LOOK­ING BACK AT JEDI

Public News (Houston) - - FRONT PAGE - Story by Glen Ryan Tadych glen.ryan.tadych@pub­lic­new­son­line.com

As Public News looks back on the last two weeks, I fi­nally get to dish out my first Star Wars piece with noth­ing bet­ter than a Star Wars Day com­mem­o­ra­tion.

Now, to avoid any con­fu­sion re­gard­ing time­li­ness, I’d like to clar­ify that I’m rec­og­niz­ing the true Star Wars Day—May 25—as op­posed to the other group of Star Wars fans who con­tin­u­ally choose to celebrate the late Mar­garet Thatcher’s 1979 elec­toral vic­tory in the United King­dom—May 4. I wrote a sim­i­lar piece last year ex­plain­ing the dif­fer­ence in sig­nif­i­cance be­tween the two dates, but as I am now serv­ing a new au­di­ence, I’d like to briefly pro­vide the facts once more.

The phrase, “May the Fourth be with you,” orig­i­nally emerged as a con­grat­u­la­tory mes­sage not only for Thatcher’s gen­eral elec­toral vic­tory in 1979, but also she was the first fe­male Bri­tish prime min­is­ter. Her party bought an ad in the Lon­don Evening News stat­ing, “May the Fourth be with you, Mag­gie. Con­grat­u­la­tions,” af­ter the elec­tion. Upon Star Wars fans’ of­fi­cial recog­ni­tion of the date in cor­re­la­tion to Ge­orge Lu­cas’ fran­chise four years ago, May 4 be­came a gar­gan­tuan com­mer­cial­ized an­nual cel­e­bra­tion prof­it­ing both the fran­chise, and now The Walt Dis­ney Com­pany.

My­self and many other fans choose not to pair May 4 with such sig­nif­i­cance, as we per­ceive it to be noth­ing more than a gim­mick. For us, May 25—the re­lease date for the orig­i­nal film in 1977—is the true Star Wars Day, and the date which should be uni­ver­sally ac­knowl­edged as such.

Of course, in light of such a de­bate, some out there would prob­a­bly say, “Who the hell cares?” But the fact of the mat­ter is more peo­ple care about this than one would think, as asi­nine as it is, and that’s ex­actly what the nerd cul­ture of the world has to of­fer.

As we have a new Star Wars film hit­ting cine­mas in De­cem­ber, I feel it’s im­por­tant to touch on the film pre­ced­ing (chrono­log­i­cally/ nu­mer­i­cally) Star Wars: The Force Awak­ens be­fore div­ing into any se­ri­ous dis­cus­sion re­gard­ing the fran­chise’s fu­ture. The pre­quels have cer­tainly had their day in de­bates, dis­cus­sions and be­ing out­right bashed, but now is the time for post-Galac­tic Civil War sub­ject mat­ter. And given the un­fair crit­i­cism Re­turn of the Jedi (1983) of­ten re­ceives, I’ve elected to fo­cus this com­mem­o­ra­tion piece on its de­fense, sim­i­lar to what I did with Star Wars Episode I: The Phan­tom Men­ace (1999) last year.

Per­son­ally, I en­joy Jedi just as much as the other films. Although it’s not my fa­vorite (or the best) of the fran­chise, as both those ti­tles be­long to The Em­pire Strikes Back (1980) in my opin­ion, I still feel Jedi is a well-made and sat­is­fy­ing con­clu­sion to the orig­i­nal tril­ogy. The film has a few is­sues when com­pared to its pre­de­ces­sors, but I don’t hold it in the same neg­a­tive light as many other fans. For this piece, I’ve cho­sen to ex­am­ine what I feel are the three key is­sues many have with Jedi.

