Revisiting Star Wars: The Original Trilogy
“The Last Jedi” comes out in a matter of hours. To celebrate, I’ve been re-watching the Star Wars movies.
I watched the prequels and wrote about it here.
No one asked me to do this, by the way.
I just really really love Star Wars.
EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE
I should mention that I’m watching the Blu-Ray version of Star Wars. In other words, it’s been tampered with more than any version I’ve ever seen before. Fun pedantic Star Wars fun fact: there has never been a home release version of Star Wars that matched the original theatrical version. Even in 1977 while Star Wars was in theaters (before it was even called Episode IV: A New Hope), Lucas was already making changes.
But damn, the changes from 1997 and onward are obvious and annoying. I don’t really care that Greedo shoots first… I never really understood the obsession about that scene. But in particular, the addition of this Jabba scene is awful (though somewhat cleaner in the Blu-Ray version).
Here’s the thing: after watching prequels, “A New Hope” does show its age in some spots. I can’t help but imagine what certain characters would look like if the script were developed. All of these dudes would be CGI, I’m quite sure of that. And I think it’s a matter of personal taste whether you prefer the aesthetic of practical sets and characters. On the one hand, I like that everything on screen looks tangible – the world is more immersive when it’s got a bit of that grimy texture that only old re-used costumes, sets, and props can give you.
That’s not to say there aren’t huge technological and visual achievements in this movie; there are. I can’t believe there was anyone alive who was able to bring into existence the style of the world George Lucas was imagining. The fact that Ralph McQuarrie could take a script and conversations about an alien world and turn them into drawings – and then production designers were able to build off those drawings to make real-life things – is astounding.
Imagine trying to describe R2-D2 to someone who has never seen him. Try to think of the words to describe Chewbacca to someone in 1977 – “he’s a tall man, but he’s not human – he’s kind of like a bear or a dog, but he’s mostly pretty nice – oh, and he has a crossbow.” If it weren’t for the way Star Wars has influenced all sci-fi in the last 40 years, this movie would look absolutely ludicrous.
Oh, by the way… Mark Hammil’s acting has gotten SOOOOO much better in the last 40 years. What a whiny little punk Luke is in the beginning.
One question that sticks with me after re-watching… what would have happened if R2-D2 had made it to Obi-Wan without meeting Luke first? Would Obi-Wan still have brought Luke along with him? Could there be a version of this movie where Luke is at the Tosche station picking up power converters when crazy Ben Kenobi tries to convince him to go on a ride with him to Alderaan? Wouldn’t that just be insane?!
EPISODE V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
This is the one that should interest me the most. Consider the following:
- The movies in the Star Wars trilogies are supposed to “rhyme” – so much like “The Force Awakens” shared plot elements with “A New Hope,” it stands to reason that “The Last Jedi” is supposed to be the spiritual offspring of “Empire Strikes Back”
- “Empire” is the golden standard for Star Wars movies. Every OT (original trilogy) purist insists it’s the best Star Wars film. And the Rotten Tomatoes scores agree, if you’re into that kind of thing.
- I was a late convert to appreciating the movie. As a kid, it was my least favorite of the OT. Lately, I’ve liked it more on recent viewings. Going into this, I wasn’t sure if it would hold up to all the hype.
Mostly, it holds up to the hype.
A lot of stuff improves here. For one, I liked seeing Leia Organa step up as a leader – instead of staring at monitors on Yavin 4 as she does in “New Hope,” Leia is rallying troops and giving orders to officers on Hoth. Luke is acting like more than a teenager wondering if there’s more than this provincial life. The Battle of Hoth gives the best depiction of battle for a common solider in Star Wars until “Rogue One.” And “Empire” introduces one of the most important characters in the entire franchise: Yoda.
And yeah, the movie is very re-watchable. I wasn’t as turned off by some of the elements that rubbed by the wrong way as a kid. Back then, I was creeped out by Ugnaughts and Mynocks… I thought Dagobah was gross and depressing… and I was really bummed out that Han’s friend Lando betrayed him and couldn’t get Han out of that situation. “Empire” doesn’t really have an ending – it’s a heaping spoon of mythology and drama to mix into what had otherwise been light action-adventure franchise.
