In light of comments from the always awesome KL Allendoerfer, and the always significantly less awesome Alex Reed, I had intended for this to be a review of The Phantom Menace. However, I can’t find a copy cheap enough to be worth wasting money on it, and everyone I know is too wise to own it on DVD. So if you have a copy lying around, hook me up, y’all.
I’ve previously argued that Return of the Jedi is worse than The Force Awakens. I’ve also said it’s far, far superior to Revenge of the Sith. Both of these statements have proven to be somewhat controversial. So what’s the deal with Return of the Jedi? Is it actually any good?
Jedi is one of those odd cases where it seems to be pretty divisive. There are some people, usually those of a snobbish persuasion, who look down on it as fairly derivative, lacking in strong character moments, and the first time a Star Wars film seemed to be aimed at toy-buying children, rather than trying be made as a good film.
There are others, however (usually of the “shut up and entertain me” persuasion) who really, really love it. Maybe it’s due to where it places in the story, but I know people who maintain it’s the best one (or at least their favourite). So who is right?
Oddly, they both are.
The first point of view is correct in that the film diverges quite far from what made A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back so brilliant. Despite being essentially family friendly films, both are pretty dark in places. There’s a lot of fairly brutal violence or bouts of aggression, and the plots are mostly character-driven (the best type). While it’s an adventure set in space, at their core they are about relationships and what drives us as people. Some of the most popular scenes in the whole series are essentially character-driven.
Return of the Jedi is not that film. In fact, it’s what I imagine non-Star Wars fans picture when they think about Star Wars. It’s incredibly light hearted for the most part, with lots of crazy characters. It’s also all balls-to-the-wall, 80’s action movie, aside from the will he/won’t he Luke Skywalker storyline.
This makes it fairly jarring. The cool thing about A New Hope and Empire is that the good guys are woefully under-qualified for what they’re trying to do, and the bad guys are total pieces of sh*t. They see nothing wrong in a quick massacre to get that they want. A lot of people properly die in these films.
Jedi loses all of that. It feels lazy to place all the blame at the Ewok’s tiny door, but it’s indicative of the problem. Where the Sand People were massacred by the hundreds in A New Hope, the Ewok’s can somehow overcome the Empire with rudimentary, silly gimmicks. If this is a brutal dictatorship that has ruled the galaxy for years, what does it say about every other planet that they were essentially toppled by a group of teddy bears?
This doesn’t mean that it’s a bad film, however.
Part of the inherent issue with it’s place in the trilogy is kind of what makes it work. If you look at the trilogy as part of a three act structure, Return of the Jedi acts as the resolution. We’ve been introduced to the characters (A New Hope) and they’ve hit their lowest point (Empire Strikes Back), now it’s time for everything to be tied up in a neat little bow and end the series on a high. All that great character work and dark storytelling kind of has to go out of the window.
Gary Kutrz, Executive Producer of the initial trilogy who walked out during production of Return of the Jedi, has since said that the initial idea was for Han to be killed half way through, and for the ending to be a little more bittersweet, with Luke walking off in to the sunset, alone.
I get how that might have made for a critically “better” film, but it feels a little unrewarding. This isn’t The Godfather that they’re making here; it’s fun entertainment for all the family. There’s kind of no choice but to send everyone home on a predictable, but happy, note. The fun (for me, at least) is in the conflict, but without the somewhat happy ending it would just kind of feel off.
If you consider Jedi in those terms, it’s a pretty great film.
It might not be the first two, but very few films are. It might not even be The Force Awakens. But it’s still very much a Star Wars film, and a ridiculously fun one at that.
Star Wars Return of the Jedi Rating: Hey, at least it’s better than the Prequels, right?
Links to the other Star Wars reviews are as follows:
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