besides countless novels and the Marvel Comics at first, followed by the Dark Horse Star Wars comics only ending this year to revert back to Marvel finally. There's also been thousands of toys, all sorts of merchandising, video games and many more!

The series would finally continue on the silver screen with Episode I: The Phantom Menace after a 22-year hiatus, while an actual sequel tentatively known as Star Wars Episode VII for now only announced nowadays back in October 2012 (personal note: the same day I lost my job - end of side-note), the movie itself set for next year (already!?! time sure goes by fast) on December 18, 2015. Finally a new Star Wars film set after the original trilogy after so many years, mark your calendars! 

I give it:
3 / 3 Anakins!

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