One con­cern, which some might find odd, with view­ers as well as the film’s cre­ative team was the con­tin­ued in­clu­sion of Han Solo (Har­ri­son Ford). Of course, it’s un­fath­omable to imag­ine a film in the orig­i­nal tril­ogy with­out the charm­ing and witty space pi­rate. Han is prob­a­bly one of the most beloved char­ac­ters next to Luke and Darth Vader, so why kill him off?

As it turns out, the mak­ing-of doc­u­men­tary Em­pire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Tril­ogy (2004) dis­closes the fact both Ford and screen­writer Lawrence Kas­den wanted to kill off Han as a means of up­ping the ten­sion.

Ford felt be­cause Han had no fam­ily to leave be­hind, he should sac­ri­fice him­self for Luke and Leia, as well as the Rebel Al­liance. Kas­den felt one of the main char­ac­ters should meet a tragic end early on in the film so the au­di­ence would be­gin to worry about the fate of ev­ery­one else. Lu­cas was, of course, against this. His rea­sons are his own, but one can sus­pect that he sim­ply wanted his heroic trio to make it through to the end and have a happy end­ing.

Us not los­ing Han doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily hurt

Jedi. It just pre­vents the film from div­ing into a deeper sanc­tum of edgi­ness and drama. And quite frankly, I don’t know if I would en­joy the film as much as I do had he been killed off, be­cause I’d prob­a­bly think, “Oh, well Han’s not in this one, so that’s no fun.”

Some fans may be dis­ap­pointed that Han lived on, but that doesn’t au­to­mat­i­cally make the film ter­ri­ble, and one shouldn’t re­gard the film as such for that rea­son ei­ther.

A part of the film many fans have an over­whelm­ing griev­ance with is the death of Man­dalo­rian bounty hunter Boba Fett. Not only was the char­ac­ter killed off in the first act with­out hav­ing even ut­tered a word, but he was also killed in what fans con­sider a cheap and lame man­ner—tum­bling down the mouth of the Sar­lacc Pit af­ter his jet pack is un­ex­pect­edly and un­in­ten­tion­ally ac­ti­vated by a blind Han. The re­sult of this un­timely demise led to one sim­ple con­clu­sion: Jedi sucks.

The death of Boba Fett is a sub­ject for which opin­ion is po­lar­ized un­like any other in Star Wars fandom. Due to his over­whelm­ing pop­u­lar­ity fol­low­ing Em­pire, Fett’s fate was

op­posed to the point writ­ers felt the need to res­ur­rect him in Star Wars literature (the now non-canon Ex­panded Uni­verse), giv­ing him a more sig­nif­i­cant place in the fran­chise. I, how­ever, find this treat­ment to be un­nec­es­sary and ridicu­lous, and ren­der­ing Jedi aw­ful be­cause a mi­nor char­ac­ter with an awe­some out­fit died too early is out­right ab­surd. I of­ten think of Jay Baruchel’s di­a­logue in Fanboys (2009) when dis­cussing Fett, which I feel puts things into per­spec­tive per­fectly:

“You guys have both got to stop per­pet­u­at­ing this myth that Boba Fett is some kind of badass, al­right? What? He has a jet­pack! So did The Rock­e­teer. Re­ally cool! I mean, when it comes time for bat­tle, the man’s Michael Bay: All style, no sub­stance.”

The fact of the mat­ter is Fett is a two-bit char­ac­ter with only four spo­ken lines and six and a half min­utes of screen time (this does not in­clude the an­i­mated seg­ment from the

Star Wars Hol­i­day Spe­cial (1978), or Star Wars Episode II: At­tack of the Clones (2002)). Yes, he suc­ceeded where other bounty hun­ters failed in track­ing the Mil­len­nium Fal­con in Em­pire, and he had an awe­some out­fit, but that’s it. At the end of the day, Fett only got by on his ap­pear­ance when con­sid­er­ing what he ac­tu­ally con­trib­uted to the tril­ogy. Hell, of his four lines, none of them were even in Jedi.

