PG. An elegant rating for a more civilized age. Also, my kids ran around the garage while watching it.
DIRECTOR: George Lucas
I did it. I finished the machete cut. Okay, I kinda did it. It took me way too long to get through both trilogies (I haven't even rewatched The Force Awakens! Geez...) so I can't officially say that I did a machete cut in the true nerd sense. But I get the gist. I still stand by my original statement that the machete cut does little to improve the franchises. I still loved watching Star Wars, especially the original cuts on Blu-ray. One thing you should know about Return of the Jedi is that it used to be my favorite as a kid. Real Star Wars nerds already have written me off, but I had a super fun time with this movie. As an adult, it is the one I've seen the least. If I get in a Star Wars watching mood, I start with A New Hope and find myself both short for time to finish the trilogy and oddly satisfied with The Empire Strikes Back. While I definitely knew all of the beats of the movie, a lot of me was watching this one for the first time...kinda.
George Lucas really was something special. Nerds will say that he dropped the ball with this movie, but I think that's a lot of hatorade being doled around because there's a theory that there is no such thing as a perfect trilogy. Number three always seems to get a lot of hatred in any series, but the third movie of the franchise has unreasonable expectations always put on it. The Dark Knight Rises is the weakest of the trilogy, but it is a perfectly fine movie. Back to the Future III is loved by many. Okay, I haven't seen The Godfather Part III, but it is on my list. Return of the Jedi really wraps up a lot of things that are left hanging. But the weirdest thing about the movie, and I definitely don't necessarily label this as a fault, is that the structure of this film is really bizarre. The movie almost has a really long James Bond opening with the mini-adventure that involves saving Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt. The other movies really don't have these. If you think back to the time on Hoth, the story is actually pretty slow moving, even though I think the Hoth stuff might secretly be my favorite. (It's not a secret! Curse you, inability to have an internal monologue!) But going out to save Han Solo in the beginning of the film is actually pretty exciting. Luke versus a rancor? Kiss off, wampa! Sure, I don't know how Luke got to be an awesome Jedi between the end of Empire while he's still recovering from his fight in Cloud City to getting to Jabba's palace and putting together a slightly ham-fisted Ocean's Eleven style rescue/heist. (Ocean's Eleven, shy of the Sinatra version, hadn't exactly redefined the heist genre since Italian Job, so I'm giving Return of the Jedi a pass.) It also is the big emotional connection with the film. Having Darth Vader tell Luke that he is Luke's father at the end of Empire (the most public spoiler I've done on this page) is a cool twist. But having the emotional core amongst the heroes in danger? It had to be resolved in a spectacular way. I love the Jabba's palace stuff, even though I thought it was going to devastate my kids. It didn't. They got scared at the Emoji Movie, but shoving a bone into a rancor's jaw does nothing to them. They're ridiculous.
The issue with Return of the Jedi that I can't wrap my head around is how straightforward the movie is. This might actually work to discredit the Machete Cut theory more than I thought it would because those prequels are just stupid complex. Return of the Jedi almost only has an A plot with a really long pre-credit sequence ahead of it. The characters aren't separated for all that long. Luke goes to Dagobah to end the Yoda plot. Ben does his ridiculous "...from a certain point of view" line and the heroes are back to bookending the franchise. Is a second Death Star kind of a lame plot? Maybe. But the second Death Star is so much cooler. It had been six years of people losing their minds. Making a Mary Sue superweapon in the first movie means that the final film has to pay off on the threat of the Empire and that's hard to do when the first movie has a superweapon literally named "The Death Star." The half completed Death Star, for some reason, resonates as way scarier than the fully built one for some reason. The movie does a great job of really establishing that the Rebellion is near its final end in this one and the space battles are just fantastic. We watched this movie in the garage in near perfect resolution and, boy-oh-boy, did it look amazing. It was very impressive watching Lando and Nien Nunb flying the Millennium Falcon between Corellian Corvettes and TIE fighters flying all around. So the simple structure almost doesn't matter. Ending the movie with a very simple plot of the Rebellion and the Empire on their last legs works really well. It leans heavily on its sense of wonder that comes with the movie. Those space scenes make everyone a kid again. (I hate to use "everyone." I'm sure lots of people turd on this movie regardless of how cool it looks.)