I think this time around, I suspended plenty of disbelief while watching “Empire,” so some of that mythology was a bit easier to swallow. I totally buy Luke’s training over the course of one movie. After all, Han and Leia are flying to Bespin without the hyperdrive. It might’ve taken them weeks to get there – that’s why Vader is waiting for them there. Besides, no one’s saying Luke is suddenly a Jedi Master; he’s just good enough to get away from Darth Vader alive (albeit maimed) – isn’t it possible Vader wasn’t attempting to kill Luke? And I also learned to stop finding too much meaning in Luke’s vision in the cave; it’s enough for me that he confronts Vader, recognizes his fear, and notices that some of the darkness that turned Vader evil may be in himself.
That stuff, I suspend. Some other stuff doesn’t quite make sense. I still don’t get the obsession with Boba Fett. I also don’t get how Han is able to hide on the back side of a Star Destroyer – or how he’s not able to notice Boba Fett tailing him.
I also do have a few minor quips with Leia’s characterization.
As much as I think Leia Organa is the original badass heroine, I think that’s undercut when she screams and runs away from the Mynocks to get help from Han and Chewie. Likewise, she watches Han evade TIE fighters from the cockpit, where maybe the more kickass choice would be to have Leia operate the Falcon’s guns to fight back.
But these are nitpicks. I get why “Empire” is so beloved by Star Wars fans. I even get why it’s dark… I just also appreciate the goofy fun of a movie like “Return of the Jedi.” Which brings me to…
EPISODE VI: RETURN OF THE JEDI
Screw the haters – I love this movie.
Let me begin at the end: here is a cut of JUST the space battle in this movie. It doesn’t have Luke. Or Leia. Or Han. It’s kind of amazing that the pivotal space battle in the final installment of Star Wars has us watching from the perspective of a guy who, one movie earlier, betrayed our heroes.
Makes me realize how quickly a traitorous back-stabber can become the hero of a trilogy (wink wink, this is my prediction for The Last Jedi, Ben Solo!)…
Anyway, here’s the video:
That is a damn satisfying action sequence. Made in 1983. Six years before I was even born. The special effects are smooth and crisp. The goals are clearly defined, and yet the tension as the heroes just barely eke out a win is exhilarating.
And “Return of the Jedi” also has a very Podracing-esque chase scene. If you hated the Podracing in “Phantom Menace,” you’ll probably hate the Endor speeder chase, but I loved it. And shout-out to my mom and dad who got me the speeder toy in the 90’s – that thing was AWESOME.
So, I don’t really get the hate. Is it that Ewoks are stupid? Because, uh… yeah, they are. And so are Jawas, but no one says “New Hope” sucks because of that.
Is it that the Stormtroopers are suddenly powerless to stop the Ewoks on Endor? Because yeah that’s silly – but since the Clone/Stormtrooper/Droid armies have never once been effective at killing a single character you love in any Star Wars movie ever, don’t pretend their ineptitude is suddenly a problem for your enjoyment in “Jedi.”
Is it that the ending is too happy? Go read some George R.R. Martin, you bummer… this is a family movie. Did we not mention the anthropomorphic teddy-bear creatures?
Honestly, this movie holds up SO much better than anyone gives it credit for. The Emperor tells Luke to take up arms – thus embracing the Dark Side of the Force – and Luke DOES IT, you guys! Luke wails on Darth Vader and dismembers him – you have your pound of flesh! And then, when the movie is at its bleakest, DARTH FREAKIN’ VADER decides to save the day. And I actually believe it – you may not see it because there’s a metal helmet covering his face, but I can understand the conflict in Anakin Skywalker as he sees the Emperor manipulating his son.
I don’t read enough Star Wars lore (shocking, I know) to know exactly at what point Vader realized he had a kid – I think there’s a comic book where he finds out after “A New Hope.” I also don’t know the point at which the Emperor realizes that Yoda and Obi-Wan tricked him by hiding Darth Vader’s offspring from him. That would be kind of an amazing scene to watch. But at the end of “Return of the Jedi,” a full 6 movies worth of family drama reach a pretty compelling end.
I want to see why people mock “Return of the Jedi” but I actually like it even more now than I remembered. Maybe it’s because I’m young, but I insist that this is a great damn Star Wars movie.