As a lead up to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, FBTB is going to do something crazy (and likely something that a whole bunch of other sites are going to do too), and review the previous movies. Why? Because shut up, that’s why. We are going to take a slightly different take, other than just eviscerating the PT and fawning love on Empire Strikes back, and actually look at some of the impacts that it has on the toys and stuff we really love. Plus, it gives us an excuse to make fun of Jar Jar. It’s basically win-win.
As I’ve said a few times on this site, Return of the Jedi is my favorite Star Wars movie. I’m willing to concede it’s not the best movie (that’d be Empire), but it’s the one I’ll always associate with growing up. Jedi came out in 1983, when I was four years old. I don’t remember seeing it in the theater (the first movies I remember seeing where Disney’s Pinocchio and Supergirl, both of which I saw twice)… but I rented all of the movies more times than I can remember. Along with Tron and some Go-Bots cartoons, the Star Wars trilogy was my go-to, and Jedi most of all.
Unlike Empire, Jedi focuses on the adventure of the story and bringing a close to the somewhat loosely defined story points. Everything could have ended with Star Wars if it had been a flop, but Jedi left everything up in the air even while it concluded it’s specific story (and should serve as the template on how to close a movie without resolving a series). It’s pretty easy to say that expectations for Return of the Jedi were insanely high… there was the story of how Luke was going to face Vader, the fate of Han Solo, and in general the whole fate of the Rebellion. In some ways, I’m not sure RotJ could ever meet the expectations set out for it.
It’s also a movie that served in a lot of ways as a warning sign for what was coming in the prequels, but also probably stands as the most entertaining of the movies by itself, especially across different ages. The problem with being more entertaining is that those movies is that they also tend to be less memorable… though I think this particular film may have missed it. Of course, there’s one last thing about Jedi that will always hold special meaning, and that’s for a throwaway line by Mon Mothma. Which lets me make this joke, something years in the making!
Many Bothans Died to bring you this review…
One of the biggest knocks on Jedi, and probably one of the most valid, is that in a lot of ways it’s just like a souped-up version of A New Hope. We are back on Tatooine, it opens up with R2-D2 and C3PO, and it ends blowing up a Death Star. Of course, the opening crawl kind of teases us that it’s something even more powerful than the first Death Star. But much like my state of Texas, more powerful is just slang for “bigger.”
“Luke Skywalker has returned to his home planet of Tatooine in an attempt to rescue his friend Han Solo from the clutches of the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt.
Little does Luke know that the GALACTIC EMPIRE has secretly begun construction on a new armored space station even more powerful than the first dreaded Death Star.
When completed, this ultimate weapon will spell certain doom for the small band of rebels struggling to restore freedom to the galaxy…”
The opening for Jedi, however, is also particularly strong. It’s sort of like a heist movie in reverse, where Han Solo is in the bank vault and I guess Lando is the getaway driver? Maybe Nien Nunb was the driver? I really did enjoy the scene in the Mos Eisley cantina where DeNiro and Al Pacino sat down over blue milk and pie to discuss the meaning of the Force and galactic politics.
I think that the whole of Jabba’s Palace was basically a demo reel for the talent of ILM, including their prop building and creature shop. They did need the boost… between Empire and Jedi, they worked mostly on small indie films, like Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., Wrath of Khan, and Poltergeist.
There are somewhere between ten and five million different aliens in the palace, but the most notable is the big slug himself. Jabba is the launcher of so many jokes and middle school insults, but remains an interesting character. I don’t really get how the Hutts ever managed to run huge criminal empires, but here we are. We’ve all seen this, so there isn’t much point in reviewing specifics, but it makes for a great opening. Leia as Boussh is a genuinely great twist, the convoluted plan to use the droids as gifts just to sneak in a lightsaber is… interesting, and of course, lets not forget all of the fun once Luke actually shows up as well.
The part of Jedi that stuck to me the most, my love of Ewoks aside, is the whole scene between Luke and the Rancor. I wanted the Kenner toy so much when I was younger, but never could convince my parents to get it for me. Not shocking, I guess, as I was five or so, and the monster was the thing of nightmares for a young kid… but I still wanted it.
It’s also kind of surprising how long the whole rescue of Han really goes on. Unlike Empire and Star Wars, which were both movies of three acts, Jedi is really a two-act sort of movie with a whole lot of interludes. Yet both acts by themselves are fairly strong, and there’s not really any point to get bored in the movie.
One of the real odd things about Jedi is just how many of the characters are basically shown and never seen again, which is amazing for the pre-CGI world. I wonder how many LEGO sets would be required to give us versions of every alien on the barge and in the Palace… six? Maybe seven?
Of course, we can’t look over the whole Slave Leia section, which remains a pretty big nerd fixation, for better or for worse. I really loved the interviews with Carrie Fisher leading up to Force Awakens, where she really addressed it. When you think about the implications of the outfit, there are some incredibly dark undertones here, and it may be the darkest part of any of the movies. I think enough digital ink has been spilled, but I do like that Disney has effectively ended (for the most part) the figure production using the Slave Leia look. Anything else aside, she’s a hugely under-represented figure, especially in the newer Black Series line, so hopefully it’ll open up more stuff. I need a General Leia figure! And Fewer Boba Fett figures… all he did in Jedi was suck and die.
