Finished the rewatch of the original Star Wars trilogy with the third and final movie, which, yes, is the weakest one of the lot.
Return of the Jedi easily suffers the worst from Lucas’ post-release tinkering, with the CGI additions that stick out like a sore thumb, and an unnecessary melodramatic NOOOOOO shoehorned into the climatic scene, which, while not as terrible as the NOOOOOO that forever ruined the birth of Darth Vader in Revenge of the Sith, is still pretty cringeworthy. I’m also pretty sure that the addition of “Weeesa freee!!!” cryout during a final cheering scene is Lucas giving a middle finger to the people (i.e. everyone) who didn’t like Jar Jar Binks. And what’s the deal with Hayden Christensen showing up as the force ghost of Anakin, instead of the person Luke actually interacted with onscreen in this movie?
In a way I felt like I was watching two movies – one of them a carryover of the darker, mature Empire Strikes Back featuring the epic, moving father/son drama and a fabulously over-the-top, cackling villainous turn by Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor. To be honest, I never really understood what the Emperor’s plan regarding Luke was or what Luke was supposed to be tempted by. Was Luke supposed to lose it and give in to his anger, and then that alone would somehow be enough for him to go, oh my master I’ll serve you forever and ever? Regardless, the scenes with Luke, Vader and the Emperor are gripping, tense, emotional and easily one of the highpoints of the series. I admit it, I’m an absolute softie for redemption and the last scene between Luke and his father does get me choked up.
The other movie is, unfortunately, Star Wars: The Muppet Show or God Not Another Death Star. I vented a lot about a regurgitated Death Star plot in The Force Awakens, but turns out it’s just as boring second time around. Imagine watching the entire series in one go and seeing the same bloody storyline in three movies out of the last four. Complaining about Ewoks is pretty common and while I can’t say I hated them with a power of the thousand suns they do a lot to dumb down the movie, and they’re not even cute for crying out loud. Maybe Lucas wanted to make some grand statement about the mighty empire getting defeated by the humble, living-close-to-nature creatures with spears and stones for weapons, but it’s just all too childish. I didn’t care for the puppet-dominated first act at Jabba’s lair either – other than rescuing Han it’s got nothing to do with the rest of the story, so it feels like the actual plot is not kicking in until two thirds in. There’s also a remastered version of a song and dance number so godawful and tonally awkward I watched it almost in disbelief.
Mark Hamill gets some great material to sink his teeth into with Luke, and it’s really amazing to look back on the character in the first film and see how far he’s come since then. His co-stars unfortunately fare much worse – Harrison Ford especially looks like he’s going through the motions and doesn’t really want to be there. Han’s got none of the zing, verve or charm he had in the previous two films (I’m glad though that Ford didn’t get his wish and Han didn’t die in this film, or we would have been robbed of his wonderful presence in The Force Awakens). Carrie Fisher is likewise pretty listless and doesn’t get much to do, though I’ll admit that the scene where Leia chokes Jabba with her own chains is pretty badass. Han and Leia’s romance also loses its spark here, with Han’s silly jealousy over Luke the only “development”.
For all the problems with the movie, I never felt any feminist ire over Leia’s infamous gold bikini. What irks me way more is that poor Leia is given zero time to deal with the revelation about her real father, who had tortured her in the very first episode, no less. I get that this is a very Luke-centric movie, but still.