Brad’s April Escape - Part 17
April 27 - Return of the Jedi
Each weekday this month, I’ll screen a film from The Bearded Trio Cinematic Universe and list 10 random scenes, characters, musical cues or performances that I particularly enjoy and look forward to upon every viewing. I’d love to hear similar little things you enjoy about these films, and hope you join me in this escape from the present-day world.
Next up is the conclusion of the beloved original Star Wars Trilogy, Return of the Jedi (1983).
Return of the Jedi - An Introduction
Yes, I skipped over Empire Strikes Back. Don't worry, I have a three-part mega-post coming on that film to coincide with its 40th anniversary from May 20-22.
Until then, I suppose we have to settle for this gem of a film, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983), wonderfully directed by Richard Marquand. I've been looking forward to analyzing this film for a long time, though I hardly know where to begin.
Watching this film is always an emotional experience for me. The one that just hits me in the gut - in a good way - is when Luke is walking back into the Ewok Village as part of the ending montage. He's walking with freedom and confidence, knowing his most difficult battles are finally behind him. He's embraced by his sister Leia and friend Han, as our heroes celebrate their ultimate and final victory over the Empire.
This film had a daunting task, to finish out the story established in ANH and ESB, two of the four most popular films of all time, at the time of ROJ's release. And thanks to the expert touch of Marquand, the near-perfect story constructed by George Lucas, and boundary-expanding work by the magicians at Industrial Light & Magic, it all came together to form the ultimate fairy tale happy ending. Jedi somehow balanced both that perfect happy ending while attending properly to all of the story beats necessary after the Empire cliffhanger.
It's a feel-good film in every way. I love Return of the Jedi, and I thank you for allowing me to share this love with all of you.
10 Things I Like - Return of the Jedi
1. Best character introduction in the saga. The opening act of this film is so well-crafted by Marquand and Lucas. The key players are introduced one at a time, while also smartly setting the plot in motion. No character introduction matches up with this one, of Luke Skywalker.
Us as the audience were left with a more mature sounding Luke at the end of Empire. We had 3 years to dream up adventures for our favorite Jedi, and now, finally, here he was.
Marquand directed an incredible intro. The palace gate opens. We're looking in from far away. All we see is a black silhouette. John Williams's music sounds very much like low synth music as Luke approaches. His Force choke of the Gamorrean Guards takes on new meaning, in light of Revenge of the Sith. Luke quickly establishes himself as more confident and powerful than the last time we saw him. Again, proof that as we were growing up, so were our characters.
2. In my head canon, I have always believed that was a tall container of Coke that Jabba was holding in this scene. I would certainly appreciate a tall, cold Coke right about now.
3. Since I haven't examined Empire yet, let's talk about everyone's favorite bounty hunter, Boba Fett. Many fans deny this scene means what it's intended to mean. Sure people digest in the belly of the Sarlacc for a thousand years, but that doesn't mean they're...DEAD. Fett's popularity was not something Lucasfilm counted on when he was introduced. But it's also a testament to how widely loved those original films were, that somewhat minor characters took on a life of their own.
Even I was convinced we'd see Fett in a cameo during some kind of post-ROJ media/book/film/comic. Hasn't happened yet, and I'd be surprised at this point if it did. Fett's popularity comes from his costume, his threat level, and the concept that less-is-more. He had few lines of dialogue, but you always got the sense there was more to him. It left a lot to the imagination, and we kids in the 80s had our imaginations stimulated more powerfully by Star Wars than anything else.
4. Many people gravitated to Boba Fett as a "second-level" character to get attached to. The Emperor's Royal Guards did that for me.
They captivated me from the moment they walked into the frame. Up until this point, we only saw the Empire represented with the colors black, gray or white. And we know how intentional George Lucas is at using color as a way to represent characters and themes. So seeing these all-red guards descend from the ramp ahead of the Emperor made them stand out to me all the more.
Imagine how tough these guys have to be if they're tasked with guarding the most important being in the galaxy? That's what zipped through my 10-year-old brain. And if Boba Fett built a legend by having few lines, well, these guys had *no* lines .
The royal guards are my favorite class of soldiers in all of the Empire. Such great costume design and color choice, given the environment they exist in.
5. The brother-sister talk. This was the most beautiful music John Williams had written for Star Wars to date. Quiet and gentle, it reveals a bond that's not romantic, more like galactic. It had to be challenging for Williams to compose a love theme that was sibling rather than romantic love. Of course he was up for the challenge and put together one of the signature themes in all of the saga. It's reintroduction in The Last Jedi was so moving, because of this particular scene. So much weight contained in this scene. Just incredible.
This scene was one of the key ones that made you feel like what you were watching was so epic, so final. Everything was leading up to this. All the secrets were coming out. The picture was becoming full and complete. Things in the previous two films were now being crystallized. The sense was that we were watching something bigger than just one film. It was a modern day myth, one that connected with me and my generation far more intimately than anything that had come before it, or since.
6. What symbolic lighting. Luke is literally split in half between his dark half and his light half. This shot comes as Vader is searching for him underneath the destroyed Throne Room catwalk. Luke is no doubt being tempted here, to a greater extent than ever before. He could easily lash out. He's confident. He's strong. He knows he can do more than just go toe-to-toe with Vader.
Luke's conflict with Vader is less than the conflict within himself. In the wonderful documentary "From Star Wars to Jedi," Lucas talks about struggling to find Luke's motivation for attacking Vader at that point. Luke has made his choice. The Jedi choice to not fight. Lucas then comes upon the answer - Leia. As soon as Vader threatens Leia, Luke goes off, as seen in the next segment.
7. This is Apex Luke. He dominates Vader in the final part of their duel. Cuts off Vader's hand with very little effort. This was the Luke so many wanted to see in the sequel trilogy. Kicking ass as the ultimate Jedi.
