Epilogue: From a Certain Point of View

Wicket the Ewok “How we doin'?”

“The same as always.”

“That bad, huh?”

— Han Solo and Luke Skywalker,
Return of the Jedi

I know bad Star Wars movies. Return of the Jedi is a bad Star Wars movie. The Phantom Menace, sir, is no Return of the Jedi.

All throughout this dissertation, I've been pretty hard on Episode VI in relation to Episode I. So I thought it would be worthwhile to offer my insight on what it was that went so wrong with Return of the Jedi. This should serve as an illuminating postscript to my defense of The Phantom Menace, bringing the whole Star Wars saga into proper perspective -- from its beginning to its end.

Not just the Ewoks

As the spiritual forebears to Jar Jar Binks, those cute n' cuddly Ewoks seem to get all the blame for why Return of the Jedi sucks. But it's not just their fault. There are much, much bigger problems with the movie. I'm going to go ahead and get the Ewoks out of the way first, though, since that's what everybody's going to want to hear some bitching about.

Burn me at the stake as a heretic, but I actually think the Ewoks are kinda cool... at first. When we're introduced to the furballs of Endor, they're mean little bastards! They're intending to roast our heroes and eat them for dinner. Admit it, that's pretty funny. The classic scene where Luke gets Threepio to demonstrate his "magic" is one of the few truly great character moments in Return of the Jedi.

As bad guys, the Ewoks are perfectly tolerable. It's only when they turn friendly and helpful that they start to suck. They're just too damn saccharine sweet when they're not sticking a spear in somebody's face. The Ewoks could have redeemed their coolness in the battle of Endor if they'd gone after the stormtroopers with a vicious bloodlust, instead of relying on their "Meet the Flintstones" contraptions. Can you imagine if they had laced the forest with hideous death-traps like Rambo used, impaling stormtroopers on big poisoned spikes and slashing their throats open with hidden tripwires? Man, that would have been awesome! But instead, an armored Imperial garrison gets instantly creamed by teddy bears throwing rocks and twigs. Say what you will about the Gungans, but at least they got their butts realistically kicked in their big battle sequence.

Aside from the suspension of disbelief issues, another story problem with the Ewoks is that we don't see their motivation. As far as we can tell, the Imperial presence on Endor isn't harming the Ewoks in the slightest. Presumably, the Empire would just finish up work on Death Star II and leave in peace, if left alone. We're meant to believe the Ewoks fight the Empire because Luke and the gang are inducted into their tribe, but think how much better the story would be if the Empire was slaughtering or enslaving Ewoks, or planning to use the forest moon for Death Star target practice. The Ewoks ought to be fighting for their own freedom, too.

But enough with the damn Ewoks, already. Let's move on to the more important stuff.

Lobotomies for everybody!

The biggest problem with Return of the Jedi is that the main characters simply are not themselves anymore. Our heroes appear to be wandering around the galaxy in a brainless haze, during this turbulent time when they should instead be more fired-up and passionate than they've ever been before. I guess it's understandable in the case of Carrie Fisher, who was coked out during the whole production, but the rest of the cast has got no excuse.

Han Solo Number one, carbon-freezing apparently killed Han Solo's acerbic, smart-mouthed personality and rendered him as innocuous as a baby Ewok. Han has every right to be pissed off as hell at Lando, who not only handed him over to Boba Fett, but also endangered the lives of Leia, Chewbacca and Luke. He should have beat the crap out of Lando, and refused to accept his help in escaping from Jabba. The two could have made up later on in the movie, but Han shouldn't have forgotten all about how Lando screwed him, and been so chummy with him again right off the bat.

Plus, we never get to see Han flying the Millennium Falcon at all in Return of the Jedi. That's like having a Lone Ranger movie where some other guy rides Silver. Big mistake.

