Star Wars Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi (1983), or A Demigod Among Gods…

26 12 2009

So we arrive at the end of Cinematronica and establish a week of classics, where I pick out of a select set of films some of the best and most wonderful movies imaginable. I come to the Star Wars franchise, a wealth of wonderful sci-fi entertainment, and out of the entire series, I can only pick one to represent in this final week of goodness and awesomeness. Logic would demand that I pick The Empire Strikes Back, for its inventiveness, relative dark tonality, and gratuitous incestuous kissing. I could also have gone for A New Hope, the movie that started it all, for its historical value and innovation. But no, I chose the chump of the original trilogy, the ending. Return of the Jedi is like the solid chocolate square in a Zachary sampler box; it’s still fucking chocolate, but it’s just not as beloved as the rest of the bunch. The other two movies have droves and droves of champions all around the world, people who proudly declare that “Episode (IV or V) changed my LIFE”. Nobody really feels the same way about RotJ. There’s something about it that undeniably is different. The dynamic is different between all the characters after all we’ve gone through with them, the space-battle-to-lightsaber-battle quotient is skewed significantly, and, well, Ewoks. It’s a completely different feel here compared to the rest of the series. But I will defend it with even more vigor than I defended the tepid Episode I, and this time around I think I can surely persuade you to give this movie a second chance!

[I will not be repeating the story of Star Wars to you; please go watch the first 5 movies if you wanna get in on this discussion, COMRADE!]

Okay, so the second trilogy of Star Wars is about Luke Skywalker and his issues with his dad, Darth Vader, while the first trilogy was about Anakin Skywalker and his problems with not wanting to become Darth Vader. So by the time the 6th movie has come to pass, Darth Vader, under the command of the evil Emperor Palpatine, has rebuilt the Death Star, and is overseeing its reconstruction personally so the Empire can terrorize and monopolize the entire galaxy. Well, the Rebellion has a little something to say about that, and they are preparing for an all-out assault on the Death Star once they receive word that Palpatine himself will soon be boarding to oversee the finalization personally as well! But before the Rebellion can do that, Luke and Co. have a whole lot of personal errands they have to do, like jeopardize the entire galaxy’s freedom to save Han Solo, who was in no rush to be saved, since the Carbonite Freeze process apparently works like a metallic Zip-Lock bag, as well as zoom all the way to the Dagobah system to see Yoda and have him train him for an indefinite amount of time (luckily, Yoda has the good sense to deny him training due to his own poor health). Once Luke’s incredibly selfish agenda is put aside, the assault is set to take place. But the Rebellion needs a small group to disable the Death Star’s shields, which are powered at the nearby moon of Endor. Luke is finally rarin’ for some action, and takes off with Han, Leia, and the gang, but even when he arrives for the mission, he decides to gallivant off and get captured on purpose so he can try and talk some sense into his father, so that he might turn from the Dark side of the Force. The Emperor has foreseen ALL of this, though, and is waiting patiently for the Rebellion to fall into his clutches. Can Luke somehow get out of himself long enough to actually do something for the Rebellion, or is the last Jedi too busy finding himself to save the galaxy?

Now, if you think I painted a more cynical picture than I should have for my case, let’s be honest; the entire series is all about the Skywalker family doing what they want, when they want, even if they have honor and duty to think about. If you put it like that, I think you’ll find that this behavior is really not as bad as it is in some of some of the other films.

What this movie does better than any of the others, and why I think it holds a special place in my heart, is its presentation of the two sides of the fight; who is in charge, and what they are fighting for. The Dark Side is always talked about in vagueries and mysterious parables with the other 5 movies. But the Dark Side is there, alive and breathing, in the form of Emperor Palpatine, the real villain of the Star Wars saga, and the mastermind of so much awful shit. He IS the Sith, a terrible old man who breathes lies and treachery, who is willing to sell anyone out and do whatever it takes to keep the one thing he cares about; power. And we finally find true virtue in Luke, a man who is struggling not to repeat the same mistakes as his dandy of a dad, but who is wrestling intently with the same lust for his awesome power that Anakin was years ago. He really does want what’s best for everyone, even if it seems like he’s impulsive and kind of a dick at times. So it becomes a battle for the soul of the last Jedi, in the end, and the final assault against the Sith Lord will not be fought with Star Destroyers and TIE fighters, but with lightsabers and dark persuasion.

