It’s that time again! Are you guys enjoying these? I know I am, so even if you’re not, they’re gonna keep on coming. So strap yourselves in. The next film in my discussion of the things that bring me back to the Star Wars films is the most hotly-debated film in the original trilogy: Return of the Jedi. From the script to the Ewoks to the ending, this is the original trilogy film that has the most wildly-varying opinions associated with it. Some people put it near the bottom of the saga, and some people put it at the very top. For me, it falls near the middle, but definitely upper-middle. I recognize that it has some flaws, but those flaws are not glaring enough to diminish my enjoyment of it. So what is it about THIS admittedly flawed film that makes me develop a hankering for it? And why is it called a “hankering”? Read on to find out!
Of all the Star Wars films, I have the most nostalgia for Return of the Jedi. It was the first Star Wars film that I was conscious of before it premiered, and it was the first film that I was able to anticipate. I’ve told this story on several podcasts, but I’ll tell it again here, in case there are a few of you that haven’t heard it. From the time the film was announced, I made it known that I wanted to be FIRST in line to see it. My mother, ever the enabler, was committed to making sure that happened. Burger King, however, had OTHER plans. The day of the premiere, my brother, my mother and I went to Burger King for lunch before the movie. We left in plenty of time, and since my hometown of Paris, Texas is not a sprawling metropolis, there was never much worry. Burger King decided to make things interesting and messed up my brother’s order. This was a harbinger of things to come for my brother, as it is not uncommon for his order at an eating establishment to be incorrect. SO we had to wait for them to correct the order, and we HAD to stay because we were getting the last of the Return of the Jedi collector glasses on this trip. Oh well, no big deal, we still made it to the theater VERY early. But not as early as the ONE kid who was already in line when we got there. That’s right. I was SECOND in line for Return of the Jedi. This, too, was a sign of future happenings in my life. I always seem to be just a split-second too late in most scenarios. I’m resigned to it. I was not exactly heartbroken, but I DID regret that I wouldn’t have my picture in The Paris News. My mother assured me they would take my picture as well, so I wasn’t too terribly bummed out. The photographer showed up, took the picture of the #@$% kid in front of me, and I dutifully stood there waiting for MY photo to be taken. Then, the photographer left. We were in public, so I put on a brave face and patiently waited for the box office to open. We got our tickets, got our seats, and waited for the movie to start. This was the first (and one of only 2 times) that my brother, my mother and I all saw a Star Wars film together, so it still holds a strong place in my heart. I loved the movie, it was so much fun, the ending was satisfying, and my mom got motion-sickness from the Speeder Bike chase, which we all chuckled about on the way home. All was right with the world, despite my not being first in line and not getting my picture in the paper. I got to see Return of the Jedi at the first showing on the first day. That was exciting enough. And as I get older, the memory of seeing it with my brother and my mother means even more.
So, that’s my nostalgic memory that makes me come back to the film. Watching it gives me a chance to remember that time and relive the magic. But that wouldn’t be enough for me to sit through the film to the end if it wasn’t something I was drawn to for other reasons. So what are those reasons? Let’s find out!
Just like the colors of The Empire Strike Back stick in my head, Return of the Jedi has a color palette of its own that I enjoy. When I think of The Empire Strikes Back, I think of mainly blues and oranges. With Return of the Jedi, I think of forest green, brown, and gray. The forest green is of course due to the lush forest of Endor, the brown is mostly tied to the Tatooine section and Jabba’s palace, and the gray is the sterile gray of the Death Star and the Emperor’s Throne Room. I also think of red because of the Emperor’s Royal Guards. They don’t appear in the film very much, but when they do, the bright crimson of their robes stands out and definitely makes an impression. I will admit that the colors are not as MUCH of a draw here as they are with The Empire Strikes Back, but they do undoubtedly stay with me as I think about the film from time to time.
