Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (PG)
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The third movie to be released, and the sixth chronologically (not counting The Clone Wars). This was released in 1983, when I would have been 7 year old. As far as I can recall, it is the first Star Wars movie I ever saw, and one of the earliest movies of any kind that I specifically recall seeing in a theater. (Although I actually don't remember very much from that first viewing.) Later I'm sure I saw it on TV or VHS or something, and I bought my own copy on VHS in the late 80s or early 90s. And then in 1997 I saw the Special Edition in a theater. This movie, I'm afraid, is considered by many Star Wars fans to be the worst of the original trilogy (though still better than the prequels). One reason for that is the Ewoks (who quickly got their own cartoon series). Man, a lot of people hate them almost as much as they hate Jar-Jar Binks, but personally I always loved them. Especially Wicket W. Warrick. (For a time when I was young, my favorite t-shirt had a picture of Wicket on it. I miss that shirt.) Perhaps it's because I was so young when I first saw the movie that I liked the Ewoks, and yet, seeing it when I got older, I still never had anything against them. I also want to mention that I remember having a coloring book based on this movie, and I think the character I remember best from that is Max Rebo (and various other alien creatures from Jabba's palace). Of course, in later years I would come to appreciate the movie much more than I could have when I was a kid, for various reasons. One of those reasons would be the infamous slave outfit Leia wore. Man, as much as any fan might hate the Ewoks for being aimed at kids, they gotta dig that outfit, which was aimed at... not kids. (I remember one episode of Friends when Phoebe said this was the movie where men started seeing Leia as a woman. The way she said it was funny, and I totally get what she meant, but even so... I always saw her as a woman. I mean, ever since I was old enough to care about such things, I have thought she was gorgeous in all three movies, regardless of what she was wearing. Still... in that outfit... damn.) Anyway, possibly because it's the first Star Wars movie I saw, and it's so ingrained in a formative part of my movie-watching psyche, or for any number of other reasons, it's always been my favorite Star Wars movie. Mock me if you will, but you cannot shame me. (Oh, incidentally, the movie was originally supposed to be called "Revenge of the Jedi," but that was changed to "Return," since "Revenge" sounded too un-Jedi-like. So I thought it was cool when, many years later, Episode III was titled "Revenge of the Sith.")
I'm writing this review as I watch the Special Edition on DVD in 2014. (The movie is set roughly one year after Episode V.) In the opening crawl, we learn that Luke has returned to Tatooine to rescue Han from Jabba the Hutt, and that the Empire is building a new Death Star. The first scene we see is of Darth Vader arriving at the as yet uncompleted Death Star II. He complains to an imperial commander that the progress is too slow, and the Emperor will be coming to share his even greater displeasure at their lack of progress.
Then we see Artoo and Threepio on Tatooine. They arrive at Jabba's palace to deliver a message from Luke. I always enjoyed seeing lots of different aliens in this scene (and in my coloring book). Aside from Jabba himself, there are the troll-like Gamorrean guards; a Twi'lek named Bib Fortuna; a laughing, rat-like creature named Salacious Crumb (who always kinda reminded me of the rats from Fraggle Rock, though I'm not sure why, because he's not as ratlike as I think of him as being); several slave girls of various alien races; and various aliens in the Max Rebo band (singers, musicians, dancers). Anyway, Artoo plays a holographic message in which Luke addresses Jabba, asking if they might bargain for Han's release. He offers the two droids as a gift, and show of goodwill (much to Threepio's surprise and dismay). But Jabba decides there will be no bargain, because Han- who is still frozen in carbonite- has become his favorite decoration. After the droids are assigned their new duties (Threepio will be an interpreter, Artoo will work on Jabba's sail barge), there's a song and dance number, which is different in the Special Edition. Not only is the song itself different, but there are entirely new CGI aliens, as well as a new CGI version of an alien named Sy Snootles (she had been a puppet in the original version). I liked the new song well enough, but I still would have preferred they just left the original in the movie, instead.
Then an alien bounty hunter shows up, wearing a voice-distorting mask and speaking in a language that requires Threepio to translate. He's brought Chewbacca, and come to collect a bounty on the Wookiee from Jabba. Shortly thereafter, we see that Lando has already infiltrated the palace, disguised as a guard. And later, the bounty hunter frees Han from the carbonite, though for some time after being unfrozen, he'll suffer from sickness that leaves him shivery and blind. And when the bounty hunter reveals that "he" is actually Leia, it turns out that Jabba and his entourage were watching the whole thing, so Han will be thrown in a dungeon, where he's reunited with Chewie (who tells him Luke has a plan to rescue them), while Leia becomes one of Jabba's slave girls. (As I mentioned earlier, she looks totally hot in her slave outfit. As do the other humanoid slave girls, though I hardly understand why a very non-humanoid alien like Jabba would be interested in such things, unless it's just to humiliate them, show his dominance, or maybe entertain any humanoid guests he might have. I mean, I can understand him appreciating human dancing, but otherwise... I dunno. It just seems like misogyny for the sake of misogyny. Which in real life would trouble me greatly, but given that this is just a movie, I regret that I find myself unable to complain.)
