I am a big fan of Star Wars, but I have never ever liked RETURN OF THE JEDI. Having just watched the Blu Ray, I’m gonna spout off a little about this. As I have said numerous times, I’m a much bigger fan of the MAKING OF these movies than I am of the movies themselves, so I will reference many things from various sources such as DVD (and obscure Laserdisc) commentaries, documentaries, out of print books (like John Preecher’s THE MAKING OF RETURN OF THE JEDI from 1983), older screenplay drafts, and more.
SPOILER ALERT, if you’re you know, Amish and have never seen the movie, this will ruin it.
10. LACK OF DRAMATIC TENSION PART 1 -In the scene with Leia and Han, right after Luke says, “Hey, you’re my sister, even though we played tongue twister in the last movie”, and the dramatic tension lasts almost 3 whole seconds before Han Solo, a well known scoundrel, gives up and apologizes right away. No waiting until they’re in the battle and she gets shot to make up, thus creating some much needed drama. No consistency with character.
9. MATTE PAINTINGS – Okay, having just watched all 6 movies on Blu Ray, why are the matte paintings so blaringly obvious in this movie? In 1920×1080 High Definition video on a 42″ monitor, the matte paintings of things like the Millenium Falcon in a hangar show way too much of the paint strokes and look incredibly fake.
8. BAD EFFECTS – In many ways the effects work in Return of the Jedi are STILL some of the best. Then why is some of the worst effects also in the same movie? There are several really poor blue screen shots, like when Han Solo and Lando are talking about permission to take the Millenium Falcon into battle, those shots are so terribly done, complete with the exact same horrendous matte paintings already mentioned. Throughout the movie, several of the blue screen composites rip me out of the movie because of how fake they looked. Sometimes followed immediately by some of the best of the 1980’s FX work. See also the shot of Mongo’s look alike mourning his dead Rancor, or Luke and Han on the skiff on Tatooine. There isn’t a single shot in iV or V that compare to these 7-8 terrible FX debacles in JEDI.
7. DARTH VADER – Okay, even in the context of all 6 movies, When, where, and how did Luke sense some good in Vader? What actions were taken that demonstrate this innate sense of good? The hand cutting and torture in Empire Strikes Back? The killing of a few dozen defenseless children in Revenge of the Sith? Looking at just the original trilogy, there is absolutely NOTHING redeemable about Darth Vader. His newfound good side and thoughts, we have nothing but crappy dialogue to tell us about, is all we have to suddenly empathize with a character who has done terrible things. It rings quite hollow to me, and I am a big fan.
6. KILL LANDO – Also from Lawrence Kasden’s draft, Lando was supposed to die and the Millenium Falcon did not actually make it out of the Deathstar II. There is no sense of sacrifice for the good guys in this film. With no sacrifice, there is a lot less honor. Since we the audience start to feel that the good guys aren’t going to die, there isn’t a lot of concern, or DRAMATIC TENSION. There it is again.
5. DEATH STAR, or LACK OF IMAGINATION – Why another Deathstar? I understand that in 1977’s A NEW HOPE, George Lucas did not intend to do the whole Deathstar blowing up and trench run, but did because of studio pressure and thinking he would never get to play that card later. Still, come up with something NEW. Something imaginative. Rehashing a visual and just the exact same thing was kind of lame. Early drafts had not 1, but 2 Deathstars. That was twice as boring to me.
4. RELATIONSHIPS UNRESOLVED – This too plays into a lack of DRAMATIC TENSION, because when last Luke and Leia were seen together in Empire, she was taking care of her favorite idealist, but confessed to loving his best friend. By going back to a completely unused draft of Episode iV (the 2nd draft) where Luke and Leia were siblings, something OBVIOUSLY not adhered to in the previous 2 films. There was dramatic tension in a LOVE TRIANGLE. If Luke and Han are both suitors for Leia, then there might be a tear in their friendship. Even with the sibling reveal, there was an opportunity to play on this, but it gets dropped in favor of…. no tension.
3. HARRISON FORD – Harrison did not want to do this movie. He has repeatedly stated he did not want to play Han Solo again. Of all the principal actors, he was the only one NOT signed for this sequel. In the end he got a substantially better deal than the rest, but even monetary compensation did not inspire a watchable performance. Han Solo in this movie is unmotivated, poorly acted, and completely inconsistent with anything ever this guy has done in the 2 previous movies. Harrison weighed at least 20-25 pounds heavier and his hair looked like the stylist was Ray Charles in a dark closet. Sadly, Harrison was right in saying Han Solo should have died at the end of the first act to show some sacrifice and also to add some dramatic tension. Even Carrie Fisher, so blatantly coke’d out of her mind on every type of narcotic that existed in 1982, delivered a better performance than Harrison Ford in this movie.
2. EWOKS – No, I never liked the Ewoks. As I was all of 11 years old when Return of the Jedi came out and I found the pandering to be insulting to my age group. Having known for years this was intended to be Wookiees like Chewbacca, how on the hell are we supposed to accept these half sized, product placements as a substitute? I will say there was a single shot where two Ewoks get hit by laserfire, and one of them stays dead and the other one mourns him – that was deep. Now on Blu Ray, these things have iris’ and they blink. Creepy, but more realistic. But way creepy. Seeing REVENGE OF THE SITH with a full on Wookiee battle, imagine what this COULD have been like…
1. LACK OF DRAMATIC TENSION PART II : FROM A CERTAIN POINT OF VIEW – Even as an 11 year old, I felt the Obi Wan Kenobi scene from Return of the Jedi to be a series low point. “What I told you was true… from a certain point of view”? Come on, that sucks. Why isn’t Luke emotional? Why isn’t he yelling at Obi Wan about NOT telling him who his father was? How does the moral ambiguity work for THIS, but not the Emperor or all the people who are drafted into the Imperial forces who die in the fight against the rebellion? The worst thing about this one is having read Lawrence Kasden’s draft of this scene that George Lucas re-wrote. In Kasden’s draft, Luke IS belligerent, asks angrily, “Why didn’t you tell me Vader was my father?” and Obi Wan responds with, “We wanted to finish your training and prepare you for the burden but you left in such a hurry.” Luke responds with “But I had to save my friends! They were in danger” and Obi Wan wisely retorts, “and in the end, didn’t they end up saving YOU?” and that shuts Luke up and they have a civil conversation. DRAMA of the best kind. Never to be seen in this freakin’ movie.