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Star Wars countdown: Episode VI: “Return of the Jedi”

By Matt Maielli / Staff Writer

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Welcome to the “Star Wars” countdown and may the Force be with you. Each week leading up to the release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” The Pitt News will retroactively review the “Star Wars” movies chronologically. The countdown concludes this week with Episode VI: “Return of the Jedi.”

 

“You speak of the one that will bring balance to the Force?”

Whether you believe Mace Windu was discussing Anakin or Luke Skywalker is a matter of debate, but in “Return of the Jedi,” the prophecy is finally fulfilled. Regardless of the order you prefer, “Jedi” was a fitting, albeit oft problematic, conclusion to the epic original trilogy.

After the grim ending of “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Jedi” opens almost identically to “A New Hope,” minus the rebels. Instead we see an unfinished Death Star, a crawling Star Destroyer and an Imperial shuttle with TIE fighter escorts. With a single shot, George Lucas shows us that the Empire is almost as powerful as it was at the beginning of the trilogy.

Meanwhile Luke Skywalker, Leia and their droids — C-3P0 and R2-D2 — spend the film’s first 30 minutes attempting to save Han Solo from his frozen imprisonment in Jabba’s Palace, which couldn’t have gone much worse. Luke gives C-3PO and R2-D2 to Jabba with an accompanying ultimatum to release Han to him, while Leia, disguised as a helmeted bounty hunter, sells Chewbacca to Jabba. She comes back at night to free Han anyway, but instead, she gets captured. Luke finally arrives, Force-choking and mind-controlling his way to Jabba.

But he also gets captured, leading to his group’s sentenced execution via monster space worm Sarlacc. Set on a series of hovering sail ships, the scene is still fantastic, with the rising and triumphant John Williams score narrating the botched execution chaos.

A quick slave Leia side note: The metaphor of Leia choking the giant turd-slug that made her wear a bikini would probably be better received if she wasn’t the only gal in the galaxy — besides the obscure Mon Mothma.

The film picks up some speed from there, but stops dead once it gets to the fan-controversial Ewok fest on Endor — which even Harrison Ford has deemed “a teddy bear prom.” The realization that Luke and Leia are siblings puts an incestuous spin on the saga that rivals the Vader-as-Luke’s-father twist as the most memorable reveal.

However you feel about the Ewoks, there’s no debate that they are some of the most distinguishable characters of the saga. Unlike Jar Jar Binks, they serve a critical role in the plot. Those forest Build-A-Bears are the only furry reason that all the rebels aren’t dead, joining forces with the rebels to fight off an Empire attack on the planet Endor. Sure, they’re just as silly as the hate magnet Jar Jar with their little squeaks and squirrel-like fur, but give Lucas credit for casting real people in convincing costumes and makeup. Apart from Chewbacca, the Ewoks are some of the most endearingly humanistic creatures in any episode.

C.G.I. has greately enhanced many things in the “Star Wars” universe, but characters are not one of them. As the prequels have shown, it should be restricted almost exclusively to space battles and lightsaber duels.

The movie’s performances culminate in the ultimate fight scene between Luke, Vader and the Emperor. Mark Hamill portrays Luke’s array of turmoil from calm, defensive Jedi to hate-filled attacker. Ian McDiarmid plays the creepy Emperor, as he does in each of the prequels, masterfully embodying evil but sometimes coming off as campier than he probably intended.

As the touted epic conclusion, “Jedi” is also the film that made Lucas more toymaker than filmmaker, giving us a trove of unremarkably obscure characters such as Malakili, EV-9D9, Klaatu, Wooof, 8D8, Ree-Yees, Nien Nunb, Arvel Crynyd and Jorg Sacul.

The saga — at least the original trilogy — lends itslef to repeated viewings, especially now as “Jedi” is upstaged as the concluding installment. “The Force Awakens” and the following new entries will affect “Jedi” more than any of the other episodes as a result.

Much like “Revenge of the Sith,” “Jedi” contains both the good — epic fight scenes and the battle of good and evil inside us and around us — and the bad — toy characters and repetitive plots — of the franchise. But as the last installment in a pre-C.G.I. world, “Jedi” is as good as they come.

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Star Wars countdown: Episode VI: “Return of the Jedi”