The end. The beginning.
This is it folks. The last of six, and the lead-in to what will be. This thing sends the original trilogy out on a monotone note, really, despite its best efforts to raise the stakes. However, as we’ll see, this is the film that really made the prequels possible – for better or worse. Still, it’s packed with enough fun and mythos to make it enjoyable repeatedly.
What I liked/loved:
The Dark Side
When the story is focusing on Darth Vader and the Emperor, it thrives. Vader’s arrival on the second Death Star is perfect. He dolls out what amounts to a threat to the commander, and things get real quick. The Emperor’s arrival is epic. It’s incredible to watch Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor in this film at just 37 year old, whereas we see him in Phantom at age 54 and he’s strikingly younger. It really shows his range as an actor, that he can portray the Dark Lord underneath a pile of prosthetics. His character is the standout “new” character in this film, and he schools Luke - repeatedly. In fact, his dialogue is the most memorable, as I found myself quoting it though many of his scenes. Vader is still epic, though I’m not entirely sold on how Lucas added in “No. NO!” at his redemption. It’s better than having Hayden Christensen’s force ghost show up at the end. That’s the real tragedy of the Blu-Rays.
The Space Battle
While what unfolds on the forest moon of Endor isn’t exactly the most exhilarating, what happens in the space above is grand. From the moment Lando realizes the shield is still up and Admiral Ackbar proclaims, “It’s a trap!” you know it’s on. Still gives me goosebumps. There is only one full-scale battle like it in the rest of the trilogy, and that’s the opening scene from Sith. It’s fast-paced, so by the time the actual attack on the Death Star takes place, it doesn’t play out like a complete re-tread of Hope. There are new ships galore, so as to not focus solely on the X- and Y-wings. Add in the TIE Interceptors, and you’ve got a well-staged battle that lets you kind of forget the shenanigans on the surface for a while. And did I mention that Lando is running point in the Falcon through the entire battle? That’s what people longed to see, and they get a payoff in this film.
Jabba the Hutt
Before the Special Edition and the prequels showed the gangster, he was merely alluded to in Hope and Empire. In this film, he gets his big reveal. But Al Capone, he isn’t. He’s not the mob boss that you expect by any means. He’s a giant, disgusting slug with henchmen to boot. His dealings with Han go way back, and it shows by Jabba’s using Han’s frozen body as art. He’s surrounded by scantily clad women, he’s got a Rancor available for threat disposal and/or entertainment, and he’s got an amazing guard frog outside his palace. His posse is vast, his pet Kowakian monkey-lizard is hilarious, and he’s got a band constantly on standby. So when Luke, Leia, Lando (hmmm…lots of L’s, Lucas), and Chewie show up to totally mess things up for him, he’s rightfully annoyed. Unfortunately, he meets his end in this film. Maybe one of the anthology films will focus on his rise to power.
Rapid-Fire Miscellaneous Items
- Boba’s dialogue-free swagger.
- Han’s dialogue, sparse though it may be.
- The rancor keeper. You genuinely feel bad for the guy.
- Luke and Leia’s swing from the sail barge. Nice call-back to Hope.
- Yoda’s dying cliffhanger, “There…is…another…Sky…walker.”
- Lando as Rogue squadron leader.
- Mon Motha’s brief scene and Admiral Ackbar.
- “It’s against my programming to impersonate a deity.”
- The return of Wedge Antilles.
- The role reversal of “I love you” and “I know.” Cheesy, but I still like it.
“Questions That Need Answering”
Why did Vader show up without Executor (his super star destroyer)? He’s a VIP.
Holograms have color now? Times have changed since we first saw Leia via R2-D2.
Droids can be tortured? How, exactly?
Why are there wind chimes inside at Jabba’s palace?
Why is Sebulba (or at least a Dug) at Jabba’s palace? Or was this a Blu-Ray exclusive?
Who are the Emperor’s advisors/entourage?
Why does Luke call Obi-Wan his actual name now, as opposed to “Ben” as he has in the previous two films?
Why does Mon Motha and Admiral Ackbar allow so many high profile figures in the rebellion to go on a dangerous mission in a stolen Imperial shuttle that flies right by the Imperial fleet?
Why doesn’t Luke use the Force to get his lightsaber when they get caught in the Ewok trap?
Why does Leia get a pass with the Ewoks?
Can the stormtroopers seriously not hit anything except a lucky shot at Leia? You’d think their training would allow them to own the Ewoks in no time. And had they not had run-ins with the annoying little critters before?
