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Star Wars 40th Anniversary Review: Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Contributor: Rick McGimpsey

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Return of the Jedi, while being the weakest film in the original trilogy, is still a masterpiece. Luke’s own Hero’s Journey reaches it’s culmination in this movie and it is beautifully and artfully done in such a way that is both moving and exciting.
People have tons of fun making fun of Luke for how much he whines, needs his friends to rescue him, and is brash to the point of being a liability. But, in all fairness close examination of this movie in comparison to the previous two reveals how admirable a man Luke Skywalker actually becomes.
Disillusionment with one’s ideals is not uncommon in the growth of any adult especially when we see those whom we admired and imitated show their own flaws and imperfections to us. Luke Skywalker was a young dreamer who wanted to become a Jedi Knight like his own father and never stopped to consider how hard a life that would be for him. One can only imagine the bitter blow it would be to discover that the man he admired and made a role model was not who he thought he was. We all discover eventually that our own parents are human and imperfect, but rarely do we discover that they are evil! I truly admire and give credit to Luke’s character because a lesser man would have become cynical at the revelation that his role model was nothing more than a lie. Luke, on the other hand, stuck to the principle of his ideals and reacted to the truth of his father’s identity by attempting to turn his father back to the ideals that he had rejected decades ago. And when failure seemed inevitable Luke stuck to his guns in the face of certain death. He stood there even to the point of tossing his weapon aside and declared himself “a Jedi like my father before me.” If Darth Vader had ignored his son’s pleas for help Luke would not have given up and turned to the Dark Side to survive. Death was an option. Turning to the Dark Side was not. After truly considering all that I dare anyone to seriously call Luke a pansy.

And Darth Vader’s conversion to the Light Side of the Force and his final moments with his son is my absolute favourite scene in the entire Star Wars franchise. It’s a beautiful, moving, and meaningful finale that puts George Lucas high up on the list of great storytellers.

Sadly this film is rife with imperfections and flaws in its other parts. The epic final showdown with the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire is disappointing and drags more than it excites. The chemistry between Han, Leia, Chewie, the droids, and other characters is no where near as good as it was in The Empire Strikes Back and much of it falls flat and is overshadowed by Luke and Vader’s story.

The second Death Star is a very lame mcguffin to threaten the Rebels with since we already seen one of those in A New Hope. The lack of originality is a gaping problem with Return of the Jedi and as fantastic as the space battle is it doesn’t make up for the utterly absurd manner in which the Empire is taken down. The Ewoks are clearly a marketing gimmick to sell toys and make the film appeal to very little children, but for the rest of us who wanted an epic and believable conclusion to the Rebellion against the Empire we are disappointed with seeing care bears with stone age spears and slingshots take out a battle-hardened, heavily armed, and thoroughly trained Imperial military. It’s stupid, pure and simple, and the only commendable thing to come of the Ewoks was Warwick Davis’s future career which I have enjoyed immensely.

I also feel that the first half hour of Return of the Jedi really drags. The Jabba’s Palace sequence feels like a failed attempt to recapture the novelty of the Cantina scene in A New Hope, but the music the band plays sucks in both the original version and the Special Edition (although the Special Edition is admittedly worse) and I find myself thinking the scene would have been better if Jabba had booked Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes rather than Sy Snootles and her crew. It also would have spared us the excruciating Special Edition scene in which Boba Fett flirts with some of the female singers. Boba Fett is such an overrated chump as it is we really don’t need to mess with him more by having him getting distracted by a pair of legs and flashing eyelashes at a dingy party.

And if I am jumping on the Boba Fett is overrated bandwagon it is only because I sincerely sit in that camp. He had Han Solo handed over to him by a Sith Lord in a frozen block of carbonite before he could be bothered to take him in and after Han woke up feverish and blind as a bat he still managed to overcome the heavily armed bounty hunter with a stick. I wouldn’t hire Boba Fett to win an Easter egg hunt!

Also what the hell is up with Leia at Jabba’s Palace? She was tortured, drugged, and imprisoned by a Dark Lord of the Sith and yet still remained the independent spitfire we all know and love. But, now she gets captured and put in a degrading slave outfit by a fat gangster who needs help moving to the bathroom and suddenly that shuts her up? Whatever happened to telling Grand Moffs they smell bad, accusing Darth Vader of being on a leash, and calling the coolest man in the Galaxy a laserbrain and a nerfherder? After enduring physical torture and seeing her homeworld annihilated you would think a perverted slug would be just another day at the office; but, no, she is now broken, tamed, and needs Luke and Han Solo to rescue her. I am calling bull!
And don’t get me wrong. I am not complaining about the slave outfit itself. That puberty-inducing getup suits the straight male in me just fine. I just don’t like seeing Leia rendered inert by it. Her strength should not have been sapped by humiliation and I wholeheartedly object to it.

