I’ve been catching bits and pieces of Star Wars movies all day because Spike TV has been running a marathon of all 6 films. And while seeing how shitty Boss Nass’s animation looks is still pretty amusing, the only film I could really watch a lot of was “Return of the Jedi.”
"Return of the Jedi" is a pretty shitty film. In fact, its greatest triumph is that it shows just how awesome "The Empire Strikes Back" is in contrast. Here are my biggest problems with the film.
1. Harrison Ford does not give a shit.
Not that I blame him. Han Solo spends a lot of this movie being confused over Leia’s relationship with Luke, a situation that could be cleared up in one short conversation. There’s no real drive or point to anything Han does in this film. The other two movies have him struggling to put others before himself. In Return of the Jedi, he just up and volunteers to lead a squad to Endor. There’s really nothing he does that couldn’t be done by some other character. He’s just there.
2. George Lucas Fails At Comedy
George Lucas was funny at one point. American Graffiti has some very funny and touching scenes. Han Solo has some pretty funny moments in Star Wars. But everything played for laughs in Return of the Jedi is too big and too broad. The scene where Han makes Lando promise to take care of the Millenium Falcom pretty much drives a stake through the heart of the film. Both characters act like buffoonish versions of themselves for the sake of a joke that isn’t that funny (Han really loves his spaceship! Har Har!). What in the hell is Lando supposed to say here? That he won’t take care of his ship? In the very next scene, Han instructs Chewbacca to “I don’t know, fly casual.” You see? Most people would say “act casual” but these guys are in a spaceship so they’re going to “fly casual!” Unfortunately, most of the comedy in the film is left to the hands of Harrison Ford, an actor that is not always that great at comedy when it’s well written. But he utterly fails at selling the sub-par shtick in this movie. Later on the prequels, Lucas would go even broader and bigger with the comedy and fail even harder.
3. The Ewoks
I am not going to lie. I actually kind of love the Ewoks. But the way they are handled and shot in the film is pretty ridiculous. Return of the Jedi tries to present the Ewoks as both lovable, peaceful weak forest creatures and also valiant warriors. The problem is, the Ewoks are so obviously weak that they never seem to be any kind of threat at all. Their spears have stubby tips to them. When Wicket jabs a Storm Trooper in the leg to defend Leia, it’s clear that the Storm Trooper is more surprised than hurt. So, it’s kind of stupid to believe that 12 Ewoks could overtake Han, Chewbacca and Luke and tie them to poles, especially because we just saw the same group of people kick the shit out of armed guards at Jabba’s palace not thirty minutes earlier.
4. The Direction
Director Richard Marquand is crappy. His shot selection is bizarre and he gets some really cruddy performances out of his actors. The sequence where Luke tells Leia the nature of their parentage is astonishingly poor. Marquand holds on a long shot that never moves. This is the most dramatic moment of the film (or it should be) and instead, it just feels long and slow.
5. The Point
What is Return of the Jedi even about? Is it the rescue of Han? The redemption of Anakin? The triumph of the rebellion? The first part of the movie at Jabba’s palace is so utterly disconnected from the rest of the film that it really doesn’t belong. On some level, the story is kind of about Luke stepping up as a Jedi, but that never seems to be the most important thing to Luke. He wants to save Han and then later, redeem his father. It would have been nice if one of those things had made it through the whole movie. One of the reasons that “Empire” works so well is that Han and Leia’s love story drives their plot from beginning to end. Luke is kind of a flimsy character and his goals are constantly shifting in all of the movies, but usually, at least one of the characters wants the same thing from beginning to end. No such luck in “Return of the Jedi.”
The prequels get a lot of grief and they deserve it. But Return of the Jedi is just as bad as any of those films. In fact, in many ways it’s worse. And ending with a shot of Hayden Christensen isn’t helping those comparisons either.