Sunday, April 6, 2008

Review - Return of the Jedi

Return of the Jedi
1984 Hugo Winner for Best Dramatic Presentation

As I pointed out in my Empire Strikes Back review that movie is the best of the Star Wars films because it subverts the genre. Return of the Jedi, on the other hand, backpedals as fast as they can for the sake of merchandising and the result is terrible.

In Empire the "helpful mentors" were revealed to be lying manipulators. In Jedi, they take it all back with a flimsy excuse that is just accepted by the person who was hurt by their behavior. In Empire the training for a week didn't let the new hero face the skilled veteran on equal footing. In Jedi without any more training he's become an expert. In Empire there was a dualism, a balance in concepts. In Jedi if you get angry for a couple of minutes even in justified situations you run a real risk of turning completely evil and joining the other side. In Empire blowing up one military installation actually made things worse for the rebels. In Jedi blowing up one military installation means they win the war even though they're in the middle of a battle in which they're badly outnumbered and losing fast. In Empire the hero doesn't get the girl. In Jedi you get an out of the blue excuse why that's just fine.

Even worse, the plot for Return of the Jedi plays like a highlight reel of the best things in the previous movies. "Boy that Death Star battle was exciting... I know, let's do it again! Only this time they go inside it!" Even the lightsaber duel that should be the climax of the trilogy feels rehashed from Empire.

And there's the plot synopsis for you. Once more the Empire has built a Death Star. Once more the rebels get the plans. Once more there's a big space battle around it but this one is dependent on some of the worst conceived plans ever depicted on film to succeed. And then everyone is happy when it works, except for the trillions who die in the civil war kicked off by the rebels creating a massive power vacuum.

So the film is a rehash and a return to bland genericness after the daring steps of Empire. On top of all that there is the merchandising. A significant portion of the film feels more like an extended toy commercial than a movie. The Ewoks, the teddy bear like primitives who somehow aren't slaughtered by the overwhelming force that they're assaulting, are particularly conspicuous in this regard. Care to guess who was the center of the marketing blitz with their own follow-up made-for-TV movies and cartoons?

The only thing Jedi offers is visual style which is continuing the evolution of effects that started with Star Wars. Unfortunately a lot of it feels the same as the previous movies "only bigger" (sensing a theme here?). The most impressive sequences are the most original ones right at the beginning of the movie.

The writing took a very sharp step down from both previous movies as well. Besides the noted deus ex machina resolutions to dangling (and some not so dangling) plot points the film comes across as though written for an even younger audience than Star Wars was written to. At several points in the film, for example, an alien creature lets out a "humorous" belch after consuming something.

So after the visually innovative but not particularly great Star Wars, the cleverly subversive Empire Strikes Back, the Star Wars series ended (for a time) with a cheap cash-in. If it wasn't for the fact that Empire ends on a cliff hanger I would say avoid Return of the Jedi entirely. As it stands it makes me more inclined to just forget about the Star Wars series all together.