RETURN OF THE JEDI (Special Edition #2.1?)
Though I’d seen this movie many times before in its earlier incarnations (original release, VHS, Remaster, Special Edition theatrical release), I hadn’t seen this latest version all the way through. I revisited it because I wanted to reevaluate my rankings of TFA and TLJ in relation to RotJ. I still think it’s the weakest of the Original Trilogy, and Lucas’ edits and additions actually downgrade it a bit. They also create new consistency problems in addition to those Tin007 mentions above.
For starters, you can no longer watch the Lucas Star Wars films in the order in which they were released. This is ruined by Hayden Christensen’s version of Anakin Skywalker appearing as a Force ghost. The audience has never seen this guy, Luke has never seen him, and he doesn’t go with the Alec Guinness version of Obi-Wan either. Secondly, if the Force ghost is the young version of the Jedi, why isn’t Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan there? And what happened to old man Anakin that Luke unmasks on the Death Star? Sure, you can figure out it’s him by the process of elimination, but it’s unnecessarily confusing, especially for kids who watch the trilogy without the prequels. Also, Vader now screams “Nooo!” in the climactic scene with the Emperor. It’s the first time he whines in the original trilogy.
Secondly, one of the original Special Edition’s added scenes were the celebrations in previous Star Wars cities–Bespin, Tatooine, and Coruscant (which we hadn’t seen in 1997 but could figure out if you read Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy.) There’s still no Yavin, site of the original battle, but now there’s Naboo added. If you hadn’t seen Eps I-II, you have no idea what place this is. The other additions involve extra alien singers in Jabba’s palace, new explosions for the Death Star, and the new Ewok song at the end (say goodbye to “Nub nub.”) In 1997 these were harmless additions that had us anticipating the prequels. Now they serve as unwanted reminders of them.
There’s an argument to be made that if you watch Star Wars in episodic order, the movies get better and better (some prefer Jedi to Empire.) But one of the reasons The Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars movie is because its special edition has the least amount of changes and edits from the original. Indeed, there isn’t even a deleted scene added. And viewing it in this order robs you of one of the greatest cinematic twists of all time.
Episode VI does bring to a conclusion many of the loose ends and story threads set out before it. That lends a predictability to it that some find satisfying but others boring. Death Star 2.0 is a recycled conclusion from Episode IV: A New Hope. Boba Fett turns out to be a nothing burger, slowly digested over a thousand years. Yoda completes his character arc by training Luke. The Ewok home world is a stand in for the Wookie homeworld of Kashyyk Lucas originally intended to use, but was cost prohibitive at the time. The Ewoks don’t bother me as much as other fans, but it does make RotJ seem much like a kiddie film and merch grab in its second half. The reveal of Luke’s sibling seems anti-climactic compared to the epic reveal in the earlier film, and a rewatch of Empire Strikes Back pretty much foreshadows it at the end when Luke can’t use the Force to contact Ben and instead reaches out to Leia.
The battle scenes are much more impressive. How I wish the 3D release of this wasn’t scrapped (the Tie fighters swarming the Falcon’s cockpit window alone would have been worth the price of admission.) At the end of this film, we still have no idea where the Emperor came from or who he was. Luke’s confrontation with him is philosophical. He can’t let him live because he’s evil, but he can’t kill him because that cements Luke’s journey to the Dark Side. I particularly wanted to revisit this scene in light of Luke’s character arc in The Last Jedi, whether to fight or not. Also, his new lightsaber here is green, whereas the one he lost in Empire (and found in TFA and TLJ) is blue. Was Maz Kanata salvaging in Bespin and that’s how she came to possess the blue one (this lightsaber is seen in a TLJ flashback too if you’ve got sharp eyes.)
One L.A. Times review from 1983 about this concluding chapter pondered why we should be happy that the rebels win. What sort of government do they have? At the time, it seemed a ridiculous question but given how things turned out in The Force Awakens it’s now a valid point. The Empire is clearly evil, but it seems the good guys have governance issues.
Finally, there is the saga’s question about the balance of the Force. At the end of Return of the Jedi, there are no more Sith. No master, no apprentice, the Rule of Two now broken. But there is Luke, one last Jedi. Does balance mean no Sith, or equal numbers of Sith and Jedi? If Leia was supposed to join Luke against the Emperor and Vader, with the latter two now gone, did that pave the way for The Force to give rise to Snoke and Kylo? The original release of Jedi didn’t pose these questions, but now that it is no longer the concluding episode, its impact as a film has been lessened, both by the prequel trilogy that came before it and the sequel trilogy that comes after.