The thing that probably takes the biggest hit from the creation of the prequels is Darth Vader returning to Anakin Skywalker. When I watched this movie as a kid, I loved that Luke's dad was mysterious. Finding the good in him was a generality and I needed no understanding of who was behind that mask. It's gross and creepy, but when Luke pulls back the helmet, there are the eyes of an old man who wishes he had more time with a son that he never got to know. Cornball, sure. Am I reading too much into it? Maybe. But seeing Hayden Christensen, especially in the Special Edition recut, jump into that spot. It's odd. The final shot (and I guess SPOILER for everyone who is reading this who have also clearly already seen Return of the Jedi) is Ben, Yoda, and Anakin. Ben keeps talking about how they are close friends, but that shot should be closer, especially when you add Christensen into the shot. People argue, "Why isn't Anakin older?" I guess the logic is that he stopped being Anakin Skywalker when he became Darth Vader at that age. I'm kind of cool with that logic. But seeing young Anakin next to old Ben is just an odd choice. The original casting always made more sense to me. But I guess that Lucas always waned to affirm his choices in the prequels. I guess that opens the door to me griping about Lucas and his worldview post prequels. I've done this in about six or seven reviews (EIGHT if you count American Graffiti!) so this is nothing new. But Return of the Jedi might be the most flagrant misunderstanding of what made an original copy of the movie great.
There are moments in the other Special Editions that I can kind of get behind. Ships taking off in A New Hope are pretty cool. Seeing the wampas wander around their caves does kind of add to the suspense in Empire Strikes Back. But I can't really justify any choices in Return of the Jedi. The scenes are all really forced. The Jabba dance number is so painful and so uncomfortable. Jabba is a gangster, so it makes sense that he'd have some kind of floor show. Fine. But the movie stops its very natural progression and focus on plot to focus on the floor show? Adding to the fact that the scene looks super digital and now dated is even more painful. It's like someone put on another movie in the middle of this sequence. Also, there is the worse reverse justification of Vader's "NO!" sequence, retconned into the movie to parallel the choice made earlier. Admittedly, the "NO" not as jarring as it is in Revenge of the Sith, but it seems like Lucas is doubling down on his criticisms. The shout is just silly. Vader throwing the Emperor over the ledge is such a perfect moment and using this moment to retroactively bolster a movie that sucks? C'mon.
Oh, I never realized that when Chewbacca and the Ewoks swing onto the AT-ST, they are doing the Johnny Weismueller Tarzan-cry. Lucas, that Frankenstein sequence doesn't feel that weird or out of character anymore. It's still a remarkably dumb choice, but I get it.
I guess I should talk about Ewoks pretty quick. Ewoks are just fine. I don't think we need a planet full of Wookies. Kashyyk (spelling clearly wrong) wasn't that cool. It never hits Jar Jar levels. I don't know if there was ever a contingent that really thought that the Star Wars movies were devoid of humor and are just dark. The Empire Strikes Back is kind of a litmus test for how dark a franchise can get, but with movies that have characters like R2-D2 and C-3PO, it's odd that people get so mad about Ewoks. Okay, it's a bit silly that these adorable little teddy bears can take on stormtroopers, but stormtroopers have yet to impress me in any situation. It kind of works better than the wookies in terms of speederbike theft anyway. The only way to really enjoy Return of the Jedi is to just accept the Ewoks. If you go in thinking, "They're fine," they'll be exactly that. If you think Ewoks ruin the movie, then there's no pleasing you. Jar-Jar is a bad character in a bad movie. Ewoks are entertaining to a certain degree. Live with it.
Wow. I'm done with the original movie. Now I have to get the gumption to rewatch The Force Awakens.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.