Second, Luke Skywalker has turned into some kind of psycho. He has promoted himself to the level of Jedi Knight without Yoda's say-so, or else just decided to fake everybody out. His plan to rescue Han makes absolutely no sense, and it succeeded only because of more accidental happenstance than even the Force could explain. And Luke has suddenly gone all sweet on dear old Dad, feeling no conflicted emotions at all in his conviction that there is still good in Darth Vader. I just wish we had seen him struggling to arrive at that monumentally important decision, instead of just accepting the flimsy notion that Vader must automatically be good inside since he's Luke's father.

Speaking of the Skywalker clan, just what exactly is the deal with Leia in this movie? In A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, Leia is a hot-tempered, fiercely independent woman who don't take no crap from nobody. Now she's chronically mellow and blissed-out, and nothing much seems to get her riled up anymore, except maybe getting licked by Jabba the Hutt.

Luke and Leia When Luke tells Leia that Vader is his father, she barely seems affected. When she immediately afterwards finds out that Luke is her brother, that doesn't faze her much, either. But Leia is a smart woman, and surely she can put two and two together and realize this means Darth Vader is her father, too. The evil bastard who destroyed her home planet is her daddy. That should be enough to freak anybody out, and the tightly-wound Leia of the first two movies would have exploded upon hearing this. But instead, she just chills out. She doesn't even argue with Luke about whether there's good in Vader. This would have been excellent dramatic material for a conflict between Luke and Leia, and maybe Leia could have ended up being there with Luke at the final battle with Vader and the Emperor, so that she too could find closure with her father. But Lucas chose to left all that great plot potential lying on the table.

An essential element of all the other Star Wars movies is that the heroes are always bickering amongst themselves, getting on each other's nerves and in some cases not even liking each other. Lucas got that part right in The Phantom Menace, as seen in the various arguments and animosities between Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, Padmé and Jar Jar. But for Return of the Jedi, Lucas must have decided that everybody has become best friends by now, and aside from Han's momentary fit of schoolyard jealousy ("Could you tell Luke? Is that who you could tell?"), everybody has to get along nice and happy in the final episode. On the contrary, I think a healthy dose of infighting would only have added some much-needed depth and complexity to our heroes' compassion for one another.

Death Star II: Electric Boogaloo

The other unforgivable crime of Return of the Jedi is the massive amount of recycling and repetition. This movie completely missed out on the strategy that made The Empire Strikes Back so successful: show 'em something they haven't seen before, and plenty of it. Think about all the big surprises Episode V was packed with. A ground battle on a snow planet! A little green Jedi Master! A floating city in the clouds! Han gets carbon-frozen! "I am your father!" Holy crap, nearly all the plot developments of Empire were totally unexpected and unpredictable -- and that's the main reason why the movie was so good.

So then what did we get with the next movie? Let's see, we're going back to Tatooine. Been there, done that. The gang has to rescue Han. Yeah, like we didn't see that coming. The Empire builds another Death Star, and the Rebels have to destroy it by blowing up its main reactor, like last time. We know Luke has to have another lightsaber battle with Vader, which will result in some final resolution between father and son. There are really only three main surprises to be found in Jedi: we finally meet Jabba the Hutt, we visit the forest moon of Endor, and we learn that Leia is the other Skywalker. That's it. The rest of it is simply connect the dots, paint-by-numbers Star Wars, and that's a shame.

One of the primary reasons for all the repetition in the final episode is that Lucas originally wanted to tell the whole story of the classic trilogy in one movie. He envisioned the Death Star attack of A New Hope taking place at the same time as a battle on a Wookiee planet, resulting in the final defeat of the Empire. After realizing his story was too big for one movie, he just used the first part of it, and cut out the Wookiees, except for Chewie. When it came time for Jedi, Lucas couldn't shake his vision of a final Death Star battle ending the whole shebang, so he had the Empire construct Death Star II. And he wanted his planet of primitive furry creatures, but since he had already shown one Wookiee to be a technologically-literate starpilot, he felt he had to create the Ewoks instead. A decision that will live in infamy.

