David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

“Return of the Jedi”: A Postscript

My tale of seeing Return of the Jedi for the first time in 1983 is not nearly as interesting as my tale of seeing The Empire Strikes Back in 1980.

I spent three summers waiting and imagining. The events of Empire were carefully parsed and dissected with my brother and all of my friends. I wrote several episodes of fan fiction in which I actually predicted Luke and Leia’s siblinghood and the return of the Death Star. I practically tore the covers off that Dynamite magazine preview of the last installment in the Star Wars series.

Return of the JediAs everyone who can tell a Wookie from a Nemoidian knows, Return of the Jedi was something of a letdown. (How many people have ever told you that Jedi changed their lives? Anyone?) It’s not that Jedi was a bad movie, per se, so much as it just wasn’t a great one. It was a perfectably respectable and entertaining popcorn flick with some classic action sequences and snappy banter.

And yes, there were even some great moments in Episode VI. Think the death scene of Darth Vader, the scooter chase through the forests of Endor, the whole intercutting of action sequences in the movie’s last third. When that Force lightning started shooting out of the Emperor’s fingers, all you could hear in the theater was the sound of several hundred adolescent jaws hitting the floor.

But the troubling aspects of the movie clearly weigh Return of the Jedi down. I wasn’t so much bothered by the Ewoks — they’re overdone but they’re entertaining (which is essentially how I feel about Episode I’s Jar Jar Binks). No, what really bothered me was

  • how Lando Calrissian turned overnight from a troubled scoundrel/traitor to a bland and cheerful go-to guy for the Rebels
  • how Luke and Leia are clumsily revealed to be siblings (which, let’s face it, George Lucas did not have in mind from the beginning)
  • how the mysterious Boba Fett is revealed to be the lamest fighter ever
  • how one sudden act of rebellion completely redeems the galaxy’s Eichmann and earns him an immortal place next to Yoda and Obi-Wan
  • how… well, okay, I’ll stop here. You get the point.

Remarkably enough, I don’t remember anybody being disappointed with the movie when it was released. In fact, I remember arriving at elementary school on the morning of May 26, 1983, to find the playground in an uproar as a group of kids ran around shouting plot spoilers at the top of their lungs. (“Darth Vader is Luke’s father! Yoda dies! Luke and Leia are brother and sister!”)

(Such trauma was difficult for a young adolescent to endure. A quick playground poll revealed that most of the kids — including myself — had not gone to the mid-week premiere. [Remember the days when movies actually had a theater run of longer than two weeks?] So what could a kid possibly do with such a secret? After a wretched day of inner Sturm und Drang, just dying to tell my brother all that I had learned, my sister conducted what was probably the first therapy session of her life by allowing me to spill the beans to her about Return of the Jedi.)

So it’s only in retrospect, many years later, that Return of the Jedi turned out to be such a profound letdown. Watching the first two films of the series (I’m talking about Episodes IV and V here) today, you can still see George Lucas’ vision at work. You can still overlook the cloying dialogue and the sometimes-painful plot inconsistencies.

But Jedi clearly has the stink of a commercial enterprise about it, with its constant attempts at oneupmanship, its pandering to the audience, its desperation to be adored. You can see the marketing mindset at work with the Ewoks. Looking back on the movie from adulthood, you can see the puppeteer and all the strings, and you think, I can’t believe I fell for this. Even worse, you occasionally think, I can’t believe someone would do this to me.

Now I’ll stop blogging about Star Wars for a while, lest I be accused of kicking this thing to death.

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