Logan’s Moving Pictures is looking at one of the biggest Blockbuster events of the early 1980s. The end of the original trilogy and all the emotions that come packed with it; Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi!
Ryan and I were four years old when Return of the Jedi first graced movie screens. While it wasn’t the first film we ever saw in a theatre (I do believe that was E.T., or at least that’s the first movie I remember seeing, and it was probably a year or more after it originally released), it certainly became the earliest film we watched that would also go on to be a “favorite.” I couldn’t even guess at how many times we’ve seen it over the years, but I know we both hold it in much higher regard than most fans of the Original Trilogy, something that never really wavered for us. Not even as we got older and more angstier, though the Special Edition release would certainly test the limits of our regard. But, we’ll get to that.
I actually don’t remember seeing the original version of Return of the Jedi on the big screen at all, and I’d attribute that to the decades of rewatches. Unlike so many seminal films in my life, those first Star Wars films seemed to just always be there, even though only one of them debuted before we were born. When they first premiered on cable my dad recorded copies of them (on BetaMax I believe), so for us Star Wars was less an “event” and more of an “of course,” like growing up in a church going family, where going to Sunday service is just what you did. Watching Star Wars was very much “just what we did.”
But why the enduring and endearing love for Return of the Jedi, considered the worst of the Originals by most fans?
With the movie recently celebrating its 40th anniversary, I decided the perfect way to answer that question, for myself at least, was to revisit it. I’d desperately wanted to catch the rerelease in theatres, but sadly it didn’t land anywhere within driving distance of me. And rather than dig out one of the many copies owned between Ryan and myself, I settled for booting it up on Disney+. I’ll add, that includes multiple versions on VHS, official releases and television recordings, the various DVD releases and two versions of the Blu-Ray box set. We love Star Wars, and it’s maybe the thing I miss talking about with him the most.
To those who would disparage the OG Trilogy capper, I’d ask one question; What’s not to love?
Jabba’s palace is one of the greatest set pieces ever constructed for any film, not just a Star Wars film. I’ve heard people talk about what it was like seeing the cantina scene in A New Hope for the first time in ’77, but for my money Jabba’s place is far more fascinating. Then it gets even more so with the Rancor pit and the sail barge escape scene. Then there’s the fact that, if not for taking the gang back to the sands of Tatooine, we’d never have gotten the different colored lightsaber blades. They needed a darker shade in order to make the lightsaber stand out on the stark whiteness of the desert. And Luke’s elaborate escape plan? Amazing. Though, not so much an elaborate plan as it is a bunch of folks winging it to the best of their ability. It’s this faction of the Rebel Alliance doing what they do the best, improvising.
We get to see the forest moon of Endor, one of the best locations in all of Star Wars, with our merry band of rebels eventually splitting up so soon after they’re reunited. We get to see the speeder bikes, along with the scout troopers, my favorite vehicle and armor in all of Star Wars. There’s been nothing before or since to rival the fun and excitement of that chase through the giant redwood trees. And the Ewoks? Maybe the most bloodthirsty of any people in the galaxy; they also happen to be the only ones in all of those films to appreciate C3P0 to any great degree.
Then there’s Luke’s confrontation with his father and the Emperor, an emotional showdown as much as it is a combative one. Anakin’s turn from the Dark Side to save his son is the thing that the original trilogy builds to so elegantly, and it’s maybe the thing that resonates the most across the first six films (and the thing the sequel trilogy seems to have forgotten about). Luke’s refusal to believe all is lost in the heart of his old man, despite his two mentor’s, who were Anakin’s as well, repeatedly telling him otherwise is one of the best payoff’s in cinema. It’s just beautiful.
Return of the Jedi, released in 1983, is a perfect movie. Or, at least my memory of it is.
Unfortunately Return of the Jedi: Special Edition, released in theatres in 1997, is not; a fact I was reminded of when I booted it up on Disney+ to give it that rewatch for its 40th Anniversary. There are two very specific changes that were made to the film that bother me greatly. The first is the inclusion of “Jedi rocks,” an extended song and dance number in Jabba’s palace. The music feels wildly out of place, and maybe worse than that the CGI work just draws attention to itself in the worst way. But, it doesn’t really change the story at all, it just interrupts the pace. So while it’s laughable and distracting, it’s ultimately forgettable once the film moves on.
The second addition though completely subtracts from the film as a whole, replacing an entire piece of the ending with both a new song and added scenes of planets across the Galaxy celebrating the fall of the Emperor. First and foremost, replacing Yub Nub as the final celebratory song is a cinematic crime. The Original Trilogy is pretty lacking when it comes to original music, and while the new music is much simpler and less goofy (read: Not sung in Ewok-ese), the fact that everyone is dancing and partying seems even more out of place in the film. And it’s just not catchy. At all.
I’m not a hater of the Prequels or Special Editions, I mostly enjoy all of what George Lucas “improved” upon and created when he decided to return to his Galaxy Far, Far Away. But since 1997 those two things have bothered me without fail. The funny thing is, when I think about the movie in passing, I forget they even exist. It’s only when I’m watching it, or maybe discussing it at length, that it starts to come back to the forefront of my mind, that there’s this bizarre piece of song and dance at the beginning and an ending that’s somehow the same but different and worse. Most of the time I just shake my head, laugh and go about my day. But then sometimes it really, truly gets to me, and a large part of that is because there’s no real easy way to watch the version I’d loved for most of my life, and I just dwell on that until I’m righteously angry about it.
The same thing often happens when I start thinking about Ryan for too long. When I have a passing memory, or see something that just brings up a particular time we had together, it’s often sweetly emotional, and even if there are tears, they’re brief and full of a sort of joyful longing. Most of the time that is what happens. But sometimes those memories linger and I start replaying other ones, I just cant help it, and before I know it I’m deep into remembering every fight, every cross word, the months we didn’t even speak to each other. All of the bad just starts piling up, like a snowball rolling down a mountain, and then the tears that come are rage-filled and not comforting at all. That, of course, brings a lot of shame with it, which just stokes the fire, and then I’m mad at both him and myself, ready to just scream until my lungs feel like they’re filled with glass.
Because…there’s no way to go back to that. It’s not a matter of digging out an old VHS tape and finding a VCR. It’s not just an imposition, it’s an impossibility. Unlike George Lucas, I’m not able to go back and fix all the things in our relationship that I now see differently. George was unable to just walk away from the movie without continuing to try to make it right in his eyes, even all those years later, and here I am wishing I’d have just walked away so many times, just let things be instead of re-engaging and trying to make them right in my eyes. Now, there’s no way to make that right for either of us, the only thing left to do is let it go.
Yub Nub, or “Ewok Celebration” as it’s properly known, is an oddly spiritual song, which makes it’s exclusion all the more concerning I think. The Star Wars saga is about a great many things, but the Force is maybe it’s most solid throughline, and that throughline is spiritual in every way. Lucas stated in the commentary for the Special Edition DVD release that it didn’t have the gravitas he’d always felt the ending deserved. A few folks singing and dancing to a song being chanted by living teddy bears is admittedly goofy when you get down to it, but I’ll close with this, the original lyrics and the English translation of just a tiny piece of that ridiculous original song.
Coatee cha tu yub nub;
Coatee cha tu yah wah;
Coatee cha tu glowah;
Allay loo ta nuv
And here’s what it means:
Celebrate the freedom;
Celebrate the power;
Celebrate the glory;
Celebrate the Love
When things are bad and all I can remember is the hurt, I’ve started singing this song. Mostly I just make up what the Ewok words are, but I know what they mean and that’s all that matters.