Review – Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
This is part 6 of my review series of Star Wars. If you want to go back to the start you can head back to my review of The Phantom Menace, or catch up with last week’s review, Empire Strikes Back, or just stay right here.
The final episode of the original trilogy wraps up the story so far. Luke, Leia, and Han reach their most powerful, the battle for Anakin’s soul is concluded, and the Emperor is defeated.
On the watch throughs of the previous five episodes I wrote about a page of notes, but for this movie I noted five or six things.
As a conclusion to the original trilogy everything is wrapped up in a nice way, but not in a derivative way. Luke doesn’t win against the Emperor, but instead, we get the payoff that Anakin has not been truly lost and can be redeemed.
It does bring into question the competing narratives in the story. Obi-Wan and Yoda tell Luke that Vader is lost, even Vader says so. But Luke believes that his father is not all bad and that the kernel of light within him can be rekindled. The mentors are telling us: “Once someone goes down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.” Yet Luke is saying that it is a continued choice to live in darkness. The movie tells us that Luke is right, which brings me to my only non-nit-pick criticism of the film: there is no acknowledgement that the Jedi were wrong.
Vader turns to the dark side because of a lie (Both that Palpatine can help Anakin to save Padme, and that he killed Padme and children in anger), could Vader’s resolve have been challenged at any time or did they have to wait 20 years for Luke to deliver the proof? To be clear, this is a question that is spawned by the prequel trilogy, as the original trilogy doesn’t give enough specifics to make the claim either way. In the resolution of Jedi I would have had an acknowledgement that the Jedi need accept that the fallen can be redeemed – hell that is the story that features in most of the extended universe and games, redemption. Honestly it is a pretty small irritant, especially if no more movies are made… yep, next week is going to be fun.
Jedi adds to the Star Wars lore the way a sequel should. Endor and Ewoks fit in the parameters already set for planets and races. One big addition is Fleet Admiral Gial Ackbar and the Raddus. Having a Mon Calamari as a Fleet Admiral is a great way of showing the difference between the Rebel Alliance and the Empire. The ‘Alliance’ is a coalition of races whereas the Empire is human-centric. It’s a perfect example of showing and not telling; a great character leading the way without an explicit framing of his not being human.
Han’s development reaches its peak. Luke and Leia may be more powerful than ever, but they aren’t changing internally over the trilogy, they are good characters who will do anything to help people. Han is just trying to get by in a crumby universe in the first movie and realises the value of helping others and fighting for freedom. In Jedi he takes on the title of General Solo, who will lead the ground assault on the shield generator. He has reached peak Solo; his journey of self-discovery is a more powerful journey than Luke’s story. Luke finds out he has an awesome power and must learn to control it, but does anyone ever believe that Luke could ever be seduced to the dark side? Turn in defence of others, sure. Seduced by offerings of power, no. Han actively chooses to put himself into harm’s way, without gaining any more power or skill. He is just as skilled as he is when we met him, and instead of thinking about reward he is thinking about others.
One last nit-pick. In the cut that I watched (the 2011 cut where Lucas had gone back and added a sack of unneeded CGI), the resolution scene where Vader is a force ghost is played by Hayden Christensen. This is just stupid. Luke should be like “Who the hell is this guy?” It makes more sense if the force ghost is the Vader we see unmasked, not a guy from 20 years earlier. Although I’m arguing for Sebastian Shaw to be in that shot, I still think Dave Prowse (the guy who was in the suit for the movies) got shafted by Star Wars, but I don’t want to get off on a tangent.
At the end of Return of the Jedi, the galaxy is swinging back to the light. Work still has to be done to logistically bring back the freedom and democracy of the past, but the hard part is done. The Emperor is dead, the Sith defeated. Hope is returned to the galaxy. Luke is a Jedi Master and Leia is just beginning her training. The future looks bright.