Even with Jabba the Hutt, the loathsome Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), and a sneak peek at Coruscant, seat of the Galactic Empire and setting for the following prequels, Return of the Jedi: The Special Edition is still something of a disappointment. In effect, the 1983 film was swallowed by an Empire of its own making. It seems to have been conceived in a spirit of marketable summer family fun by an industry only beginning to recognize the awesome power of "The Blockbuster." The film's wooden pacing, direction, and script leave the complex characters of Episode V out in hyperspace and replace them with carbon cut-outs who, Mark Hamill aside, simply go through the motions of saving the Universe. As a result, Episode VI seems even more dated than the preceding two chapters, capping the most brilliant science-fantasy film series in history with a resounding thud.

The additions to Jedi for the Special Edition only add to its ambiguity. Especially when compared to Empire, it appears Lucasfilm has been drawing all over this movie. Some of the changes are a pleasant surprise. Banthas migrate across the desert, the Sarlacc Monster actually seems fearsome (although it still takes 1000 years to digest somebody, whatever that means), and Boba Fett exercises his own scoundrel edge. But other additions are frankly embarrassing. Sy Snootles and the Max Rebo trio, Jabba's own most dangerous band, have been downgraded into an alien Tom Jones outfit, headlined by a cross between John Cougar Mellencamp and Captain Caveman. The resulting musical extravaganza is both gratuitous and depressing. Moreover, the victory parties on Mos Eisley, Cloud City, and, yes, Coruscant, are slight and only serve to enhance the feeling that Return of the Jedi is less a good film than a good way to sell collectible glasses at Taco Bell. And that's to say nothing of the Ewoks, which still come off as one of the most astoundingly bad movie decisions in recent history.

Moreover, ironically, Jedi's special effects don't quite measure up to the rest of the trilogy, especially since Lucasfilm/ILM chose not to update many of the 1983 effects. Some of the matte paintings, particularly those of the new Death Star's surface, look like backdrops from Scooby Doo. Unless you wish to indulge your childhood memories, spend your restored film dollars on renting The Godfather instead. Let Jedi serve as a warning to Mr. Lucas that, although we love his universe, he can't just phone in the prequels.

[First appeared in Harvard Independent, 1997.]

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