Tag Archives: Return of the Jedi

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Spolier-Free Review)

Directed by J.J. Abrams, U.S., 2015

First let’s start out: The Force Awakens is good.  What follows is a  completely spoiler-free review.  Fortunately, in a previous post I already laid the groundwork for such a discussion.  However, if you wish to make a completely independent assessment of The Force Awakens, as I did, you should stop now.

Continue reading Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Spolier-Free Review)

Star Wars (or Relax Already it’s Going to be Fine)

Two weeks to go.

As some of you may be well aware, three of my favorite movies are Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Return of the Jedi (1983).  Two of my least favorite movies are The Phantom Menace (1999) and Attack of the Clones (2002).  Revenge of the Sith (2005) I could take or leave – it’s quite good in some ways and its association with the aforementioned prequels damages its reputation a bit unfairly.

So the Star Wars series, as it stands right now, contains two great movies (Star Wars and Empire), one very good movie (Jedi), one average to above-average movie (Sith) and two bad movies (Menace and Clones).  The issue that’s been on my mind since 2012 – when Mickey Mouse purchased Lucasfilm and announced (finally) a sequel to Jedi, is which of these four category The Force Awakens is going to fall into.    Let’s see:

1. It’s Going to be Bad (Menace/Clones)

The team that’s been assembled to create The Force Awakens means that there’s a low risk of it being as bad as Menace or Clones.  J.J. Abrams is a fine director, in fact he already basically made two Star Wars films already (Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)).  Lawrence Kasdan is a legendary screenwriter.  The original cast, including Harrison Ford, is back, along with a half-dozen highly-regarded young talents, including Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o.  The whole enterprise is being assembled by Kathleen Kennedy, one of the finest Hollywood producers working today.

Additionally, the first two prequels were written, directed, and produced by one guy – George Lucas.  There was no one to tell him no, which means numerous bad ideas made it into the films, especially the first two.  This risk has been mitigated by the level of talent surrounding the film, and Disney’s ability to be patient with it (bumping it’s premiere date out six months for instance).

Chances The Force Awakens will be bad: 5%

2. It’s Going to be Disappointing (Sith)

If all three of the prequels were as good as Revenge of the Sith, this would be a different conversation.  The handful of poorly executed scenes in Sith can be mostly cut entirely or tweaked a little bit.  I suspect the reason why these scenes remained in the film as-is was because of Lucas’ dominance.

There is a better chance that the Force Awakens is disappointing than outright bad.  J.J. Abrams has made a couple of movies that have underwhelmed audiences and/or critics after all.  That being said, I think the talent level involved still buttresses the movie against being disappointing.  For evidence of this, look at the trailers.

Trailers rarely tell the whole story, but if you compare the trailers for The Force Awakens to the trailers for the prequels, you will see the following elements that were missing from the latter.  First, Harrison Ford makes movies good.  Second, the dialogue seems well delivered, out of context sure, but not cheesy.  Finally, watching the prequels felt like watching a cartoon sometimes.  By using real sets, the trailers for The Force Awakens have a more tactile feel to them, which should help the tone of the film enormously.

Chances The Force Awakens will be disappointing: 15%

3. It’s Going to be Very Good, but not Great (Jedi)

With apologies to those who count Return of the Jedi as their favorite movie, I tend to agree with what seems to be the prevailing opinion of movie critics.  It’s a fine adventure film and a good ending to the original Star Wars trilogy, but it’s not quite a classic of its genre.  While I still believe the Ewok fight isn’t as crazy as it first appears, there are few other weaknesses in the film that just don’t give it the same “umph” as the first two.

That being said, by blockbuster sequel standards very good is actually a fine standard to hit.  For example, none of the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels quite make this mark.  It is, however, hit by many well-regarded films like The Dark Knight Rises (2012), The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies (2014), The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), and Abrams’ own Star Trek Into Darkness.

Here’s the problem: it’s really hard to make a great movie.  Even in a genre like the Hollywood blockbuster, where no one expects Academy Award level performances or deep thematic imagery, it’s really hard.  This is especially true when measured up to not only the classics of the genre on their merits, but when considering the emotional weight of nostalgia.  Most likely, The Force Awakens will be as good as Return of the Jedi, or slightly better, just because even with the talent assembled, “great” movies of any genre just don’t come around that often.  That’s part of the reason why they get to be called great.

Chances that the Force Awakens will be very good but not quite great: 55%

4. It’s Going to be Great! (Star Wars/Empire)

As a Star Wars fan, I hope The Force Awakens will fall into this category.  As a student of film history, I don’t think it’s likely.  The issue is that Star Wars and Empire are classics of their genre for very specific reasons that are unlikely to be replicated.

