Strike Me Down with All of Your Hatred
Here we are…the final film before The Force Awakens. I’ve been looking forward to discussing this film for a host of reasons, but before I dig into it, I want to give you my ranking of this film…it’s actually my second favorite. I like it less than Empire, but more than A New Hope. That being said, I recognize its flaws and have a sort of love-hate relationship with it, which sounds counter-intuitive, I know. That’s what makes this film interesting for me and that’s part of the reason why I love it.
This film is the first film where we finally see the cracks in the foundation. This was the film where we should have been able to predict where Star Wars was headed under George Lucas. It’s like the watching your favorite baseball player have his last great year…you want him to retire now, because if he comes back next season you’ll know exactly how and why it’s all going to fall apart. This was the film where we finally saw the signs of Lucas’s shortcomings as a filmmaker.
First and foremost, look at the director: Richard Marquand. Not a bad filmmaker by any means, certainly. But unofficial reports over the years hinted that there was another director: Steven Spielberg. Yeah. Spielberg was going to make a Star Wars film. That sounds like a match made in heaven, right? Well, it never happened because of Lucas’s departure from the Directors Guild of America, which prevented Spielberg from helming the project. Lucas, rebelling against Hollywood’s structure and insisting he have the final say on every decision of the film led to Spielberg being out of the running. Lynch and Cronenberg were also considered, but eventually the film went to Marquand, all because Lucas had a desire to be independent. This is not a slight at Marquand, but ask yourself this…would Spielberg have let Lucas change a Wookie planet to an Ewok planet?
That’s right…Endor was originally going to be what we know now as Kashyyyk. But hey, merchandise, am I right? This was the first time that a character in the film was a byproduct of the merchandise, NOT the other way around. Of course toys were always going to be made, that was clear from day one, but kids wanted toys because they looked cool in the film. The idea for the toy came first and the cutesy kid characters had finally broken the reality of the film.
I’m going to say something controversial here: that’s also what Yoda was. A little green Muppet who had a funny voice? Yeah, that was the first step down the child-pandering path. The difference with Yoda was that he was such a risk, that the screenwriters and the director wrote that into the story, finding a way to illustrate that our understanding of strength was ill-conceived. They turned Yoda’s supposed flaw into a strength, which gave us some of the best mythology in the universe. It fit with the story, and the filmmakers deserve endless praise for the tact used in crafting that character. Ewoks, on the other hand, didn’t have that same attribute. No amount of finesse could cover up the fact that these were cutesy little teddy bears that were in the film strictly so that Lucas could sell cutesy little teddy bears. The Ewoks weren’t universally reviled; they sold toys and that, my friends, is what gave Lucas the misguided confidence that led to Jar Jar Binks.
Unfortunately, the story suffered for a lot of this. Jedi had so many things to do and it took the easy way out time and time again. Another Death Star? Just do what we did the first time. Boba Fett? Yeah, just toss him that pit, too. Another Skywalker? Eh, it’s Leia, why not? They kissed? Oh well, maybe everyone will forget that.
Yeah, that’s true by the way. Don’t be fooled by Lucas’s “I had it all figured out from the start” act…the reality is: there was supposed to be a new character—a sister for Luke that wasn’t the only girl in the movie. But it was just easier to tie that thread up with Leia so we could expand upon the action. Did the film suffer big time for that change? No, I wouldn’t say that, because, well, this is still my second favorite film in the series.
The first half hour, while just a hair too long, is ultimately a rewarding one. Rescuing Han and escaping the clutches of Jabba the Hutt to this day remains one of the most gratifying scenes in cinema history. After refusing again and again to take Han’s money, which he FINALLY has and is ready to pay, Jabba decides to showboat his power and it ultimately leads to his downfall. Also, gold bikini.
The speederbike chase through the trees on Endor is equally as gripping. That chase, while still being a clear exercise in visual effects, is far more exciting than the high-speed chase on Coruscant in Attack of the Clones. So much of the chase plays off the environment, so the blend between matted shots and practical effects works perfectly, as it truly feels tense. There is a sense of danger because the foliage is dense enough to pose a real threat and we see that on screen.
The AT-ST battle and subsequent space battle are both visually stunning, as the special effects are subdued enough that we can actually tell what’s going on. The Battle over Endor works far better than Battle over Coruscant because we can actually make sense of the action. Cameras focus in on two or three ships at a time, rather than filling the frame with as many lasers and explosions as possible. The chase through the core, likewise, is gripping and exciting, and to this day I’m still on the edge of my seat as Lando puts the Millennium Falcon through its toughest challenge yet.
But the real highlight of this film is the final confrontation between Vader and Luke. It is the pinnacle of the franchise and is the most emotionally complex sequence in the series. Everything about this confrontation is perfect and I don’t even know where to begin about how right everything is. Luke attempts to resist the Emperor’s temptations, but ultimately gives in…he grabs his lightsaber and begins to fight Vader. Luke wants to stop fighting, as the Emperor is successfully proving that hate and anger are powerful tools for a Jedi to use, but he doesn’t want to win the battle and kill his father, but losing the battle means death and it…oh God, everything is just so good! The raw emotion, the pure id, everything about this scene, from its visual composition to the sad, upsetting, capitulatory score is just so amazing that I don’t know how to put into words its sheer brilliance. This is the best lightsaber battle, maybe even the best scene, in the entire trilogy and no amount of choreography or CGI can ever recreate this scene’s cinematic beauty. End of rant.
It’s not a perfect film, of course not. And I recognize that…it’s not as good as Empire. The lows of this film are low, as we really start to see the cracks in the foundation of the franchise. But the highs are high, even higher than what had been in preceding films. This is a great movie, my personal favorite in the franchise, and the last film that should have been made before Lucas called it quits. But you never know…we’ll find out real soon if a changing of hands is just what this series needs.
Alex Russo loves Star Wars more than he loves his family. You can read more of his insane ramblings on Twitter.