Will's Coffee House

John Dryden, Dramatist, Critic, Poet Laureate, and my ancestor, frequented a coffee house called Will's almost daily, where he would hold forth on sundry subjects with great wit and aplomb. Same deal here, only without the wit or aplomb.

Location: Large Midwestern City, Midwestern State, United States

I am a stranger in a sane land...

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Return to the Return to the Return

I have a grovelling admission to make: I'm really not sure how exactly to fix the ending of Return. Well, not all of it. We'll see if anything occurs to me when we get there.

When we last left our heroes--Luke was off to Dagobah. Now, a major problem I had with the film as it stands is the, um, stupidity of the decision to have the day Luke gets back be the day Yoda dies. Wow, what a coincidence! And not at all narratively forced! Plus which, we get the god-awful 'partial death-bed confession moment' when, having lived 900+ years, Yoda can't hang on long enough to get out one or two more sentences of clarification. So how about this? We establish in our earlier Dagobah seen that Yoda is dying--more incentive for Luke to stay and train (making his decision to go rescue Han instead a bit more human, more likeable)--and when Luke gets back now, get this: Yoda's already dead. He's too late. Ouch. A moment of guilt and horror. But now we can have Luke confront Yoda's 'spirit' (Kenobi can be there too) about his father and what he now must do.

OK--here's a major change I'm going to make that will please some and infuriate others: Luke and Leia are not long-lost siblings. I'm sorry, that's just always struck me as weird, soap-operaey, decided after-the-fact bulls--t. Not after the kiss 'for luck' in Star Wars. No. This is not a Greek tragedy. No, no, no. Especially because--and this is key--they don't HAVE to be siblings. The only narrative purpose behind their co-sanguinity (oo! big word!) is to get Luke out of the way so Leia can hook up with Han. But as we'll see, that's not a problem. No, no "she's my what?" moments. And if you doubt my wisdom in this, watch the movie. It's a badly written film overall, but pay particular attention to those scenes that address the whole brother-sister thing--they ought to be used in screenwriting classes across the nation as "How NOT To Write" examples. The scene where Luke tells Leia about their true relationship is one of the most painfully, wretchedly scripted moments outside of a Joe Esterhaz movie--brief aside: Best (i.e. Worst) Joe Esterhaz Line Ever--and this includes all of Showgirls, including the conversation about eating dog-food--is in Basic Instinct: "She's got that magna cum laude p--sy done f--ked up your brain!" Wow. One steps back and just marvels at that one. Anyway, back to the Lucas debacle. Another reason I'm cutting the Luke-Leia connection is the ham-fisted, half-hearted way it was dealt with. If you're going to make such a serious decision as this revelation, then you've got to commit to it--and they didn't. Leia needs to be there to confront Vader, for instance. But no. No--it's mainly an excuse for a bad joke: "I love him like a brother because he is my brother!" And for Vader to taunt Luke into flipping out at the end, which we don't need, frankly. One gets the sense that Kasdan did the best he could with this fiat from Lucas, but just couldn't do very much with it--a sign of a poor, poor plot-point. Regardless, this is my decision. You have to make some serious changes to fix this mess, and that's one of 'em.

But Mr. Dryden, I hear you cry, what about Yoda's portentous claim in Empire, in response to Ben's claims that Luke is their last hope: "No--there is another"? What about that? If it's not Leia, who could it be???

Vader, silly. Or rather, Anakin. Yoda, like Luke and unlike Ben, believes that Vader can be redeemed--that he, like Luke, can fulfill his destiny. If Luke's whole agenda in Return is the redemption of his father--if that is indeed possible (as it turns out to be)--then surely Vader is another 'hope'? So that's the thing we need to establish in the confrontation with Yoda's ghost--NOT that Leia's Luke's sister, but that he will need Vader to defeat the Emperor. So now Luke's got a pretty serious task ahead of him--he's got to set aside his own feeling of anger and frustration in order to pull his father back from the Dark Side--oh, and, needless to say, no-one's ever been able to accomplish such a 'spiritual rescue.' Big deal, this.

