Saturday, December 26, 2015

Stubs - Return of the Jedi (1983)

Return of the Jedi (1983) Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels. Directed by Richard Marquand Written by Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas. Produced by Howard Kazanjian.  Color. US. Science Fiction, Action, Adventure, Fantasy

And what goes up…

Back for a third and final slice of the original Star Wars trilogy, we now turn our attention to Return of the Jedi (1983).

There was no surprise anymore about there being another Star Wars. After the success of The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Lucas’ declaration that this was a three trilogy saga, the third installment was a foregone conclusion.

Just like in the NFL, it’s hard to keep the same team together year in and year out, especially after you’ve had great success. Irvin Kershner decided he’d had enough of the Star Wars universe and backed out of directing the third film. He’s quoted in a Vanity Fair article from October 2010, “After working for two years and nine months doing Empire, and having it take so much out of my life and having given me so much, I felt that it was a complete experience and it was time to move on.”

Lucas then offered the director’s chair to David Lynch, best known at the time for Eraserhead (1972) and The Elephant Man (1980). Lynch would turn down the opportunity, so that he could direct Dune (1983). David Cronenberg was also on Lucas’ short list, but the director of The Brood (1979) and Scanners (1981), would also turn him down, choosing instead to direct Videodrome (1983) and The Dead Zone (1983).

The director Lucas chose was Richard Marquand, best known up until then for Birth of the Beatles (1979) and Eye of the Needle (1981). While I really liked Eye of the Needle, it would not seem to be a stepping stone to taking on such an endeavor as a Star Wars sequel. For proof, since Marquand had little experience with special effects, Lucas, who wanted to retire from actual filmmaking, had to spend a lot of time on the sets.

And what’s a director without a team. Harrison Ford was the only one of the major three who had not signed up for two sequels. By the time Return of the Jedi was in pre-production, he had already appeared in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Blade Runner (1982) and wasn’t all that keen to return to the role. He suggested that Han could be killed through self-sacrifice, and Kasdan apparently concurred, thinking if it happened early in the film, it would provide some doubt of the others' survival. But Lucas was against it and he had the final word. Merchandising, which was essentially paying for this sequel, would suffer. Lucas wanted a happy ending, which would mean more merchandise sales.

Production began, under the pseudonym Blue Harvest: Horror Beyond Imagination, on January 11, 1982 with 78 days spent at Elstree studios, where the production took up all nine of the sound stages there. After that, production moved, in April, to the Yuma desert in Arizona for Tatooine exteriors. Next it moved for two weeks to the redwood forest outside of Crescent City, California for more exteriors of Endor and concluded with 10 days of bluescreen shooting at ILM studios now located in San Rafael. The idea of the early and quick production schedule was to give ILM as much time as they needed for the special effects. The film was scheduled to be released on May 27, 1983, but was moved to May 25 to the anniversary of Star Wars’ release in 1977.

In late 1982, trailers appeared in cinemas and movie teaser posters were distributed announcing the release of Revenge of the Jedi. But George Lucas, no doubt mindful of merchandising, got cold feet. Jedis, he surmised, wouldn’t seek revenge, and he changed the name to Return of the Jedi. (Revenge as part of a title would be saved back for the third film in the second trilogy, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)).

Like its predecessors, Return of the Jedi opens with the statement “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away....” followed by a prologue crawl: “Luke Skywalker has returned to his home planet of Tatooine in an attempt to rescue his friend Han Solo from the clutches of the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt. Little does Luke know that the GALACTIC EMPIRE has secretly begun construction on a new armored space station even more powerful than the first dreaded Death Star. When completed, this ultimate weapon will spell certain doom for the small band of rebels struggling to restore freedom to the galaxy…”

The Emperor is not pleased with delays in construction of the new Death Star and dispatches Darth Vader to spearhead the project with plans to arrive himself in the very near future.

Shortly after Vader arrives, The Emperor comes to see what all the delays are about on the Death Star.

Meanwhile, on Tatooine, Luke Skywalker searches for Han Solo, who in The Empire Strikes Back had been frozen in a carbonite monolith and presented to Jabba the Hut, whom Han owes gambling losses to, by Darth Vader.

Luke sends the two droids, C-3PO and R2-D2 as emissaries to Jabba. R2-D2 carries with him a hologram message from Luke, who offers to bet Jabba for Han’s release. As a goodwill gesture, he offers Jabba the two droids as a gift, much to C-3PO’s chagrin. While Jabba takes the droids, he has no interest in entertaining offers for his favorite ornament.

Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) appears in a message delivered by R2-D2 and C-3PO to Jabba the Hut.

Later, after having been entertained by musicians and dancers from various races, Jabba is visited by a Bounty Hunter, who has with them a prisoner Jabba wants, Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). After some negotiations, the Bounty Hunter gets a good price for the Wookie and he is led away.

But the Bounty Hunter is, in reality, Princess Leia in disguise. And later that night, after the partiers are apparently asleep, she sneaks back into the Jabba’s and melts the Carbonite, freeing Han. But Jabba was one step ahead of them and both are captured. Han is sent to a prison cell, where he is reunited with his longtime friend Chewbacca.

