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...

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Return to the Return

Sigh. Let's get this over with, shall we. I warned you earlier ("I'm Really Really Sorry About This") that this was coming, so we'll just bite the inside of our cheeks and clench our nails into our palms and get through it together.

To begin: The fundamental proposition here is that Return of the Jedi sucks. Except that it isn't a proposition, it's a fact. If you fail to acknowledge this fact--this rock-solid, absolute, mathematically certain fact--then this screed is going to be about as effective as a Mormon lecture in a mosque. Just recognize, as Dave Barry has wisely said, that you are entitled to your opinion and that yours is wrong.

But why does it suck? I know, I know: F--king Ewoks. But let's move beyond this point so obvious that the only people who argue it are those weirdo devil's-advocates who want to claim that the Battle of Endor is "like Vietnam, man--it's like, these little dudes seem so easy to beat, and the Imperials are just these badasses, but then, like the little dudes use their environment to turn things around, and like, the Imperials can't adapt, and like that's what it's about: why we lost in Vietnam. Pass that hackeysack over here, man!" Nevermind the fact that such an argument turns America into a regime of pure evil, and patronizes the Viet Cong into cuddly little teddy bears, there's one fundamental problem with it: It's incredibly stupid. So f--k that. Seriously. Totally. 'Man.'

OK, let's start at the beginning. Return has a fundamental flaw: it's two largely disconnected narratives--instead of the quite linear Star Wars or the elegant parallel plotting of Empire, Return is about first, the rescue of Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt, and second, the final confrontation between Rebellion and Empire, Luke and Vader/Emperor, Light with Dark. Watch the movie again, if you can stand it. After the escape from Jabba's sand barge, there's this collective sense of "Well, that's done--now the real plot can begin!" So first things first: we've got to find some way to get those two plots together. And the answer is simple--indeed, the damn title gives it away: We go in with the understanding that, start to finish, This Is A Movie About Luke Skywalker. Luke, and his painful struggle to achieve Jedi-hood (Jedi-dom? Jedi-ism?). Regardless of the special effects and the cowboy/samurai goings-on--which I like and are cool, but tend to obscure the substance of the film, it's a classic 'coming of age' story--young man with a horrible, overpowering father must learn to become a man without turning into a version of that father. (This, by the way, is why the Star Wars are fundamentally 'guy' films--they're about Fathers and Sons. Even in the wretched pre-quels, the mishmash of Masters and Padawans and the fact that every Padawan ends up rebelling against his Master with equal parts love and hate--jeez, you'd have to go back to Field of Dreams to find a film that 'gets' the Father/Son dynamic that well.) Luke must become a true Jedi--must become what his father could not become--and must experience the temptations that seduced his father--must recognize that this man whom he's hated is, in fact, someone who struggled with the same demons, tried, and failed--that Vader is someone to pity--and to try to redeem. In saving Vader, Luke is attempting to save himself--if he can defeat the dark side in his father, he can defeat the dark side in himself.

So it's about Luke. So that's where we begin. Right after the small intro scene on the new Death Star--which is a creative decision that's quite boring, guaranteeing that much of the climax is going to be exactly like that of the first movie--pragmatic, of course--the Death Star was an effective weapon with a flaw, which can be easily fixed, and sure it makes sense that the Empire would just fix the flaw and move on, but on the other hand, the Death Star's big boosters (Tarkin, primarily) are dead, leaving Vader as the primary big wheel in the Emperor's circle, and he was none too thrilled about the giant metal ball. Tough call--on the whole, I'd say we need a new source of danger--something like the Valley of the Jedi in the Star Wars: Dark Forces games--something that turns the focus of the film from technology to spiritualism. So, say we're at an excavation site where a staggering source of Force-based power is located--something that will grant its wielder the power of the Death Star and then some. (Shades of Raiders of the Lost Ark--no bad thing, that!) Keeps the 'ticking clock' aspect of the first film without sacrificing the creativity we need to keep this from being a simple rehash. (Hey! We could even set it on Endor! How's that for cleaning up this mess?) (OK, OK, 'the moon of Endor,' OK?--get a life, fanboy.) Anyway, this brief intro scene with Vader and the underling in charge of on-site operations is important because it introduces the presence of the Emperor.

Then we're with Luke. On Dagobah. Which, really, is where he would have gone after the end of Empire anyway. And not confronting Yoda about Vader. Keeping it in, mulling it over--and Yoda, being Yoda, knows that he knows. An unspoken ugliness between them. And Luke's training. Training hard--I'm talking 'Rocky before the Big Fight' training. Making his new light saber like a drill sergeant putting together an M-16 blindfolded. He's grown in power. Exponentially. His encounter with Vader and the discovery of his lineage have opened the bottle and let the genie out. We watch him do things that make Yoda's lifting of the X-Wing in Empire look like party tricks. We finally understand why Vader and the Emperor have been so obsessed with the threat Luke represents. And Yoda's concerned, knowing that Luke's about to go out into the world again, stronger than anyone Yoda's seen since Vader and still not incontrol of his emotions. The dark side is very much a presence in him now--he resents the hell out of just about everyone now. And, against Yoda's advice, he leaves to face Jabba. We are worried--it's just possible that the dark side will claim him, just like it did his father.

Meanwhile--well, we have a number of problems with the non-Luke related plan to rescue Han. Mainly because it's quite stupid. How, for instance, did Leia know that, after dragging in Chewbacca, that Jabba wouldn't have just thrown him to the Rancor then and there? How could we be sure that Artoo would be in a position to deliver Luke's light saber? How could they know that Han would be still be in carbonite? How could--you know what? The plan was nonsense. But that's actually OK. We might change a few things--turn it into a real "Mission Impossible" covert-op--have everyone using their skills to get into the palace--only to have Jabba, smarter than all of them put together, catch them red-handed. And all the while, they and we are asking, where's Luke?