So now Luke rejoins the rest of the gang--and they're planning their assault on the Endor excavation, which (needless to say) is guarded by most of the Imperial fleet above and a huge number of Imperial troops below. Again, Luke's reunion with his friends is cooler than it should be--he's got a lot on his mind, folks. And before any of them can turn around--he's disappeared, taking his beloved X-Wing and flying straight to Vader's command ship. This will be essentially unchanged from the scene on Endor in the original movie--which, to give it its due, is a genuinely brilliant moment. Here we have this huge civil war about to come to to boiling point, we have hundreds of thousands--maybe millions of men and women engaged in this military conflict that they all believe will decide the fate of the galaxy, and Luke just walks up to Vader without hesitation--and there's this tacit but powerful recognition between these two men that all this military folderal is just so much noise--that it's meaningless in the face of the real conflict between the two sides of the Force--that anything else is trivial in comparison. I love that Vader isn't surprised that Luke came, and that Luke isn't afraid of Vader even slightly--that he speaks to him as an equal. I love that they really 'get' each other for the first time, and that for the first time, Vader's not cocky or smug--that he's being confronted with Good--with the Light--with who he was and who he desperately still wants to be, even if he won't admit this to himself. So, yeah. We'll keep that moment--and Luke and Vader will go towards the surface of Endor, where the Emperor awaits them both.

We can have the same overall plan for the Rebels--an assault on the fleet timed with a ground assault on the (let's say) Jedi Temple below, since we ditched the "Death Star" idea a while back. (I see this huge, HUGE space of elaborate carvings and glowing crystals and what-not--much fun for the tech crew.)

A few minor points--Han is no longer with the ground forces. As an ace pilot, he's needed to lead the fleet assault, along with Lando. Leia is in charge of the ground assault--dammit, let's give this woman her props, shall we? She spends most of these movies being rescued, and she's really as much of a gung-ho, can-do hero as the rest of them. I want to see her in charge down there, giving orders like a pro. This is a woman who stood up to being torture-interrogated by Darth Vader in the first movie, and didn't give away a thing. She ruthlessly garrottes Jabba at the first opportunity. She's got serious brass, and it's time we see it in action.

And yes, WE WILL CHANGE THE F--KING EWOKS BACK INTO THE WOOKIES THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO BE. Again, we don't have to change much in terms of plot--the Rebel ground forces land a safe distance from the excavation--make their way, 'Nam-like, through the brush, and get captured--one by one, invisibly, we don't see by whom--this is SCARY, a la Predator--by the Wookies. The last one to get caught? Chewbacca, of course. In fact, he's not captured--he's greeted, formally, and led to the village, where he sees his friends trussed up like chickens, about to be killed quite gruesomely. It seems that in clearing the excavation site, the Imperials killed hundreds of Wookies, and, well, they're a little pissed off about it, and assume that these humans are more of the same evil a--holes. Chewbacca explains the truth of things, and, Spartacus-like, inspires them to unite with the many other tribes of Wookies in the area and lead an all-out assault on the excavation (the Wookies, being sensible, reasoned that such an attack would simply lead the Imperials to commit planetary genocide, but faced with the prospect of serious payback and the end of the Empire, well, hell, they're all for it.) This will lead to one of the coolest visual moments in the entire trilogy, akin to the Ents coming out of the forest to attack Isengard: the sight of thousands upon thousands UPON THOUSANDS of these giant, angry monsters coming out of the jungle, bowcasters blazing, just mowing down the Imperials in their rage. They don't "trip" or "smash" the Walkers--they climb up the sides of those sum'b--ches with their claws and rip off hatches and get INSIDE and start using them against the Imperials. Remember Han's comment about Wookies tending to rip arms off in frustration? We'll have as much of that as a PG-13 rating will allow. This is the film-goer's revenge for the a--kicking the Rebels got in Empire. Totally, utterly sweet.

