(NOTE: There is a link to discussion II below).
JS: Hell to the yeah. I enjoyed the Battle of Hoth opening over Jabba’s palace, but it was still a great sequence of scenes. And it grounds us (again) in the personal stories of these characters. Yes, this movie is about the final battle with the empire, but we’re never allowed to forget that the story is about the people involved in these events. Right after Jabba, we’re thrust into the ramp-up to the final fight. I love, love, LOVE the shots of the fleets in this movie, including the space battle later. The technology had progressed far enough that we got incredible, kinetic dogfights in space. Pure heaven. I was not so impressed, even now, with the middle of the movie. But by the end, I was back into it.
BTS: Actually I think I prefer this to Hoth BECAUSE of the character stuff. I think this gets us back to the heart of how much these people care about each other and how well they work and are together. The various alien characters and personalities are a lot of fun, even if Boba Fett’s end is wimpy. He’s always been a character whose rep and look are cooler than his actions anyway, at least in the original films. I do agree that the fleet shots are fantastic and stunning. I even liked the celebratory shots at the end of all the planets as well, but we’ll get to that. I agree about the middle. The film has an odd structure, with a feeling like two short acts followed by a long one. It’s not really structured that way but with the three major set pieces being the Jabba Palace rescue, Luke’s return to Dabobah and the final battle, it feels that way very much. The problem is that other than the Leia is your sister reveal and confirmation that Vader’s Luke’s father, not much significant happens on Dagobah. It’s like he went there just because he said he would and just to give Yoda and Ben roles in the film. Beyond that, we already know he has to face Vader and so it has a quieter, bogged down feel to it.
JS: Yeah, poor Boba Fett. I don’t know if Lucas understood the intense love that Fett got from the fans. I’m glad Luke returned to Dagobah because it fuels the rising tension. We know Luke isn’t done with Vader yet, but Yoda has to die so that Luke understands he is the last chance of the Jedi (almost). Watching Returnagain, I couldn’t help but think how I would have changed the story. For instance, once Luke learns that Leia is his sister and has Force-potential, why doesn’t he tell her right away and start training her? Sure, the Alliance is all set for a major offense, but Luke has been told again and again that the real battle is between the two sides of the Force anyway. It might have been better to have him and a Jedi-trained Leia confront Vader and the Emperor together. However, my major beef with this movie is the Ewoks. They just suck. After a gritty Empire, Lucas takes the audience to kiddie-land for the epic conclusion. If Lucas wanted to show an indiginous population helping to fight the empire, then give it a serious treatment. He had, literally, dozens of races/species to choose from. Create a clan of freedom fighters with stolen imperial weapons, have them engaged in a bloody guerilla war with the empire when the rebels arrive on Endor, and then the rebels get caught up in that war while they undergo their mission. Battlestar Gallactica did something like this with the survivors on Caprica (?). No, instead we get Ewoks. Ugh. The speeder bike chases were pretty cool, though. Oh! And having Chewie fall for a “meat trap” was just pathetic. The Wookie can repair and fly a starship, but he falls for that? C’mon.
BTS: Well, the meat trap is silly and so are the Ewoks, so I guess it’s fitting. Perhaps Lucas feared his audience was outgrowing interest and wanted a younger generation, I don’t know. I find the Ewoks a lot less annoying than JarJar was, and they have their moments. The speeder chase is one of my all time favorite sequences. So much so that I created a flying bike chase in both my Davi Rhii books. I do agree that Yoda had to die for the purpose you mentioned but I also felt that was a bit of a dragged out sequence as I said. And I think the opening and the sequence leading to the battle are far more compelling. I think the length of the movie would have suffered from Luke training Leia, but yes, he does that in the books, yet he also is very protective of her as well, so perhaps he’s torn. He also has a very singular focus here on facing his father. It drives every move he makes. Leia has only begun to discover her Force gifts and so taking time to develop that enough to make her an effective Jedi would have rung false or required another movie. Not that I wouldn’t mind another movie, but it kills the trilogy arc for sure. Remember how long it took Luke to reach this level, after all. Would we really buy a 30 minute training sequence as enough to prep Leia for what’s to come? The final Battle of Endor is another favorite sequence of mine. I love all the little action vignettes and the humor of it where all of the characters are well utilized. Despite the distraction and weakness of the Ewoks, the film is very strongly written, which makes me all the more excited to have Kasdan back for Episode VIII coming up.
