Then & Now: Star Wars Episode 6 – Return of the Jedi

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Geoff Harris

Then:

My generation had the benefit of growing up during the age of the blockbuster. Movies larger than the screen. We were witness to icons being created. History being shaped. The core essence of modern geekdom was our fledgling dreams coming true. Yes, there are movies out these days that are the blockbusters of this generation but mine can look back and compare with a keen eye. Technology changed allowing bigger and better special effects. New directors with sharp visions and innovative ideas draw upon those who came before. For me, a new age was dawning and I would never be the same again. With every triumph comes a tragedy. Return of the Jedi is such a story.

Three years will have passed since Empire Strikes Back came into my life and inflamed my young imagination. Was Darth Vader lying about being Luke’s father? Would they ever rescue Han? Are the Jedi truly dead?  The lunchtime debates were getting more and more fierce. But, it gave me substance to talk about and use as a tool to make new friends and acquaintances. There were so many other movies to discuss but Star Wars always seemed to take over every conversation. With the announcement of Return of the Jedi’s release date came even more intense scrutiny.  We had questions and we wanted answers. Starlog magazine only teased us with pictures from the production and little leaked bits which may or may not pan out as true.

Return opens with our heroes attempting to rescue  Han Solo from the clutches of Jabba the Hutt. Luke, now deep in his Jedi training, makes a pretty fair go of it but is easily outnumbered and outmatched. Or is he? The action moves to Jabba’s party skiff where the real plan unfolds. Leia takes out Jabba. Luke squares off with Boba Fett, which was the high point for me. Han is saved. A win after the kick to the teeth of Empire. Fade to black? Nope. Luke skips off to continue training with Yoda. The Rebels learn the Empire, never one to let a good idea die, are building a new Death Star! Since it’s still under construction it needs protection via a force field being beamed from the nearby moon of Endor.  Destroy the generator and the Rebel fleet can attack the exposed core of the new Death Star. Meanwhile, Luke learns from a now dying Yoda that Vader is indeed his father and he has a SISTER who is also strong in The Force: Leia. So he heads back to confront Vader and get to the bottom of all this family craziness. The Rebels assault the force field station and get some unexpected help from the Ewoks, who as it turns out are the inhabitants of the thought to be uninhabited moon. While Luke deals with his daddy issues; Leia, Han, and Chewbacca overtake the Imperial forces. Goodbye force field. Goodbye Death Star Mark 2.  Vader dies a hero defending Luke against the even more evil Emperor. Everyone is reunited for the Teddy Bear Picnic and the saga ends.

Seriously?

I wanted more. My hunger was great and all-consuming.  I wanted wall to wall action. I wanted something new. Something different. I don’t know. I just wanted it to be the experience like A New Hope had been. (Yes, I know the definition of “naive.”) We were in an ocean of science fiction and fantasy goodness. But it was all starting to bleed together.

Now:

I’m still not very fond of Ewoks. Of course, my tastes for all things cute and fuzzy are a tad jaded and heavily bruised from too many trolls biting at my heels. It bothers me when someone creates a thing solely as fan-service or to just make a buck.  I don’t want to get into a pissing contest about marketing. I know enough to accept the notion of sometimes you play to the crowd and sometimes you play for yourself.  I have had the opportunity afforded by time to re-watch this movie several times. I get it. It’s the ultimate happy ending. It’s just the plot suffers from what a lot of films that follow will also fall victim: special effects aren’t a movie by themselves. A director needs to actually DIRECT. Richard Marquand (the director), Lawrence Kasdan, and George Lucas (the writers) are top notch when it comes to setting the scene. The cantina or Jabba’s palace. Right in the middle of the space dogfights.  More aliens than I’ve ever seen on Star Trek. But the actors stumble through scenes like they’re daydreaming. There’s some real powerhouse talent there and it’s being pushed aside for flashy lights and weird noises.

I could do a walk-through of what I perceive are the plot-holes, but I won’t. I do not claim to be a film expert. I do not possess the proper skills to dissect a movie into clinical specimens for intense analysis. I’m just a man who’s looking back at his past with a weathered eye. When I was thirteen, the world was still so open. So large. If you missed an episode of a favorite show it felt like a wound to your very soul. Movies were little slices of Heaven. If you were lucky, your parents would let you go back and watch a movie again. We played outside. Computers were still strange expensive boxes very few actually understood. Puberty. I am also going to refrain from rattling on about Leia’s metal bikini. Somethings are just best left unspoken. Youth is wasted on the young. I wanted Return of the Jedi to be the high point of my life. It tainted my expectations and I went in with a false sense of what I wanted. I look now and accept it for what it is. Chapter Six of a nine part story played out in cinema. Bold. Innovative. To this day, there are scarce few film-makers attempting such a feat. I don’t get as worked up as I once did. I try to watch movies with fresh eyes.

The Star Wars Trilogy has become modern mythology. We still debate over it. We still cosplay the characters. We collect the toys. It is a part of us. Good or bad. Whatever your opinion, Return of the Jedi stands as a cornerstone. There have been worse since. God knows, one of these days I may talk about one of them. Or all of them. The Force flows through all things. May it be with you. Always.

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