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Sunday Classics Matinee: Star Wars Episode VI - Return of the Jedi

by Robb Reel

So we've come to this: the final installment of the Star Wars series.  Housemate Chris had never seen any of the films just a couple of months ago.  Now he will have seen them all.

Sidebar: I recently found someone else -- college-educated, around age 30 -- who has never seen any of them.

The saga concluded... for now [check your local listings].

According to George Lucas himself, the original concept -- and indeed his first script -- for this project was one movie that encompassed the major points of the timeline from the capture of Princess Leia's ship to the celebration on Endor.  He quickly realized that was far too ambitious and pared it all down what became simply Star Wars in 1977.  Once it became the worldwide phenomenon, Lucas set about making the rest of his vision.  There was chatter about making three trilogies, totaling nine films, then that was quashed.  So Return of the Jedi was to be the culmination of this unverse, then it wasn't, then it was, then it wasn't.

Confused?  As a 9-year-old when it hit theaters, so was I.  Still, I couldn't have been more eager for that midnight opening.

Even the title itself got confusing.  Even many casual fans have now heard the story of how the fake production title of Blue Harvest was used to throw off the scent for autograph seekers and price gougers alike.  Many do not seem to remember that, for a time, the movie was titled Revenge of the Jedi.  I distinctly recall this being emblazoned on some of the packaging for action figures.  Surely some collector can post a picture.

At its most basic level, this is the climax of a story about a father and son.  A calmer, more mature Luke Skywalker first saves his friend from grave peril.  He then journeys to complete his training and confirm a horrible truth told to him.  Then he must confront the truth face-to-face.

I think I set all that up without any spoilers.

As with its predecessors, this movie has two distinct halves.  The first gave pop culture two iconic images.  Jabba the Hutt is now seared into our psyche as the epitome of greed, sloth, pride and pretty much all the Deadly Sins.  The other is far more important to boys of a certain age then and men of a certain age now.  I am happily among them.  I was certain from the moment I first saw "Princess Leia and the Gold Bikini" that I definitely liked girls... a LOT.  I still do.

Unfortunately, this movie also gave us the Ewoks.  I call them the "happy, dancing bears" and can't refer to them at all without sharp disdain.  Perhaps those of us old enough to reach to the aforementioned visage of Leia were just too old to appreciate them.  As for the original Lucas vision, the Ewoks were the remnants of his plan to have an uprising of Wookiees [Chewbacca's kind] that we would eventually see in the prequel trilogy.  Personally, I think they were just a cheap marketing ploy, both for the film itself and the accompanying toys.  At least they're better than Jar Jar.

This is the first time [chronologically] we got to see the Emperor in corporeal form.  It was an interesting revelation to me that someone heralded as having so much power appeared so frail.  He had all those red-robed guards -- who never actually did anything -- to protect him, but he controlled the entire galaxy.  In my cut-and-dry world of Then, it was easy to see the Dark Side but I see the seductive shades of grey when I when I watch it in the Now.

It has its holes and its weaknesses [damned happy, dancing bears] but Return of the Jedi provides a fulfilling ending for a modern fairy tale.  The Special Edition of this one probably changed the most, and probably was damaged the most by those changes.  The mysterious appearance of Hayden Christensen at the end of the most recent update is both jarring and unnecessary.  Then again, so is most of  his acting.  I can't help but think that those, such as Chris, who didn't experience it all the way I have just won't ever feel the same magic.

Still, with all the changes and all the years -- and all the stories that may still come, thanks to the Disney acquisition -- the Force will be with us, always.