Friday, January 6, 2012

Ewoks and Emperors: Or, Why Return of the Jedi is, in fact, a Good Movie.

My granddad always told me if you’re going to do something, you might as well do it big.

In the same vein, if I’m going to start yet another blog amongst the thousands begun every day, I might as well start it with a bang. And what other way to do so than by focusing on one of the biggest realms of obsession in the entire universe of nerdom: Star Wars.

Every facet of Star Wars--from the movies to the Extended Universe, to the characters, the fashions, the themes, the toys and the number of grey hairs on Yoda's head--has been well-trod by everybody from obsessed fanboys to well-respected movie critics to fledging filmmakers on YouTube. And from observing their behavior and the range of opinion over the years, I have come to following conclusions: tenets, if you will, that have formed the modern Star Wars understanding:
  1. A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back are fantastic.
  2. The prequels suck.
  3. George Lucas is either an understated genius or a greedy, corporate hack fraud, or both.
Fact is, there is very little more to say about the Star Wars universe in a meta-sense of the term; that is, how it is viewed by the fans and by the people who care about it. Of course no one will ever agree on everything, but usually you can get a sense of the zeitgeist of any group of people with enough spying legal observation. And though individual opinions may differ, the general consensus is that the prequels suck and the first two movies are very good. The level of praise may differ and the particulars may not be the same—some might consider The Phantom Menace the epitome of everything that went wrong with the franchise, while others, yours truly, for instance, might consider Attack of the Clones to be the nadir of the whole shebang. Some might find the idea of Han not shooting first ridiculous, while others are perfectly okay with it—but we are talking the general consensus here; and remembering that, I’m fairly confident of the veracity of my statements. There is a pretty standard level of agreement on Star Wars issues when you pull back the lens far enough, and take the opinions of the fandom as a whole.
Except, apparently, on one issue. And that issue is Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (ROTJ).

Without a doubt, it’s the most contested episode of the original trilogy; and equally without a doubt, it has the largest spectrum of opinions about it. The level of hatred of each individual prequel movie might vary from intense loathing to dissatisfied dislike, but for the most part, dislike is a part of it. Likewise, the level of love for A New Hope (ANH) or The Empire Strikes Back (ESB) might vary from intense love to liking it very much, but love is inevitably a part of it, for the majority of fans.

This is not the case for ROTJ.

The movie runs the gamut in the fandom from intense loathing to unabashed love. And it’s not a specific minority either. A small percentage of any group is going to disagree or like something the vast majority may not. A small percentage of people likes or even loves the prequels, and a small percentage might think the prequels are better than the originals; these are valid opinions, and no one has the right to deny them (Note to self: a decent brain scan may be in order, however. Must remember to investigate further. –E) But, these opinions ARE a small majority, compared to the overwhelming majority that basically agrees on which parts of the series are quality.

Again, this is not the case for ROTJ.

Any given fan from any given place has a differing opinion on this film, no matter their opinions on the rest of the movies. Many see it as a fitting end to the series. Many see it as a disappointment. Many see it as a black mark on the franchise, as well as the beginnings of everything that the series became (more on that later). Many see it as a decent movie, some a good movie, some a great movie, some a perfect movie. Many love the first half, but think the second blows. Many love the ending, but think the first half dragged on too long. Many blame it for being the inception of the market-not-art driven formula that George Lucas has long held to since at least the early nineties. And many see it as merely being up and down, with troubling sections weighed out by equally amazing ones. Even the critics reflect this disparity. ROTJ's aggregate score on Rotten Tomatoes is at 79%, by far the lowest of the original trilogy; yet at the same time, 79% is not a exactly a score that you can deem laughable.

So the issue is whether the amazing sections can balance out, or at least negate, the troubling, silly, and pandering ones. And if you couldn’t tell by the title, I believe they do. I believe that Return of the Jedi is a good movie, and a fitting end to this great galactic fairy tale that has captured our imaginations since that first weekend in 1977. 

But I am not unrealistic about the issue. 

