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The UnPopular Opinion: Return of the Jedi

12.28.2017

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

Having just watched STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI for the third time, I have found myself enjoying it more and more than I did the first time. After a lot of reflection, I decided that as much as I liked the movie, it still was not as good as the original trilogy. Growing up with George Lucas' classic trilogy, I hold a permanent place in my heart for all three films. But, as I grow older and rewatch the entire saga ad nauseum, I continue to find holes in RETURN OF THE JEDI more than either A NEW HOPE or THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Sure, the movies are far from flawless, but the first two movies are as close to movie perfection that you can get. RETURN OF THE JEDI, however, is the most Disney-fied movie in the entire franchise. For all of the hate spewing across the Internet in regards to THE LAST JEDI, I keep finding myself feeling that same way about RETURN OF THE JEDI. I now feel confident in saying that while I still hold a sentimental place for Episode VI, it is sorely lacking in the magic that made STAR WARS so monumental.

Let me be clear and say that any STAR WARS is better than no STAR WARS. Even though the prequels have been disowned by countless fans, I still find them greatly enjoyable and I welcome them into the mythology of the fictional universe. Even with my issues concerning ROGUE ONE, I still like watching it and seeing where these films can go. For years, fans had to rely on comics, video games, and novels to expand the STAR WARS mythos. Now, ever year we are getting a new feature film. Fans have cried foul regarding choices in the Legends series of books that have now been eschewed from canon. I still cannot fathom how anyone can not enjoy seeing a new STAR WARS on the silver screen. But, with the expanding film canon, we now can go back and critically reevaluate everything that came before. Eliminating the prequel and sequel trilogy from the conversation, I don't think anyone will disagree that RETURN OF THE JEDI is the lowest of the first three films. But, when taken as a whole, I would drop it below the new sequels and maybe even some of the prequels.

Star Wars, Return of the Jedi, Adventure, Science Fiction, George Lucas, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, The UnPopular Opinion

Years before Disney got their hands on STAR WARS, RETURN OF THE JEDI was already leaning towards that merchandising-centric mindset that was one of the key reasons for the acquisition of Lucasfilm by the House of Mouse. Obviously, the toys and tie-in products for the three newest films have dwarfed anything that came before it, but RETURN OF THE JEDI feels like a quasi-remake of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK but with the addition of a slew of Muppets. Aside from the showdown between Luke and Darth Vader, RETURN OF THE JEDI doesn't offer much that makes it worth revisiting as often as the other films. At least the prequels mined story and origins we never knew. Even if the execution was lacking, the prequels tried to be different than the original trilogy. RETURN OF THE JEDI is an incredibly safe film with no true stakes. The movie rehashed A NEW HOPE decades before THE FORCE AWAKENS but never mined the nostalgia as effectively. The big reveal to Leia that Luke is her brother flies in the face of the romantic tension between them for the first two movies. Leia claims she always knew they were related and yet that never occured to her when she kissed him. There is also the fact that if Luke felt an awakening in his Force powers and he and Leia are twins, why did she not have the same dawning of abilities? RETURN OF THE JEDI is a rushed conclusion that could and should have been so much better.

By now you are likely prepping some sort of retort to combat my opinion. Maybe something about how Jabba the Hutt was an awesome character? Jabba the Hutt was about as effective a character as Boba Fett or Supreme Leader Snoke. All three characters served their purpose to advance the story but do not have any other weight to them. Many have complained about Boba Fett's unceremonious death despite the fact that he is possibly the most overrated character in cinema history. Boba Fett died like a bitch because he was a supporting character supporting the other supporting characters. He was never meant to be someone worthy of his own spin-off film. That is the result of having three films for thirty years. Now that we have gotten three in three years, we no longer need to waste our energy theorizing about the guy in the mask in the background of THE LAST JEDI for seventeen seconds and how he plays into the epic saga. RETURN OF THE JEDI is chock full of moments that culminate the series but fails to stick the landing due to an overwhelming lack of dramatic tension.

Nothing in RETURN OF THE JEDI feels genuine. We all know that Harrison Ford did not want to return for the third film and he phones in his entire performance. There is a noticeable improvement in the film quality between THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RETURN OF THE JEDI, but this only serves to point out the glaring weaknesses in the film ranging from the matte paintings that look worse due to the crisper image quality to the don't-give-a-fuck performances by everyone aside from Mark Hamill. The movie feels like it was made because a sequel was the right finacial decision rather than a creative one. What else explains another Death Star? THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK remains the epitome of STAR WARS because it didn't fall back on the same formula as the first movie and dared to be darker and not have a happy ending. RETURN OF THE JEDI ties up everything in a neat package: Luke saves the galaxy, Han and Leia become a couple, the Emperor is destroyed and Darth Vader redeems himself. we should have felt happy to see our heroes save the day but at least could they have been happy about it along the way?

RETURN OF THE JEDI fails because of George Lucas' increased involvement in the production. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK had the least artistic control from Lucas and veers the furthest away from the safe structure of A NEW HOPE. Lawrence Kasdan's original screenplay for RETURN OF THE JEDI is full of moments that should have made it into the final film: Lando Calrissian dies and the Millennium Falcon is destroyed, Luke has far greater turmoil when facing the spirits of Obi-wan and Yoda, Wookiees instead of Ewoks....the list goes on and on. The revisions mandated by Lucas and willingly accepted by director Richard Marquand makes this film the ultimate failure of compromise. I at least respect the fact that George Lucas wrote and directed the prequels and did what he wanted with them. The results may lack what many hoped for from new STAR WARS films, but they adhere to what Lucas wanted them to be. RETURN OF THE JEDI ends up feeling like it is caught between competing visions and the audience suffers for it.

Star Wars, Return of the Jedi, Adventure, Science Fiction, George Lucas, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, The UnPopular Opinion

By now, most of you have probably watched THE LAST JEDI and may feel that my criticism of RETURN OF THE JEDI should be bestowed upon the latest film rather than this classic one. I appreciate THE LAST JEDI because Rian Johnson takes the film in a starkly different direction, much like THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, and never sacrifices his vision to toe the Disney line. THE LAST JEDI offers all of the marketing an merchandising requirements needed for a modern studio blockbuster but is also the most unique film we have ever seen come out of Lucasfilm. RETURN OF THE JEDI, if it succeeded in anything, was serving as a beta test for technology that was not ready at the time. The film also shows that even a chapter in a franchise needs a strong filmmaker to usher it to the finish line. Richard Marqand was far more suited to small scale films like JAGGED EDGE and EYE OF THE NEEDLE rather than the epic scope of a STAR WARS feature. RETURN OF THE JEDI is a movie I still enjoy but more for individual scenes and moments rather than the film as a whole. As I get older and more STAR WARS films are made, I feel I will appreciate RETURN OF THE JEDI less and less. In fact, THE LAST JEDI has already shown me that the original trilogy was far from perfect. 

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to [email protected], spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!
Source: JoBlo.com

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