And above, we can have pretty much the same battle as before--the Imperials have held back a vast number of their ships and the trap is sprung. Han and Lando are just barely holding things together. And below--

Below--the Emperor is enthroned in the ancient seat of the Jedi Council, poisoning it into an altar to the Dark Side--the place is, let's say, a direct conduit to the Force--the equivalent of, I don't know, Stonehenge, the Holy of Holies, Lourdes--someplace where the Force flows like Niagara Falls. And sitting on top of it is the Emperor--he doesn't need a Death Star now. Here, he IS a Death Star--remember how Vader said that the ability to destroy a planet was insignificant next to the power of the Force? This is what he was talking about. The Emperor can wave a hand--and does--and huge Rebel ships go boom. Luke can feel the power--and when the Emperor offers it to him, my GOD is it tempting. And above--and this REALLY REALLY needs to happen--Lando gets killed. Harrison Ford wanted Han to die, but I'd argue that Lando needs to in order to atone completely for what he did in Empire. That he dies somehow saving Han and a number of other Rebel ships--a suicide run at that big Star Destroyer, maybe? But what pissed me off about that first movie--as posters have noted--is that victory came without cost. All the bad guys died, and all the good guys lived (even Yoda & Co. were still 'alive,' thanks to ghost-power!) The idea that evil--absolute evil--could be beaten without terrible, awful sacrifice was and is offensive. It would be as if we fought WWII (the European Theater) and ONLY the Nazis got killed. Um, no, sorry. Good guys have got to die. Victory in war is always bittersweet. So somebody has to die--I rather like the idea of Lando and Threepio flying together, Threepio finally showing himself to be a hero and not a whiner, giving Lando the exact co-ordinates at which to hit the Star Destroyer, and them going down together. Who wouldn't cry at the sight of Han and Artoo realizing what they've just lost? We need the ending to have a down-beat--and that would do it--Luke isn't the only one who has to grow up here--Han, the 'doesn't-give-a-s--t' scoundrel from the first movie, has to experience this loss in order to become a true hero. (And one worthy of hooking up with Leia, frankly.)

OK--so here's where I start to fall apart. We've solved the problems we laid out in the first film; we fixed the structure by making the film about Luke, we eliminated the moments of stupidity and uncreative repetition, we got rid of the Ewoks. We killed some of the good guys. We made this a film for grown-ups--for the adolescent grown-ups we'd all become when the movie came out. But I'm not, alas, quite sure how to handle the final conflict between Luke, Vader, and the Emperor. So here's what I've got, and bear in mind this is all, well, subjective and speculative and maybe not quite right. Obviously, we need to have Luke play the 'Jedi' card--to become one by controlling his emotions. And I think we need to have Luke be less of a, frankly, loser when next to the Emperor--to have his arguments for the validity of the Light Side be a bit more substantial, persuasive. Because what that final scene is about is putting Vader in the middle--about Luke suddenly turning the tables on his father--saying: "This isn't about whether I'm going to choose the Dark Side--this is about whether you're going choose the Light Side." It's about Luke--and Vader--realizing that all this stuff about "once you go to the Dark, forever will it consume you" is just bulls--t: that just as a Jedi has to choose, day by day, to stay on the right path, so too a Dark Jedi (a Sith, I suppose) can choose, at any time, to come back. (Little bit of the quasi-'Christian' concept of all sins being redeemable through true repentance and faith.) The Force, like all forms of cosmic morality and power, is about Choice and Its Consequences. And so Vader can be saved, can choose to come back--and does. Before our eyes, he becomes Anakin again--ripping off his mask to face the Emperor with his own eyes, perhaps--and he and Luke, their Force powers joined, manage to defeat the Emperor--and I want light-sabers to play a part in that bastard's death. I also like the idea that the Emperor too disappears in death--that as someone who dies in the throes of the Dark Side, he becomes destructive energy--not becoming one with the Force, like a Light Jedi, but being completely EXPELLED from it--ripped into non-being--very explosive, this moment. And of course, Vader-now-Anakin dies in this process. Hell, Luke almost dies, except the Wookies, led by Leia, burst into the Temple right at this moment. The Emperor dead, the Imperial fleet loses its advantage, and scatters. (None of this "and then every single Imperial soldier was killed" nonsense--but with the Emperor gone, the Rebels are now able to seize Coruscant by force, and re-establish the Republic.)