Jedi is not a great movie, and it’s certainly not a perfect movie. While the first two in the trilogy could quite possibly claim the distinction of perfection, Jedi, at the very best, achieves the level of good-but-flawed. While Empire and ANH were 10/10’s, Jedi might scratch a 7 on a good day. There are weighty problems with this movie; the key is, none of them are great enough to collapse it. Come close? Undoubtedly. But it's not quite a chloroform job.

So in the interest of fairness and objectivity, we’re going to look at both the good and the bad of ROTJ, with the bad coming first, mainly because it's easier to write and more fun to read. In this way we can see where Episode VI failed as a film, and by doing so, be much more appreciative of the ways that it succeeded.

(Note: I probably should state here that I'm not a film expert, nor really a student of film. I know basic film definitions and concepts, but not really the guy to break down zooms, masters and coverage, boom mikes, negatives or flat angles. But if the sidebar biography should tell you anything, I am a student of art and storytelling, and I am good at complaining about things pretty discerning. Or at least I would like to think that I am. --E) 
So without further ado, here we go:


POSTULATE I: George Lucas’ early-eighties contraction of the sellout virus.

It's sad when a person is infected with the sellouts. Especially when we have glimpsed what the person can do when concerned with more than dollars, cents, and houses in the Caribbean. Undoubtedly where this insidious infestation hits hardest is in the entertainment/artistic realms: in most other mediums—business and the like, selling out for more money is considered a good thing, cause, you know, capitalism and corporations and free markets and 99% and all that jazz.

But in the entertainment industry we have another name for people who create works entirely for profit. Hacks.

See, a sellout only sees things in terms of money. Of dollars and cents. Of pandering to an audience as much as possible, to get as many people to like it as possible, in order to get as many people to go to the movie and buy the tie in comics and novels and toys and video games as possible. Artistic integrity would play no part in a mind infected by the sellouts—those are emotional decisions, and the sellouts are purely rational. This is the only explanation for George Lucas’ slow turn from tortured artist to corporate machine over the past thirty years; and what’s worse? They don't even know it. Or if they do, it's pushed from their mind by the Ferrari they just purchased.

And it is this infection by the sellout that has led not only to the darkest barnacles on the Star Wars dock over the years, but to many of the problems with Jedi, including the following:

POSTULATE II: Parts of Jedi are obviously pandering, economy-driven market advertisements.

If the SW Universe has become weighed down, mayhap even crushed by a 200 pound tumor, then Jedi would count as the first little lesions on what had once been a pearly surface. It doesn’t infect the movie like it does the prequels, but if you look hard enough, the marketing ploys are obviously there; to the supposedly “kid-friendly” Ewoks to the random new types of starfighters—A-wings and B-wings?—to even the plot itself, which more or less recycles the first movie’s major points in order to draw in, or at least not lose, as much of the audience as possible. Now this is not to say the marketing is out of control in Jedi; it takes a long time to become a complete hack after doing so much good work, and the sellout hadn't taken it's toll on Lucas by 1983. But with the benefit of hindsight, and seeing what the franchise has been made into, it is frankly undeniable that it all started here, in this movie.

Now this applies to not only obvious efforts at selling stuff, but also the kiddie, lowest-common denominator jokes; seriously, folks, the jokes in ROTJ are downright disgusting, and are only things that a four year old would think is funny—which is, of course, the whole point. 

For reference, we have both the Sarlacc and that giant toad thing outside Jabba's Palace belching for no reason—heck, that giant toad thing's entire existence is for no reason. We also have the Ewok silliness, a la Wicket hitting himself in the head with his own slingshot. Oh, and here's a good one: Chewbacca and two Ewoks swinging on a vine in order to sneak onto an AT-ST; a decent if silly scene that is made abominable when the Ewoks let out a completely accurate Tarzan impression. And you thought Shia Lebouf swinging on vines in the fourth Indiana Jones movie was stupid. (For the record, I went back and watched Jedi on the original, non-special edition VHS just to see if the Tarzaning wasn't some thing that Lucas added in in the nineties. It isn't.)