Finally, Luke shows up, tries to use Jedi mind tricks on Jabba, and fails. He gets dropped into a dungeon where he has to fight a huge monster called a Rancor (which is probably one of the things I best remembered from watching the movie as a kid). After Luke kills the Rancor, Jabba gets pissed, and decides to take Luke, Han, and Chewie out into the desert on his sail barge, to throw them into the Pit of Carkoon, where they'll be eaten by something called a Sarlacc, and digested over a thousand years. (I always thought that seemed unlikely, because they'd probably die long before that from starvation or dehydration, if not old age. But whatevs, it's still not an appealing fate.) Luke continues to cockily tell Jabba to release them if he doesn't want to die, which of course Jabba finds amusing. But it soon turns out this was all part of Luke's plan (which Artoo was in on), and he mounts a fairly epic rescue. (Lando kind of helps, but actually becomes more of a liability.) Leia kills Jabba herself, because she is awesome. Oh, and Boba Fett was there, but Han, even while blind, accidentally takes him out of the picture, which was rather amusing (if also disappointing in a way, considering how cool Boba Fett is supposed to be). Anyway, they all get away. Luke and Artoo head back to Dagobah, while the others take off on the Millennium Falcon to rejoin the Rebel fleet. (By the next time we see Han, he will have fully recovered.)
But first, we see the Emperor arrive on the Death Star II. This is something I kind of think of as being one of the things I remember best from the first time I saw the movie, except now I think my memories are jumbled, because we don't actually see his imperial shuttle arrive; rather, we'd seen Vader's shuttle do so at the start of the movie, but now the Emperor gets off the same kind of shuttle. One thing that is a part of my early memory is the imperial guards, in their bright crimson robes and masklike helmets. (Their outfits are reminiscent of Vader's all-black outfit, except without the integrated life-support system he requires... which is a thing I guess I didn't mention in my review of Episode IV, when we first see Vader. I probably should have, because the distinctive respiration sound he makes is part of what makes him such an iconic and unnerving character. The reason he needs this life support will be revealed in Episode III.)
Yoda can't complete Luke's training as a Jedi, because he's dying (he's like 900 years old). But he says Luke has learned all he needs to, although before he can truly become a Jedi, he must confront Vader. And of course there are the standard warnings to beware of the Dark Side. And he confirms something Vader had told Luke in Episode V, the big plot twist I didn't reveal in my review of that movie: that Vader is Luke's father. (This is one of the biggest twists in the history of movie plot twists, and as such it's one of the biggest spoilers in the history of movie spoilers, if someone hears the truth before seeing the movie for themselves. That, in itself, has become a cultural touchstone, particularly in movies or TV shows that were made after this movie, but are set around the time it came out... so that viewers will probably be aware of the, but characters who are fans of the franchise won't.) Yoda calls Luke the last of the Jedi, but tells him to pass on what he has learned. And finally, he says there is another Skywalker. (He'd said in Episode V that there was “another,” but it's only now that we learn that whoever that “other” is, is a relative of Luke's.) After Yoda dies, Luke feels he is alone, and can't do what he needs to do (kill his father), but Obi-Wan's ghost appears to him and tries to encourage him. It's then that we learn the identity of the other Skywalker (something Luke actually figured out, which probably means he's a lot more insightful now than he used to be).
At the Rebel fleet, we learn that Han and Lando have both become generals in the Rebel Alliance, and each of them will be leading a separate strike team to take out the second Death Star. There are briefings on the plan from a woman named Mon Mothma and a Mon Calamari named Admiral Ackbar. (Actually, I don't think the name “Mon Mothma” was ever mentioned in the movie, but it's well known to Star Wars fans from other sources. She's a former Senator from the Old Republic, and one of the founders of the Rebellion.) Meanwhile, I should say the Mon Calamari are a fishlike bipedal species from an aquatic planet. And um, Ackbar is most famous among Star Wars fans for a line that comes later in the movie, “It's a trap!” Anyway, Ackbar and Mothma explain that the uncompleted Death Star is orbiting a moon called Endor, on which there is a generator that is powering a force field around the battle station. Han's team will have to destroy the shield generator before Lando's team can attack the Death Star. Soon after we learn this, Luke and Artoo show up, and join Han's team. For the attack, Han lends the Falcon to Lando. (There will be several Rebels on the Falcon, but Lando's copilot is a Sullustan named Nien Nunb.)
