Monday, December 19, 2011

The Jedi Problem

I watched Return of the Jedi the other day. Or rather, I had it on in the background while I was working and only got about half way through it. Still, that's pretty much like watching it, especially for someone who's seen it a lot over the years.

I was struck, during this viewing, by just how strange a movie it is. First off, it's really 2 movies. The first part, "Star Wars Episode 5.5: Save Han from Jabba", is more like a short film and is quite entertaining. All the main characters are working together against a common enemy. Everything goes wrong, but somehow they prevail. If it weren't for the whole Galactic Empire, Darth Vader is Luke's father mess to tie up, the trilogy really could have just ended there. Think about it. Pretty much all of the best lines and memorable moments from the film are from that segment. The movie goes down hill from there.

I mean, sure, you could criticize "Save Han from Jabba" for Mark Hamill's egregiously bad acting, but that could be said of the entire trilogy. Otherwise, it's a good ensemble piece. Everyone plays their part in saving the day and the good-guys win.

Then the movie goes a little strange. All the characters get separated form one another robbing us of their enjoyable interaction. Furry midgets are singing every two minutes. Darth Vader is taking orders from a shriveled old man, and Han isn't even piloting the Millennium Falcon. The only thing that works in the "Blow Up the Death Star" portion of Jedi is that Luke still fails miserably and it takes Darth Vader to save the day. Then we find out *he's* a shriveled up old bald guy, and it all goes to hell again.

Then there's the Harrison Ford problem. What problem? He's different. I spent some time trying to pinpoint how, and near as I can tell the difference is that he's Harrison Ford. During Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, Harrison Ford was Han Solo. If you saw him on the street on a warm day in L.A. in May of 1981, you would have pointed and said "hey! That's Han Solo!" After Raiders of the Lost Ark came out in June of 1981, he became Harrison Ford. It didn't seem to really happen retroactively. If you go back and watch Star Wars or Empire, you see Han Solo, but in Jedi he's all Ford. His hair even seems a more Harrison Ford signature light brown than Han Solo black.

(I would argue that this is one of the many reasons why Bladerunner flopped in its original release. Even though it came out in 1982, after Raiders, people still weren't ready to see Han Solo getting the shit kicked out of him by Darryl Hannah. It was too soon. By the 90s, you could go back and watch Bladerunner and see Harrison Ford getting the shit kicked out of him by Darryl Hannah, and it works.)

He just doesn't seem to fit, and his acting isn't very good. In fact, none of the acting in the second half of the film is very good. That is not to say that the acting in any of the original Star Wars films was of Oscar caliber or anything, but they have their moments. None of those moments are in the "Blow Up the Death Star" portion of Jedi.

Then I got to thinking.... The "Blow Up the Death Star" portion of Jedi is just an advertising reel for ILM, just like the prequels. Jedi holds together a little better because it has the first 2.5 movies to fall back on, but taken out of context that last 2/3rds of the movie is pretty crappy.

This calls into question one of the cornerstones of Prequel-Criticism Philosophy: the idea that if only Lucas had just produced the prequels and let other people write and direct them, they would have been good. I no longer think that. Lucas would have screwed them up as the producer just like he screwed up Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. In hindsight, it's hard to believe anyone could watch the "Blow Up the Death Star" portion of Jedi and think the prequels would be any good at all.

1 comment:

  1. All right, since I've so publicly trumpeted my love of Return of the Jedi--especially because of the Ewoks--I can only assume that this post is written directly to me. HOW DARE YOU, SIR?! HOW DARE YOU?!


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