(Also, wasn't Tatooine supposed to be an ass-end of nowhere, nothing little piece-of-s--t backwater of the galaxy, where absolutely nothing happened and where nobody lived, which is why Luke was hidden there and why Kenobi hid out there? If so, why must Jabba's palace be there of all places? Criminey--it's supposed to be an insignificant speck--a place that Luke solemnly, portentous declared that he was 'never coming back' to in the first movie--and it's been in four out of the five f--king films! So let's have Jabba's palace someplace different. Just for kicks, OK? Since Jabba wasn't on Tatooine in the first version of the first movie, there's really no narrative need for him to be there now. Let's just set it elsewhere, and give the art department something more fun to work with, m'kay?)

So everyone's asking, Where's Luke? And out of the desert he comes. No more white tunic from Star Wars. No more grey fatigues from Empire. Now he's in black. Cowled. Menacing. Doesn't bother to knock--he just waves his arm and that huge metal door flies up. Gamorreans come by the dozen, and out comes the light saber--a short, brutal battle, and they're in pieces, and he doesn't have so much as a scratch. And he's so calm--not angry, not swash-buckling, just emotionless--stoic--almost indifferent. Luke is starting to scare us. He strides into Jabba's throne-room, and we have the confrontation. And here Luke's arrogance almost costs him--Jabba dumps him into the Rancor pit. But instead of the whole 'throw a dog a bone and drop the gate' silliness, we see a Jedi fight this creature--St. George versus the Dragon. And Luke wins, to the dismay of Jabba & Co. And the fun is just beginning. His cape billowing around him, he levitates up out of the pit, a dark angel out of hell. And then--oh, it's on. The whole throne room goes apes--t. As Leia and Lando and the droids watch, Luke single-handedly takes about a hundred-odd guys on--and my goodness, is the Force ever with him. (One thing we gotta keep from the original--Leia strangling Jabba with his slave chain. It's nicely symbolic, and more to the point, it's a brutal, ugly death--a murder on par with Orson Welles strangling Akim Tamiroff in Touch of Evil--entirely apt for the scummy, hubristic Jabba, and ballsy in its graphic nature.)
Oh, and about Boba Fett. We don't kill him. Why? Well, again, we need to show the degree to which Luke is starting to be scary. They can fight, oh yes--and let's have Boba fight with a bit more wit--have the choreographers read a stack of Punisher comic books for inspiration--have Boba be the only one in the room who doesn't get his ass thoroughly kicked--and then, just as he and Luke are about to go at it to the death--have Boba notice that Jabba is dead. And Boba puts up his weapons, and shrugs. It's over. "What?" Luke wants to know. "I'm not getting paid anymore," Boba explains--gesturing to the corpse. And, ever the professional mercenary, unconcerned with the morality of his employer, leaves--commenting to, say, Lando or Han that he's glad that he doesn't have to hang around with that guy--that's he's essentially a nuke waiting to go off. And the Rebel team can't help but agree--Luke is perfunctorily solicitous to Leia and Han, but it's clear that, this mission accomplished, he's got his mind on bigger things. And so this victory is soured by our increasing conviction that Luke enjoyed what just happened.

And under this cloud, we move to the entrance of Emperor, and the colloquy with Vader, who are both feeling the disturbance in the Force--and in the increasing possibility of Luke's turn to the dark side...

OK, that's enough for now. But see? We remove all the embarassing crap--the stupid plot, with Threepio's unfunny cowardice, the idiocy of the torture droid--um, explain to me how droids can cheerfully submerge in boiling oil, but scream when they're branded?--the moronic slapstick of Han's blindness--the godawful death of Fett--and, as I say, the stupidity of the overall plan. We make sure everyone gets how smart and powerful Jabba is--and then show how, to someone who's strong in the Force, all the smarts and guns and goons don't mean d--k. We show how Luke's playing on a whole different level now--and how things like his friends, and even the Rebellion, are starting to be of less and less importance to him as he faces what could be a very ugly spiritual destiny. We're beginning to turn the movie into a movie about--gasp!--the return of the Jedi--showing how hard it is to become a Jedi, how it's about gaining power and learning the deep commitment to the greater good, and how it asks a man to be a hero, and not just 'a good guy.'

Next time--we fix the second half.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, yes, but wasn't the "Return" of the Jedi referring at least a *little* cleverly to Vader's return to the fold?

Doesn't forgive any of the nonsense, but I guess I never thought of it as "coming of age"--that seemed too sophisticated for the nonsense we were given.

Speaking of nonsense, I hope you don't plan to try to fix the second (first) episodes. They are unredeemably evil.


12:56 PM  
Blogger Yr. Hmbl. & Obdt. said...

No, one can't fix the 'prequels'--a word of etymological ignorance if there ever was one--I mean, sure, a touch-up here or there might elevate them to the level of 'watchable'--but only just possibly. I think the flaw of this new trilogy, by the way, (apart from Lucas deciding to write them himself, rather than letting Kasdan do the job) is the overall thought of 'It'll all make sense once all the films are made.' Well, thanks, George--we'll sure enjoy sitting through two films' worth of baffled frustration while waiting for the pay-off. That, and the fact that Lucas has the most appalling idea of what constitutes 'funny' ever--apparently, s--t, flatulence, and puns like "I'm going to pieces" are just HILARIOUS...God, I weep for all of us.

2:51 PM  

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