Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Some Thoughts on Return of the Jedi

We recently finished watching the original Star Wars trilogy with the boys, and I was surprised by how much my opinion of Return of the Jedi fell. When I was little, it was my favorite of the three because of the lightsaber duel and space battle at the end. (I always found the Jabba plot line kind of boring.) But now I’m convinced that it’s the weakest of the trilogy, for multiple reasons.

First, rescuing Han takes about half the movie, and this does nothing to advance the plot or develop the characters. I guess the rancor scene shows that Luke can be kind of resourceful under pressure, but his Jedi training is apparently completely worthless here. In comparison to the arena scene in Attack of the Clones, he ends up looking pretty weak. Anakin was able to subdue one of the creatures there with the Force, but here Luke runs around desperately and, in the end, gets kind of lucky.

During the barge fight, I realized that Luke was pretty blatantly ignoring a lot of Yoda’s teachings. Yoda warns him about being reckless and tells him that he’ll know the light side from the dark side when he’s calm and at peace. He specifically says, “A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.” But what does Luke do? Bust out his lightsaber and start slashing. And then he blows up the barge to make sure no one is left alive. I found myself wondering how killing Jabba’s entire entourage was so different from Anakin slaughtering the Sand People. Sure, Jabba and his thugs were criminals and murderers, but the Sand People kidnapped Anakin’s mother and tortured her to death. Yes, I realize that Luke was acting out of a kind of self-defense—though he walked into Jabba’s palace and got caught—but I wonder how big of a difference there really was between them.

And when Luke goes back to Dagobah to complete his training with Yoda, what happens? Nothing. Even though Yoda warned Luke about stopping his training to rush off to rescue his friends, I guess he didn’t really miss anything, because Yoda tells him now that he doesn’t need any more training. The Empire Strikes Back greatly deepened the mythology introduced in A New Hope. Return of the Jedi gives us no new insights into how the Force works or what it means to be a Jedi.

And apparently Yoda had no intention of telling Luke that Darth Vader was his father, because Yoda doesn’t say a thing about it until Luke finally asks himself, and then Yoda hesitates before answering. Then, to make matters worse, Obi-Wan spouts this garbage about his lies about Anakin being “true, from a certain point of view”, before rambling on about how “the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view”. What so-called truth was Obi-Wan clinging to? Rationalizing one of the most epic screw-ups in the history of the galaxy, which was his decision to train Anakin?

Of course, this is really just Lucas waving his hand to smooth over the biggest retcon in the series, but it says a lot about the Jedi, or at least Obi-Wan. Are the Jedi all moral relativisits? Is the truth simply whatever you want it to be? It also brings to mind a line from Obi-Wan in Revenge of the Sith: “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.” Besides being the most ironic sentence ever, it’s simply not true; lots of people deal in absolutes, and the Sith can still deal in relativism, as demonstrated when, after his conversion to the dark side, Anakin says, “From my point of view, the Jedi are evil.”

But I digress. I think Obi-Wan should have owned up to the lie. He needed Luke’s help taking on Darth Vader and the Emperor, and he lied to protect him because he was afraid that Luke would follow the same path as his father. But maybe the weirdest part is that Luke doesn’t seem very bothered by any of this. He seems surprisingly okay with having been lied to and manipulated for the purpose of killing his own father.

Then comes the reveal about Leia. Some have said that this plot point is the result of Lucas trying to duplicate the emotional impact of Darth Vader’s “No, I am your father” in The Empire Strikes Back. I can’t get too worked up about it either way. It’s certainly not as cool as Vader’s reveal, but it’s not terrible.

But then we get to the good parts: the first all-out space battle in the trilogy, an epic lightsaber duel, and killing Ewoks. That’ll have to wait till next time.

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