Monday, December 7, 2015

Return of the Jedi, now with 83% more Hayden Christensen!

I've seen Hayden Christensen inserted into the end of Return of the Jedi, so now I've seen everything.

And now I've also seen everything in terms of my six rewatches in my Year of Star Wars, leading up to The Force Awakens next week.

In truth, I was not as bothered by it as I expected to be. I was not even all that bothered by the insertion of "No!!" as Vader throws the Emperor down that shaft at the end. (Oops! Spoiler alert!) Even though in this post I fully expected to be. (And I just now realized I spelled "Anakin" wrong throughout that post. Who knew the name didn't have three N's?)

And in fact my wife -- who has been very critical of any recent changes to the movies, and even thought she didn't want to watch Jedi with me because the Ewoks were too "Jar Jar Binksy" -- actually offered a reasonable defense of it. She argued (as others probably have, but she's certainly never read their arguments) that Anakin returned to how he looked before he'd fallen from grace. And explaining the age discrepancy between the young Anakin and Obi-Wan and Yoda at the age they were when they died, the latter two never fell from grace, so they have nothing to "return" to.

I rejoined with my own unexpected justification of it. When that Anakin ghost used to be Sebastian Shaw -- the actor who plays the unmasked version of Vader at the end of Jedi -- he was dressed just like Obi-Wan, in traditional Jedi robes. But the thing is, Anakin never wore Jedi robes at the age he was when he died. So essentially, they fit him with some post-mortem afterlife Jedi robes that he never actually wore when he was alive. Seems a bit funny when you think about it.

What did bother me were some changes that have been around since the special editions in 1997, which I've already seen once if not twice. And both are in what I've now decided are my favorite portion of the movie, the part set on Tatooine.

One is, of course, the stupid song added to the first Jabba lair scene. Back in the day, Max Rebo's band never had a singer, but as of 1997, it now has two. Two shitty digital characters who look like cartoon characters more than the great practical-effect characters that surround them. This is a pretty typical complaint about the nature of Lucas' additions to the original trilogy, and Return of the Jedi in particular. However, I do have a more specific thing that bothered me about both characters -- their mouths. Adding to the cartoonish quality is that Lucas thought it would be funny (I guess) to focus on these characters' mouths. First it's the female singer, whose mouth is on the end of a long snout-like protrusion. Lucas has her lips come out toward us, almost like you would if you were thinking of having the movie in 3D -- which, to my knowledge, has not actually been done with these movies yet. Then the male singer does a similar thing in terms of jumping out at the camera, but he has just a regular (albeit big) mouth. So instead of protruding, it just opens up unusually wide. It's cartoon humor and it has no place in this scene -- especially since it indicates a kind of "good time" vibe that is not really what we're feeling in that moment.

Then I was also bothered by the mini mouth in the Sarlacc pit. This is not the plant from Little Shop of Horrors. This is the almighty Sarlacc, and the less we know about exactly how its victims are digested in its stomach over a thousand years, the more mysterious.

Still, I loved the Tatooine scenes because they reminded me of how weird the whole Jabba interlude is in the timeline of the Star Wars saga. Most of the rest of everything else is focused on this direct rebellion of the rebel alliance against the empire, but some of the key players in the rebellion have to take time out from that issue to go deal with a bunch of gangsters. Not only that, but they have to develop a plan to beat Jabba the Hutt that is nearly as intricate as any of the previous plans to steal Death Star plans and the like. Of course, the confidence with which Luke is brimming leaves you pretty certain that everyone you care about will make it out alive, but there are definitely some hairy moments. That confidence also gives you your first indication of how much Luke has developed as a Jedi in the three weeks? four weeks? two months? it has been since he fought Vader on Bespin. The only thing we know for sure about how long it's been is that a) they've had time enough to develop their plan, and b) Lando has had time enough to infiltrate Jabba's inner circle. If you're looking for a Star Wars spinoff movie, the story of Lando passing himself off as a disreputable bounty hunter type would be a good one.

The Jabba portion also has one of my single favorite touches in the whole saga: the Rancor keeper shedding a tear (or a whole cascade of tears) over the death of his beloved pet. It's one of the purest examples of the idea that everybody loves somebody, and they totally could have left the whole thing out, except that at that moment, somebody decide to remind everyone that we're all creatures with feelings and that, to anticipate R.E.M., "everybody hurts, sometimes."

I don't have a lot of specific takeaways to report on regarding Endor, but I did like those scenes too. And I decided that the Ewoks do not seem too Jar Jar Binksy for me. In fact, I thought it was kind of a stroke of brilliance that the gruff and macho Han Solo has to contend with a bunch of furry little creatures. His reactions to them are priceless. I also love when the Ewoks start to drive the walker while Chewbacca is still standing out of the cockpit, nearly knocking him off the top of the walker. His near stumble and quick grab to avoid falling make for a very humorous moment.

What I was most interested in, coming into this viewing, was how I would see Return of the Jedi in comparison to Empire Strikes Back, since you remember that my affection for Empire suffered a few hits back in October when I watched a copy of the original movie as it looked when it was released in 1980. Complicating any and all apples to apples comparisons, the Return of the Jedi I watched was, like Star Wars, the BluRay version, which indeed did look great. But if I am going to try to focus only on the stories that are told and the bits of character development, which seems like kind of an impossibility at this point, I did indeed find that I liked Jedi more than Empire as well this time. Jedi's got the Emperor and Jedi's got the terrific Tatooine stuff. It also felt less rushed to me, which was also my takeaway from watching Star Wars again. By comparison, Empire feels very rushed.

So now I've arrived at the last moment in the saga that occurs prior to the first moments we'll see in The Force Awakens next week. And not that I really needed this little six-movie refresher to be ready, but I'm glad I've done it -- it's been fun, even if containing some surprises that have shaken certain parts of my whole foundation for how I thought I viewed these movies. Perhaps that's a good thing. Or perhaps that's just a fluke, and next time I see Empire I'll love it again.

Incidentally, when I borrowed this BluRay pack from the library, it did also come with Empire and I did think of trying to watch it again. But it's the end of the year and I have plenty of 2015 movies to catch up on. Who's got time?

T-minus nine days and 11 hours until I see The Force Awakens.

Like I said, I'm ready.

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