Fett ad­mir­ers act as if he were Luke Sky­walker, or Darth Vader for that mat­ter, and de­served to go out in a blaze of glory. Why should a mi­nor char­ac­ter get such a mean­ing­ful exit when so much else has to hap­pen? Jedi isn’t about Fett, but about the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Luke and Vader, the fall of the Galac­tic Em­pire and Vader’s re­demp­tion. I don’t see how mak­ing a huge deal of a ran­dom, cool­look­ing bounty hunter adds to any of that. To say Jedi sucks sim­ply be­cause Fett died too early or not in ful­fill­ing way is just stupid and not fair to the film it­self.

Also, to any­one who jus­ti­fies Fett’s sig­nif­i­cance with ran­dom facts from a ran­dom EU book about the char­ac­ter: It wasn’t in the movies, so it doesn’t count. That be­ing said, if the writ­ers de­cide to in­clude him in the up­com­ing se­quel tril­ogy, that’s a dif­fer­ent mat­ter al­to­gether. And while I wouldn’t be par­tic­u­larly happy with such a de­ci­sion, there ob­vi­ously isn’t much I’d be able to do about it.

Ewoks

This is prob­a­bly the most sig­nif­i­cant point in terms of un­fair Jedi crit­i­cism. I can­not even be­gin to ex­press how much this com­plaint ir­ri­tates the hell out of me. When Jedi bash­ers in­sult the film be­cause it was “only made to sell toys” or “teddy bears de­feated the Em­pire,” all I hear is nar­row-minded ig­no­rance tear­ing apart a good movie. Peo­ple my own age weren’t even alive when Jedi de­buted 32 years ago, so I know when they spew these ir­ra­tional com­ments, they’re only re­gur­gi­tat­ing their par­ents’ views or those of older fans with­out ap­ply­ing crit­i­cal think­ing.

I will ad­mit us­ing Wook­ies in­stead Ewoks would have been a more awe­some way to go for Jedi’s cli­max, as this was the orig­i­nal in­ten­tion when Lu­cas be­gan draft­ing the story in the early 1970s. But this was also be­fore he split the story into three parts, ef­fec­tively mak­ing Han’s co-pi­lot a Wookie in fear of Wook­ies never mak­ing an ap­pear­ance. When Jedi fi­nally came along, the Wook­ies in the for­est bat­tle were sub­sti­tuted with Ewoks.

I don’t see the “selling toys” point as a valid ar­gu­ment. It’s Star Wars, and any­thing with the Star Wars name will sell it­self. The film­mak­ers wouldn’t need to in­sert “teddy bears” into the movie to make chil­dren’s mer­chan­dise more mar­ketable, so that point re­ally doesn’t even make sense. I sim­ply see the Ewoks as be­ing a way to help dif­fer­en­ti­ate Chew­bacca from the En­dor na­tives since they were orig­i­nally go­ing to be Wook­ies. I can’t say I would ac­tu­ally have a prob­lem pick­ing Chewie out from the rest of the bunch, but I can un­der­stand that rea­son­ing more than need­ing to sell toys.

Plus, if you had es­sen­tially 200 Chewies as­sist­ing the Rebels in bat­tle, the Im­pe­ri­als hon­estly wouldn’t stand much of a chance. The damn thing would be over be­fore it be­gan. We’ve wit­nessed Chewie’s strength and use­ful­ness in com­bat sit­u­a­tions, and that’s just him. So in the con­text of what’s seen in the film, an army of his kind would make the Em­pire’s ef­forts on the ground a waste of time.

On the sub­ject of the for­est bat­tle and Chewie, I’m go­ing to say this: The Ewoks did not de­feat the Em­pire. Such a ra­tio­nale for de­nounc­ing Jedi is even dum­ber than Fett’s death, not to men­tion in­ac­cu­rate. Sev­eral el­e­ments con­trib­uted to the Rebels’ win­ning the bat­tle, and while the Ewoks cer­tainly helped, Chewie ac­tu­ally de­serves most of the credit.

