as i had mentioned in my “Star Wars Experience” article this is indeed the first film of this series that i watched as a very young child. I really couldn’t tell you how old i was when i first watched this but if i had to guess it would’ve been around the age of 5 or so. It stood for a long time as my favourite of the series, until i grew older and realised its faults for what they were, also it helped that Revenge of the Sith came out to help nudge it out of the top spot.
Once again, ILM is firing at full capacity here and the special effects and set design are all top-notch. Although not being head and shoulders better than the previous entry, this film serves to show the smoothing out and optimisation of the techniques they discovered in the previous film. The ships move with the same speed and momentum that characterised the flying sequences of The Empire Strikes Back, but now there are more of them on the screen with a much more prevalent sense of scale and dichotomy between the fighters, frigates, and star destroyers. They also explore the use of fast low flying vehicles with the land speeder chase in the forest being a high point in trick cinematography and matte work.
The visual style of this entry is more closely related to the look and feel of the original movie, as there is a less overt use of colour in the film’s running time but it still manages to beat out the images in A New Hope, by having more of a varied contrast within scenes, while also using more or less the exact scene settings between the two films. The scenes in Jabba’s palace are more dark and seedy and the Death Star seen mostly from the Emperor’s throne room is a much more ominous setting than anything the original movie was able to cook up.
The characters also have more or less completed their arcs, with Luke coming from his youthful self being dreamy and listless, to arrogant and overconfident, to growing into a scarred and weathered man who is both patient and empathetic. With this arc complete he finally becomes someone who i really wouldn’t mind watching more stories about, as he is now an interesting character. In fact the whole original series is more or less the origin story of how Luke became the galaxie’s last jedi, and i find it delightful that we will be able to see more stories with the character in the future. They even manage to make Han Solo stomach-able by keeping him to the outskirts of the first half of the movie and softening up a bit. However he is still rude and disrespectful to C3PO, and too hot-headed for me to ever want to spend any time with the man in person.
The biggest draw for me at least is that the meat of the drama of the story is about a father and son reconciliation and redemption for said villain. I’m always a sucker for father son relationships in movies, it probably has to do with the fact that although I’ve had important father figures in my life, my father left my sister and i when i was quite young. Although as a child i could never fully comprehend why i loved the scene between Luke and Vader as the former dies but now i see and understand why i rank it as one of my most favourite scenes in any movie that i have watched.
If i’m going to mention the Ewoks it might as well be here, however i don’t find them to be a complete deal breaker for me, in fact i would place my standing on their inclusion into the series as being neutral. Remember i was a young kid when i watched this, and the Ewoks at the time were something that i quite liked as i was in their target audience. As i got older, the sense of wonderment at them faded and moved over to the spaceships but i have never come to detest them as some others do nor will i ever fully understand their reasoning regardless of how thoughtful their arguments are.
The redemption of Darth Vader; while undoubtedly adding the narrative depth to the film comes at the cost of some of that wonderfully sinister characterisation that he had in The Empire Strikes Back. Once again he plays second fiddle to the Emperor, taking his orders and not being free to go about his business as he does in the previous films. Here he’s is much more conflicted when dealing with Luke. While in the TESB he wanted to use luke as a tool to use to usurp the power of the emperor, here his giving luke up to him really does a lot to hurt his standing as a threat. While this is a necessary action considering that we must believe that Vader can and wants to save his son in the end it still manages to be a disappointing sight.
Also this film can serve as a bit of an indicator that Lucas was starting to run a little dry in terms of providing an original story to end the series off. As i mentioned previously the settings of the film are more or less the same as the ones we see in A New Hope, the sole completely new addition being the rain forests of the moon of Endor. The actual narrative of the film functions mostly as a build up to a showdown with the Empire, while this isn’t a bad thing, it just doesn’t have the thematic depth as the story in The Empire Strikes Back does. While it does serve up some closure on the most important arcs it does so in such an open-ended way that when the film ends i simply want to see more of what happened afterwards.
As i stated in my earlier reviews i find this duel to be at least the best of the three movies at least in terms of how smoothly it moves (in terms of visual dynamism TESB has that crown).
The choreography while a bit simplistic is smooth and practised with both Luke and Vader finally looking like they are throwing their full weight into the blows in a consistent manner. The duel also has the most riding on it in terms of thematic content, not only is Luke fighting evil he is also fighting with himself. The outcome of the duel will either save the galaxy or destroy it. Also the duel has the most emotional punch as it features a score (a first in any duel in the series) and brings up emotions in Vader and Luke that haven’t been seen before.
All of this i think serves to illustrate the failure of the duel in A New Hope, as not only does it have all of the weight of both emotional and thematic content upon it, it also looks quite good. Overall it is my favourite duel in the series and i do find myself watching it occasionally for its own sake.
In closing i feel i must make mention of the special edition here, as the scenes it changes are the ones that i can cite most clearly (Greedo shooting first not withstanding). I grew up watching the original cut of the film on a mouldy old VHS tape and while i do appreciate the visual upgrade of the new transfer, the changing of the original concert (for lack of a better term) in Jabba’s Palace strikes me as quite jarring and yes unnecessary. I will say though, that the special edition did add a sense of scope that was missing from the original cut in the ending sequence, where after the emperor is killed we visit all of the settings in the film and see their celebration of the end of the empire.
Further more, despite it being a little awkward to watch nowadays i do not feel that the changes made to the film in the special editions have “ruined” it for me, and i really can’t see why anyone else could feel the same. The fact that i have to watch a terrible CGI rendition of that slug woman screech a new and inferior song does not in any way invalidate my memories of what i saw in the past. I will never forget that song she sung (its playing in my head right now as i type this out), nor the herky jerky way that she moved as a puppet. i will also never forget the original score that Williams put to the end of the movie (again i’m humming it out in my head right now). I think people have just invested too much into these films for their own good and in their anger they perhaps forget the very memories that they say they cherish above all else. The films have changed, deal with it. But (and its a big but), your memories haven’t and if you choose to you can hold onto them forever, i know i will.
That is why despite the film’s flaws and re-treading of the past this remains my favourite of the series (it’s not the best mind you) and it does and will always remain the movie that i pop in when i want to watch the original trilogy.
**** Out of Five Stars
i have heard from multiple sources (internet forums, personal conversations), that much of the reason that people feel such disdain towards the special editions is the fact that younger generations are somehow cheated out of the untouchable original experience that we had as kids.
I’m going on record saying that is a load of BULLSHIT.
Lets level with ourselves; at a young enough age kids will watch anything, and i mean anything. If they happen to like it then they like it, CGI versus practical effects be damned. I remember watching (and loving mind you) that abomination they call Mac and Me. You read that right, i liked Mac and Me as a child. I can guarantee you if you show a four or five year old Star Wars, and they have never seen any version or movie in the series, they will be thrilled with any version you choose to show them.
The point i’m trying to make here is these movies still have the ability to spark imagination in a young mind. if you refuse to believe that just because they made some bit character in some sound stage, pull the trigger of an imaginary gun first, (Han proves he is still an asshole either way) then i say you have a serious pine cone shoved up your ass and need to lighten up.