And the action sequences are the best, arguably, out of the whole series! That is the real reason most people go to see a Star Wars movie, I think; if you’re looking for space battles, any movie can give you that. I posit that space battles are the worst part of the Star Wars saga, and while unfortunately this movie features plenty of ships flying around and shooting pew-pew lasers at each other ad nauseum, there’s enough stuff going on to keep you entertained in between. If you’re looking for entertaining stuff, how about a no-holds-barred fight on a floating pleasure barge in the desert? How about a battle to death with a 50 foot-tall monster won by beating it to death with a door? How about a super-fast chase through the woods on speeders so fast that you can barely make out the forest background in a blur of green and brown? Or how about teddy bears smashing an AT-ST with two logs smashed on its head simultaneously like a fucking 3 Stooges skit? YOU GOT IT! And let me tell you, this movie has, without a doubt, the best lightsaber battle of the original trilogy. It is the most emotionally-charged, expertly handled battle of them all, and it wouldn’t be until 2005 that they would top it in Episode III between Anakin and Obi-Wan. If you’ve never seen it, watch it above, and revel in its goodness.

The acting is the best it ever was in this trilogy. The players all know their parts by now and can inhabit them with an ease that is really remarkable. Mark Hamill IS Luke, Carrie Fisher IS Leia, Billy Dee Williams IS Lando, and everyone just exists seamlessly in this space opera, not as an actor, but a beloved member of this colorful fantasy world. Harrison Ford is the only person who doesn’t seem to be in it 100%, due to his distaste of Han Solo being revived, therefore somewhat dampening the sacrifice he made in the last movie, and while I can understand people’s frustrations with that, this is more of a Jedi story than the other two, anyway, so he seems to be left out of a lot of the action. All he does is shoot some stuff, declare his love for Leia, and get a little peeved at Luke for taking her attentions away before discovering they are related (OOPS), so it’s really not that much of a loss.

Return of the Jedi is the most emotionally charged movie out of the original trilogy. It has the final choices, when all the shit is really on the line, instead of just whimsical chasing sequences and flirty Leia-Han dialog. It is when Luke comes to terms with his lame-duck of a father, and decides to take the high route and SAVE him instead of wasting him, which is what everyone wants him to do. It also, for the first time, shows Darth Vader’s reckoning with the choices he’s made, and the first time we see him falter in his loyalty to Palpatine. And of course, it’s the first time we’re taken to the lair of the beast, and we get to take a look at the real Dark Side, Palpatine, and not just his lackey, a confused Jedi with a codpiece and a breathing problem. This is the last one, where things really matter, when the choices are made, the lines are drawn, and the fate of the galaxy is decided. And for that, I love it. I think you should go back and give this one a chance. I think you’ll love it too, and if you don’t, you’d have to have a stone heart to not love that last lightsaber fight! I give Return of the Jedi 9 1/2 floating pleasure barges out of 10! A high recommendation!

Tomorrow I examine our existence with Blade Runner! Until then!

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THX 1138 (1971), or Whatever Happened To THX 1137?

25 11 2009

Can you imagine a world without George Lucas? I imagine there are some people who try to envision that scenario every day, but it’s not easy. George Lucas has changed the face of cinema forever, and while it’s debatable whether we’re much better off for it, I think it’s important to acknowledge all that he’s done. American Graffiti, Star Wars, Indiana Jones… okay, that’s pretty much it, but Star Wars is big enough for 10 movies. His influence is undeniable in the annals of the modern day mainstream action or sci-fi film, and he’s world renowned for his innovations in make-up, special effects, and sound design. But long before any of that, Lucas was just a struggling nobody, looking to make a buck off one of the ideas he had in film school. THX 1138 is George Lucas’s debut as a filmmaker, and it showcases what might have been if he had directed more than 6 movies in a 40 year long career. It’s daring, insightful, and, for all it’s faults, it’s entertaining, the real mark of a Lucas film.

