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Luke Inside Yourself: The Self-Help Philosophy of “Return of the Jedi”…

The podcast that I co-host, The 250, has a tradition of covering Star Wars films at Christmas. Last weekend, we covered the last of the films on the list, Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi. It’s a fun, broad discussion. However, watching the film and talking about the film got me thinking about the film as a cultural snapshot of 1983.

Every generation gets the Star Wars movie that they deserve.

The original film was intended as George Lucas’ statement on Vietnam. Lucas had originally planned to make Apocalypse Now, and it is possible to see shades of that in his existential parable about a plucky band of rebels facing a technologically superior evil empire. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back was perhaps one of the first true blockbusters of the eighties, and also helped to further codify the future of mainstream cinema as the New Hollywood movement endured its death throes with failures like Heaven’s Gate.

As such, it makes sense that Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi was the perfect film for 1983. It was a much less creative sequel, one that reduced the franchise down to a set of easily repeatable iconography while also maximising its toyetic potential. However, there is more to it than that. Return of the Jedi arguably marked the end of a journey that began with Star Wars. After all, the original Star Wars was in many ways a radical allegory for late seventies America, bristling with anger and rage at a broken world.

In contrast, Return of the Jedi is essentially a self-help movie, where the fate of the galaxy matters much less than how Luke Skywalker chooses to think about his father.

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212. Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (#86)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Grace Duffy, Luke Dunne and Andy Melhuish, The 250 is a weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released Saturdays at 6pm GMT.

So this week, Richard Marquand’s Return of the Jedi.

It is a time to settle old scores. Returning to his home planet of Tatooine, Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker begins the final stage of his journey towards reconciliation with his father Darth Vader. Meanwhile, the Empire has embarked upon construction of another planetary superweapon, as the Emperor hatches a plot to crush the Rebel Alliance once and for all.

At time of recording, it was ranked 86th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On How “Return of the Jedi” Reduced “Star Wars” to Formula…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special releasing tomorrow, I thought it was worth taking a look back at Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi.

In particular, the way in which Return of the Jedi sets an outer limit on what Star Wars can be. After the previous film in the series pushed the franchise outwards, the third film in the original trilogy folds the series back in on itself and sets a clear boundary on what Star Wars is and what Star Wars will forever be. It is a creative choice that has arguably hindered the franchise in the years since, restricting its capacity to push beyond that template and embrace new ideas and new concepts.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On the Ewoks as Quintessential “Star Wars”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. This is one I’ve been thinking about for quite a while: the Ewoks.

Conventional fan wisdom is that the Ewoks are crap. After all, they don’t even get a look in when Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker returns to the ruins of the Death Star, ending up consigned to a brief cameo in the closing montage. There’s a certain strand of fandom that considers the Ewoks the weakest part of Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi. This is a shame, as the Ewoks are actually one of the best parts of the film. More than that, they are on of the best parts of the franchise. They speak to the kind of things that only Star Wars could do, that gonzo blend of wholesome and radical.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! The Flawed Redemption at the Heart of “Return of the Jedi”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine on Monday. This one has been kicking around inside my head for a little while, but came to the fore with the recent trailer for Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker. Primarily, the flawed redemption at the heart of Star Wars: Episode VI – The Return of the Jedi.

Look, everybody knows the basic arc of the Star Wars saga. Luke discovers that Darth Vader is his father, sets out to redeem him, manages to turn Vader away from the dark side before Vader dies. However, that’s never been quite how it works. The actual arc is a lot messier and more complicated, and a lot less conventionally heroic than it is remembered. Return of the Jedi never actually bothers to redeem Vader, instead focusing on redeeming Luke’s idea of Vader. At its core, Return of the Jedi is a story about how hard Luke wants to believe his father was a good man, in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

Along the way, Luke gambles the entire future of the Rebel Alliance and his sister’s fate on the assumption that there is goodness in Vader, while the film never actually bothers to demonstrate that there is any. It’s a fascinating incomplete arc, and one that hints at a gaping moral void at the heart of the larger Star Wars saga. It’s a story about how an individual’s redemption doesn’t matter, only other people’s idea of that redemption. In its own way, it marks Return of the Jedi as a quintessentially eighties movie; it is a story about how the most important thing to Luke is not the fate of the galaxy, but his own self-image.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.