The interlude before we get into Ewok Fun Land consists of Yoda pulling an Obi-Wan, sans Lightsaber wound, revealing the true awkwardness of that kiss in ESB and confirming the big reveal as well. Of course, it gets weirder when Leia says she’s always known as well (but doesn’t acknowledge the fact that they’d also share a father), but that’s for later. The other, the Emperor’s Arrival at the Death Star, is still my long-standing dream display, and someday, when they make Battle Packs again, I’m going to blow my yearly LEGO budget to make it happen.
Of course, Jedi is mostly about the new Death Star and Endor, and the plan that is bold but seemed doomed to failure early on. The Emperor obviously knew they were going there… that was the whole point of him showing up as bait, but hey, it works. We also get the awesome and rediculous speederbike scene. I mean, who didn’t want one of those when you were a kid? I know I did. You know what else I know? Every single one of us would have died within seconds of turning it on.
I also get why some people don’t love Jedi, especially once we get to the over-the-top Ewok battle… but mostly because I’m surprised they could have set up that many traps. We’ve seen Stormtroopers be generally ineffective for three movies, we shouldn’t be surprised that they were beaten by rocks. I also don’t get mad about rocks and tree trunks (how did those teddy bears get them up there, anyway)… I save all of my Rage for Chewie’s Tarzan howl.
Plus, no one is going to beat Warwick Davis in a battle, it’s been proven.
Ewoks, by themselves, are actually a pretty neat addition. They’re obviously intelligent, if primitive, and capable of some pretty amazing stuff. They also didn’t win the war by themselves, the Rebels were there to help (and apparently a lot of them could get crammed into the shuttle, even if they couldn’t be bothered to ever show up screen until after the fighting was over).
Of course, the battle on Endor is only a third what’s going on. Luke lets himself be captured by the Imperial Forces, again proving he’s a better Jedi than his father ever was, opting to try and solve the problem without violence first. It’s by far Hamill’s best performance in all of the movies, and the interaction between him and Vader, on Endor specifically, reinforces that Vader is a broken man and his son, while an enemy, represents his only hope of something different.
The Emperor in Jedi is still arrogant and powerful, though it’s far more chess master here, and less throwing pods and laughing about it. While Empire is the best in terms of story, I think that where Jedi is strongest is in the editing of cinematography, especially for the whole Battle of Endor. The duel between Vader and Luke, with some of the best music of all the films, mixed with the space battle above. Something about watching Luke just stand there, watching his friends fight and die, with it seeming so far and insignificant, is just powerful, despite all of the action when we see it in close.
While it happened out of order, we also get to see Luke live up to his potential for a moment. I’ve always felt that he was likely the “chosen one” talked about, and Anakin was simply a part of it. For the barest moment, he gives into anger, which does lead to him beating back Vader (though, unlike Empire, they were equals in this fight). Yet when it’s time to chose, he stands strong. “Never. I’ll never turn to the Dark Side. You have failed, Your Highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me.”
I think this whole thing is why Jedi worked where the prequels failed, despite some shortcomings. It was a story about bravery, sacrifice, and strategy. We saw Luke, untrained and knowing next to nothing about the title he’d taken for himself, be more a Jedi than any of those we saw in the prequels. Yoda said it… “Wars not make one great.” Yet in the prequels, the Jedi were pretty much only warriors. TPM kicked off sending them to negotiate, Anakin joked about “aggressive negotiations,” and for the most part, we only ever saw them talking or in fights.
I’m curious, and in some ways hoping they don’t mess up the story of Luke, in The Force Awakens. While I don’t like the idea that asking for forgiveness at the door of death can wipe away a lifetime of wrongdoing, Luke ultimately wins because of staying with the light. Vader, redeemed as Anakin, finally rises up against his master (which is actually a pretty Sith thing to do), and somehow mysteriously aged 30 extra years in that helmet. Though maybe Obi-Wan should have taught that whole “absorb the force lightning thing” to Luke right after the lesson with the remote.
I still like the Yub Nub! song more than the celebration, but I also like the idea that cutting off the head brought about short change but not lasting peace. The Shattered Empire comic series actually talked about this directly, and how the death of the Emperor set off a chain reaction of reprisal and fighting (including some fun on Naboo, who was obviously pretty excited about their biggest black sheep getting tossed down a power shaft).
For toys, Jedi has gotten a better shake than Empire has, since we’ve gotten several sets from both the Tatooine (including fairly recent remakes of Jabba’s Palace, the Sail Barge, and finally a Rancor Pit) and the Endor part (the Ewok Village is still worth every single penny). We’ve had system scale A-Wings, B-Wings, lots in the UCS line, and even gotten figures for Mon Mothma and General Nadine. Yet there are still some curious omissions, like the continued lack of a UCS A-Wing and never getting a Mon Cal cruiser or Medical Frigate (though yeah, I’ll admit that’d be almost impossible to make as an official LEGO set).
I’m going to be honest, finishing this up less than 24 hours before I’m going to see The Force Awakens. Watching these movies and writing about them, even the prequels, has done more to excite me for the new movie than any of the trailers or teasers can. I was nervous, the prequels were a let down when we saw them, but at the same time, I’m excited. We’re getting new Star Wars for the first time in a decade, and that is awesome. Even if it’s awful (and all the early reviews say it most certainly is not awful)… I think it’s great to have this sort of excitement around Star Wars, and by extension, Star Wars LEGO again.
Like the rest of the OT, even though I’m willing to concede Jedi is the weakest, I’m still going with a five out of five. The impact that the OT had entertainment, Sci-Fi, and let’s be honest… all of us, cannot be understated. This site exists because of Star Wars, not just LEGO. Our namesake was inspired by it. After all, it gives us stuff like this. And the world is better for it.