21 July 2002 | Anonymous_Maxine
The end of the Star Wars saga?
The Return of the Jedi was George Lucas's last Star Wars film for 16 years, until he followed it up with the disappointing prequel The Phantom Menace in 1999. At the time that I am writing this review, Episode II has come out and proved that George Lucas is still able to produce an action packed space adventure (although he also proves that he is relying far too much on computer generated effects), and we are eagerly awaiting the release of Episode III in 2005, the film which has more possibilities than any of the Star Wars films since the original in 1977.
The Return of the Jedi is the film in which we are introduced to the hideous Jabba the Hutt for the first time, as well as a score of other repugnant creatures. When I first watched this film, the first thing that struck me was an enormous increase in the level of gruesomeness that is seen in the creatures in the film. In the first film, even the antagonist creatures were at least mildly pleasant, but now we see Jabba, we see Jabba's disgusting sidekick with the snake things growing out of his head and around his neck, that tooth-riddled pit in the ground, as well as scores of other sickening things. We also get to the first glimpses of the badly damaged Death Star, whose post-explosive appearance is probably even more famous as an image in film history than its original appearance.
The Death Star is the focus of much of the conflict in the film. The Rebellion is making an elaborate attempt to destroy the Death Star, a nearly impossible excursion that involves timing an attack perfectly so that star-fighters can make an internal attack on the Death Star at just the right moment that their rebel partners are on a nearby planet, shutting down the defense mechanism that the Death Star is deriving from it. Clearly, this is not going to be an easy thing to do, and the majority of the film presents the efforts to get all of the forces coordinated to pull this task off, with the ultimate climax occurring as the rebel attack coincides with the revelation that the Death Star is fully functional as a weapon despite massive damage (a little secret they have tactfully decided not to reveal), and that they are already aware of the impending attack and more than capable of squishing all of the attackers like a lot of space-bugs.
Great story, I think. And it's a good thing, too, because there were at least a few other things that I was less than impressed with about this particular installment in the Star Wars saga. The Ewoks, for example, just didn't strike me as something that belonged in a Star Wars film. I am more than willing to accept them, if for no other reason than the fact that they are now one of the more recognizable things from the old Star Wars films (although it seems like there are thousands of recognizable things from the old Star Wars films), but there were several battle scenes that failed to generate much excitement due to all of the cuddly little snuggle bears running around. Besides that, the Ewok costumes were some of the least impressive outfits in any Star Wars film to this day. You could almost see the seams along the sides, the faces were about as realistic as any stuffed animal, and the pads of the feet, which occasionally were in view, were just as toy-like. They were little more than cheap Halloween costumes.
On the other hand, the rest of the film is so entertaining that I am willing to forgive things like this. It's 1983, for crying out loud, so I'm not about to downgrade the movie for something like that, even though both of its predecessors had universally better costumes despite being older films. It's clear throughout the film that we are watching the conclusion of the conflict between the Imperial Forces and the Rebellion that we saw develop in the last two films, which is why it does not quite reach the same level of stupendous excitement and entertainment of them. There are a lot of fascinating characters and creatures introduced here, and some of the battles scenes in space far surpass anything in Star Wars or The Empire Strikes Back, but despite the fascinating story, there is just too much an element of conclusion and tying up loose ends for this movie to be as fresh and exhilarating.
There is great concern in the last act of the movie with the metaphorical presentation of the dark side and the, well, the light side, I guess. Maybe the bright side? Yeah, the bright side, that sounds better. The dark side and the bright side. Luke is being held captive by Darth Vader and the Emperor and being forced to watch his friends careen helplessly into a battle, unaware that they have no chance of winning. As this happens, we are just itching to see Luke go for that light saber and strike someone down with it and do something heroic, but then the Emperor starts trying to convince him to do this. He encourages Luke to give in to his anger and officially become part of the dark side. It's easy to see how Vader was seduced by the dark side, if all it takes is the killing of someone that you bitterly hate because they are forcing you to watch the deaths of your friends. Throughout the entire Star Wars saga, one of the things that I always wondered about was how exactly Vader was seduced by the dark side, and in this scene I found myself seduced by it because I so badly wanted to see Luke do exactly what the Emperor was asking him to do.
Clearly, the story of The Return of the Jedi leaves very little to be desired, with the exciting battles that come from the struggle between the Rebels and the Empire, and with Luke's struggles against the dark side as well as his interaction with Vader as Vader lay dying in his arms (another heavily metaphorical representation of the dark and bright sides). And despite a few elements of the film that prevent it from really rising to the level of quality and pure entertainment that it could have risen to, this is a powerful installment in the Star Wars saga. Given the relatively cheesy end that we saw in this film, with all of our heroes partying and hugging at an Ewok party in the woods (and with Luke giving the stereotypical grin to the ghostly images of Obi Wan and Yoda and the image of his father before he became Darth Vader (?)), I am curious about the future of the Star Wars saga. I've heard rumors about the production of Episodes VII, VIII, and IX, which seem a little far-fetched at this point, but it also seems almost as far-fetched that old George would end one of the greatest film sagas of all time with the closing scene of The Return of the Jedi.