Dissatisfied fans have offered many alternative plot scenarios that might have made Return of the Jedi a better movie. One of the best ideas I've heard is that the Rebel Alliance should have launched a desperate, last-ditch assault directly on Coruscant, hoping to kill the Emperor and disrupt the Imperial capital enough to send the Empire spiraling in disarray. That could have been really good. Of course, there have also been endless calls for using Kashyyyk, the Wookiee planet, regardless of its degree of technological sophistication. The notion of a giant army of Wookiees battling it out with stormtroopers is, needless to say, rather more gratifying than what we were given.

Death Star II There really should not have been another Death Star. It makes sense that the Empire would want to replace their space station that can destroy planets, but just for the sake of minimal variety, the new machine should have been a different shape and configuration, and for Pete's sake, the Emperor has to have at least one engineer with enough imagination to come up with a better name than "Death Star II." Heck, how about "Planet Buster 5000"?

Whatever else this replacement Death Star might have been, it should have been thoroughly impossible to blow this one up by lobbing a proton torpedo into its main reactor. It's downright pathetic that the rebels are able to destroy Version 2.0 the exact same way as before. Our heroes should be forced to find a fresh and interesting way to defeat the Planet Buster 5000. Maybe they could infiltrate it and take over its controls, and use it to blow up Coruscant. Or maybe they sabotage it, so that when it tries to destroy a planet, it self-destructs. Something. Anything.

Here's my ultimate fantasy ending for Return of the Jedi. Luke and Vader have their final lightsaber battle in the Emperor's throne room on Coruscant, where Leia is also present. The Planet Buster 5000, which was built in orbit around Kashyyyk, has arrived at the Imperial capital to deal with the rebel fleet that has launched a surprise attack. Han and Chewie are in the Falcon, fighting in the massive space battle over Coruscant.

After Luke defeats Vader and declares himself a Jedi, the Emperor attacks him, and Leia helps her ailing father to his feet. Turning away from the dark side, Anakin takes his lightsaber and chops Palpatine in half. (No bottomless pits here!) Luke, suddenly feeling the full power of the Force surging through his Skywalker midi-chlorians, reaches his hand up to the sky... and he destroys the Planet Buster 5000, using the Force. Would that have been freakin' cool or what? All things are possible through the Force, after all. Then Anakin has his dying unmasking scene with his kids, and everybody else lives happily ever after. The end.

Leia's slave girl bikini But that's enough fanboy daydreaming. Star Wars isn't my story to tell, it's George Lucas's, and he concluded it the way he wanted to. It may not be perfect, but it will have to do. It must be noted that Return of the Jedi is not without its virtues. You gotta love the Emperor's arrival at the Death Star. You gotta love the speeder bike chase. You gotta love the intense father-son conversation on Endor after Luke surrenders himself to the Empire. You gotta love the final battle in the Emperor's throne room. You gotta love Leia's slave girl bikini. And I think that as the prequel trilogy unfolds, we'll find a new appreciation for Jedi in the proper context of the complete saga.

The Phantom Menace has already given me a change of heart about one vital element of Jedi: the Emperor. I was always a bit dissatisfied with the Emperor before, because he seemed like a flat and cartoonish bad-guy character. But now that we've seen Senator Palpatine's viciously evil ways that set him on the course to becoming the Emperor, the character seems much richer and more interesting in Jedi. Plus, now that we understand the two-Sith-only nature of the master and apprentice relationship between Palpatine and Vader, their struggle with Luke is more complex than we realized: each of them was scheming to betray the other and take Luke as his new apprentice. Just imagine how many other important plot threads there may be running throughout the classic trilogy that we're currently ignorant of.

And that will conclude my explanation of why I love The Phantom Menace. If you hated Episode I before, I hope you might watch it again and reconsider your assessment. If you liked it, I hope I've given you more reasons to feel that way. Always remember, your focus determines your reality. And we should also be mindful of the future. It's not over yet. I've still got two sequels to this dissertation left to write, in 2002 and 2005.

May the Force be with you.

Why I Love The Phantom MenaceSources and further reading