As we move into this new era of Star Wars, I want to take a look back at the saga films, how my perceptions have changed over time and the ever-changing canon of Star Wars.
In May of 1983, Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi was released. The first of several supposed “final” Star Wars films, and until the announcement of Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens, the presumed end of the Star Wars saga. The story is the culmination of everything from the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy. The heroes win the day, the Empire is defeated, and they all lived happily ever after. Or so we thought.
Now that we have the sequel trilogy, this movie is no longer the ending to the saga, but rather only the ending chapter of a much longer, ongoing saga. That doesn’t make the ending any less joyful or celebratory for me. One of the themes I have seen come out of the new post-Return of the Jedi canon is that the people of the New Republic so want to cling to the happy ending of Endor (and later Jakku) that they would not accept the rise of darkness in the galaxy again. They could not comprehend the existence of an evil of this magnitude once more. But that is another topic for another day.
I have a lot of mixed feelings about Return of the Jedi. Technically, I am old enough to have seen it in theaters, and my Mom has told me that she took us to see the movie back in 1983, but I have no memory of it. When I list out my order of the Star Wars films, Jedi ends up second from the bottom, behind only Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace. That’s not to say that I dislike the film, but like The Phantom Menace, I have problems with it.
As a kid, I always felt that Jedi was just Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope and Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back smashed together. We start on Tatooine with the droids, attack yet another Death Star plus a ground battle with Imperial walkers rages on while Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker have a climatic lightsaber duel. As I’ve grown, my opinion has changed. I can see how the film stands on it’s own, but it doesn’t change the fact that much of the film feels familiar.
As a costumer and 501st Legion member, I view the films on a different level, analyzing and over analyzing every stitch of fabric and piece of armor. Jedi is my favorite version of Darth Vader, he looms larger and more impressive in this film than he does in any other, but my favorites, the Stormtroopers look much less imposing and much more of the derpy cousins of the troopers that I know and love of A New Hope. Without digging too far into armor nerdery, the Jedi troopers are poor recreations of the suits originally created in 1977, squished and awkward looking.
Return of the Jedi is classic mythic storytelling. I know some people complain about the “muppets” or “cute teddy bears” that topple the Empire’s finest troops, but that’s supposed to happen in a story such as this. The other films in the original trilogy allude to it, but this is George Lucas spelling it out for us. Star Wars, especially in the original trilogy, is the story of the underdog, the small and weak challenging the larger, unstoppable force. The film echoes the history of the 20th century and Lucas’ formative years during the US involvement in Vietnam. It is the power of the human spirit and the power within us all to alter the course of history.
Return of the Jedi is many things. It’s an ending for the previous films, and a beginning for the new films, and the stories that follow it, and the swan song of the greatest villains in cinema history. While it is far from my favorite entry in the saga, it is still immensely entertaining and features some of the greatest moments in the saga.
The Cantina Cast
The wretched hive your Jedi Master warned you about!