JS: I just wish Lucas had thought of using Leia as something more than an Ewok ambassador. Luke wouldn’t have had to train her, just entertain the idea. Or have her bring it up when Luke breaks the news to her about their family bond. “Luke, don’t face Vader alone! You say I can use the Force, too. Well, show me how and let me help you.” I give Lucas credit for making Leia more than just a damsel in distress, but the whole subplot of Leia being Ben’s and Yoda’s next, last hope is wasted because nothing comes of it. I think having Luke and Leia wielding lightsabers (in matching black outfits), cutting a path through a legion of stormtroopers together, would have been infinitely preferrable to Leia sitting on a log and feeding an Ewok. And don’t get me started on the Ewoks “saving the day” at the end. If stormtrooper armor can be defeated by arrows and spears, then why even wear it? But the finale space battle was awesome. And I have to admit that I was glad they gave Lando command of the fighter wing. It fit perfectly.
BTS: Well, yeah, the arrows through armor thing was a bit puzzling, as if the laser beams are less powerful or require different deflection. It’s a bit odd. How does the armor matter then? I think the problem was, he needed a way to deal with the Leia-Han storyline which required keeping them together and not Leia gallavanting off with Luke. I got my Bachelor’s in screenwriting and there are times you make short cut choices out of necessity, which is not necessarily aimed at satisfying all coolness and audience but getting the story told in the timeframe allowed. I think there are obvious cases of that here. I do enjoy the endor battle. I think it’s a lot of fun, silliness and stretches aside. And yes, the final space battle and the zipping through the Death Star’s innards is great. I enjoyed Lando getting a nice role as a rebel, too. Given his history with the Falcon, it was fun to see him flying it and being less of a weasle to redeem himself. Billy Dee Williams is extremely charismatic and likeable, in general, so I think it was good to have him get that chance. Also, they can’t make the only black character a bad guy. Why there aren’t more, I don’t know. I suppose Lucas could say “They were all wearing stormtrooper armor,” but seriously, amongst the Imperial crews and rebels, actors of color could have been easily sprinkled throughout easily to even give the appearance of diversity in the human populations, which is a big oversight.
JS: Well, the movies are a little short on minorities, including women. Why no female fighter pilots and commandos? I think a female imperial would have been a nice touch, as well. Chicks can be evil, too! I hope the new movies will include such. However, for all their flaws, these movies are still a joy. Even Return.
BTS: Yes, they fixed all that in the Expanded Universe. To be fair, it may be a product of Hollywood at the times. Even today, strong female roles can be hard to come by in scifi movies. Women had trope roles as damsels, etc. They just didn’t envision them as kickass warriors. Now, at least the Rebels have Mon Mothma here, a female leader. That’s important. But they could have definitely done more. I agree they’re a joy. Let’s talk about great moments. One of the things I loved about the opening sequence and really much of the film is that they did a good job of giving every character a unique part to play. Some were barely developed like Lando and Chewie, but still, each had a role in the rescue events and that was very smartly written. I think the development of Darth Vader’s arc is really well done as well. We see all new sides of him that add real depth.