Shortly thereafter, using his mastery of the “Force,” Luke gets past Jabba’s guards and gets an audience with him. He finds that Leia has been made into a slave girl, wearing that famously skimpy bikini.

Leia (Carrie Fisher) seems very cozy saddling up to Jabba the Hut when Luke arrives.

Luke offers Jabba a deal, liberate his friends or face a certain death. Jabba laughs at the idea and, using a trap door of sorts, sends young Skywalker into a dungeon along with one of his hapless guards. To Jabba’s and his entourage’s surprise, while the creature in the dungeon downs the guard, Luke manages to kill it. But the Jedi is taken prisoner.

This time, Jabba takes Luke, Han and Chewbacca to the Dune Sea’s pit of Carkoon, which is essentially the mouth of a creature called Sarlacc. But when they drive to force Luke to walk the plank over the mouth, he puts his secret plan into action. With the help of Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), who has infiltrated Jabba’s entourage and Leia, who manages to strangle Jabba with the chain that he’d used to bind her to him, Luke prevails.

Luke's plan is working. He, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca are taken to be fed to Sarlacc.

Later, Han, Leia, C-3PO and Chewbacca leave in the Millennium Falcon and Luke heads back to the Dagobah System, to continue his training with Yoda. But when he gets there, the old warrior tells Luke that he’s dying. He tells Luke that while his training is complete, he will not be a full-fledged Jedi until he confronts his long-lost father, namely Darth Vader, formerly Anakin Skywalker.

Yoda warns Luke to be wary of anger, aggression and negative feelings that might trump his spiritual powers. And while he tells Luke that he is the last Jedi, he tells him there is also another Skywalker just before he dies.

Luke is uncertain that he can go on without Yoda’s mentorship, but the spirit of his other deceased mentor, Ben “Obi-Wan” Kenobi, is there to continue with the exposition. He explains that Luke and Princess Leia were separated at birth so that Darth Vader would remain unaware of his daughter’s existence. Obi-Wan admits to lying to Luke about his father, but gives him the explanation that if you look at it a certain way, Anakin was killed off by Darth Vader.

Meanwhile, Rebel forces want to attack the new Death Star before it is completed. But while it might not have all its own weaponry in place, it is protected by an energy shield generated by a plant on the planet Endor. In order to attack the Death Star that plant was to be destroyed. With the shield down, Lando can lead the attack on the Death Star.

The plan is to send General Solo, it is wartime, in a captured imperial shuttle down to Endor and to deactivate the shield. Leia, Chewbacca and the droids agree to go with him. As the strategizing continues, Luke returns to base and offers to join in with Han’s covert attack.

When the shuttle approaches the Imperial Fleet to get clearance down to Endor, Darth Vader senses his son is aboard the shuttle. Luke, meanwhile, realizes he’s put the operation at risk. Despite that, the shuttle continues to Endor. They are discovered by Imperial guards riding flying motorcycles and in order to prevent them from giving away their presence, Luke and Leia take chase. During the chase, the two get separated and when Luke returns to the main group, he learns that Leia is still missing.

Leia, who has been thrown from her vehicle, is befriended by a furry creature. Though unnamed in the actual movie, we learn he is an Ewok, a race of bad ass teddy bears living on the planet. When Leia is reunited with her friends, the Ewoks mistake C-3PO as one of their deities come to life. This allows them to form an alliance to attack the power station.

Ewoks are sort of soulless Teddy Bear-like creatures that inhabit Endor.

The night before, Luke tells Leia that he has to confront Darth Vader, confessing that he is Luke’s father. He wants to bring Vader back into righteousness, but if Luke’s mission fails, Leia has to continue the fight, as she shares “the Force” because they’re twins separated at birth.

Leia doesn’t seem surprised by the revelation and encourages Luke to run away, but he is intent on saving their father from “the dark side.”

Soon, Luke is captured by Darth Vader, who has journeyed down to Endor. Luke gives his father the chide to join forces or to kill him. But Vader remains true to his evil ways and turns Luke over to the Emperor, who tells young Skywalker that the rebels have fallen into a trap he’s set. To demonstrate the new Death Star is operational, he orders the destruction of a rebel space station.

Darth Vader (David Prowse) brings Luke back to the Death Star to present him to the Emperor.

Meanwhile, back on Endor, Han and his group are helped by the Ewoks into the power station generating the energy shield.

Back in space, Lando and his fleet must call off their attack of the Death Star when they realize the shield is still in place. Empire forces attack the Rebels in space and on land.
Luke, who is watching helplessly, grows angry, one of the things Yoda warned him against doing. The Emperor seizes on this anger and, feeling Luke is being drawn to the “dark side,” returns his lightsaber.

But Luke attacks Darth Vader instead, as the Emperor watches, chuckling with delight. Luke is convinced that his father won’t be able to kill his only son, while Vader tells him the only way to save his friends is to convert to the “dark side”. When Vader reads Luke’s mind, he learns that Leia is his daughter and suggests that she, too, can be guided to the “dark side”.