The Tatooine section of the film is the thing that I think of most when I think about Return of the Jedi. It is one of my favorite segments in the entire saga, and it is actually the favorite section of any Star Wars film of my best friend Taylor Lymbery, who you know from Talking Toys with Taylor and Jeff (available on www.MarvinDogMedia.com) Much like Hoth opened The Empire Strikes Back, the Jabba’s palace chapter is a great way to get the film rolling. Say what you will about George Lucas’s skill as a filmmaker, the man knows how to start a film, a talent which will come up again in a later chapter. This portion of the film has everything we expect from Star Wars. It has a good amount of humor when C-3PO is translating for Jabba and when Han is getting brought up to speed by Chewbacca, along with some fairly dark humor in the scene where we see the poor Gonk droid getting its feet “burned.” This section also has a tender moment between Han and Leia when she unfreezes him, as well as the greatest entrance that Luke Skywalker ever gets when he strolls confidently into Jabba’s throne room and states his demands. And we can’t forget the Rancor battle, because it wouldn’t be Star Wars without a beast! As if all of this wasn’t enough, this section also gives us a musical number!! You guys know I’m a sucker for a good musical, so this song in the midst of the film is always welcome. I love Lapti Nek, but I don’t mind Jedi Rocks, so I can enjoy either tune. The final sequence at the Sarlacc pit is pure Star Wars magic, and the explosion of Jabba’s sail barge as the heroes escape on a sand skiff is everything I want from a Star Wars film. Even if the rest of the film failed (which it most certainly does NOT), this would be enough to keep me coming back to the film.
The most important reason that Star Wars in general, and Return of the Jedi in particular, is something that I return to is the fact that the film allows me to grow with it. I appreciate different elements at different points in my life. For instance, Luke’s encounter with Vader and the Emperor is something I didn’t really respond to as a kid. I was more focused on Han and Leia, and the scene at the end leading up to the final lightsaber duel bored me, to be honest. But as an adult, I am better equipped to understand the mature nature of this portion of the story. I can see the internal struggle that Luke is facing, and I can see the turmoil within him, much to the credit of Mark Hamill’s skill as an actor. Seeing him give in to his rage, only to bring himself back from the brink, going so far as to throw his lightsaber away in defiance of the Emperor is fascinating to watch now. Since I never paid much attention to it as a kid, it feels like a newer experience to me now, which is always interesting, since I find something new each time I view it. It gives the film some weight, and brings this section of the saga to a satisfying conclusion.
I can’t end this discussion of Return of the Jedi without mentioning the final battle above Endor. This is something that most fans always point to as a favorite moment, and I do enjoy it quite a bit. The dogfighting is astounding to watch, and seeing a Star Destroyer crash-land on the surface of the Death Star is always fun to watch. I appreciate the work that went into it, and it IS a pleasure to watch, but the draw of Star Wars for me has always been the characters. I want to know what is going on with Han and Leia, with Luke and Vader. The battle is great, but the character interaction is what brings me back. Speaking of Han and Leia, it seems strange that I have barely mentioned them this time around. Their scenes are good, but the Endor sequence is so focused on the contribution of the Ewoks that I always feel that Han and Leia get relegated to a back burner. I would have liked to see more of them working as a team to take over the bunker. We do get one OUTSTANDING moment with a nice callback to the “I Love You, I Know” encounter on Bespin, and it always makes me smile. However, I feel like it would elicit an even stronger reaction if we had more scenes of them giving one another the great dialogue we got in the last film. The main relationship in this film is Luke and Vader, which is as it should be, so it in no way ruins the film for me, but it does make me care less about what’s going on with Han and Leia.
Well, I seem to have written more about this film than the other two. I don’t THINK this will be a trend, so you don’t have to worry about these blogs getting longer and more unwieldy. That doesn’t mean it WON’T happen, I’m just saying don’t worry, because that won’t do anyone any good. In summation, Return of the Jedi will always hold a special place in my heart because of the circumstances surrounding its release. I will never be able to critique it like I would any other film for that very reason, and I’m good with that. There’s nothing wrong with having a lot of nostalgia for anything, regardless of the relative quality. The Tatooine section that opens the film is what I ALWAYS think of when I think “I want to watch Jedi,” but I never stop there, I always watch the entire film and, like any good film, and especially Star Wars films, I always find something new to think about each time I watch it.
What are your favorite elements of Return of the Jedi? I didn’t mention the Ewoks much, and it’s not because I despise them, I quite like the Ewoks, especially Paploo when he steals the speeder bike. Is there anything unique to your experience that brings you back to it? Let me know in the comments, and let’s discuss. I’ll be back next month to start on the Prequels. This is the stretch that is going to be a surprise for me, so I hope you find it as enlightening as I know I will.
Until next time,
May the Force of Others Be With Us All.
Margot and Archie say hi.
Jeff can be heard weekly on Assembly of Geeks (www.assemblyofgeeks.com) and on his own podcast network, MarvinDog Media (www.MarvinDogMedia.com) where he hosts The Pilot Episode, Talking Toys with Taylor and Jeff, and Bantha Banter: A Star Wars Chat Show. He is also co-host of Comics With Kenobi with fellow CWK blogger Matt Moore, on CoffeeWithKenobi.com, which you have already found if you’re reading this blog. You can contact Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org.