And we can actually keep the cheesy 'victory' montage from the re-issue--we can use to give a poignancy to the funereal moments of our group of surviving heroes. Lando and Threepio are given major tributes, and (again, a good moment from the original we'll keep) Luke says goodbye to his father, alone, Viking-style--though instead of burning him in his old, evil-looking armor--he's dressed his father in a Jedi's robes. We resolve the Luke-Leia-Han trilogy simply: Leia really loves Han, and goes to tell Luke this, but before she can, he tells her he's staying on Endor, alone--he can't be with her, or with anyone--he's got to devote himself to rebuilding the Jedi Order, just as she's got to go back to Coruscant in order to rebuild the Republic. Different lives, different paths. Plus--he smiles--he knows about her and Han. And so we end the film with Leia and Han leaving for Coruscant, Han having to give up his friend with Chewbacca, who has to stay behind as the leader of the Endorian Wookies, and Luke and Artoo facing the massive entrance of the temple, which beckons to us as a sign of, yes, The Return of the Jedi.

Sigh. I think this works. I think this fixes it. Any thoughts?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes. You have a lot of time on your hands.

5:53 PM  
Blogger HonEB said...

Now, I will preface this with the fact that I am only a casual Star Wars fan, so my comment should be taken as such. I like your ending, but it's still too damn happy. I say there's no way Luke and Leia remain close at the end... still too happy. So let's say everything else you suggest stays but Leia, having proven herself as an accomplished leader in battle, goes on to be queen and Luke is now the leader of the Jedi. Leia seeks to join their kingdoms together somehow, and Luke declines. But he not only declines, he makes some dig about a second Empire resulting... you choose the Chinese proverb to fill in. Leia leaves with Han, now a loyal subject... General Solo or whatever, and Luke is left alone to be the religous hermet. And while we're at it, let him send R-2 with Han and Leia to guide them back home. And instead of a friendship, Luke is left to watch over Leia's developing Empire.

But I like sinister endings. Given Leia isn't bad herself, but instead just following the path that got us in trouble to begin with. Luke is left alone, having lost all his family, his love, and his friends. The full weight of power and responsibility. And waiting for the next jedi trainee to show up.

7:40 PM  
Blogger Yr. Hmbl. & Obdt. said...

To Anonymous: Heh. True. But hey, I'm spending it on YOUR amusement, so cut me a LITTLE slack.

To HonEB--Not bad--I still like the idea of Luke having Artoo with him at the end--although Han losing Lando and Artoo losing Threepio would make them a good pair-up, and the sight of Luke alone at the end WOULD have more resonance. My overall inclination is to agree with you--I certainly think that Luke is definitely going the hermit/monk route, and that you've got a good point about him and Leia--she's a politician at heart (a diplomat if you're feeling charitable), he's a priest. Not a lot of common ground there. I like the idea of Luke dedicating the Jedi Order to the goal of ensuring that the New Republic doesn't meet the fate of the Old one--thus setting up the potential for Jedi and Republic to go head-to-head somewhere down the line...Yes, good thoughts all. Now all we need is a time machine and enough chloroform to knock out Lucas and get him to the safe house where we'll--heh heh--PERSUADE him to change his ways...

9:05 PM  
Blogger HonEB said...

I'll bring the chloroform if you provide the time machine.

11:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was an entirely neutral comment. YOU'RE supplying the insulting implication.

11:27 AM  
Blogger Yr. Hmbl. & Obdt. said...

Hmmm. Doesn't the phrase "TOO much" (emphasis mine) contain a certain level of value-judgment?--if I have TOO much time on my hands, that suggests--states, actually--that that amount is excessive, inordinate, inappropriate...Nah, it was a slam, pure and simple. And I'm hurt. Really. Truly. Deeply. Honest.

1:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your argument might be valid if I had not said, and I quote:

"You have A LOT of time on your hands." (Emphasis mine.) "A lot" is a purely neutral statement--while it implies abundance, that abundance might just as easily be satis as nimis. Which means that it's not--necessarily--a slam. And I win.

(Note: for future reference, if you're going to depend on semantics as the basis for your argument, it does oftentimes help to quote correctly.)

1:54 PM  
Blogger Yr. Hmbl. & Obdt. said...

(Hangs head in shame.) Touche, really, on all fronts. Sigh. If I can't be bothered to pay attention to the exact language of others, it doesn't bode well for my professional future, does it? Blame my laziness (flakiness, really) on failing to use due diligence, and my own low self-esteem on the form my misreading took.

5:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, don't take it too hard. I'm only an anonymous commenter, after all--you have no idea WHO has made you look like an idiot. Especially since my personal writing "voice" is so underdeveloped that I'm unrecognizable without a signature.

5:45 PM  

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