00:00:00 – 00:15:00
Lots of things were happening when Return of the Jedi premiered in the theaters on May 25, 1983. Ronald Reagan was still our president in the US, and would not be elevated to god-status until years later. That song from Flashdance was being hummed in America, while Spandau Ballet was belting out “True” in the UK.
Other things happening in 1983: Mötley Crüe released the album Shout at the Devil; Dio had Holy Diver; Ozzy had Bark at the Moon; Metallica Kill ‘Em All, their debut; Quiet Riot Metal Health; Iron Maiden Piece of Mind. Dave Mustaine was kicked out of Metallica for being too metal, and was replaced by Kirk Hammett; Mustaine retaliated by forming Megadeth. Slayer also had their first studio album that year, Show No Mercy, proving once again that Satanic imagery still carried some weight in heavy metal music.
As you may have guessed, my musical tastes were a bit on the heavy side in 1983.
And, oh yeah, this was the year I graduated from high school. I’m not sure that I would have been what you’d call a disaffected youth by that point. My junior year in high school had been accompanied by many random acts of rebellion, because my future had been looking pretty bleak. After a failed attempt to enlist in the Army, I showed up on my guidance counselors’ radars for perhaps the first time, who enrolled me in every AP course offered at our high school and allowed me the opportunity to at least partially erase my serious downward turn in the 11th grade. This led to an opportunity to earn a full-tuition scholarship after an intimidating panel interview at our local university extension. I crushed the interview, a fact that I knew the moment I left the conference room, and, suddenly, I was college-bound. Of course, tuition is only part of the costs of attending college, so there were loans, and, eventually, student aid, including work-study. And, I actually worked at a job. But, without the scholarship, I wouldn’t have gone to college then. Perhaps ever. I was lucky.
So, when I graduated from high school, I at least had a glimmer of a future. I was still a rebel, certainly. But, I was no longer the grim, self-defeating rebel that I had been, however briefly. At least not all the time. My future might even have looked bright to me at the time. To celebrate graduation, I rode with several friends to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where the parents of one friend had a time-share in a condo. I remember hearing Def Leppard’s “Foolin’” and Bryan Adams’ “Cuts Like a Knife” on the radio as we travelled. Seems my musical tastes may have been changing a bit as well. MTV was still something new to me, since my family didn’t have cable television, and I remember watching a lot of music videos at the condo. Back in those days, MTV meant “Music Television” and actually showed videos.
We partied the entire time we were at Myrtle Beach, of course. We were recent high school graduates. I wouldn’t turn 18-years-old until that October, which was the legal beer drinking age in those days, though that was changing already. Legal or not, none of my friends let that slow us down. For reasons that escape me now, I was drinking a lot of grain alcohol, straight from the bottle. I can only plead temporary insanity. It was under the influence of this highly-potent liquor (possibly 180-proof, if memory serves) that I saw Return of the Jedi for the first time, there in Myrtle Beach. In hindsight, it’s lucky I didn’t go blind.
I don’t recommend watching any of the Star Wars movies under the influence of anything. Grain alcohol certainly didn’t pair well with Jedi. I recall being very vocal about the things I didn’t like about the movie, in the theater. I was shushed by my friends, who must have still been sober enough to consider things like public decorum. I didn’t get ejected from the theater, but I must have grayed out for some sections of the movie. The next time I watched the movie, on VHS tape, probably, I saw scenes that I didn’t recall. Over time, I learned to appreciate the movie I scornfully referred to as “That Goddamn Muppet Show” a bit more, but, even now, it is far from my favorite Star Wars movie. Leaving the Disney-Era movies out of the mix for the moment—and before watching it during this critical viewing—I think I would rank it #4 out of the combined original trilogy and prequels. Yes, that means at least one of the prequels ranks higher on my list. And there are two movies I consider worse than Jedi. ‘Nuff said, for the moment.
Empire would have been a difficult act to follow for any movie. My expectations were high. You have to remember that since Empire, the Spielberg-Lucas joint Raiders of the Lost Ark (as it was known before the “Indiana Jones and the” was later added on) had been released in 1981. Harrison Ford was now a certified movie star. This raised expectations for Jedi even more. I was bound to be disappointed. I hope that now, 35 years later, I can assess this movie with something approaching objectivity.
