This week, progressive/nerd/parent reviews of all six Star Wars films as part of the obsession with/buildup to/exploitation of the release of The Force Awakens. The reviews are in sequential order (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) although I recommend a different order for first time viewers.
Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi
Bechdel-Wallace Score: 0.5/3
Shukla Score: 0/3
Russo Score: 0/3
Well my apologia will be limited to the non-diversity aspects of the movie, because there is no excuse for these scores. There is no LGBTQ representation in this movie. There is only one person of color. There are two named women, but one of them (Mon Mothma) is only named in the credits (does not usually count). I awarded the half point because, though she is not named in the movie itself, she is obviously an important leader of the rebellion and that counts for something towards representation. This is my favorite Star Wars movie, by a mile. It would take more than five loving, cuddly kittens to pull me away from my umpteenth viewing of this film. I am totally in the tank for Jedi, for three* reasons:
First, my personal bias is that this is the story that I love: the hero experiences a traumatic event, possibly a failure (e.g. you confront the bad guy and he cuts off your hand then turns out to be your dad); goes away and learns and trains; then comes back and conquers both his fears and his enemies. Bruce Wayne, Edmund Dantes, and Luke Skywalker. That’s my archetypal crew. Batman and the Count of Monte Cristo are thought of as revenge tails, but really they – like Luke Skywalker – are all about seeing the good prevail and justice done not through might, but through learning, cunning, mastery, and purpose. And some might.
Second, the cultural argument that I would make in favor of Jedi is that it an important point in the evolution of Star Wars from space-fantasy movie to modern mythology, and precisely for the reason why the movie gets so much shade from nerds: the appeal to young children. Haters gonna hate on Ewoks, but it is legit to offer younger kids an onramp into these stories so that they (at the time, we) can get in on the magic. A story we love this much should be a family thing. Besides, it is realistic: in a galaxy with 20 million sentient species, at least one of them is going to be adorable, fuzzy, and primitive. Do we all wish it were Wookies on Kashyyyk instead of Ewoks on Endor? Sure, but as Donald Rumsfeld might say: you finish your trilogy with the budget you’ve got, not the budget you want. The Ewoks are fine.
Third, having acknowledged my bias and dispensed with Ewok-hate, the movie stands alongside its predecessors as a good Star Wars space-fantasy flick. Luke faces Vader and the Emperor, while there is an infantry battle for a shield generator, and the biggest (at the time) Star Wars space battle yet all happening at once. The story remains personal inside the Death Star while the scale of the galactic civil war as we know it increases beyond that of either Empire or Hope. And hey, we get to see the Rebel fleet! That’s a big treat.
I am not saying Jedi is better than Empire, even though I personally prefer the former to the latter. I am saying Jedi is the most underrated Star Wars movie. The prequels are justifiably low-rated. Empire is justifiably high-rated. Jedi deserves more credit than it gets for being a good Star Wars movie and an important step in the evolution of Star Wars. That is all I am asking you to consider.
Anyway, highlights: Getting the gang back together on Tatooine is fun and Luke enters like a badass. As a kid I loved the Ewoks, my kid loves them now, and that is good stuff. Yub yub! The whole Luke/Vader thread is the big highlight of the movie. I still tear up when Vader asks Luke to help him take his mask off. The fight before that is the some of the best lightsaber action in the OT. Luke is all “Luke at me backflip onto this thing” and Vader is all “that’s great watch me throw my lightsaber like a boss.” Also, before force-lightning became a thing, it was this out-of-nowhere cool shit the Emperor could do – and that is still highlight of this movie. The space combat is great, too. It’s a great movie.
Low points: Well, as regards the “Special Edition”, the party at Jabba’s palace and the Ewok celebration at the end are both totally fucked up. The music is wrong, the CGI shit in the palace is awful, boo hiss boo hiss yuck yuck yuck. I’m bitter about it. As regards the story itself, Leia and Han are underutilized in this movie. And what is up with Yoda? Talk about leaving a guy holding the bag: “Hey you’re a Jedi, except there is one more thing – Vader. Okay that’s a big one thing, but all it means is that you have to confront him to become a Jedi. And by him I mean him and the Emperor, both. Me and Obi Wan couldn’t beat these guys together, at the height of our power as Jedi masters, but anyway for you it is the entrance exam. You’ll be a Jedi after this I swear. I’m dying. Oh, and you have a sister! But forget I said that! The Emperor will use it against you. K thx bye.” Then poor Luke, after this total mindfuck, goes outside and listens to Obi Wan give the “from a center point of view” talk that sounded kind of profound until similar thinking became the basis of an entire post-factual political discourse that is destroying our country (Han’s return to the sweater-vest doesn’t work against this comparison). But I digress.
Dad edits: We cuddle and get sad together when the minor key chords come in and some Ewoks die. We cherish every Max Rebo moment, which are few because I fast forward past the completely shit “Special Edition” band. So there are no edits as such, but as soon as Disney puts out the theatrical release of this movie on DVD, we will never see the “Special Edition” in this house again. Oh, but we do skip the bit Lucas added where we get to see the slave girls distress after she realizes she is in the rancor pit. (wtf George, who wants to see extra suffering?!?!)
*: Perhaps a fourth point could be that Jedi somewhat redeems the prequels, at least Clones and Sith. We see the Jedi return to triumph over the Emperor and Anakin Skywalker fulfills the prophecy, achieving some measure of redemption in the process, by destroying the Sith and saving his children. That said, I don’t want my argument in favor of Jedi to get bogged down in the problems of the prequels, so I am just including this as an aside.