Thursday, February 26, 2009

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

(This is as close as I got to the title screen. I imagine I could have done better somehow, but clearly not.)

Here's a confession, I've never seen this movie before. Yep, the last entry in one of the most famous, watched, and referenced movies ever made. A film series whose influence spreads from badass sitcom Spaced to the bread delivery man who appears to dress like Han Solo for some reason*, and I haven't seen it before February 24th, 2009. Know what's worse? I hadn't seen the other ones until last year. When it comes to the Star Wars party, I'm quite late.

Truth is, do you really need to see Star Wars in this day and age? References pop up pretty much everywhere you look, and even before watching it I knew pretty much the entire story. The characters and storyline have been pretty much ingrained into our popular consciousness, to a degree that becomes steadily more apparent as I watch the films. I've seen every set, every ship, every character somewhere new, no matter how minor.

So, what do I think of them? Well, they're all rather good movies, to be honest. I say this watching the special editions and their rather questionable CG additions, which is sort of like eating a delicious chocolate sundae covered in flakes of feces. The key is, they're basically good stories pitched to tickle the fancies of 12-year-olds - spaceships, lasers, and so on are pretty much what the 12 year-old mind is made of - which is part of the reason why they're such a huge influence today. The kids who grew up on Star Wars, the ones who went to it to see space ships and action again and again to make it a big success, are the adults who drop a reference to in into all of their projects today. If I don't think they're life changing revelations worth watching again and again, it's because I'm not 12. My own nephew, who has turned 12 very recently, has become a huge Star Wars fan, and I'm not surprised, it's the type of thing that he'd be into.

Don't misunderstand, they're not kids movies, but they are movies that young people will find appealing. They remain appealing because they're relatively serious, and they have a basically good story that can tolerate repeat viewings. You can get hooked while you're young, but they're good enough that when you're older and wiser they don't fall on their face. The stuff that amuses you as a kid doesn't always stay amusing, but Star Wars keeps working because it's actually a fairly solid movie all around. You can keep your obsession into adulthood because it's still a good series, it still has a really good universe worth getting lost in, and combined with the memories of a simpler time when everything was about 400% more amazing, it can build and maintain an obsession.

Of course, being that I came late to the party, I can't say I share the obsession. Recognize it, understand it, but don't share it. So, since it's taken me several paragraphs already, what do I think of the movies so far? Well, the first one was a case of simply quality fantasy. A nice world you can get attached to, good characters, and a quick moving, action filled storyline that manages to be very satisfying. Empire Strikes Back is also good, but suffers from being the middle movie, knowing that a sequel is coming. It doesn't really have a conclusion, but more a teaser for the next exciting installment. "Oh boy, Han Solo is in carbonite, Luke is out a hand and still reeling from the shock of finding out who his father was. How will our heroes get out of this bind? Stay tuned!"

So, leading neatly to Return of the Jedi, how DID the heroes get out of this bind? Well, in a hasty opening that serves to neatly tie up most of the loose ends in a not completely satisfying way. I suppose the biggest disappointment is the demise of Boba Fett in a slapstick accident, since such a bad ass design deserves a more honorable demise. The whole pit sequence smells of second guessing, a method of wiping out the plot threads that Lucas wasn't certain of. Through a really elaborate plan, we get all the characters back together and ready for action, but in a really unsatisfying way. I couldn't help but think I waited all these months for this hasty cleanup of plot threads, and it just seemed wrong. Imagine how I would have felt if I had been waiting back when it first came out!

So, the story proper, which involves the new Death Star - since the last one worked so well - and a new plan to destroy it. The plan involves a crazy moon shield, adorable little ewoks, and a moral dilemma for our hero. It's a case of dueling elaborate plans, the winner being obvious from the outset because of the type of movie it is. It works quite well, with several battles working simultaneously and affecting each other. It keeps the drama level high, and ensures nothing lasts so long it gets boring. Sick of the slightly silly Ewoks? Let's go to space!

I'll admit that I hate how they just brushed away the ending of Empire Strikes Back, there could be an entire movie made out of the set up, and a good one at that. Plus, the ewoks are a bit too adorable for their own good, and the matte paintings are the most matte painting-y matte paintings I've ever seen, which kind of mucks with the illusion a bit. It is in a winner in the end anyway, even if it's just because Darth Vader becomes a character instead of heavy-breathing menace. It's something of an old fashioned story this, with good ultimately triumphing over evil in an expected but interesting and well done way. People like that.

People don't, however, like to see senile old beardys shove gratuitous and jarring CG sequences into the middle of an old classic. Next time a series gets as big as Star Wars, I hope the creator of it has the sense to leave well enough alone.

(The common reaction to the horrible CG additions)

*Yep, real guy.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with all of this, though I did like Return Of The Jedi most as a kid because it had the monsters, you know, the big puppety thing that Luke has to kill with the drawbridge, the ewoks were fun, the big machines they had to destroy. As an adult, none of that stuck and yeah the pit monster thing or whatever that ate Boba Fett was just stupid. To think he could have had a much better scene!

    I watched all the stars wars movies several times all through my life, and I don't think I've ever become even close to being "obsessed" with them, it's like you said, the films are such an institution that you don't even have to think about them later, they'll just pop up at random points. I haven't seen the new CG additions, but there's a dern good reason for that.