And that's just the so called humor. There's the Ewok's riduculous “chub-chub” cutesy language, there's C-3PO being able to make uncannily good sound effects, there's the Empire's complete inability to fight a bunch of teddy bears and become the least threatening battalion of mooks in history...I could go on.
Oh, and speaking of the special edition, we can't talk about stupid, pandering, illogical and hopelessly unfunny jokes without mentioning the “Jedi Rocks” band sequence in Jabba's Palace in the Special Editions, which I consider the worst change made to the original trilogy and the most unfunny thing in the history of intentional jokes. And yes, it's even worse than Han not shooting first.


But of course, nothing epitomizing the beginning of Lucas' shift into unapologetic hackdom more than a bunch of furry little squirrels living in tree houses somewhere in California.

POSTULATE III: The Ewoks fucking suck.

This may just be the most unsurprising statement ever written in a review or critique, but it deserves a once-over again, merely for the affect it has had on the fandom since the movie came out. You can’t talk about this movie without mentioning these rodents, and it’s pointless to even try.

What’s interesting about the Ewoks, however, is the kind of bad they are. That is, they are a product of terrible and misguided execution, but not of a bad idea in and of itself. In my opinion, it is this distinction alone that keeps them from breaking the movie entirely. That’s a pretty heady statement, so allow me to explicate.

You see, there are two levels to putting…well, anything or anything. The idea, and the execution of the idea. The idea is the notion of an incandescent source of illumination that would last for a long time and wouldn’t potentially cause city-destroying fires. The execution of that idea is the light bulb. And what’s fascinating about the whole Ewok situation is that the idea behind it is not a bad one. It’s your basic little, under-equipped guy taking on the big bad bully and winning. It’s your native populace keeping out the far superior invaders. It's Dances With Wolves. It's Pocahontas. Hell, it’s the whole concept of Avatar. The idea is not a new one, and it’s not even a bad one. America has long predicated itself on holding up or supporting the little man—the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses—and though this may or may not be true in real life, the fact is the idea has taken hold in the American consciousness. Big over little. Meek over strong. Rebel over Empire, for that matter. With that in mind, why shouldn’t the Ewoks work? What failed, in this movie, about this idea that has functioned over and over again in novels and cinema?

The answer is the execution of the idea. Basically, the Ewoks are the embodiment of the worst kind of lazy, unfocused thinking that eyes lucrative options instead of narrative logic. Thank the sellouts for that. The Ewoks are meant to appeal to kids and to sell toys (and two terrible TV specials, apparently). But they do not make sense in their own world.

I mean, lets look at the Ewoks’ characteristics. They’re fat. They’re slow. They're not very inquisitive. They’re not technologically advanced—and this in itself ignores the idea that a civilization with a full functioning hand-glider and catapults would contradictorily only have rudimentary spears that might, just might, have carved stone points. They’re really small—Leia has to basically help Wicket, the first Ewok we meet, off a drop of maybe five feet. The problem with the Ewoks is not that they are a primitive race taking on and defeating a big, bad, technological terror like the Empire. The problem is we can’t BUY them doing that.


I’m not the biggest fan of James Cameron’s Avatar, but you have to admit: the guy understands this concept. It’s the same setup: primitive race against technologically superior invaders; but the difference is Cameron basically uses the entire movie to justify why the Na’vi could match up to a rampaging military complex with armor and machine guns. They can commune with animals. They’re fast. They're powerful. They’re fierce. They know the terrain inside and out. They are expert bowsmen. And if that's not enough, one of the first lines in the movie basically says “They are home to a race called the Na'vi. They are very hard to kill.” By the end, even if we roll our eyes at the Na’vi defeating what is basically a fleet of airships, we at least can understand it.

Nothing like this happens in ROTJ. The Ewoks are in no way set up to be a great warrior race, or a great race of any kind, really. They look like they’d have trouble with the native predators on Endor, much less an Empire with ships the size of small countries with orbital bombardment, that has a space station floating above their moon that could annihilate them in half a second. They’re just fuzzy teddy bears. Not threatening. And not believable as a viable fighting force.

