Apparently yesterday was the anniversary of Return of the Jedi’s UK release, and as I recently celebrated Star Wars Day, I figured I’d do something similar here.
Jedi gets a lot of stick in fandom; it’s considered to be the weakest of the original trilogy, and I remember film reviewer Mark Kermode calling it “A bunch of Muppets” on Mark Radcliffe’s Radio 1 show back in the day. And to be fair, it does involve a lot of muppets, although they’re infinitely preferable to the characterless CGI of the prequels.
I don’t get the dislike. Yes, it’s the weakest of the originals, partly because it retreads ground already covered by Star Wars (I refuse to call it A New Hope), but there’s still a lot to like (and I’m not necessarily talking about Leia’s bikini. When I was young, Jedi was my favourite. The stuff in Jabba’s palace is fun (including intergalactic badass Boba Fett getting taken out by a disorientated blind guy by accident!), the Speeder Bike chase is cool. And while you can’t help but wish they’d stuck with the original plan and given us the bad guys vs a planet full of Wookies, the Ewoks aren’t that bad; if you have issues with a tribal culture beating an opponent with superior technology and greater resources, well, welcome to Afghanistan.
(I’m never sure if the Endor Holocaust theories are semi-serious attempts to communicate scientific theories or fandom’s revenge fantasy…)
But where Jedi wins out is in its treatment of Vader. Some may dispute its effectiveness, but the whole Star Wars saga is the story of Darth Vader’s fall and redemption, with Jedi scoring because it links the climax of that story with the powerful theme of father/son relationships. Luke has to choose whether or not he follows in his father’s footsteps; Vader has to choose whether he supports that decision and lets Luke florish, or fights it, destroying his only son in the process. He makes the right call, and suddenly Star Wars becomes a story of redemption, not slaying the monster. At its heart, Star Wars is a fairy tale in space, but there aren’t many fairy tales committed to saving the soul of their particular dark lord.
I didn’t think twice about all this when I was a kid; I just liked the comedy robots, got upset when an Ewok mourns his slain comrade, thrilled at the revelation that “It’s a trap!” The deeper stuff passes you by when you’re seven.
And I guess if we could look at things with seven-year-old eyes, there’d be a little less Nerd Rage across the internet.