JS: You took the words out of my mouth, especially in regard to Vader. To take such a truly evil villain and switch him around to be a sympathetic hero is not an easy task. I love how Luke matures in this film and how his story ends, going from naive farmboy to Jedi knight. And the movie ended with so much ripe material for additional storylines (as the copious EU attests). So, great moments. Well, Luke and Leia destroying Jabba’s barge and swinging away on a cable, for one. Luke’s last meaningful discussion with the ghost of Obi-Wan–they are now more like equals than teacher-student, and that realization starts a roller-coaster of emotions for the audience as well as the characters. Luke telling Leia about Vader and their family, then Han wanders in and gets the wrong idea. Classic. The entire Luke-Vader-Emperor situation on the Death Star. And the final space battle. So, pretty much everything except the Ewoks. LOL.
BTS: I really like the scene where C3P0 tells the Ewoks their story with sound effects. I don’t want to negate our mentions of neglecting color and female roles but the bikini…damn…enough said. The torture scene of the robot area is so reminescent of the Jawa ship scene that it’s a nice flashback. I also like the barge sequence battle, the other battles mentioned, and the briefing scene which is fun. This one had more pop out lines, to me, than Empirefor some reason. From Vader’s “Perhaps I can find new ways to motivate them” to some great Han one liners and more. As far as set pieces, I really like the Palace and barge, especially exterior scenes. I like the Emperor’s chamber set. And, of course, the forest with the bike chase.
JS: “It’s a trap!”
BTS: Thinking about what you said about character arcs, one of the things that really came out for me in Return was the nature of the heroes. Luke is the hopeful, unsophosticated, smart but focused/driven kid who still hopes he can change the world and that it’s not as evil as it appears. These days such heroes are hard to find as are such people. Being as I tend towards that line of thinking myself, I’ve always really related to that. Yet Han is the guy I wish I was. Rogue, scoundrel, rough around the edges, street smart, good with the ladies and yet on the edge with morality but often less defined or stretching past lines others like Luke see clearly. Leia is born to lead: smart, educated, powerful, entitled, determined, and strong-willed, with a more girl next door beauty than model quality. Yet the energy of her presence is something no one in the room with her can ignore. It’s an interesting trio and these traits play out in their arcs. Han is cynical and often discouraged or frustrated with a singular focus on surviving the moment, while Luke is optimistic, driven by that hope, and Leia is somewhere between.
JS: Han lives by the seat of his pants, which can be alluring. He’s Huck Finn. (Does that make the Falcon his raft? Is Chewie a version of Jim? Dunno, perhaps too much analysis.) Luke serves as the audience’s entry point into the setting, learning things as he goes along, but he believes in order and justice, things Han suspects aren’t very evident in the universe as he knows it. Leia could have been just a prop, but through her personality and vibrancy she transcends to become a true member of the team. It’s funny how she’s so much more mature than Han and Luke, even in the first movie. She begins the story arc as their goal, but morphs into their guidepost, showing them the way to a place in the community.
BTS: You know, that’s insightful. I hadn’t thought as much about the guiding role she plays. She’s almost a mentor to them on how to be a rebel and be part of the structured resistance in many ways, let alone refined society and leadership roles. It’s easy for her, since Leia grew up with it. It’s new to either of them. It parallels to the Annakin-Obiwan relationship in films 2 and 3 as well, which is interesting. Seeing Han operate independently of Chewie a lot in this film is a nice change, too. Before, except for the Hoth segment and Leia scenes, they’ve been so tied to each other. Here they work as a team but also play separate roles, showing Chewie is not just in Han’s shadow but has an independent path as well. That’s also good, since Chewie never had a very well developed arc, so here we see him growing a little for once.
JS: In Return, Han separates a little from Chewie to cleave closer to Leia. Is Lucas trying to illustrate how a man breaks away from his adolescent friend group when he finds the right woman and forms a new unit/team with her? Fortunately, Chewie takes it well and doesn’t rip off Han’s arms. The droids seemed to play lesser roles in the final film. R2 holds onto Luke’s lightsaber until he needs it to escape Jabba’s clutches. then Threepio plays “god” to the Ewoks and translates. Otherwise, the droids are more in the background, which was fine with me. I like their interaction well enough, but a little can go a long way. Lucas was smart not to distract too much from the main storylines.