What really blows is this is obviously an easy fix. The story/urban legend of Lucas' original plan—that he was going to have the climactic battle on the Wookie home planet, but was so worried about the series not being completed that he made Chewbacca a Wookie and trashed the rest of it—is fairly well known, and that original plan itself would make the ending of Jedi exponentially more awesome. But we didn’t even need Wookies. We just needed a viable threat of a fighting force. Make the Ewoks faster, stronger, more fierce—throw away all that kiddie bullshit and give us an army that doesn’t give a damn how many people they lose as long as the objective is accomplished. Make them ambush predators, with wily configurations of traps and misdirections. Make them avid tree climbers, able to scramble up and hide in Endor’s dense foliage in a wink, or mount surprise archery attacks from a higher vantage. You know what, just make them a bunch of velociraptors. Why can’t I have a bunch of armed velociraptors in my movies, IT'S ALL I WANT GOD DAMMIT!!!!!!

Just look at the Noghri from Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire novels—one of the very few EU book series that aspires to true greatness. A lizard-like fighting force that strikes from the shadows and are interminably patient, waiting for the best opportunity to strike. Bingo. Problem solved, Jedi is no longer endlessly ridiculed for the great Ewok travesty. I mean, they're even hinted to be almost the same size as the Ewoks!

So why didn’t Lucas do this? Well, because kids wouldn’t like a fierce alien warriors. Kids like teddy bears. Kids like pratfalls. Kids couldn’t handle anything dark or violent, right? I mean, that’s just the way kids are, right? They can’t handle anything dark or complex or aggressive at all. I mean, any dark imagery in a movie will just drive the kids away in droves. Right? Right?


FACT IV: This picture is not well suited to a standard three act structure.

FilmCritHulk, a wonderful movie blogger whom everyone interested in the creative arts or entertainment industry should read, posted a scathing attack on the cliché of the three act structure a few months back. It’s a long article, and hard to boil down to its essence, but the gist of it is this: the three act structure is not a great way to build entertainment centered on story (seriously, though, read the damn thing, because I just completely butchered his well-made and complex points). Hulk sites Shakespeare's Macbeth and other sources in advocating a more complex form of story structure, with five acts at the least. 

As it is, I agree with his point, for the most part. I would say the three act structure works well  for things like thirty-minute sitcoms or dramas, and shorter works of fiction. I’m also sure you can dig hard enough and find movies and books that have just three acts and work fine. If you dig hard enough.

ROTJ is not one of these.

In fact, ROTJ effortlessly proves Hulk’s point.

ROTJ is split up into three very. Obvious. Acts. I mean, obvious. As in, there is no doubt where the act breaks are located. Act I is Jabba’s Palace, ending when the Falcon and Luke’s X-Wing leave Tatooine. Act II is Luke’s conversation with Yoda, the Rebel meeting, and the pleasant stroll through Endor. Act III begins with Luke voluntarily giving himself over to Vader, carrying us to the end of the movie. This in itself is not necessarily terrible. But once again, what hurts this movie is how it’s executed.

This movie is two hours and fourteen minutes long, including credits (Note: also, it's the special edition 2004 DVD, though I don't think the running time's much different in the original --E). That is a long time for something to be carried by the three act structure.

As you can see, the middle act has the longest “line” (boy, that sounds really simplistic and stupid). This denotes that it’s going to take up the bulk of the story. The problem is that for many writers, not just Lucas and those working on ROTJ, it’s hard to handle the middle, or the bulk of the story. You have to keep the story going and but keep the audience interested, and it’s supposed to take up a lot of time. So what do you get?

You get over half an hour of our heroes walking around on Endor.

No kidding here, friends: Act I ends at thirty-seven minutes. Act III begins at the 1 hour 22 minute mark. That’s a fifty-one minute gap of “rising action.” We’re already in trouble. But then we hop over to Dagobah, get the rebel attack plan from a squid, and Luke and company set off from the Rebel cruiser. This all takes about fifteen minutes. Which leaves well over half an hour for our stroll around Endor.

And thus does ROTJ fall into one of the many tiger traps of the three act structure: it DRAGS in the middle.

Not slows down; not even gets boring. It drags. Which is worse, much worse. Something boring makes you lose attention. Something dragging makes you not want to watch anymore.