I will add that had I been the age I was when Star Wars: A New Hope premiered—11-going-on-12—when Jedi came out, I probably would have enjoyed it more. As much as I hate to admit it now, these were children’s movies at their core. By 1983, I was no longer the target demographic for these movies, which surely affected my opinion of it.
Enough with the memoir. Let’s talk about the first fifteen minutes of Return of the Jedi.
I know I’ve already said this was #4 of the original six movies, but there were genuinely some things I liked about it. The opening drumroll and fanfare of 20th Century Fox, for starters. It’s a Pavlovian thing. Hearing that still excites me a little; I expect something good to follow. What follows is the Lucasfilm logo with it’s changing colors, and then . . .
In blue sans-serif letters against the black background . . .
A long time ago in a galaxy far,
far away. . . .
Always four ellipses following that wonderful “once upon a time” opener, never just three. What we’re experiencing is a series of introductions. The logos, the blue letters—all leading to the John Williams Star Wars theme, with the Star Wars logo in yellow outlined letters appearing large in the foreground, then shrinking until it disappears as the famous opening crawl appears. There are stars visible in the black background now. I’m not sure if they just appeared or were there already, but I’m noticing them for the first time now.
The opening crawl, famous for its stylized vanishing-point effect as it scrolls up the screen, is solid yellow letters—again sans-serif—against the mostly black background.
RETURN OF THE JEDI
Luke Skywalker has returned to
his home planet of Tatooine in
an attempt to rescue his
friend Han Solo from the
clutches of the vile gangster
Jabba the Hutt.
Little does Luke know that the
GALACTIC EMPIRE has secretly
begun construction on a new
armored space station even
more powerful than the first
dreaded Death Star.
When completed, this ultimate
weapon will spell certain doom
for the small band of rebels
struggling to restore freedom
to the galaxy . . .
Three ellipses this time, as is proper.
The camera pans down as it is wont to do in these films, and we see a Death Star that seems to be only partially constructed. That’s the forest moon of Endor next to it, but we don’t know that yet. A familiar bad guy shuttle emerges from the belly of a Star Destroyer and then lands in one of the Death Star’s smaller hangar bays. The commander of this new armored battle station marches forward, his double-row of red and blue chicklets on his chest. He greets Lord Darth Vader as he comes down the shuttle gangway.
Vader is there to deliver a message, and a butt-load of exposition. The construction of the Death Star II is behind schedule (Is it? Is it, really? More on this later . . .) and Vader is there to provide the motivation to get it completed on time. Oh, and by the way, Emperor Palpatine is also on his way to the station. By the station commander’s reaction, we are meant to assume that the emperor is even scarier than Darth Vader. And Vader is a black-garbed cyborg who goes around Force-choking Imperial officers as if they just grow on trees. The emperor must really be bad.
We cut to the now-familiar terrain of Tatooine, and the equally familiar forms of R2-D2 and C-3PO, who are the stars of that forgotten Hope-Crosby classic, Road To Jabba’s Palace. Threepio shares more exposition as he and Artoo move along the desert road. Lando Calrissian and Chewbacca the Wookiee apparently went to Jabba’s palace and never returned. Threepio, who we know is prone to histrionics, paints a pretty grim picture of Jabba the Hutt to his diminutive astromech droid buddy.
The two droids approach the massive front gate to Jabba’s palace. I know—or, at least, I suspect—that this is not really a massive, rusty iron door that they are approaching, even though I’m mostly certain it is a practical effect and not a digital one. But, whether metal, painted wood or stretched canvas, it is extremely well-done. The production design on these movies never fails to impress me.
There’s the tiniest bit of comedy as Threepio does the whole cowardly knock-and-then-say-there’s-nobody-home bit that was probably never humorous. I giant robot eyeball on a stick protrudes from a hole in the door and speaks in what my closed-captioning assures me is Huttese. Threepio responds in kind. Robot Eyeball laughs and disappears, and then the door begins its slow rise, as if it is indeed massively heavy.
As our two favorite droids enter Jabba’s palace, we get our first sighting of a giant spider-walker droid that both Wookieepedia and those guys at Star Wars Minute tell me is a B’omarr Monk. This thing, and other things like it, have an entire backstory that never gets discussed in this movie, as far as I know. I’m not going to share it here, but you know where to go if you are interested in learning more about them.
