“The Empire is more than halfway through construction of a new Death Star – almost twice as big, but more than twice as powerful. When completed, it will spell certain doom for Luke Skywalker and the Rebels. Han Solo is a prisoner of crime lord Jabba the Hutt, and Princess Leia soon finds herself in the gangster’s hands. Luke Skywalker, aided by C-3PO and R2-D2, makes his way into Jabba’s palace, hoping to secure his friends’ freedom. But the Hutt has no intention of doing so and tries to kill them all. After escaping from Jabba and the sands of Tatooine, they regroup with the Rebel fleet, which is massing for an attack against the new satellite battle station at Endor. Lando Calrissian is pressed into action to lead the Rebel fighter attack, while Han is put in charge of a group of soldiers to take out the shield generator protecting the Death Star. However, Luke surrenders to Vader’s soldiers on Endor, and is taken in front of Vader’s master – the Galactic Emperor – on the Death Star for final corruption to the Dark Side of the Force. The fleet of Imperial Star Destroyers ambushes the Rebels, cutting them off. Worse, the new Death Star begins turning its giant laser on the Rebel carriers. It appears that nothing will stop the Empire’s triumph – unless things start to change quickly.” (courtesy IMDB)
Written and directed by George Lucas, Star Wars IV A New Hope (1977) exceeded all expectations in terms of profit, its revolutionary effect on the film industry, and its unexpected resonance as a cultural phenomenon. Written by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan and directed by Irvin Kershner, Star Wars V The Empire Strikes Back (1980) exceeded all expectations as a sequel, with developed characters in a more complex story, to the point where many fans consider it better than the original. As with the previous film, Lucas personally funded Star Wars VI Return Of The Jedi (1983), and approached David Lynch, who had just been nominated for a Best Director Oscar for The Elephant Man (1980), but Lynch chose to direct Dune (1984) for Dino De Laurentiis instead. Next on his list was David Cronenberg, but he was already signed to direct The Dead Zone (1983) for Dino De Laurentiis. One hot-shot new director who wasn’t working for Dino De Laurentiis at the time was Richard Marquand, a BBC documentary writer who recently had a critical (if not financial) hit with Eye Of The Needle (1981).
Lucas praised Marquand as, “A very nice person who worked well with actors,” but admitted to spending a lot of time on the set of Return Of The Jedi due to Marquand’s inexperience, to which Marquand commented, “It’s rather like trying to direct King Lear with William Shakespeare in the next room.” In fact, Lucas was so heavily involved that many believe he should have been credited as co-director, and shot much of the second-unit work himself (Steven Spielberg had similar problems producing Poltergeist (1982) but that’s another story for another time). The screenplay was written by Lawrence Kasdan based on Lucas’ story, but he received some uncredited assistance from David Peoples, whose writing career began with the cult classic Blade Runner (1982). He was then hired to work on all manner of genre films like Ladyhawke (1985) and Leviathan (1989), and a number of Peoples’ original screenplays were sold during the eighties, many undergoing lengthy studio development periods before seeing production, including Unforgiven (1992) and Soldier (1998).
The story of Return Of The Jedi opens with a sequence depicting the release of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) from carbonite, followed by the death of Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch) and the triumphant escape from the Sarlaac pit. This is then followed by sequences in which Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) returns to the swamp planet of Dagobah to complete his training to complete his training under Yoda (Frank Oz), Han and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) destroy the shield generator that is protecting the incomplete replacement Death Star, Luke resists the Emperor’s (Ian McDiarmid) attempt to turn him to the dark side of the Force, and Darth Vader (David Prowse voiced by James Earl Jones) gains redemption before Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) destroys the second Death Star. Fans may argue which is better, A New Hope or The Empire Strikes Back, but few are likely to propose Return Of The Jedi as the best of the trilogy. Here, for the first time, a certain tiredness seems to have crept in, all too obvious in what is a virtual reprise of the destruction of the Death Star in the first film. The revelation that Princess Leia is actually Luke’s twin sister may have been one domestic revelation too many, though it conveniently freed her for the waiting arms of Han Solo.