It’s, yet again, THE FUTURE!!! Man has screwed himself yet again by creating a society where emotions are strictly controlled and obstructive rules crush originality and individualism. Underground, they work and toil in total seclusion, away from the possibilities and wonder of nature and the beauty of the sun. One of these poor dopes of the future is named THX 1138, and he works in a nuclear production line of some sort, and his life is misery. He does the same thing day in and day out, and his entire life is controlled by the drugs he is indoctrinated into taking and the propaganda that plays on the overhead 24 hours a day. It’s a depressing outlook for him, and it seems he’ll spend the rest of his life in a boring jumpsuit doing the same activity over and over until he dies, until one day his female roommate decides to stop taking her meds. Her entire life changes, and she decides that THX needs to feel this as well, so she starts feeding him placebos to ween him off the emotion-dampening meds. When he finally awakens from his self-imposed coma, he begins to have real zest and desire again. He and his roommate begin talking of escaping the underground to go live away from the oppressive society, as well as their baser desires for one another (i.e. they have dirty 70s sex off-screen). But almost immediately after all this coitus and crazy talk, they’re arrested for their heinous crimes against the state. Thus begins THX’s breaking away from the status quo. After his arrest, he begins a transformation that will see him through the labyrinth of underground tunnels all the way to his escape. He cannot handle the underground society and needs freedom. But what will the government be willing to do to keep him from seeing that freedom he craves?

Robert Duvall IS THX 1138. What a total shift from everything he’s ever done. Take a moment to look at his filmography. Go ahead. No, seriously, go look.

Go.

Hmm…

You back yet? Okay, did you see any other sci-fi films? And those TV shows from the 60s don’t count! This is Duvall as you’ve never seen him before; he’s fit, he’s young, and he’s ready to stop taking his future meds!!! THX is Lucas’s ultimate symbol of artistic expression, and his vision of how the artist should react in modern Hollywood when demands are made of their work. Duvall slyly understands this, and makes the character something that anyone can relate to, by reminding American audiences of their innate desire for freedom. It’s a good move, and it works well in this case.

Lucas, on somewhat of a shoestring budget, crafts a rather terrifying future that we are forced to consider. It’s not overpowering, and it’s not even that original, but Lucas does one thing well despite it all, and that is make the movie look good. The effects have a lot of thought put into them, and they border on the disorienting. Lucas’s dystopia is filled with disembodied voices commanding many things from its inhabitants, so there is a lot of chatter in the air that you’ll have to get used to. The city looks pretty good for ’71, and the sets are depressingly claustrophobic, which I’m sure was the desired effect. My favorite set piece though is the Sanctioned Deity. It’s Hans Memling’s Christ Giving His Blessing, and it’s had a particular resonance with me. Here’s the image:

Christ Giving His Blessing

Christ Giving His Blessing

Kinda freaky, huh? Jesus, Caucasian for some reason, staring at you like he wants to eat you. It weirds me out a little bit, I won’t lie.

So if you want to watch a movie with your family this Thanksgiving with Donald Pleasence as a vengeful techie reciting speeches from Richard Nixon, Robert Duvall as a guy who just wants to roll around in the grass and get laid, and George Lucas with a passion you’ve never seen him with before, THX 1138 is your best bet, you upstanding family man, you. It’s not very long, the message isn’t very crisp, and the final sequence can get a little repetitive, but it’s decent entertainment that has something to say, and there’s never really enough of that nowadays. It makes me want to see more of this guy’s filmography, but unfortunately I think I’ve seen the rest of his films about 5000 times over by now. Oh, well. Check this out if you want something new and technically innovative for its time. I give THX 1138 7 1/2 disarming Jesus portraits out of 10.

Tomorrow’s Thanksgiving! Give me a good recommendation, and I will watch it! Goregirl gave me a fantastic one, but I still need more movies to see before the end of the year!