For comparison, let’s look at the act structure of the original Star Wars:

Act I: Star Destroyer bitch slaps Leia’s cruiser. Leia’s captured, escape pod falls towards Tatooine (7 minutes, 29 seconds).
Act II: Droids walk around the desert, meet Luke, Luke meets Ben, refuses the call, returns to see parents burning alive. Ends with Luke agreeing to come with Ben (35 minutes).
Act III: Luke travels with Ben to Mos Eisely. Meet Han, Han agrees to take them to Alderaan. They escape Imperial forces on Tatooine, and the Millennium Falcon jumps into hyperspace (15 minutes).
Act IV: Adventure of the Death Star. Leia's rescued. Trash compactor scene, bridge-leaping scene, Lightsaber fight. The Millennium Falcon blasts off from the Death Star, and Luke laments Kenobi’s death (36 minutes).
Act V: The Falcon fights off four Tie Fighters. The Falcon arrives at Yavin IV. There's a briefing, Luke and Han part ways, the rebel fighters take off (12 minutes).
Act VI: Death Star fight, destruction, and awards ceremony on Yavin IV (15 minutes).

Six acts of varying lengths, not one of the bunch even approaching fifty-one minutes of screen time. And quite frankly, you could make the case that there are even more acts than the ones I've listed. You could also make the case that 35 and 36 minutes are a long time, and I would agree; but in these two acts there is at least propulsion. The story moves forward, and the length is at least justifiable because of the necessary cutaways showing us what's going on with Leia and Vader, et al. But believe it or not, the pace of Act II sort of proves what I'm saying. While not near 51 minutes long, many casual Star Wars fans, or people who have only seen it once or twice, see Act II as the most boring part of the movie, if not all three; and that's with a long act that actually works. A 51 minute act without dynamics? Forget about it.

That's really the final nail in the coffin of ROTJ's structure: it’s static. The second our heroes jump into hyperspace in the captured Imperial Shuttle, we are with them until act three. There is one cutaway to Vader informing the Emperor that Luke and the rebel have landed on Endor—and if you want to count the cuts between Vader/Piett and the shuttle while the Han’s relaying the confirmation code, fine. Even then, we are on Endor for the long hall. Over half an hour, and that’s the only place we stay.

Now this is not to say that all movies need cutaways to keep the audience interested. But, I will propose that the audience needs something else going on. Something else needs to be happening--and different plot threads are a way to do this. Look at Acts II and IV from ANH. Both these acts are filled with cutaways, showing us what's going on with Leia, or Vader and Tarkin, or Ben Kenobi. If you're going to have huge, cumbersome acts, the very least you could do is take us someplace else for a second to let us know what's going on with everyone else.

But there is none of this is Act II of ROTJ. There’s nothing happening save that the rebels are walking around on Endor, failing miserably at maintaining stealth and bumbling into primitive squirrels with crude animal traps that only walking carpets would fall for. There’s no chomp to the story; no drive to it. Even the famous speeder bike chase does little. It doesn’t as much propel the story forward as give the audience a reason to keep watching. You could say it moves the story forward by facilitating Leia's meeting the Ewoks, but what really came of that? Luke and Han didn’t find the Ewoks by finding Leia, nor did Leia lead them to the Ewoks. Han and Luke stumbled into a net and by coincidence were taken to the Ewok tribe where Leia was. Which means that Leia going with the Ewoks served no real purpose. Which means that the speeder bike chase had no real purpose except as a sudden injection of adrenaline to keep the audience from falling asleep (which sucks, because I like that scene).

So basically we’re stuck on Endor with nothing happening, and not even a cutaway to tell us how everything else is going with everybody. I guess Vader’s just chilling on his shuttle, waiting to have an expositional conversation with the Emperor in one of the most unintentionally sexual and creepy scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie.

MR. E: OMGWTFbleugghhhh!

And the rebels, you know, they’re just hanging around that section of space I guess, telling war stories over some cold, tasty blue milk and prepping their space engines for high powered thrusting.

I guess.

The question then becomes, is there any way to fix this issue without fundamentally altering the movie? And by fundamentally altering I mean changing its entire structure. Could you make this movie work with its three acts as is, with only superficial changes: a couple of cutaways, a dropped scene here and there? I don’t know if it would be worth it, but for the three people who stumble upon this blog while you’re searching for saran wrap on the internet, feel free to post your ideas in the comments.