I just watched Star Wars yesterday.  Its technical innovations are often cited for the reason why it’s a great film, and this reputation is well earned.  However, for me the film is a masterpiece of pacing for an action/adventure movie.  It just has its own, unique momentum, which just tramples over its flaws.  Do we notice that some of the dialogue is silly?  Sure.  Do we care? Absolutely not.

The Empire Strikes Back is a classic of the blockbuster genre for very specific reasons as well.  First, you have to remember that it was really the first attempt to make a sequel in the way that we think of sequels now.  Sure there were sequels, but they usually were self-contained stories with the same characters, they weren’t an epic continuation of the first film’s story.  Second, it really is a great movie-movie, not just a great Hollywood blockbuster.  The story, themes, acting, and effects really are top notch.  Finally, it has one of the best endings of any movie – a gut-wrenching combination of plot twist and cliffhanger.

The Force Awakens won’t have intense technical innovations.  It won’t be the first modern sequel either.  Its chance for greatness is to replicate Star Wars’ sense of momentum and have an ending like The Empire Strikes Back.  Can it happen?  I guess we’ll see in two weeks.  For now I’ll be a bit more conservative in my estimate.

Chances The Force Awakens will be Great: 25%

Conclusion

Writing out this exercise made me feel a lot better.  I’m no longer worried that the movie will be bad or even disappointing.  At worst, it will be very good.  At best, it will be great.  Anyway – better get your tickets, I got mine!

(c) 2015 D.G. McCabe

 

 

Return of the Jedi (1983)

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

1983, United States, Director: Richard Marquand

Return of the Jedi may be one of the most hotly debated Star Wars films.  While it is far, far better than any of the prequels, many critics find it to be the weakest of the original trilogy.  Many fans, on the other hand, consider it the best of the original trilogy. So why the hate from critics? One word: Ewoks.

Before the numerous creative and storytelling errors of the Star Wars prequel trilogy came into being, the scene from the original trilogy that most angered Star Wars fans was the scene from Return of the Jedi where the Ewoks appear to defeat “an entire legion” of the Empire’s “best troops.”  At first glance, the scene is far fetched even for a science fiction/fantasy movie.  Little creatures that look like teddy bears defeat armored soldiers wielding energy weapons?  Seriously?  However if one were to take a moment to think about the sequence of events leading up to the Ewok attack and the events of the attack itself, it begins to become more plausible.  Here’s why:

1.  It’s not an “entire legion of my best troops.”

When the rebels first come to the Imperial Base, Han nervously points out that he and Chewie got into more heavily guarded places.  In the series, Han only gets nervous when he knows he’s wrong.  Also, in an earlier scene we see an AT-AT outside of the base.  The Base therefore is clearly heavily guarded.  However, the Ewoks shows the Rebels a back door that they didn’t previously know about and probably weren’t supposed to know about.  The Empire therefore has to scramble to a certain extent to defend that position, having expected a more direct assault.  The stronger troops probably did not have time, therefore, to swing around to the back door of the Base, which is clearly far away from the main structure.  Which leads me to:

2. The Ewoks have the element of surprise

When Han and the Rebels are caught red-handed, we see four AT-ST walkers (far weaker than AT-AT’s) and maybe two dozen troops.  This is by no means an overwhelming force.  Furthermore, the troops guarding the main base probably sat on their hands upon word that the Rebels had been captured.  In other words, the Empire was caught by surprise with a small force with its reinforcements in a state of unreadiness pretty far away.

3.  The Ewoks have the element of confusion

There are easily three or four times as many Ewoks as stormtroopers.  This is evidenced by both their numbers on the screen and how quickly they bring in various heavy weapons to the battle. Added to this, they are well camouflaged and have knowledge of the area.   This creates confusion among the Imperials as to how many Ewoks there are and where they are.

4. The confusion and surprise allows Chewie the opportunity to commandeer an AT-ST

After a few minutes, the Ewoks are clearly losing.  But the surprise and confusion allows Chewie to steal an AT-ST, swinging the battle back to the Rebels.  Some of the Ewoks are also shown having commandeered stormtrooper weapons, which probably help quite a bit as well.

5. The Ewoks are clearly stronger than they look

The Ewoks look cute and cuddly.  However, they are about the size and build of the North American Black Bear.  It is feasible, therefore, that the Ewoks are significantly stronger than the stormtroopers, and as indicated before, there are swarms of them.

In conclusion, the Ewoks have knowledge of the area, superior numbers, physical strength, and an enemy caught by surprise and out of position.  By the time the small force is defeated, the destruction of the back door of the base has caused a chain reaction destroying the entire base and shield generator (the “entire legion” of the Empire’s “best troops” along with it).  Fortunately for the Rebels, the Empire has a habit of leaving tactically critical, supposedly unreachable, areas relatively undefended (see Death Star, First).  While it clearly isn’t the most likely of scenarios, the fact of the matter is that the Ewoks use numerous tactical advantages to make up for their lack of firepower making the scene more plausible than it appears at first glance.

(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe