Saturday, January 14, 2012

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

See? Ewoks cannot be all bad if their spin-off material can produce something like this.

Oh wait. Nevermind. Their spin-off material also produced this.

Alright, so in our review of Empire, I mentioned that I thought it was the weakest of the original trilogy and then went to point out what I thought were pacing and story flaws with the movie. That was the easy job. Since I think Empire is the weakest, that means I think that Return of the Jedi is better than it, which leaves me with a much more difficult task in this review: Defending Ewoks. I will get to that later. First of all, let me point out a couple of this movie's strengths:

Death Star:
Now, while some people may think that it is rather lame to reuse something like this in a later movie, I have to point out that the fact that the Empire built another Death Star excited me like no other movie. This isn't because I am a Death Star fanboy. Sure, it's neat and all, but that was no reason for my childhood excitement at seeing it rebuilt.

You see, I spent a LOT of my childhood watching cartoon serials and pseudo-serials like Voltron and being filled with remarkable levels or ire and rage at the bad guys. King Zarkon or Prince Lotor would create this incredible Robeast infused with all kinds of special power and implement a huge plan of attack. Voltron would be virtually defeated, laying in near ruins with victory just a breath away from the villains. Then something random or unlikely would occur, like a random mouse chewing on wiring, and the plan would fail at the last moment and Voltron would barely be able to beat back the bad guys. Then next week, Zarkon and Lotor would just come up with some completely new line of attack, but WHAT THE FUCK, GUYS?!?! You were so goddamned close to winning and something so randomly arbitrary occurred and stopped you. Obviously your plan was good. Fucking hit them with the same thing again. This time, if there doesn't happened to be a fucking eclipse during your attack, you'll win. Don't just toss a plan aside that had the only defenses of the good guys shattered and nearly destroyed.

This all or nothing approach of villain plans drove me crazy. Seriously, you were SO FUCKING CLOSE to winning! So, when the Imperial Forces decided to rebuilt the Death Star, I didn't roll my eyes and say, "Seen it." No. I fucking felt vindicated for every schmuck of a villain I had seen before. The Empire said, "Fuck this. This was a fucking awesome plan that got fucked up in such a random way. Let's fucking fix that problem and build a better Death Star. I mean, Christ, we blew up Alderaan. An entire fucking planet! Billions of people. For shit's sake, that was such a good plan, we'll just patch up our ventilation port and fuck shit up again."

So seeing the rebuilt Death Star vindicated my outrage at every single plan gone wrong in every single cartoon serial I watched as a kid. Even fucking Wile E. Coyote came close some times and just needed to learn from his fucking mistake and alter the plans that came closest. This coolness factor is able to cancel out the cuteness of at least ten Ewoks.

The Ewoks tend to distract people from the fact that Return of the Jedi is a dark, dark movie. I mean, forget about the obvious themes of corruption, patricide and the realization that the last two movies were full of incest, there is a lot there. The entire Jabba's Palace opening has Jabba's lustful molestation and near rape of a Twi'lek who was then murdered for his amusement after her refusal to accept his advances. Leia is later captured and turned into what will eventually be a sex slave for Jabba, who then is choked to death by her. Think about that scene. This isn't some glib blaster shot and someone falling down. She wrapped a chain around his neck and struggled with all her might as Jabba's tongue flapped out helpless as he took his last breath. Not saying he didn't deserve it, but that's a rather dark death. Strangling someone fully on camera who is desperately trying to breathe one more breath is dark enough to cancel out at least two dozen Ewoks.

But then the entire confrontation scene between Luke and Vader with the Emperor overseeing is actually a very dark scene as well. Seriously, watch it again and you'll realize how dark it is. It goes beyond a simple corruption scene. The Emperor gloats about how everything Luke holds dear is going to die around him, taunting him to attack him in anger. Luke resists at first, because his plan is to confront Vader for that resolution and self-testing that he needs, even though he realizes that he will die on the Death Star as his friends complete their plan. He just needs to prove to himself that he is worthy, even though he will die. However, the thing about the taunting is that it works.

Luke eventually gives into hate and draws his weapon. Luke stops himself and decides not to fight and hold off. Then Vader senses that he has a sister and that he can pervert her to darkness instead. So, Luke, angered and  vengeful, attacks Vader. Here he strikes wildly and full of anger and rage. He gives into the darkness and it is stronger in him because it is this anger and rage that lets him finally beat Vader. He cuts off his hand and leaves him near death and realizes that he has become the evil that consumed his father... He has reversed roles with him and he has become the rage-filled force standing over the wounded, handless, weaponless and undefended man, capable of striking him down.

That's some dark shit as well. That's worth canceling out at least another two dozen Ewoks' cuteness.

Now, this isn't to say that there aren't problems with Jedi, but they are mostly minor ones that are understandable from a story-telling standpoint. For example, why the fuck would you want to take a ship as big as the Millennium Falcon inside the Death Star instead of the smaller, more agile fighters? For no reason other than the audience feels a connection to the ship and it is almost a character in and of itself and would be disappointed if it somehow did not help out with the end game. Or, when going down in a rough surface terrain forest where stealth is important and everyone is camouflaged, why the fuck would you bring down a shiny gold robot prone to being knocked over and a little droid that runs on two skids that couldn't compensate for a raised tree root? The answer, because they are primary characters who should be given a role.

But the Ewoks. There is a lot of hate for the Ewoks because they look stupid and are cuddly. However, I first need to point out that, for the time, they were actually really decent costumes. We're talking pre-CGI days. You know, the days when dwarves/little people knew that they could always put on some crazy-ass costume and get a job in Hollywood? If Jedi was made today, you'd end up with CGI Ewoks and a shitload of unemployed little people. Now, the Ewoks had a purpose. Yes, I realize that the primary purpose of them was to sell toys and kiddie spin-off merchandise and products. However, these are simple stories told at the level of kids. Really, there isn't a lot of depth to the plots. But this story is so dark that you need something for the kiddies to lighten it up a bit. Perhaps Lucas went a little too far with the cute, but I don't think so.

The Ewoks also serve to give us a view of war not shown before in these movies. Rebels, Stormtroopers and aliens died left and right in these movies and we didn't pause or care. But I defy anyone to tell me honestly that the first time that they saw that Ewok die on screen and his friend try to wake him up they didn't tear up. Seriously. This is the first we've had impact of war and had it mean something. Obi-Wan's death ended up being a good thing overall. But that Ewok laying there while the other one pushed him a couple of times to try to move him showed an emotional cost of war. That Ewok death scene cancels out at least two score living cute Ewoks in the movie.

Ultimately, however, the Ewoks are supposed to give a message that the "little people" can make a difference. But it also gives us another message of strength of indigenous people in terrain that qualified soldiers are unused to fighting over. So, yes, the Ewoks are an allegory to the Viet Nam war.

Okay. That's probably going too far. But you get my point.

There only real problem that I have with Return of the Jedi is the fact that in the original Star Wars when Luke first gets C-3PO and finds out that he was part of the Rebellion, he asks him if he has any stories. Threepio responds that he isn't a very good storyteller. However, in Jedi, he's fucking mesmerizing the Ewoks with his storytelling and is even adding in sound effects for all of the principle battle scenes. Fuck what he said to Luke. Threepio can fucking spin a yarn.

Molly: (As usual, Molly is sitting next to me as I type this. Because of her age, her portion of the review will be in Q&A form.  I'll ask her a question and transcribe her responses to the best of my ability and will format it afterward.)

Chuckie: So, what did you think about the Return of the Jedi?
Molly: I like it in the middle. I liked it and I didn't like it.

Chuckie: Okay, what didn't you like about it?
Molly: Um, that -- that -- that little guy that got shot.
Chuckie: The Ewok?
Molly: Mm-hm.
Chuckie: How did that make you feel?
Molly: Sad. Because he got hurt.

Chuckie: Was there anything else that you didn't like about the movie?
Molly: I didn't like that his father got hurt.
Chuckie: Whose father?
Molly: Lucas.

Chuckie: Okay, we'll get to that later though. Anything else you didn't like?
Molly: No.

Chuckie: So, tell me what you liked about movie.
Molly: Well, I liked that they were celebrating because the good guys won and Lucas's father died. They had fireworks. Daddy, did you know that they had fireworks on other planets?
Chuckie: No, I didn't know that. I would have thought that they had some kind of more technologically advanced means of celebrating, like giant holograms or laser light shows or something.
Molly: Nope. Fireworks.

Chuckie: Yeah. So, what else did you like about the movie?
Molly: Wait. There are other parts that I didn't like about the movie!
Chuckie: Okay, like what?
Molly: Like when the one guy fell into the sea monster in the sand and it ate him and when Dark Vader's boss got thrown down that pit and died.

Chuckie: Well, you know that these guys that died were bad guys in the movie, right?
Molly: Yeah, but it was still sad. They have families, you know.
Chuckie: Wow. Okay. Good point. So, why don't you tell me what happened in the movie?
Molly: Well, they had to rescue Han Solo because he was frozen, so they put him in the oven to free him--
Chuckie: Wait. They put him in the oven?
Molly: Yeah. He turned red like he was hot then got out of the frozen stuff.

Chuckie: Ah... Okay. Well, continue.
Molly: Princess Leia freed Han Solo, but the big frog took him and her. Oh, and the big gorilla was there as well. Then Lucas showed up and rescued them.  Then Lucas visited Yoda, then Yoda died, so that's another part I didn't like too. And then they had to stop the bad guys' plan.

Chuckie: What was their plan?
Molly: They were building another Death Star.