But as annoying as the Ewoks are, and vomit inducing the childish jokes and pandering and as shameless as the marketing has become and as much of a halt the three-act structure makes this movie grind to, all of these flaws pale in comparison to the single worse attribute of Star Wars Episode Six: Return of the Jedi.

POSTULATE V: The Luke-Leia sibling "twist" is both the worst and the worst-handling twist/epiphany in the history of modern cinema.

There are good twists, and bad twists. There are good twists that are turned bad by poor execution, and bad twists that by writing, acting, or direction, are made tolerable. As mentioned above, the ideal way to create is to have a good idea backed up by solid execution. Barring that, many directors and writers have slid by with a bad idea but good execution, or vice versa.

But the one thing you don’t want is a bad idea with bad execution. And that’s exactly what this Luke/Leia twin pairing always was.

Now this was not an immediate reaction on my part. Oh no, it was long years of just accepting the fact of their kinship in my youth; then puzzling over it as I grew up; then rolling my eyes at it, then finally condemning it as the piece of garbage plot point that it is (Note: This occurred around my first year in college. Coincidence? --E).

Fact is, as much as we can trace the beginning’s of the Lucasfilm marketing machine back to Jedi, we can also trace back one of Lucas’ more annoying habits that reached critical mass in the prequel films: his need to tie everything together like a red-yarn conspiracy theorist trying to connect everything to a single point. And while such a paradigm makes sense when you’re trying to figure out the relationship between Pauly Shore and the Colombian drug trade, in a fictional world such as Star Wars, it has no purpose. In a universe as vast and diverse as this one there’s no reason that everything has to be so self-contained. This “other” that Yoda hinted at in ESB could have been anyone, and everyone would have been okay with it. Instead, Lucas makes it Leia—well, okay, that’s fine. So Leia’s force sensitive. Great. It was reasonably hinted in ESB and you can explain the connection Luke and Leia have as one of two force-sensitives in close proximity.

But then he makes them siblings as well. And this is where the problems start.

You see, just as most Star Wars fans are now at least somewhat aware of the Wookies-on-Endor story, most fans are also just as aware the George Lucas didn’t have the famous twist at the end of ESB in the original screenplay. He hired a screenwriter named Leigh Brackett to write the screenplay off of his original outline; Ms. Brackett died before completely revising the piece, but she had managed to include, in the final confrontation between Luke and Vader on Cloud City, a twist whereby Vader tells Luke that Obi-Wan killed Luke’s father. Lucas and newly brought in screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan then made it so that Vader said that he was Luke’s father.

This plot point was unplanned, spur of the moment and pretty much just for shock value, exactly like the Luke/Leia sibling one. So why did this twist work? Well, mainly because George Lucas got lucky; everything that had happened in the films simply seemed to line up for him in the ESB twist. To note:
  1. Vader is a mysterious character we don’t know much about.
  2. It’s in the second movie; the second act of a three part overarching structure, where twist endings are ideal.
  3. It doesn’t conflict with anything that had occurred in the previous movie.
  4. It’s set up that Luke’s really interested in his father and idealizes him even though he never knew him.
  5. The twist has the proper emotional gravitas, really hammering home the point that his is a BIG change in the dynamic of these two characters. The set design, the music, Vader’s tone, and Luke’s horror all work together to not only let the audience buy the twist, but actively support it.
I honestly don't think Geoge Lucas or Kasdan thought long and hard about these reasons before greenlighting the ESB twist. Maybe if they had, then they would have done the same for the ROTJ twist and realized it was an untenable mess. But they apparently did not. So let’s look at why the same sort of twist in ROTJ fails miserably:
  1. By the third movie, we (think) we have a pretty good handle on both Luke and Leia. We know them, and we understand them. Introducing this new dynamic simply messes this all up. But you know what, that could be okay, except:
  2. It’s in the third movie, in the middle half: meaning it’s pretty near to the end of the entire series as a whole. So at the same time we’re supposed to be focusing on the rebellion’s defeat of the Empire, Han and company destroying the shield generator, and Luke trying to redeem his father, we’re also supposed to contend with this out-of-nowhere lambasting bit of information. This makes it lack proper emotional resonance, and it relegates the revelation to a mere side item on the main dish of the movie, something I’m sure Lucas was not intending.
  3. It conflicts with what happened in previous movies. So basically as it turns out Luke’s initial romantic feelings toward Leia in ANH and Leia’s make out session with Luke in ESB were repressed erotic incestuous feelings toward a sibling. Yeah. And for those of you who would say “Oh, but you can’t blame them for that Mr. E! They didn’t know at the time!” I lead you to my next point.
  4. Everything about the twist is handled terribly. Whereas the ESB twist had the great emotions, music, stage design, setup, and, most saliently, good dialogue, the ROTJ twist looks so thrown-in that it’s painful. Luke comes to realize that Leia is his sister for no reason than “his insight serves him well.” Now, certain sections of the fandom will make the excuse that the Force told him Leia was his sister, but if that’s the case, why didn’t the Force tell him that when she was making out with him in the sickbay on Hoth?

