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2011.44: Star Wars Episode 6: Return Of The Jedi (1983) ** September 18, 2011

Posted by ghostof82 in : Film General , trackback

Dir. Richard Marquand, 130 mins, Blu-ray

God I despise this film. It didn’t appeal to me much back in 1983 and just hasn’t aged well at all. It’s the ultimate betrayal of everything that was done so well in Empire. Where to start?

First of all, the utter lack of imagination or originality. Empire not only took us to exotic places (Hoth, Dagobah, Bespin) and introduced new characters (Yoda, Boba Fett, Lando), it had original set-pieces (the battle in the snow, the chase in the asteroid field), and exciting and bizarre sights like the Tauntauns and AT-ATs.  It even had an unusual structure, with the action set-piece placed early in the film with a more sombre, character-based dramatic conclusion. But with Jedi, all that went out the window. You know you’re in trouble when in the first shot of the film the camera pans down to the planet vista and a Star-Destroyer comes overhead in a reprise of the first shot in A New Hope. Nevermind the fact that we also see another Death Star, reprising that same weapon of A New Hope. It’s like Empire never happened and we are watching a tired, by-the-numbers Star Wars 2. Its everything a sequel usually is that Empire wasn’t.

Richard Marquand was no Irvin Kershner either. To be fair, I hold Lucas’ heavy-handed control to task for this rather than Marquand, but the direction is fairly perfunctory at best, insipid at its worst. Action sequences are poorly staged, the light-sabre fight dry and uninvolving. Shots aren’t framed very well at all. Lucas went with Marquand rather than Spielberg? Mind-boggling.

And how come Star Wars became such a creature-fest? It’s as if Lucasfilm has been invaded by Muppets, the bloody things are everywhere. The beauty of Empire was it’s human drama, the characters. That’s thrown out the window-there’s so many creatures the humans look like the freaks. The Ewoks. The bloody Ewoks… no, don’t start me. They make Jar Jar look good, and God help us they probably spent a fortune on this edition making the bloody teddy-bears blink. And sorry, no matter how good the prosthetics or the puppetry, muppets cannot emote or act anywhere near as good as a human face. It’s a bizarre indication of how OTT Lucas would later get with the cgi creatures in the prequels. It’s a circus. As if everyone told Lucas the best thing in A New Hope was the Cantina scene, or that the best actor in Empire was Yoda, so he thought he’d do it to the max; infact its that kind of thinking that typifies Jedi. Another (bigger) space battle, another (bigger) Light-Sabre duel, nothing new, just everything bigger.

The limited imagination also seems to betray a limited budget. Jedi seems smaller in scope than Empire. Tatooine is a few matte paintings and Jabbas courtroom. The Death Star 2 is a few matte paintings,while its interior is very small, no corridors for instance, just a few uninspired sets. There’s more than a few shots of the Death Star 2 that are just flopped shots from A New Hope. While Hoth and Bespin were big and exotic, Endor looks, well, like the Redwood forest location that it is. Generally the ILM effects are pretty poor quality, yes there’s lots of them, but the quality level has fallen from Empire’s high-water mark. Quite a few matte paintings look like matte paintings, and the model shots lack imagination. Star Destroyers just sit there, and there’s even a shot of the Falcon that repeats a motion-control move in the Asteroid Field as it flies around the rebel fleet.