It’s the Jabba’s Palace and Endor stuff that really keeps this film from being perfect. But, the epic conclusion of Luke Skywalker’s path to being a Jedi and Anakin Skywalker’s redemption more than makes up for those imperfections and combining that with the groundbreaking special effects, John Williams’s score, Ben Burtt’s sound design, and all the other talents who put their innovative mark on Return of the Jedi are what make this movie a masterpiece. Adding it to A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back and The Original Star Wars Trilogy is to this day one of the greatest screen epics ever made along side with Coppola’s Godfather films (which also had a weak third entry), Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, and cinematic treasures like Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, and Ben-Hur. If people ask me why I love Star Wars so much and need a short answer I won’t point to all the multi-media, comics, games, books, and fan conventions. I will point to these three films by themselves as a whole and let them know that these films are what make me love Star Wars.
I have seen some hardcore EU lovers who have admitted that if the EU had not existed they probably would not care for the Star Wars movies all that much and that seriously bothers me. I have even heard one guy comment that by themselves the Original Trilogy movies were merely quaint and it was the EU that truly made Star Wars meaningful to him. While far be it from me to dispute one’s right to a subjective opinion, I do wonder at how someone could look at these films and see something quaint or uninteresting.
The Original Star Wars trilogy is enough for me. As much as I love the EU, I could live with just A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. Boil it down to its purest essence and it is these three masterpieces that are what Star Wars truly is and I, for one, hold them in highest honour.

Check tomorrow for a review of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and may the Force be with you.

Star Wars 40th Anniversary Review: Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Contributor: Rick McGimpsey

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The Empire Strikes Back is my favourite of the entire Star Wars saga and I think it is no surprise that so many other people feel the same way. Having the best pacing of all the films, a complex and engaging story, great writing and character development, a thorough exploration of the nature of the Force, some of the best music, and a darker and maturer tone are all ingredients that make a near perfect film.

The chemistry between Han Solo and Princess Leia is perfectly written and handled resulting in a romance somewhat reminiscent of Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh in Gone With the Wind which I believe is far superior to the cringe-inducing and unconvincing romance between Anakin and Padme in the Prequels. More on that in a later review.

The droids are at the top of their form in this one and the separation from each other throughout the majority of the movie allows both of their characters to shine brighter. Threepio is still hilarious as always and his frustration and confusion in dealing with the volatile and irritable Han Solo provides some of the best comedy in the film.
In fact, the entire sequence involving Leia, Han, Chewie, and Threepio is one of the best demonstrations of how character development and character interaction is properly done.

Luke’s training on Dagobah is still to this day the best exploration of the Force seen in the films. Even the highly Jedi-centric Prequels never gave us as much depth and thought-provoking material on the philosophy behind the Force than the scenes with Luke and Yoda on Dagobah.

In A New Hope the bad guys had much less screen time, but here we get almost as much of them as we do the good guys. Darth Vader is amazingly bad ass in The Empire Strikes Back compared to A New Hope and Return of the Jedi in which he is treated more as if he was on someone’s leash rather than the commanding Dark Lord of the Sith who in this movie absolutely rules every scene he is in. His looming figure, shiny helmet, and epic theme music that plays every time he enters a room is enough to terrify any Imperial officer and with good reason. He doesn’t accept apologies for failure and if your clumsiness is proportionally equal to your stupidity then you better be ready to get Force choked.

The Empire Strikes Back has such great dialogue that it is readily the most quotable Star Wars film ever made. Darth Vader’s “Apology accepted, Captain Needa” is just fantastic and “Take the professor back and plug him into the hyperdrive” is still my favourite Han Solo quip of all time.
And when we talk about dialogue we cannot forget the wisdom of Yoda. “Do or do not. There is no try” is so classic that seeing Star Wars is unnecessary to recognising it. And adding to the mix “Always in motion is the future”, “Wars don’t make one great”, and “Luminous beings are we; not this crude matter” it soon becomes apparent that alien muppets make the best spiritual gurus.

John Williams’ score for The Empire Strikes back has turned up some of the saga’s best pieces such as The Imperial March, The Battle in the Snow, Yoda and the Force, and The Asteroid Field which are iconic and prove that Williams will always be the master unlikely to be paralleled or rivaled. Kevin Kiner and Michael Giacchino are good, but they can only be padawans to the Jedi Maestro that is John Williams.

While I said earlier that the pacing in this film was the best of the saga I would mention that some people have griped about how badly synced up the timeline is with Luke’s training and the Falcon crew’s time in Cloud City. It’s said that the training that Luke went through must have taken a period of weeks (maybe even months) while the Falcon’s journey seems to only take maybe a few days at the most. However, I really do not think this is a big deal and even if it was we should consider that Luke had successfully used the Force on Hoth to retrieve his lightsaber and we already know that three years ago he used the Force to destroy the Death Star. Three years of practising using the Force unaided by a master is nothing to scoff at and it would not be surprising me if Luke’s training on Dagobah was only about a week long before he left for Bespin. He is naturally talented and one should bear in mind that Yoda told Luke he was not ready to face Vader yet which means we know he didn’t even complete his training before leaving. I think the timeline is just fine.

All in all what have packaged in The Empire Strikes Back is a near perfect film that continues to impress me every time I rewatch it.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s review of Return of the Jedi and may the Force be with you.