What follows next is the first false note I perceived in this movie. The two droids run into a huge, green Gamorrean guard, who looks like a large Pig-faced Muppet, stiff and utterly lifeless. The appearance of the Gamorrean guard ruined the fictive dream for me while watching this movie then, and still today. I am highly-caffeinated this morning instead of liquored-up as I was the first time, but otherwise my internal reaction is no different. I am as unimpressed with giant foam rubber pig-creatures as I was impressed by the giant metal gate effect.
No offense meant to the late Jim Henson, whose work I admire, but this creature would have felt more at home in one of his movies.
To double-down on the insult, another Gamorrean guard appears behind the droids. He’s carrying a giant, cartoonish battle-axe as well. Perfect.
But then Bib Fortuna appears. He salvages the moment somewhat. Bib is the male Twi’lek who serves as Jabba’s chief administrative assistant. We last saw him at the Boonta Eve Classic, when Lil’ Anakin won that Hanna-Barbera wacky race. Like all Twi’leks, Bib has two head tentacles, although I always assumed until recently that it was just one, which drapes around his neck and across his shoulder. He has intensely red eyes and needle-sharp teeth. I always got more than just a hint of Nosferatu from Bib Fortuna, and he looks like a living, breathing creature, not a Muppet.
His first line? “Day wonna wonga.” What else?
Threepio tells Bib that they bring a message to his master, Jabba the Hutt. After Artoo bleeps and blorps, Threepio adds that they bring a gift as well. Bib seems interested in receiving the gift for himself. I guess it’s not really a shocker that Jabba’s majordomo is corrupt; Jabba probably wouldn’t have it any other way. Threepio says that they are instructed to give it only to Jabba himself.
This seems to offend Bib Fortuna, but he escorts them anyway. It occurs to me now that the droids could have been programmed to explode and kill Jabba on sight, or at least attempt to assassinate him in some way. There are assassin droids in the Star Wars galaxy. We just saw IG-88 in the last movie. Bib Fortuna doesn’t seem overly concerned with protecting his master. He was more interested in the gift.
And then we meet Jabba himself. The real Jabba. Not that CGI Jabba from the prequels or from that unfortunate special-edition add-on in A New Hope. The real Jabba was a practical effect. A puppet, sure, but not an offensive-to-the-eye creature like the Gamorrean guards. Jabba is a bug-eyed hookah-smoking slug-creature that looks like something picked from a giant’s nose. There’s always a bigger nose, Qui-Gonn Jinn might say. There’s more than a little bit of the hookah-smoking caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland in Jabba’s design, and I picked up on that even as a recent high school graduate. I’ve seen the image on a T-shirt since then as well. Still better than the Pig-faced guards, however.
A hooded Jawa is visible behind Jabba during his first screen appearance in this movie. It may even be the creature trying to comfort Jabba with an ineffectual-looking fan.
Our droids enter Jabba’s throne room past a giant frog-like creature that barks like a dog. The throne room is dimly lit, which makes all the practical effects look more realistic. There are numerous creatures in the room. Jabba’s courtiers, one would assume. In the long shot, we can see a female Twi’lek next to the giant slug crime boss. This is Oola, the dancing girl. More on her in a bit.
Artoo plays the message for Jabba. It’s a hologram from Luke Skywalker. Luke introduces himself as a Jedi Knight and a friend of Han Solo. He seeks an audience with Jabba to bargain for Solo’s life. Then, he offers up Threepio and Artoo as gifts to Jabba.
Bib Fortuna comments that Luke is no Jedi. I happen to agree with Bib on that one. Luke has not completed his training yet.
Predictably, Jabba says there will be no bargain. The Hutt refers to Han Solo as his favorite decoration. The camera pans to show Han, still encased in carbonite, mounted on the wall of the throne room like a piece of art. Threepio acts like he’s just now noticing Han Solo, even though there was no big reveal or curtains parting or anything. Han is just hanging there, under a spotlight, no less, as visible as anything else in the room. But, Threepio didn’t notice him until Jabba pointed him out.