Likewise all the characters suffer amnesia, as if their character-arcs from Empire are forgotten or never happened. Mark Hamill is as wooden as a Gerry Anderson puppet, his Luke Skywalker now a sulky Jedi goth dressed in black. Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher look fairly embarrassed again, the Solo/Leia romance losing any minor sophistication it gained from those talks/rehearsals with Kershner. Fisher looks mortified in that harem outfit and all the ’stars’ look like rabbits trapped in the headlights whenever they are stuck in a scene with an Ewok, you can imagine them thinking, ‘what the hell just happened’? Speaking of such sentiment, I remember being utterly gobsmacked by the way Boba Fett was finally done away with… a character built up in Empire to be a main villain in Jedi, and he’s accidentally knocked into the Sarlacc pit by the blind, flailing-around Han Solo?  The ultimate betrayal though is Vader. Having created a great movie villain in A New Hope and developed him further in Empire, in Jedi he’s just the stooge of a cackling mad old man, finally having a crisis of faith in the Dark Side and becoming a Good Guy afterall. It just comes out of nowhere. I’d have thought more of it had something been said by Ben or Yoda in the first two films that Anakin might yet be saved, you know, some indication of the complete about-face that happens in the character-arc.

The problem of course is that Jedi is really two films, and it just tries to combine them in a mad headlong rush. In an alternate universe, Lucas did it better- Episode 6 told the story about Boba Fett being tracked down across star systems, to finally reach Jabba’s palace, Han getting rescued and the Emperor raising the stakes chasing down Luke, with Anakin starting to rise in Vaders personna. Then in 1986 Episode 7 came out with Luke finally meeting the Emperor and saving his father, whilst the rebellion finally attacks the Empire fleet in a last great battle. It ends with Solo and Leia getting married, and Luke preparing to train Jedi to protect the New Republic. There you go, two great films, plenty of time to let characters breathe and George even got to sell more merchandise/tie-ins and toys.

I wish I lived in that alternate universe. I bet there weren’t any bloody Ewoks in it either.

Oh, and the blu-ray has the worst picture of the Original Trilogy by far. Scary thing is, it’s (gulp) The Phantom Menace next… I think I’m losing the will to live. Did I really just spend near-£60 on this lot?


1. Matthew Mckinnon again - September 18, 2011

I can’t believe I’m commenting this much on Star Wars, when I claim not to be that arsed about them.

‘Jedi’ is a tired heartless film though. Is it true Lucas was bored with Star Wars at this point, so just wanted to get it over and done with? I can’t be bothered looking it up in the interweb.

Anyway, the reason Marquand got chosen is because controlling producers don’t like creative directors. They have clever ideas that end up costing money, and they tend to get over-involved in the material [see Donner vs. The Salkinds on ‘Superman’]. This is why, for example, despite Tarantino and John McTiernan wanting to make Bond movies, they’ll never get hired. Too much trouble for a the hands-on producer.

This is is why Fincher was hired for ‘Alien 3′, and why all hell broke loose when he turned out to be more than just a warm body on set acting as a puppet for the producers. And I think this is why Lucas hired Kershner for ‘Empire’ [let’s be honest, he was a journeyman director] and why he got his fingers burned when Kersh turned out to get more involved than he expected. Same with Marquand, only Lucas got it right [i.e. wrong] this time.

Still happens a lot these days. Studios don’t really want interesting directors - they want someone with no clout who they can ditch if it doesn’t work out, and hype as - yes, you guessed it - ‘visionary’ if it’s a hit. There’s a great interview with Steven Soderbergh on AICN at the moment, where he says [in dismay at the state of US movies right now] that directing seems to be the best entry-level job in the industry at the moment. I agree.

I’ve gone on a bit. Nice review. Are you really going to watch ‘Phantom Menace’ again?! Really? You’ll regret those wasted 2 hours when you’re on your deathbed.

2. badblokebob - September 19, 2011

Slightly off topic, but I think it’s very true what Matthew says about studios still hiring easily-controlled directors. I imagine this is why people like John Moore keep getting work. Despite his last work being the abysmal ‘action’ movie Max Payne (and I’ve heard nothing good said about his remakes of The Omen and Flight of the Phoenix either), he’s just landed Die Hard 5, presumably because Bruce Willis thinks he’ll do what he’s told.

Once again, Lucas was just ahead of his time… though I guess it also went on when the studio system was in full swing, so hey-ho — the more things change and all that.

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