Father and son battle with lightsabers, much to the delight of the Emperor.

This causes Luke to lose his composure and sever Vader’s lightsaber bearing hand. The Emperor is delighted by the turn of events, but Luke refuses to kill his father.

The Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) takes fiendish delight in Luke and Vader fighting in front of him.

Meanwhile, back on Endor, the Ewoks rescue Han’s landing party and together they manage to shut off the Death Star’s shield.

The Emperor grows tired of Luke’s resilience and tortures the boy. Darth Vader kills his evil master in order to stop him from hurting his son.

Out in space, Lando and his wing discover the shield is down and continue their attack on the Death Star.

Luke wants to save his father, but Vader, after his battle with the Emperor knows his life is over. He orders Luke to remove his oxygen mask so that he can look at his son with his own eyes. Father and son gaze into each other’s eyes for the first and only time before Vader dies.

Darth Vader has Luke remove his helmet so he can gaze at his son.

Luke escapes and the Death Star is destroyed. Back on Endor, the Ewoks celebrate when they see the explosion in the sky. When Leia is concerned about Luke’s safety, Han tells her that he’s safe. She admits to feeling a spiritual connection to Luke, which Han mistakes as love. He promises not to stand in the way of her relationship with Luke. But Leia confides that she and Luke are brother and sister, which Han is happy to hear.

Later, on Endor, Luke mourns his father with a funeral pyre as everyone rejoices in the Rebel victory, even the ghostly images of Yoda, Obi-Wan and, yes, even Anakin Skywalker.

The spirits of Anakin, Yoda and Obi-Wan rejoice at the Rebel victory in Return of the Jedi.

The film was released on May 25, 1983. By now, and as we’ve learned from the subsequent prequel trilogy, the franchise is critic-proof. Reviews were mostly mixed, though some, notably Roger Ebert, loved the film. Domestically, the film made over $252 million. It would add another $165 million worldwide. Merchandising would not suffer, though I don’t have numbers, but from then on, it seems, there has been merchandising in some form or the other, in retail, book and toy stores ever since, even when there was no imminent release of a new film.

Like all of the previous films, Return would get the enhanced treatment with 1997’s Special Edition and the original would disappear, hopefully preserved in some film vault in canisters next to Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. But for the average filmgoer, you might as well consider the version we’re reviewing as “lost”.

That said, Return of the Jedi provides the best example of special effects needing enhancement. It is painfully obvious when green screens are used, even more so than in the first two installments. They come off looking fake rather than special. It is most noticeable on the chase scenes through the redwood forest on Endor.

Like in the previous films, the costuming is hit and miss, but here it is more miss than hit.

Outside of the iconic costumes already introduced, there is nothing really good. Whenever we’re introduced to a new “race” of creature, they look like they’re wearing costumes. There is no sense of a soul, for lack of a better word, behind any of the eyes on any of them. They come across as looking like something you’d see in a high school production rather than a multi-million dollar film. The Ewoks, as an example, might as well have had button eyes than what they had.

Not all the costumes were bad in Return of the Jedi.This outfit is particularly iconic.

The Ewoks are also an example of Lucas trying too hard, in this case, not to lose young viewers. It is no accident that they resemble teddy bears though they definitely have a native vibe, like pygmy's from a Tarzan movie.

Disappointing costumes and special effects aside, the acting is what really doesn’t congeal in this movie. It’s as if the man characters are going through the motions without emotion. Maybe familiarity has brought on a certain flatness, but I don’t feel like any of them (Hamill, Ford and Fisher) really put in their best efforts here. Even Alec Guiness, who again makes an appearance as Obi-Wan, comes across as flat in his delivery.

The plot point that is brought out in Return of the Jedi, the fact that Darth Vader doesn’t know he has a daughter, seems a little hard to believe. If this took place in a little backwoods village without any advanced technology, you might believe that a woman might be pregnant with twins and she and her husband might not know until she actually gives birth.

But even though this is long, long ago, these people have mastered inter-galactic travel. It’s hard to believe that a pregnant woman wouldn’t know there were multiples inside her. Add to that Anakin’s mastery of the Force and it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t sense two “younglings” growing inside Padme. After Revenge of the Sith, I always assumed he knew and that they were trying to hide both children from him.

Watching The Empire Strikes Back and then Return of the Jedi was similar to watching Spider-Man 2 (2004) and then Spider-Man 3 (2007). When Spider-Man 2 ended, I couldn’t wait for 3, but after sitting through the final in the trilogy, I felt more like “phew that’s over.” Return of the Jedi is not as good as Spider-Man 3, but the disappointment is just as real.

You don’t watch Return of the Jedi because it’s a great movie; it’s not. You watch it because it completes a trilogy you’ve already given the first two parts of multiple viewings and hours of your life. But as disappointing as this might be, it is still heads and shoulders above the next three films, which we will not be reviewing.

The stage is set for Episode VII; who would have thought it would take 32 years to get there.

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