Chuckie: Okay, I know it broke into a few interweaving plot points here, but what happened on the ground in the forest?
Molly: Princess Leia found Ewoks. And the Ewoks helped them fight the bad guys. And when they won, everyone was celebrating, but they weren't congratulating the Ewoks because they did most of the work.

Chuckie: Okay, while that was going on what was Lucas doing?
Molly: He went to see his father, Dark Vader. And Dark Vader tried to turn him into a bad guy, but it didn't work. Dark Vader didn't really want to fight Lucas or turn him into a bad guy, but his boss told him that he had to and so he fought Lucas because he didn't want to get fired.

Chuckie: So what happened in the fight?
Molly: Dark Vader became a good guy and killed his boss so that he could save Lucas and his boss would be dead and couldn't fire him. So then he became the boss. But then he died.

Chuckie: What did you think when Lucas took off Dark Vader's mask?
Molly: He looked like an alien. He did not even look like a person.

Chuckie: So, a lot of people don't like the Ewoks and think that they ruined the movie. What do you think about that?
Molly: I liked them since they fighted the most. They fighted more than the rest of the good guys did.

Chuckie: So, tell me about the character arcs. How did Lucas change by the end of the movie?
Molly: He was really good at using the force field. I'm not good at it yet though. Watch. (She stares at the shelf, straining.) See? Nothing happened.
Chuckie: What were you trying to do?
Molly: I was trying to move the books and shelf. But I'm not good with the force field yet. But that's okay, because you never give up and you have to practice, practice, practice.

Chuckie: What about Han Solo? Did he change by the end of the movie?
Molly: He wasn't frozen in the sandbox anymore.
Chuckie: Any kind of personality change?
Molly: What is a "personality"?
Chuckie: The way he acts and the things he believes in.
Molly: Well, he wasn't acting when he was frozen in the sandbox, so that changed.

Chuckie: Fair point. How about Princess Leia? Did she change at all?
Molly: No.

Chuckie: Okay, did Dark Vader change?
Molly: Yes. He turned into a good guy and then turned into a ghost.

Chuckie: So, how would you rate this movie?
Molly: Stars.

Chuckie: Okay. How many stars would you give Return of the Jedi?
Molly: Um, five and out of three.
Chuckie: You are giving it more stars than it is out of, you know that right?
Molly: Yeah.  And I want to give it Ewoks, Daddy.

Chuckie: Okay. Um, how many Ewoks?
Molly: Twenty-four Ewoks. Is that a lot of Ewoks?
Chuckie: I don't know. I'm not used to an Ewok rating system. Out of how many?
Molly: Four.
Chuckie: Then, yes, I would have to assume that it is a lot of Ewoks to rate a movie with.
Molly: Good.

Chuckie: So, who do you think would like this movie?
Molly: Ellen, Eva and Cassie. Not the little Cassie, but the big one.

Chuckie: Why do you think they would like it?
Molly: Well, I think Ellen would like it because I'm her best friend, Ewoks and they fight and stuff. My other friends would like it because of the Ewoks.
Chuckie: You really liked the Ewoks, didn't you?
Molly: Mm-hm. That's why I gave it more Ewoks than stars.
Chuckie: I don't know if that's how ratings work.
Molly: Well, I was going to give it three Ewoks, but then I thought I should give it more.

Chuckie: Okay. So, while the Ewoks are cute and cuddly, there are actually a lot of rather dark themes and scenes in this movie. Would you say that the movie is more for kids or for grown-ups?
Molly: Grown-ups. But I still think kids would like it because I did.

Chuckie: Fair enough. So, is there anything else that you wanted to say about Return of the Jedi?
Molly: (covers her right eye with her hand.) Sibuna.
Chuckie: Sibuna?
Molly: Yeah, that means it's a secret that only people from House of Anubis can hear.
Chuckie: So, I can't hear it?
Molly: Nope. The End.

So, that's our review. Molly really liked the Ewoks in the movie, but was rather upset at the Ewok death scene. When it happened, I had to pause the film and talk to her since she started to cry. We still made it through the rest of the movie, but for anyone who discounts Ewoks of being too cute, they made an impact on the potential cost of fighting and war to my five year old.

Of course I liked it. I don't think anything touches the original Star Wars by a longshot, but this is my second favorite of the original trilogy. But most importantly in this movie, the Empire learned a lesson that everyone from Prince Lotor to Wile E. Coyote to Desslok to the Zentraedi to Cobra Commander to the Decepticons could not grasp: If your plan came THIS FUCKING CLOSE to wiping out your enemy and failed for some fluke reason, don't throw out the blueprints. just tweak them and retry them.

Molly gives it five out of three stars and twenty-four out of four Ewoks. She also considers the Vader's struggle with battling his son and his attempts to either pervert or murder his child stem from a fear of being fired from his job. She also apparently had more to say on the movie, but I'm not a member of the Sibuna club from House of Anubis, so I have no clue what it might be.

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