Friday, 8 January 2016

"The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" Two Mini-reviews for the Price of One

The received wisdom about the original Star Wars trilogy is that Empire is the best, followed by Star Wars with Return of the Jedi a distant third, and this is reflected in the relative positions of the films in the IMDB 250 list (currently #12, 20, 74 respectively). This is probably largely to do with the Ewoks and their implausible attacks on the Empire war machine. Even after the real-life events of the Arab Spring and the successes of a peaceful majority against a violent ruling elite, the Ewok battle scenes stretch credibility.

My view of the trilogy is a little different. I prefer the first one, a simple story told in a rich and often unexplained alien universe. And I rate the other two at about the same level -- both are entertaining and full of ideas and wonder.

Plus, Jedi has the line that inspired my favourite Star Wars joke:

Luke: I know what you got me for Christmas. A globe, a teddy bear and a toy car.
Vader: Impossible! How did you find out, Luke?
Luke: I felt your presence.


'The Empire Strikes Back'

Any writer will recognize that the title 'Star Wars' didn't come about by accident.  It has that magic ring to it, and it only seems like an obvious pairing of words because it has become such an iconic phrase.  Titles like 'Star Wars' come from a lot of brain power and iterations of rejected ideas.  'The Empire Strikes Back' and 'Return of the Jedi' on the other hand are among the most dismal, prosaic titles ever used for films.  It's as though Lucas sat back after coming up with 'Star Wars' and said, 'My title-creating work is done.'

Review continues below...

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I believe the secret to the mythic quality of the original Star Wars trilogy comes down to one thing: incest. All the best myths have a bit of incest: Cronus and Rhea, Zeus and Hera, not to mention Oedipus, of course. And theorists like Roland Barthes have focused on the role of incest in myths, for example as a mechanism for echoing other mythic themes.

The Star Wars trilogy has plenty of brother & sister flirting/kissing, and plenty of son & father fighting. There's nothing like a bit of incest to up the stakes and to get the pulse going.

While the original Star Wars had a tight plot but gave us glimpses of an alien universe and its constructed mythology, The Empire Strikes Back is more expansive and spells out a lot more of those backdrop ideas we glimpsed in the first film. While this is perhaps necessary in a trilogy of films, for me it makes the film slightly less satisfying, but it's still a decidedly above average piece of film making.

'The Return of the Jedi'
There aren't many films that can say they created an original sexy Halloween costume. Films often showcase Halloween outfits that originated elsewhere such as Superman/girl, Batgirl, Lara Croft etc. With its Slave Leia gold outfit, 'Return of the Jedi' bucked the trend and came up with a costume all of its own.

From a feminist point of view it's rather disappointing. It turns out that the only reason Princess Leia was bigged up as a feisty independent-thinking female royal in the first two films (remember all those sarcastic, 'your highness's from Han Solo) was so that she could be seen chained in a gold bikini as a sex slave to a loathsome slug-like alien in the third.

Personal Score for Both Films: 6/10

This is part of a series of film reviews where I give my comments on IMDB Top 250 films as a writer. The idea is that over time these posts will build into a wide-ranging writing resource.

For more details about the approach I've taken, including some important points about its strengths and weaknesses (I make no claims about my abilities as a film critic or even the accuracy of my comments... but I do stand by the value of a writer's notes on interesting films), see my introductory post here.

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