Han, Luke, Leia, Chewie, and the droids land on Endor, getting past the Empire in a stolen shuttle. (They also have some random Rebel troops with them.) However, Vader senses Luke's presence on the shuttle, and only lets them think they've avoided discovery because he plans to deal with the Rebels personally. After they get to the forest-covered moon, there's an awesome chase scene on speeder bikes (which are basically a cross between motorcycles and hovercraft). In the course of the chase, Leia gets separated from her friends, and she's soon found by a small, tribal, bearlike creature. This would be Wicket (Warwick Davis), an Ewok. (Fans who dislike Ewoks often refer to them as “teddy bears.” Btw, I think “Wicket” is another name we only learn from other sources.) When Leia's friends go looking for her, they end up being captured by a group of Ewoks, and brought back to their village, where Leia has been more hospitably treated than her friends (who are meant to become a sacrificial banquet). Comically, the Ewoks mistake Threepio for a god. But he is able to communicate with them in their native language, and he manages to convince them (with some help from Luke) to release the prisoners. Threepio then regales them with the story of the first two movies (complete with sound effects), and the Ewoks make them honorary members of the tribe. And their scouts will show them the way to the shield generator.
But first, Luke has a heart-to-heart with Leia. There are some things she says that don't quite make sense, whether because of things we learn later, in prequels, or things that have happened earlier in the original trilogy. But nothing that necessarily seems contradictory, just... pretty hard to believe. But the things she says aren't as important as the things he reveals to her... which I don't want to spoil here (though I do so in my review of Episode III). In any event, he says he has to leave, because Vader can sense his presence, and therefore he's endangering the group. So he goes to confront Vader, and tries to persuade him to rejoin the Light Side of the Force. Instead, Vader takes Luke up to the Death Star, to face the Emperor, who will try to turn Luke to the Dark Side.
Meanwhile, Han, Leia, Chewie, and the random Rebels infiltrate the bunker where the shield generator is. Unfortunately, the Emperor has foreseen all of this. He has a legion of stormtroopers and AT-STs at the bunker, and a massive starfleet ready for the Rebel fleet when it arrives. But what the Emperor failed to foresee was the level of badassery teddy bears are capable of, which is one reason I love Ewoks. And in my opinion, if anyone hates them for helping the good guys defeat the Empire (or rather, hates the idea that the human heroes would even need the help of cute little fuzzballs), then they are just plain wrong. And also xenoracist, as far as I'm concerned. (“Xenoracism,” btw, is a word that has a real meaning in the real world, but it's not something I'd ever use as such, because I see little difference between that and just plain racism. So I only use the word in regard to science fiction, to denote prejudice against alien races.) Anyway, there's a big battle that the Rebels wouldn't have won without the Ewoks. And at one point Chewie gets to play Tarzan. And there is a very small moment between Leia and Han that I have always adored (because it is an ironic callback to a moment I didn't like nearly as much in Episode V, and this time it's genuinely romantic). And they finally do get the shield down, so the Rebel fleet can attack the Death Star. While Lando plays the most important part in this, I should also mention that an important part is played by X-wing pilot Wedge Antilles, who had minor roles in all three of the original movies. I never mentioned him in my previous reviews, but I considered it each time, and I would feel greatly remiss if I didn't at least mention his name in passing, here at the end of the saga.
And, aside from the inevitable fact that the Rebels win in the end, I want to leave out a few details. (Mainly, how the whole interaction between Vader, Luke, and the Emperor plays out. I don't want to spoil the specifics of it because it is pretty much the entire point of the six-movie story arc, so it's really something you should see for yourself.) But I must mention that there is a victory celebration on Endor. For the 1997 Special Edition, we also see brief glimpses of celebrations on a few other planets throughout the Empire (and another planet was added for the 2004 DVD) . And at one point, Luke sees the ghosts of Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Anakin, though in the 2004 DVD release, the actor playing Anakin is changed to Hayden Christensen, who played him in Episode II (and Episode III, which came out the year after these DVDs). This change annoyed a lot of fans, but I can't manage to care, because at this point, in whatever version I'm watching, I'm always too caught up in the joy of the celebration. Though I also must mention that for the Special Edition, the music that plays during the celebration has been changed. I kind of miss the original, but the new version is quite nice, too. And I definitely liked seeing celebrations on other planets. It gives a sense that this really is a galaxy-spanning victory (and not just because of the Death Star's destruction), which adds to the epicness of the saga as a whole, I think. And... I guess that's all there is to say. An awesome end to an awesome movie, which itself is an awesome conclusion to a (mostly) awesome franchise. (At least until the next three-movie cycle begins....)