In Defense of Return of the Jedi

by

star_wars_episode_vi_return_of_the_jedi_poster

False equivalency is a serious danger to reasonable debate. Wait, wait! This isn’t another rant about the U.S. Presidential Election. No, my concern is something more impactful to our democracy, our society, and our culture: ranking the Star Wars films. Like many of you, I’m looking forward to the next Star Wars movie: Rogue One. While this installment is not part of the main series (Episodes I to IX) it is a major film event. And, more importantly, it is a gateway to a silly argument: that Revenge of the Sith (ROTS) is better than Return of the Jedi (ROTJ).

In 2005, there was serious discussion among geeks and civilians alike that ROTS was the “good” prequel and that it was more serious and had better fight scenes than ROTJ. But now, I think the country has sobered up to our national nightmare (prequels, not politics). ROTS benefited from incredibly low expectations following The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. Those awful films also created a new perspective on ROTJ – that it was the beginning of George Lucas’s creative descent, that it offered clues about where things might go wrong, that it was too light and paled in the shadow of The Empire Strikes Back.

To be fair, ROTJ is not as good as Star Wars (I’m not going to call it A New Hope) and Empire. I mostly agree with some of its criticisms: Ewoks were a cuddly marketing gimmick and a letdown if you were hoping for a planet of Wookies. Han Solo was emasculated. The Rancor special effects looked cheesy. Did we really need another Death Star?

But, it is also an enjoyable film. It completes the original trilogy nicely. It has a great ending with a rousing set of battles, such as Rebel fighters vs. the Death Star, and Tie Fighters, Rebels, and Ewoks vs. Stormtroopers, and Luke vs. Darth Vader vs. The Emperor. All of that built to an emotional and satisfying thematic climax. It has a coherent story, great characters, and memorable scenes. All qualities lacking in the prequels. A few of my favorite elements of ROTJ that illustrate my point:

  1. Luke does a back flip off of the springboard to avoid the Sarlacc pit, catches his lightsaber from R2D2, and starts kicking ass to defeat Jabba the Hutt. I remember seeing that for the first time in 1983 and it blowing my mind.
  2. The chase through the Endor forest. Great storytelling and an unexpected adrenaline rush. Not to mention an innovative way to shoot a chase scene in a forest. The Imperial Speeder Bikes shot off so abruptly that they immersed the viewer into the chase and impressed them with just how fast the characters were going.
  3. Ewoks and Chewbacca team up to take over the AT-AT and save the day! Yes, I suggested above that the Ewoks were a marketing gimmick, but once you get over that, you have to like the way they fought back against the Stormtroopers.
  4. Tell me you didn’t cry when the Ewok tried to wake up his friend after they were hit in battle.
  5. The Emperor is fantastic in this movie and he has the best line of the entire Star Wars film series: “Now, you will pay the price for your lack of vision!”

Are there any scenes or lines of dialogue that even come close to that in ROTS? I can’t think of any that come close. I won’t go through the process of breaking down just how terrible that movie is (this guy does it better). My main point is that ROTJ is a good film in an incredible trilogy. ROTS is a bad film in an awful trilogy. Please don’t try to put them on the same level.

 

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