When Yoda said “Twilight is upon me, and soon night must fall” it got me to thinking. Did Twilight kill Yoda? All the more reason to loathe it. (Yes, that just happened.)
What I loathed:
I’m going to catch grief for this from the purists, but I just don’t care for them. It’s as if Lucas got to the point in his story where he wanted to have the Wookies help save the day, but then said that would be too easy, so he just scratched out “Wookies” and wrote in “teddy bears”. That’s about the only reasonable explanation for how these critters showed up in this movie. I can’t begin to express how much these critters grate on me, and honestly, it’s probably the primary reason this movie doesn’t hold up for me. When I originally saw it, I was okay with it, but it was still kind of illogical. Now they’re just illogical. *Begin sarcasm* I guess it’s not outside the realm of believability that an all-powerful Empire could be taken down because some teddy bears came out of the forest with a handful of rebels, shot some arrows, threw some rocks, then conveniently had forest-friendly traps to take out AT-STs. Because that makes sense. *End sarcasm* And they apparently like the taste of human flesh? And they have a god that C-3PO resembles? And one of them wants to mount Han’s leg? It’s just too much. Pretty sure they’re the reason Harrison Ford looks like he’s not having a great time in this film. Same with Carrie Fisher. Even her one-on-one scene with Wicket seemed forced. I know everyone that saw this as a kid probably hates me right now, but I saw it after ten years of age, so according to the Ewok Line established by Barney Stinson, I’m in the detractor category.
I understand that the theme of this movie is that Luke wins over his father with compassion, as opposed to revenge or anger in general. However, for someone who sees just how diplomatic Jabba the Hutt and the Emperor can be, you’d expect Luke to be less docile and more grounded. However, it kind of falls in line with where Lucas took the story. He went light, as opposed to the more logical dark. It works, but it often makes me wonder just how close Luke could have gotten to the Dark Side had he had a little harder push. And side note – is it just me, or did Mark Hamill age drastically between this and Empire?
Rapid-Fire Miscellaneous Items (Admittedly, this is where my gripes pile up. Death by a thousand cuts, if you will.)
- Another Death Star? Really? One with an even greater vulnerability to exploit…
- The return of the gigantic helmets on Imperial techs.
- The overcomplicated rescue of Han Solo.
- Lando’s reveal.
- Luke Force choking Jabba’s guards. Seriously, I know he’s got daddy issues, but this just emulates Vader too closely. And doesn’t it go against his training, to not use the force for attack?
- Boba’s defeat. So much potential, wasted.
- Lando and Han’s relationship. Just awkward to me.
- C-3PO and R2-D2 in the forest on Endor. Because droids in a forest seems logical. #droidlivesmatter
Look, this isn’t my favorite film. It languishes between lazy and epic, sophomoric and sensational. It’s just not my cup of tea. It’s almost as if George Lucas had a choice between taking the saga to a really dark place or making it kid-friendly. In light of where Empire left the story, the logical choice would’ve been the former. But the latter was chosen, so we got a story that waffled between the cute and cuddly Ewoks and the Emperor trying to fry Luke. It’s kind of how Clones tried to be a romance and an action movie. It just didn’t work overall. That being said, I didn’t hate Clones, so to assume that I can’t stomach this movie is illogical. It’s still great, just doesn’t quite hold the nostalgia for me that Phantom does. Truth be told, this was the first of the Star Wars films I saw in theaters, in the summer of 1997 when the Special Edition was released in theaters. I loved it then, and it will always hold a special place in my heart for that reason. However, its two predecessors are easily better films, and I’m in the minority that doesn’t pile on the prequels for not being exactly what nerddom expected. The first and third had their merits in the saga. And my rankings really came down to a toss-up between Jar Jar Binks and the Ewoks. So let the hate flow through you who are reading this: I liked Jar Jar more than the Ewoks. Hence the placement below.
Here’s where it falls in my rankings (best to worst):
- Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
- Episode IV: A New Hope
- Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
- Episode I: The Phantom Menace
- Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
- Episode II: Attack of the Clones
I could’ve easily rambled on and on about all of these movies, their merits and flaws. However, I just had to reach a stopping place on them. I love the Star Wars saga…”I love the Republic.” And I can’t wait to see the next chapter. Today. In approximately 18 hours and 30 minutes. Don’t fail me, J.J. Abrams.