And Williams's music here?? Oh man how much more epic can it get than "Dark Side Beckons"? I have often referenced my feeling that chorus in Star Wars scores represents the Force at work. Exhibits A, B and C right here. The chorus is deep and all over the place. It's madness. It's chaos. It's swirling about our antagonist and protagonist, locked in a mortal duel with the fate of everything hanging in the balance. Finally, the chorus hits a crescendo as the Emperor pummels Luke with Force lightning until Vader finally makes the choice 23 years in the making. Shivers, every single time.
8. A word here for Sebastian Shaw, who gives such a moving performance as Anakin Skywalker in his brief appearance on-screen. My comparison to how Shaw portrays Anakin is akin to how Christopher Reeve portrays Superman. There's substance and character to how the actor plays the part.
Now that we have been gifted with the prequel trilogy and The Clone Wars, this small scene with father and son plays so much more powerfully. We read into Anakin pain and regret as he exchanges precious few words with Luke. "Tell your sister you were right," are Anakin's last words. That lends credence to my theory that the good within Anakin/Vader was the presence of Padme, Luke's mother. The part of Padme that Palpatine put into Vader in order to sustain him was the one bit of goodness that continued to exist within him over all those years. It was the one thing only Luke could sense, because of his blood connection and because of his high attunement to the Force.
My theater, rowdy and cheering when Vader hurled Palpatine to his death minutes earlier, was dead silent in this scene, taking in every detail of this first and last conversation between father and son. A moment to which the entire saga had been building. We wouldn't miss a micro-second of it.
9. How freaking cool was this set? The Death Star reactor chamber was breathtaking, and still is. A wonder of a build by the ILM model shop, comprised of many unsung heroes of Star Wars. I doubt any of those guys would read this, but I truly hope that they know how loved and appreciated their talents are, all these years later.
This was yet another set piece that just screamed "epic" to me. The music was slowly building. The underdog rebels had, beyond all reason, somehow reached this point, where destroying the Death Star was just a couple of accurate shots by Wedge and Lando away.
The "It's a trap" line by Admiral Ackbar has reached peak meme status in 2020. But my favorite Ackbar moment comes shortly before this, when the Super Star Destroyer crashes into the Death Star. He just sits back in his chair, stunned that the rebels have pulled this out. How is it we can read such acting and nuance from a big puppet head? It was the total buy-in from the audience, another compliment to Lucas, Marquand and the Hall of Fame talent they deployed at making this historic film.
10. The Palpatine status? Toppled. Jedi Temple lights? On for the first time in a generation. Cloud City residents yelling "Freedom." For all to hear. Wicket hugs R2-D2. C-3PO dances with Ewoks. Wedge - yes, underrated Wedge - is hugging his compatriots. Han and Leia embrace in a love that surely will last forever. Luke, alive, in tact, and fully realized as a Jedi and as a man, returns to his friends, victorious, at last. And to keep the happy ending the happiest, Luke sees those who came before him, here in ghost form. We lost Anakin, Obi-Wan and Yoda along this journey, but don't worry. They're here. They're restored, thanks to Luke Skywalker, the ultimate hero.
As a 10-year-old, this validated my faith in the good in people. Something that still exists today within me. I would probably be a lot more cynical about people were it not for Star Wars. Now, has that cost me? Sure, of course it has. But I wouldn't change that about myself for anything.
George Lucas has said his goal with these films, and Jedi in particular, was to make the audience happy, to make them feel as good as humanly possible upon exiting the theater.
Brad’s Escapism Moment in Return of the Jedi
I first saw Return of the Jedi not on its opening night of Wednesday, May 25, but on Friday night, May 27, 1983. My dad and I picked up our tickets for the 8:00 show at 5:30, figuring we were too late to get to the 5:45 show at our local theater. We then went to Scoops Ice Cream parlor in Oakland County (Michigan) to enjoy some ice cream and watch the line wrap around the building as people lined up to get tickets. We proceeded to walk right past hundreds of people in line to get our tickets, secured hours earlier.
I remember sitting in my dad's car, waiting to turn left onto the road out of the theater. I was crying, and 10 wasn't an age where you felt like it was OK to cry in front of your father. I somehow had the sense that this was it. The best part of my childhood was now over, with the completion of the Star Wars Trilogy. And in many unrelated ways, it was. Ten months later, we moved away from my childhood home, and things were never the same after that.
I might have written more words about this film than any other in my April series. And I don't think I have done proper justice to this film, which so deeply impacted me in 1983 and in 2020.
In the awesome J.W. Rinzler book "The Making of Return of the Jedi" he references a kind of Jedi mania that swept the United States through that whole summer of 1983. Jedi was such an anticipated film, and brought such a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, that people reveled in the feeling of finally having the full story revealed to us. It was like all of us fans had held our breath for three years, waiting for the final chapter to be revealed to us. When it was revealed, we all exhaled, so deeply and so purely. It was Thanksgiving dinner without the food coma. It was vanilla ice cream with all the toppings without the chest freeze. It was the unbridled joy of the removal of that one piece of Christmas wrapping that revealed a completely unexpected surprise of a gift. Because that's what Star Wars is to me. A gift.
A gift from the likes of George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, Richard Marquand, John Williams, Dennis Muren, Ben Burtt, Richard Edlund, Ken Ralston, Lorne Peterson, Lawrence Kasdan and so many hundreds of others. I wish there was a way for me to express my thanks to every single one of them, living or deceased, for this gift.
Return of the Jedi is the ultimate gift. And I am grateful for it.
Coming next: Solo: A Star Wars Story
The Bearded Trio - The Site For Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, John Williams and a whole lot more.