The day before my birthday, I completed the Utah Theatre's run of the original Star Wars trilogy. It opened with a Peter, Paul and Mary concert, where Peter or Paul somewhat testily explained that the lyrics of "Puff, the Magic Dragon" are about nothing more or less than the death of childhood. Then we watched the same Tweety Bird cartoon as last week, and then another one, and then another one. I recognized that the theater was using one of the Golden Collection DVDs from my childhood. And then finally they stopped teasing us and showed "Return of the Jedi".
The first section of the movie, set in Jabba's palace, is pretty dark. I mean that both thematically and literally in terms of the Blu-Ray remastering. Even on the big screen it's much more difficult to make out several of the background characters than in previous versions. I don't mind admitting that it makes the whole atmosphere creepier even before we get to EV-9D9 torturing the poor Gonk droid that for some unconscionable reason has pain sensors in its feet. And I don't mind admitting that the rancor, on the big screen with its horrifically bad bluescreen effect fixed, is terrifying. If I'd been one of those five year old kids in the audience I probably would have crapped my pants. It's incredibly realistic for a puppet, and its slow, unearthly, (almost) unstoppable lumbering gait as it fixates on its prey with primitive single-minded devotion is unsettling, and the way it snarls after Luke hurts its finger and you know it's absolutely pissed, well, that gives me shivers. Poor, poor Oola. Poor, poor Gamorrean guard.
But that's nothing compared to the Sarlacc. Really, nothing else in Star Wars compares to the Sarlacc, which as you may recall is said to digest its prey alive over a thousand years. It's so out of proportion to any of the other terrible fates that people can meet with in the galaxy, and it's so out of proportion to anything its victims shown in the movie possibly could have deserved. Just because they weren't bright enough to amount to much of anything more than hired muscle for a thug like Jabba, they're condemned to a purgatory that not even Jabba deserves. Probably. You know what? I refuse to accept that. I don't care that it's canon. It's morally wrong and besides that, it's biologically absurd. The canon explanation is that the Sarlacc injects nutrients into its prey (along with neurotoxins to make the process even more excruciating because reasons) to keep them alive while it digests them. Think about that for a second. It injects nutrients into its own prey for a thousand years. And somehow comes out ahead and doesn't starve to death. Yeah, no, I may have given up my Wildlife Science major but I know enough to know that's bantha poodoo. I'd even rather accept this version as canon:
Really, even without that, the Star Wars galaxy is a craptastic place to live. Not just the constant cycle of war with no chance in hell of ever ending; Earth already has that. No, what really makes it craptastic is that its (canonically more or less accurate) theology offers no hope of a better future either. When people die, their souls don't go on to paradise and they don't get resurrected. The "become one with the Force", which entails losing their individual consciousness altogether, unless they're one of a very few Force-sensitives who discover the secret to retaining their identities as Force ghosts. There is no eternal justice. The villains who wreak havoc on the galaxy will never be punished for their crimes. Every life they ruin or snuff out is a victory for evil that will never be reversed. Worse still, the heroes who sacrifice their lives for the cause, whether by working tirelessly or actually dying, will never be rewarded. Every single Rebel soldier and pilot in "Rogue One" who willingly gave up his or her life so that someone else would have a sliver of a chance to save the galaxy... simply ceased to exist. Yeah, as I get older, I overthink entertainment.
To say nothing of that Ewok, that one Ewok who dies! He gets me every time. It's not the way the music takes on a mournful tone after he's shot. It's not the way he lays on the ground softly moaning. It's not the way his friend shakes him and tries to wake him up. It's all of those things. I cry every time.
And then I cry again when Luke cries out to his father for mercy, his father saves him at the cost of his own life and dies moments after looking at his son with his real eyes for the first and last time. And then I cry again as celebrations rage across Endor and across the galaxy - and with all due respect to the cuteness of "Yub Nub", the Special Edition replacement song kicks its pants off. It's beautiful and epic and the contrast of its slow, idyllic pacing with the energy of the Ewoks and Rebels dancing just works in a way I can't describe. I don't cry much at all, but this is one of the more emotional movies I've ever seen, as it taps into the most basic story of good versus evil within all of us, of our potential for change and redemption (though a deathbed repentance for murdering toddlers is maybe taking it a bit far), and of the certainty that heroes will eventually prevail against impossible odds until J.J. Abrams resets the storyline and basically erases everything they accomplished. For as much as purists consider it inferior to the first two installments of the original trilogy, as far as I'm concerned, this is Star Wars at its best.
Also, on the big screen I noticed for the first time women in the background aboard the Rebel flagship. The Rebels had women in their ranks besides Mon Mothma and Princess Leia after all. Fun fact: there were a few female pilots in the final battle too, but most of them didn't make the final cut, and if you watch their footage it's not hard to see why. I don't think they were even professional actresses. I suspect they were married to some of the guys working on the movie, whom they wore out by constantly asking "When am I gonna be in Star Wars? You promised me a spot in Star Wars." The remaining female pilot had her lines and death scream dubbed over by a man, I guess because audiences in 1983 just weren't progressive enough to watch a woman explode. I wouldn't even complain if Disney changed "him" back.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.