All of Jabba’s entourage think this is extremely funny, and they begin to laugh. We get our first look at Salacious Crumb, who has a high-pitched cackle as it laughs. This is another puppet, of course, and obviously so. Crumb has always reminded me of Gonzo. Is it any wonder that I called this the “muppet” show? I would no longer take the Lord’s name in vain while I said it, but I still feel about the same way, if a lot less angry.
One subtle screenwipe later, and we’re with our two droids as they move through the bowels of Jabba’s palace. I want to point out that, almost 11 minutes into the movie, none of our human main characters have made an appearance yet. Unless you count Darth Vader. Or the Luke hologram. Or Han frozen in carbonite. In structure, this movie is a lot like the original movie, featuring Threepio and Artoo in an extended prologue.
The droids are escorted by Gamorrean guards to what appears to be a droid workshop. The Gamorreans are less offensive when they are presented in half-light and shadow. They seem just marginally less fake. As we enter the workshop, there’s a droid upside-down receiving a hot brand to the bottom of its feet. The droid is screaming as if in pain. I think this was meant to be funny. It succeeds at being just puzzling, and leads to fanboy speculation as to the reasons why a droid would be programmed to feel pain on the soles of its feet. Another droid in the shot is being drawn-and-quartered for some unstated reason. It seems that Jabba killed his last protocol droid, so they can use Threepio to directly serve Jabba. The droid overseer says he needs to use Artoo on the master’s sail barge. Two very convenient job placements. We’ll chalk it up to the Force.
The droid dungeon scene concludes with another shot of a droid branding.
What follows in Jabba’s throne room is an unnecessary special-edition change. It is a musical interlude that is twice the length of the original. For the record, I didn’t like the original either. I don’t like this twice as hard. It was a case of George Lucas doing something new with CGI effects, simply because it was possible. It adds nothing to the story. I think it detracts from it, in truth. We get to see a bit more of Oola the Dancing Twi’lek, who is chained to Jabba. Other than that, this serves no narrative purpose.
Then, for reasons that aren’t readily apparent, Oola is dropped down a trapdoor into a pit on a lower level. This is necessary foreshadowing for later events. Jabba’s courtiers hoot and cheer as they watch through the floor grates above. This is Thunderdome. Another impressively large metal gate inches open in the pit. We hear a deep-throated growl, and then Oola’s screams. Cut to Jabba retrieving some squirming snack from a water bowl with his stunted arm. As Jabba drops the living creature into his maw, his nasty-looking tongue licks his lips. This is Jabba’s version of hot-buttered popcorn.
Off-screen, there are sounds of blaster fire. Suddenly, Chewbacca the Wookiee appears in this movie for the first time, escorted into the throne room by a masked bounty hunter we will come to know as Boushh, who speaks in an electronically-processed language called Ubese. Boussh is there to collect the bounty on Han Solo’s co-pilot. We see Boba Fett hanging around in the background. One would assume that he is impressed.
One would also question why Boba Fett is there at all. He must have received his bounty from Jabba already, right? Is he just hanging around because Jabba’s palace is a swinging place, like the Playboy Mansion back in the day? Or, does he suspect that Han’s friends are coming to rescue him, and he’s sticking around to stop that? Again, why? It’s supposed to be a year later, story-wise, I think. That seems like a long time for a mercenary to loiter around, unless Jabba was so impressed with him that he kept Boba on his payroll.
Jabba seems pleased in this turn of events, but this is where our first chapter comes to an abrupt conclusion. We’ll have to wait for the conclusion of this transaction next time.
Here’s where things stand at the conclusion of this chapter. The new Death Star is still in the process of being built and the emperor is coming to oversee the end of the process himself. Han Solo is still a prisoner of Jabba the Hutt, but I suspect that his friends are about to attempt to save him. That’s it. And, Salacious Crumb and Gamorrean guards ignored for a moment, I don’t hate this sequence in the movie. The rescue of Han Solo is an exciting story event, overall. And Han encased in carbonite is some of the most charismatic acting we’ll see from Harrison Ford in this movie.
Stay tuned for increasingly acerbic sarcasm in our next chapter. Until then . . . Allow Me to Welcome You. We Have Been Without An Interpreter Since Our Master Got Angry With Our Last Protocol Droid and Disintegrated Him . . . And May The 15-Minute Force Be With You.