But fine, okay, the Force told him with enough hinting from Obi-Wan. I’ll accept that. But that doesn’t excuse the second scene where this twist is handled, outside the Ewoks' little Polynesian tribal huts before Luke goes to confront Vader. This scene is host to one of one of the most cringe-inducing bits of dialogue I’ve ever heard or read in book or film:

Luke: “You're wrong, Leia. You have that power too.In time you'll learn to use it as I have. The Force is strong in my family. My father has it...I have sister has it. Yes, it's you, Leia.”

Leia: “I know. Somehow…I’ve always known.”

What the hell is this?

Even ignoring the fact that this little exchange is the worst in blandness, triteness, and cliché, Leia’s line completely disregards everything that’s happened in the last two movies, bringing me full circle back to point number three. If she “always knew” then why didn’t she, you know, mention it to Luke. Or maybe not kiss him full on the mouth in sickbay? Perhaps a deeply repressed subconscious understanding that she didn’t realize? Well, we kind of need that to be told to us in dialogue in some way, don’t we?

And finally:

  1. Point the fifth: there is no setup for this. No interaction between Luke and Leia that would even hint they are siblings. No explanation about how this separation came to pass—only in ROTJ does Obi-Wan say that they were separated and hidden after birth, but that’s explained WHILE THE TWIST IS OCURRING, so I don’t really think it should count, do you? Fact is, we have no clue nor hint nor explanation for how the sequestering of the two siblings could have occurred…and we don’t get it until Episode III, over twenty years later. The only way we do know is from EU materials and interviews with George Lucas. But in a twist that is a huge, character altering moment for two protagonists, is that really the best method of doing things? Filling in the details in EU books, shows, and in television interviews?

The problem here is we know absolutely nothing about Leia’s past garnered from the films. We know she’s a princess, and a senator, and that her home planet is peaceful and that she’s a leader of the rebellion. But her father, her mother? Never mentioned. Her home? Blown to smithereens. Her friends, hopes, dreams? We don’t know. We don’t know really anything about her and her past.

Now that in itself is not a terrible thing. The same could be said of Han Solo, and Han Solo is the fucking shit. But Han Solo wasn’t involved in a twist where he found out he and Lando were brothers. Leia was.

Again, let’s go back to the ESB twist. Why did it work, despite not being in the original story? Because we understood Luke, and we knew about his family, and how much he wished he knew his father and how much he hated Vader for killing him. Thus when Vader performs his reveal, we grasp how traumatizing it is for Luke to find out the most evil man in the galaxy is this father he’s never known but wants to know.

Here, we don’t know about Leia's past. We don’t know about her life outside the rebellion (I must repeat, not in the movies. There’s plenty of material out there nowadays that could give you everything you need to know about Leia’s trip to Alderaan. But the movies themselves give us nothing). We don’t know her parents names—hell, they aren’t even MENTIONED in the series; but we’re supposed to accept this awkward dialogue about her “real” mother and how she remembers “flashes” of her.