The Rebels didn’t start win­ning the bat­tle un­til Chewie com­man­deered one of the en­emy scout walk­ers. Up un­til that point, the Em­pire had supreme fire­power and weaponry, and Chewie turned the ta­bles on that disad­van­tage. It’s ac­tu­ally pretty damn clever when you think about it be­cause the whole time you’re watch­ing the bat­tle, you’re think­ing, “Why don’t they just take one of the walk­ers?” What would make the bat­tle stupid is if Chewie hadn’t taken such ac­tion.

The Ewoks weren’t use­less though. Their num­bers and sur­prise of­fen­sive caused the Im­pe­rial troops to break for­ma­tion, scat­ter­ing through­out the for­est to sub­due them, and pro­vided the Rebels the nec­es­sary dis­trac­tion to es­cape cap­ture; i.e. di­vide and con­quer. Some of the Ewoks’ weapons and meth­ods were in­ef­fec­tive, but not all of them. Ston­ing Stormtroop­ers from a tree, which is ac­tu­ally some­what bru­tal when think­ing about it, will cer­tainly do some dam­age. And be­fore any­one goes, “Yeah, but they’re wear­ing hel­mets and ar­mor,” think about the phys­i­cal in­jury football play­ers en­dure. Re­gard­less whether you’re wear­ing a hel­met, blunt trauma to the head is go­ing to hurt, and a stone the size of your head still has the po­ten­tial to kill you.

Be­sides, a Stormtrooper’s “ar­mor” is es­sen­tially just a mil­i­tary uni­form. Luke even de­scribes it this way in the orig­i­nal film. Off the top of my head, I can’t even think of a mo­ment in the orig­i­nal tril­ogy where a Stormtrooper’s at­tire is even re­ferred to as “ar­mor.” So I re­ally don’t know where the no­tion that Stormtroop­ers are in­vul­ner­a­ble to any­thing and ev­ery­thing comes from, es­pe­cially given the fact they’re al­ways killed with ease (of­ten as a re­sult of their own ac­tions), and don’t have ac­cu­racy worth a damn. Mil­i­tar­ily speak­ing, Stormtroop­ers are pretty worth­less, so the Ewoks be­ing able to take them on shouldn’t come as much of a shock.

Re­gard­ing the walk­ers, the Ewoks’ traps used against them aren’t that far-fetched ei­ther. The swing­ing logs could to­tally crush a scout walker’s hol­low head—as was demon­strated in episode 208 of Myth­Busters—and un­less the ve­hi­cle is made out of vi­bra­nium, I see no rea­son why this de­vice wouldn’t work given the right set of cir­cum­stances.

The rolling log trap was another in­ge­nious feat of the Ewoks, and strate­gi­cally sim­i­lar to how the rebels brought down an AT-AT in Em­pire. A scout walker seems like it would be dif­fi­cult to ma­neu­ver through rugged ter­rain con­sid­er­ing it’s ba­si­cally a gi­ant box bal­anced on two thin legs. I can only imag­ine at­tempt­ing to drive one over a stream of logs wouldn’t end too well.

The Ewoks are cer­tainly in­cluded in Jedi for comic ef­fect, but they do serve a pur­pose, and when one breaks down the for­est bat­tle, it isn’t hard to see the Ewoks aren’t 100 per­cent ridicu­lous, or that Chewie is ul­ti­mately the real hero.

Jedi may not be bet­ter than its two pre­de­ces­sors, but it does a fine job wrap­ping up the tril­ogy and keep­ing the space fan­tasy at­mos­phere alive. It’s a good movie, and naysay­ers’ ar­gu­ments for what drags the movie down only di­min­ish the film’s true qual­ity and legacy. Fans should ap­pre­ci­ate Jedi for what it is, and use the film as a cat­a­lyst to gear up for Force Awak­ens in De­cem­ber.

Han Solo

Boba Fett

Glen Ryan Tadych

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