All the principals had lost some of their youthful charm with the passing of the years, with Carrie Fisher looking downright matronly in some sequences. I don’t object to Ms Fisher wearing skimpy outfits, but the change in her wardrobe reflects too drastic a change in her personality from The Empire Strikes Back. I like the idea of a tribe of low-tech warriors overpowering the high-tech Empire, but the fur-ball Ewoks was not what I had in mind. The creation of this new race rather gives the game away – the success of the two previous films (including the enormous spin-off marketing of clothes, dolls, toys, soap, etc.) had obviously depended heavily on the presence of quite young children who would nag their parents to take them, not once or twice, but repeatedly. These Ewoks, designed to look like a cross between teddy bears and puppy dogs, are surely a cynical wooing of this kiddie audience, but it must be kept in mind that this is primarily a children’s movie, so credit must go to a production that can still hold such deep and enduring meaning for adults too.
This works as an enjoyable fun-filled romp, although it does have a very uneven feel – particularly when it comes to the cavorting Ewoks. It certainly lacks the gravitas and darker edge of The Empire Strikes Back, and some may not like the way Lucas and Kasdan’s script ties loose ends together – everything’s all too pat. Once we find out who everybody is in relation to each other it’s difficult not to be disappointed, and the script is way too simple, returning the characters back to the shallow comic-strip figures they were in the first film. It’s also a more manipulative film than its predecessor but, even though it can lapse into the cutesy at times, it’s still charged with tension during key sequences. It resolves the family drama and it sees Luke reach the end of his rite-of-passage, but there’s way too much talk about light and dark and good and evil – eventually that’s all the bad guys ever talk about! The denouement between Luke and the Emperor with Vader torn between his master and his son is still powerful, and Anakin Skywalker’s (Sebastian Shaw) death is still moving – despite the lack of quite a gruesome visage under Vader’s mask than was suggested in The Empire Strikes Back.
Many ideas from the original script were left out or changed: The Ewoks were going to be Wookiees; Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) was going to be brought back from the dead; Luke was not going to return to Dagobah; and the Millennium Falcon was going to go to Endor instead of attacking the new Death Star. Yoda wasn’t in the original draft at all, but Marquand insisted that returning to Dagobah was essential to resolve one particular dilemma: Is Vader really Luke’s dad? Lucas inserted a scene in which Yoda confirms this, saying he didn’t want viewers to dismiss Vader’s claim as a lie. Harrison Ford was looking for a way out and suggested that Han Solo be killed off through self-sacrifice. Kasdan heartily agreed, but Lucas rejected the idea outright. By the way, it was Kasdan’s idea to call it Revenge Of The Jedi but, when the title was announced, there was an outcry from the fans insisting that Jedi knights were incapable of carrying out acts of revenge.
At the end of the day, the film is still excellent value for money, filled with an entertaining variety of grotesque aliens (some of them looking rather rubbery, it’s true, thankfully improved upon for the film’s rerelease), and a chase on rocket-propelled speeder-bikes that was declared the best effects sequence of its kind at the time. Perhaps most importantly, the film portrays the fall of a dictatorship, providing the movie with lasting impact. As the initial Star Wars trilogy must be seen as a whole, so Return Of The Jedi leaves the viewer sad that it is all over, yet still desperate for more. The film remains visually stunning and the cultural legacy of the trilogy is also indisputable. The merchandising is massive and has kept on growing, but more significant are the cultural references, including Randal Graves – played by Jeff Anderson in the Kevin Smith comedy Clerks (1994) – commenting on the construction and destruction of the second Death Star:
“A construction job of that magnitude would require a helluva lot more manpower than the Imperial army had to offer. I’ll bet there were independent contractors working on that thing: plumbers, aluminum siders, roofers. In order to get it built quickly and quietly they’d hire anybody who could do the job. Do you think the average storm trooper knows how to install a toilet, man? All they know is killing and white uniforms. All those innocent contractors hired to do a job were killed, casualties of a war they had nothing to do with. All right, look. You’re a roofer, and some juicy government contract comes your way. You’ve got the wife and kids and the two-story in suburbia. This is a government contract, which means all sorts of benefits. All of a sudden these left-wing militants blast you with lasers and wipe out everyone within a three-mile radius. You didn’t ask for that, you have no personal politics, you’re just trying to scrape out a living…” It’s with these wise words in mind I’ll make my farewells, but not before inviting you to please join me next week when I will take you even closer to the event horizon of the insatiable black hole that is Hollywoodland for…Horror News! Toodles!