Rewatched May 29, 2012
David Merryweather’s review:
Have you watched Return of the Jedi recently? Don't you think there's something going on between Admiral Ackbar and Mon Mothma? Seriously. I mean, just look at the way Mothma gazes at Ackabar as he makes his speech during the briefing session before the assault on Death Star II. Definitely something going on there, I reckon. Could all be down to the fact the the woman playing her is a terrible actress though, don't know.
Flinching from the sombre mood of The Empire Strikes Back, the final part of the Star Wars trilogy plays it broad; the lighter, brighter tone and the stronger emphasis on humour and being more, in George Lucas' own words, "emotionally driven", suggest that Lucas wasn't going to be taking any risks with this one. The series would go out with a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.
This eager-to-please quality though is partly where the film fails, especially with the numerous supposed funny moments. The attempts at comedy are so hamfisted at times, and the moment where Chewbacca lets out a Tarzan yell as he swings on a vine reminded me a bit of the pigeon double-take Moonraker: aside from being a completely unnecessary and cringe-worthy, it's stuff like this that helps to cheapen, even damage the film.
Overall though it's a relaxed, enjoyable children's film, full of exciting set-pieces and weird and wacky creatures. It moves along at such a pace that there's no time for the clunking dialogue to play on your mind. Not that Star Wars is ever about deep and meaningful, conversations or otherwise, but the writing in Return of the Jedi is horrible. I would say it's worse here than it is in Star Wars or The Empire Strikes Back, but that may be down to the fact that Jedi is just the weaker film, story wise.
And to those ruing the ruination of the saga by those pesky prequels, let me tell you that the rot started with RotJ. There's the now familiar story-arc chicanery with trying to tie old and new plot points together so that they might fit "from a certain point of view", and - already! - a reliance on nodding references to moments in previous films ("it's like poetry, it rhymes"), culminating in a complete rehash of the original film's ending with Rebel fighters taking on another damn Death Star. Before the advent of CGI, this was one of Lucas' first ways of going back and 'improving' things, usually following the Lucas credo of 'more is more'. For instance, filling the screen edge to edge with a dizzying array of buzzing fighters for the climactic space battle where never before did the series' catch-phrase "there's too many of them" seem so apt. That said, the bit where the crippled Super Star Destroyer (or "superstar destroyer" as Ackbar calls it at one point) crashes down into the surface of the Death Star II like an arrow in slo-mo has to be one of the most gobsmaking shots of the saga.
But even with the stand-out set-pieces like the (wonderful, but completely logic-free) rescue of Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt's palace, and the beautiful, exhilarating speeder bike chase (the visual and special effects of the early '80s showing the strain, but still holding up), the film's ace up its sleeve is still its main characters. Likeable and believable characters was something the prequels sadly never had, but the triumvirate of Luke, Han and Leia at the centre of Star Wars parts IV - VI made even the hokiest of scenes with the creakiest of dialogue enjoyable. Harrison Ford is always able to ground even the cheesiest guff with his down-to-earth sardonicism. And, even with having to deal with this episode's Jedi Knight dulling of Luke Skywalker's yearning and impetuous eagerness - and being given a terrible haircut to boot - the ever-underrated Mark Hamill still pulls off the hardest job of all in giving his Dudley-do-right character a real integrity. Carrie Fisher, meanwhile, was so high the whole time she thought the Jabba's palace scene was just another Hollywood hills coke party.
And given that he was basically just a walking, wheezing suit in the first film, it was necessary to give Darth Vader some character, but given that his relationship with the heroes was now a bit more 'complicated', moving Emperor Palpatine forward as the big bad at the centre of Jedi was a smart move, and Ian McDiarmid is superb as the cackling creep. The evil delight he displays in the scene where he taunts Luke about the trap he's set for the Rebellion adds to the escalating tension in the film's final third, and helps it become one of the series' most dramatic moments.
This was a first-time watch on Blu-ray, although it didn't stand out as anything special. It looked a bit dark, actually. I still had a lot of fun with the film, on what was only my 999,999,999th viewing of it. It looks a bit flat here, and a bit forced there, and it feels a bit safe and conventional overall for me now. (What I'm saying basically is that David Lynch should have agreed to make Return of the Jedi and let Jodorowsky do Dune... ?)
Of course, it will never be as thrilling as it was when I saw it in a state of fevered excitement a long time ago in a cinema far... well, relatively far away.