BTS: Funny that you mention the droids, as I was just sitting here trying to figure out if they have an arc. R2 always seems the smarter and calmer one, while 3PO is always on edge. They do have a bit of a reduced role here, unlike Empirewhere 3PO played a huge role, but their ongoing mutt and jeff routine is as strong as ever. No one before or since has done droids quite as well. There have been attempts, some less successful than others, but these two are the force to be reckoned with when it comes to droids, the gold and blue-and-white standard, if you will, and no one has topped them, to my mind.
JS: I agree totally. They work because they are so human.
BTS: Going back to the battle scenes, I really like the massiveness of the command Star Destroyer compared to the ones we’re used to. I remember how intimidating it was for the Star Destroyer in A New Hope to dwarf the rebel ship and Tie Fighters but now we see this massive ship of Vader’s dwarfing them, and, to up the ante, the new Death Star dwarfs Vader’s ship which gives us a far greater sense of the massive scale than we got the first time around. It’s part of what makes those battle scenes effective and visually stunning. The entire sequence of the race to the core is really great model work and well paced.
JS: Yes to all of that, and add in the confrontation taking place at the same time between Luke, Vader, and the Emperor (I’m omitting the Ewok ground battle on purpose). It makes for an incredibly compelling finale. Lucas tossed in everything but the kitchen sink, and does a pretty good job of juggling it all.
BTS: Imagine Disney making a character movie with just JarJar, Yoda and the Ewoks. Would you go?
JS: LOL. Not a chance. I’d rather see Stormtrooper Beach Blanket Bingo.
BTS: Stormtroopers in bikinis…hmmm, what an incredible change you’ve discovered LOL. On a serious note, any favorite new characters here? I am definitely an Ackbar fan, and I enjoyed seeing Palpatine fleshed out plus it’s fun to see Jabba again for sure.
JS: Palpatine in the flesh, for sure. The first visual on the imperial royal guards = very cool. Ackbar was okay, but I thougtht Mon Mothma had more presence. Jabba was also a fun character. Return is interesting in that (with the theatrical releases) the series waited so long to give us our first glimpse of the emperor and Jabba, both of whom were mentioned in the first movie. That delay really ramped up the tension, so that by the time we met these villains, we were already dreading them.
BTS: It’s true about the build up. And, in fact, that put a lot of pressure on filmmakers for how to portray them, which is why I think they fire Clive Revill after Empire and brought in Ian McDiarmid. The fuzzy transmission screen time in Empire was one thing, but to be a major villain in Return, they needed to be sure they had the right man. Great gig for an actor who’s now played him in 4 films and various assundry games, etc. With Jabba, the original Jabba was this skinny guy with an alien head. One of the things that got fixed in special release versions. In the original comics, you see Jabba as the old imagining. But since Return, he’s been the giant slug. I’m going to have to check how Alan Dean Foster described him in the novelization of A New Hope but I’ll bet it was quite different. I really think there are lots of storytelling lessons to be learned. Here are a few I’ve picked up on: 1) Heroes you can root for and relate to have value; 2) Character arcs make things much more real and interesting (Vader, for example, becomes much more rounded over time as does Han and even Leia as opposed to Luke’s growth with was strongest in A New Hope but proceeds more slowly in the latter films); 3) Comraderie matters. Not just a hero but his companions matter. The same with villains. It helps define who they are and how we relate to them and it gives us more to care about than just a protagonist and an antagonist; 4) Info dumps handled deftly in little bits can be much more memorable and effective–no long force preaching speeches here, etc. It’s all done in pieces. Some of those are things you learn in studying writing and storytelling but I learned them first in the Star Wars trilogy and rewatching has reminded me how well they were handled. Even by comparison with the prequel trilogy (don’t get me started.) What are some lessons you picked up on?