And now that I mention it, which mother is she talking about? She doesn’t know she’s adopted, right? I mean, nothing in the series has indicated she knows she’s adopted. So wouldn’t she consider her “real” mother to be her adopted one, Bail Organa’s wife? And if that’s the case, did Bail Organa’s wife die when Leia was really young? Or did she know she was adopted this whole time? But if she did know then you'd think that’d be something they mentioned at least SOMEWHERE in the series in order to prepare us for this HUGE CHARACTER ALTERING MOMENT.

But they don’t. Why? Because George Lucas had no idea that Luke and Leia were siblings until he was writing this movie. And unlike ESB, there was literally no good way to make it work; it was too late in the series, and the events of the previous movies didn’t luckily line up to make it plausible. But he shoved it in there anyway, because the ESB twist was taken so well and became such a defining moment in the series, that he obviously wanted something similar in ROTJ, no matter how little sense it makes or how it doesn’t line up thematically with anything in the series. It wasn’t a risky move, it wasn’t a shocking twist: it was just a way to get people talking and allow the audience to leave the movie thinking they had seen something SHOCKING!!!!!!! And hopefully tell their friends and get them to the MOVIE!!!!!!! And maybe some people were fooled at first. Heck, even someone as discerning and brilliant as yours truly didn’t understand the true weight that this one failed moment puts on the movie. As much as anything else, this lazy, haphazard, unconsidered marketing ploy slices the leg tendons of the film until it teeters on the brink of collapse.

But it doesn’t.

Not quite.

POSTULATE VI: Despite all the bitching and moaning and all the reasons explicated in this post, I maintain my original assertion: ROTJ is a good movie.

How is this possible, you may ask. How can this be. After all the GREAT, unassailable, doctoral-thesis level reasons you gave why it sucks, how can you possibly still say that Return of the Jedi is a good movie?

Well my dear friends, all things are possible for your purveyor of artistic truth, Mr. E.

So tune in in a few days for Part II of this post, the reasons why ROTJ is, at the end of it all, a good movie, and a worthy finish to such a great series.

Until then,



  1. ROTJ has always been problematic for me, especially since the previous two films are so amazing. And that plot twist is so stupid that it almost kills the film for me. Still, it's hard to write it off entirely because of what it does do right. Great articles!

  2. "If the SW Universe has become weighed down, mayhap even crushed by a 200 pound tumor, then Jedi would count as the first little lesions on what had once been a pearly surface. It doesn’t infect the movie like it does the prequels, but if you look hard enough, the marketing ploys are obviously there; to the supposedly “kid-friendly” Ewoks"

    Why are the kid friendly Ewoks necessarily a pandering commercial thing? Lucas is all over Disney and ****e, what if he just did that because he likes that, or thought it was good for a child audience?

    Not that I approve.

    "to the random new types of starfighters—A-wings and B-wings?—to"
    So having cool designs in a movie is selling out?

    "even the plot itself, which more or less recycles the first movie’s major points in order to draw in, or at least not lose, as much of the audience as possible."
    Your conclusion lacks substance, as previously.

    "Now this is not to say the marketing is out of control in Jedi; it takes a long time to become a complete hack after doing so much good work, and the sellout hadn't taken it's toll on Lucas by 1983. But with the benefit of hindsight, and seeing what the franchise has been made into, it is frankly undeniable that it all started here, in this movie."

    Undeniable? You've not substantiated *anything*.

    "Now this applies to not only obvious efforts at selling stuff,"

    "but also the kiddie, lowest-common denominator jokes; seriously, folks, the jokes in ROTJ are downright disgusting,"
    Oh wait, you're an uptight one, eh?

    "and are only things that a four year old would think is funny—which is, of course, the whole point."
    Uptight and pompous alright.

    "For reference, we have both the Sarlacc and that giant toad thing outside Jabba's Palace belching for no reason—heck, that giant toad thing's entire existence is for no reason."
    Burp jokes aren't the domain of "kiddies" - these ones, particularly the toad, resemble Monty Python a lot.

    "We also have the Ewok silliness, a la Wicket hitting himself in the head with his own slingshot."
    This one's childish - the other is not.

    Anyway, you're a tone deaf, pompous hack plonker and I stopped reading after this :D