Retreat of the Jedi

When I was 9, “Stars Wars” was the shit. That movie and “Jaws,” two years earlier, jounced my cinematic world off its axis and into, well, outer space. (This of course happened to 95.9 percent of every kid of a certain age, so I’m sort of stating the obvious.)

I devoured “Star Wars” action figures, posters, a cool TIE fighter model, even bed sheets that were blue like the cosmos. “Jaws” — same. I was shark-crazed for about five years. I owned a real shark jaw from Tijuana, a “Jaws” t-shirt (see my About page), many shark books, and a dorky “Jaws” game, where you tried to fish junk out of a plastic shark’s mouth without his toothy smile chomping down on your pole. I sucked at it.

My grade-school teachers grew concerned about my constant drawings of sharks munching the limbs off hapless swimmers in blood-filled waters. Thing is, I’m still a bit batty about the misunderstood ocean predators, which are perfectly evolved, hyper-efficient killing machines, much like the creature in “Alien.”

But my starry-eyed view of “Star Wars” dimmed at a dramatic clip — almost light speed, let’s say. I only half-heartedly went to see 1980’s “The Empire Strikes Back,” a movie that inspired no more expenditures on franchise merch. (By then it was a cultural arm wrestle between “Star Wars” and KISS — George Lucas vs. Gene Simmons. The latter spit blood. He won.) 

Jedi jaded as I quickly became — the Force was now farce — I never did get around to 1983’s “Return of the Jedi.” I wasn’t interested. I didn’t care. Hard rock and girls had hijacked any alliance to “Star Wars,” and, besides, I was obsessing over more interesting movies like “An American Werewolf in London,” “The Elephant Man,” “Alien,” “The Dead Zone,” “The Fly” and, dare I say it, Woody Allen’s entire oeuvre. 

But a third “Star Wars” installment, no matter how disappointing its description, was still news — if not a cultural earthquake, then a rippling aftershock. Crowds flocked and you couldn’t help being exposed to trailers, photos and fan regurgitations of the episode in which Darth Vader famously croaks.  

Furry bundle of unrelenting embarrassment

And what I saw was repellent: frenzied Muppet creatures; the unforgivable Ewoks (tiny, fuzzy Jar Jar Binkses); the grinning ghosts of Yoda, Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker (together at last!); and the coda’s mortifying Ewok celebration, featuring gibberish music and creature dancing (Chewbacca boogies!). And I vowed I would never watch “Jedi.” Ever. 

Until I did.

This is where I admit that I watched “Return of the Jedi,” a full 27 years after it was released. It was an impulse rental, done under a cynical cloud of camp: “This is going to be so gorgeously godawful,” I thought, “that it will furnish a galaxy of perverse pleasures. I will howl with laughter at the Razzie-worthy writing and titter at the labored excesses of puppet pandemonium, including the hopelessly lame Jabba the Hutt, who reminds me of a big burp.”

My plan, alas, backfired. 

The movie completely surpassed its build up of rank horrendousness. But the experience wasn’t fun or funny. In fact, the sheer naked badness of “Jedi” served as a bludgeon that beat me into one of my darkest post-movie depressions ever. I actually felt physically ill watching it, and by that satanic climax of dancing Ewoks and high-fiving heroes I had died a few deaths. To this day, I consider “Return of the Jedi” one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. (Yes, worse than “Jaws 4: The Revenge.”)

At least critic Chuck Klosterman puts a humorous spin on it: “‘Return of the Jedi’ is quite possibly the least-watchable major film of the last 25 years. I knew a girl who claimed to have a recurring dream about a polar bear that mauled Ewoks; it made me love her.” 

And yet at the ever-vexing Rotten Tomatoes, the movie boasts an astonishing 82% approval rating. Opines the Denver Post: “It’s everything it ought to be — glorious, exhilarating, exciting, absorbing, technically wondrous.”

No, no, no, no and no. The movie is absolutely none of those things. Just watch this scene and try not to vomit. 

Jabba the Hutt, looking like an unspeakable bodily excretion.

It’s true that I’ve way outgrown the whole “Star Wars” dweeb-o-sphere, much as the Marvel universe is to me so much sophomoric hubbub. I’m not watching the latest “Star Wars” spinoff, “The Mandalorian,” and I have a terrible urge to squish baby Yoda’s head. 

That pretty much disqualifies me from the Way-Out World George Lucas Built, and that’s fine. Who needs Ewoks and Wookiees, Jabbas and Jedis, CGI and C-3PO, third-rate mysticism and fourth-grade mythology?

And yet “Jaws,” my other grade-school movie crush, remains one of my favorite pictures ever. Its arresting grainy realism is still fully convincing. Its adult’s-eye view of human frailty and interpersonal politics makes no concessions to the popcorn crowd. So finely orchestrated are its grisly thrills, you can allow yourself to be terrorized by a 25-foot plastic mechanical shark that’s as supple as a redwood.

It helps that Spielberg is 5,000 times the filmmaker Lucas is (OK, “American Graffiti” is pretty great). But it also helps that “Jaws” is Muppet-free and doesn’t traffic in cockamamie mythos. It helps that its only creature is sincerely menacing with very high stakes, and that all of “Jedi’s” itty Ewoks would make so much tasty shark chum.

7 thoughts on “Retreat of the Jedi

  1. “I’m not watching the latest “Star Wars” spinoff, “The Mandalorian,” and I have a terrible urge to squish baby Yoda’s head.”

    But but buuut … Mando isn’t actually that bad, in fact decent entertainment and with that Baby Yoda “Grogu” puppet Favreau/Filoni accidentally created a super cuddly cult character. And the last chapter in season 2 made every SW fans’ dream become true: We get to see a heavily CGId Luke Skywalker as a fully formed Jedi going to town on a platoon of stormtroopers. A thing none of the trilogies ever accomplished to do. All Lucas/Kennedy ever managed was showing us Luke as a padawan or a retired and exiled ex-jedi. 😐 Now he’s redeemed and even Mark Hamill is happy again and dances on Ruin Jahnson’s and Kathleen Kennedy’s graves.

    Plus they introduced some new characters and some faves from the anime series and novels: Ahsoka Tano, Bo-Kataan, Cobb Vanth, Boba Fett … Altogether a joyful little series.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, my, you totally got me with your super persuasive response, Orca. It’s like you explained a whole galaxy to me, and it’s wonderful. My family watches and loves Mando. I’ve been the grumpy dissenter, based on preconceptions. Thanks for your nudge. Looks like something I too can embrace!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Mando is really a step back into the old, naive, childishly optimistic days of Star Wars. Favreau is the big kahuna now and Kennedy powerless just sits out her last days on the job. She cost Disney billions and SW all the fans and toy business.

        I’ve got nothing against grrlpower, being a bishie myself, but Kennedy got her agenda all wrong. The force isn’t female, and little girls will never be Star Wars fans. But they can enjoy good storytellîng like everybody else. And LucasFilm under Kennedy failed on exactly that point.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m a big Favreau fan, so that’s great news. And it’s excellent to hear that, in your words, “Mando is really a step back into the old, naive, childishly optimistic days of Star Wars.” You know your shit. I’m already mad for Mando. Thanks, Orca!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Don’t get me wrong, Mando isn’t really the Bestest TV Evaaaar, and particularly season 1 had to find its footing slowly and some episodes where just fillers without driving the plot forward. Season 2 was better in many aspects, with guest appearances by Katee Sackhoff and Rosario Dawson.

        Liked by 1 person

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