JS: Oddly, I’m going to disagree about Luke’s development. I think he changed radically between each film. In ANH he was the wide-eyed farmboy. He starts off ESBlooking and acting much older, and matures even more during his training scenes. By the end of ESB he’s on par with Han’s maturity and confidence level, if not more mature. Then in RotJ, he walks on stage with a calmness that is almost spooky, almost to the point where his companions can’t really relate to him anymore. I think it’s a wonderful transformation, and something I strive to deliver in some of my books. I agree the info dumps are handled so well, especially considering that the movies have to tell you almost everything, from setting to technology to mysticism.
BTS: I don’t disagree that he matures. But the level of growth he goes through in ANHis much deeper and further from A to Z than the other films. His arc is the heart of ANH and less so of the other films, however, which has a lot to do with it. In any case, it’s not a criticism of his character development but an observation of it. One of the things it’s interesting to see with all that’s come since are influences. From Battlestar Galactica’s two incarnations to more recent shows like Farscape, I think in space opera, it’s still the big goliath. Cool ships, cool aliens, good v. evil–there are some distinct qualities it forces those who follow to immitate. I’ll say a bit more on that but what are your thoughts?
JS: Isn’t Luke’s arc the heart of each film? Not to be contrary, but in EmpireLuke’s tutelage under Yoda is the main storyline. Han and Leia’s entire subplot is based on Vader’s pursuit of Luke. Now in Return, Luke’s story is sublimated into the general rebellion storyline, but his struggle to free his father from evil is still the core of the movie (and the reason why I’ve always wanted more of Luke in that movie, and less of everything else.) I get that the Emperor wants to crush the Rebel Alliance once and for all, but I get the strong impression that he would trade that victory (temporarily) in exchange for having Luke convert to the dark side, which would be check and mate.
I agree with your point about influence. Star Wars changed the movie industry by combining existing elements–like the hero’s journey, WW2 imagery–with a fast-paced, often campy story that appealed to a wide audience. Even people who hate scifi and couldn’t tell a Klingon from E.T. know what Star Wars is. “Luke, I am your father,” is part of the American fabric.
BTS: Luke has less screen time and actually less dialogue than the Han-Leia sequences as I remember. But I counted that in film school out of curiosity. Whatever the case, his quest for who he is and to confront that is the heart of this trilogy for sure. On part of the American fabric, we agree. Which, as we close this conversation, has me thinking about storytelling lessons again. What makes the story memorable is more than the tech, something Lucas forgot in his prequel trilogy. It’s the humanity and the relatability and our mutual understanding of the needs, wants and desires of the characters. We relate to wanting more than our drab lives as Luke does and to his desire to know where he came from. We relate to Han’s cynicism and rebellion against order and those who impose their rules one everyone. We relate to the quest for love. We relate to their friendship. And we relate to a desire to see good win over evil. Those are key elements to remember for writers, I think.
JS: You said it. The original trilogy is one of the best stories ever told on film. I’d only add another lesson that filmmakers/writers could learn from Star Wars: yes, listen to your originality, but also never forget your audience.
BTS: A lesson perhaps even Lucas himself needs reminding of. Okay, that’s our discussion on Return Of The Jedi. Next week, at my blog, we’re going to discuss what we’d like to see and not see in future Star Warsmovies with the Disney purchase of LucasFilm.
Previous discussions can be found at:
Jon Sprunk grew up in central Pennsylvania, the eldest of four and attended Lock Haven University. He graduated with a B.A. in English in 1992. After his disastrous first novel failed to find a publisher, he sought gainful employment. Finally, after many more rejections and twists and turns of life, he joined Pennwriters and attended their annual conference in 2004. His short fiction has appeared in Cloaked in Shadow: Dark Tales of Elves, Dreams & Visions #34 andCemetery Moon #4. In June 2009, he signed a multi-book contract with Pyr Books by whom his Shadow Trilogy dark fantasy series have been published. He can be found on twitter as @jsprunk70, on Facebook and via his website at http://jonsprunk.com/.
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun for Fairwood Press, headlined by Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, a Ray Gun Revival Best Of Collection for Every Day Publishing and World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, all forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.