I’ve been waiting for this! The thing is: I was a Star Wars kid. I was there for the first release of the OT. I was crazy about the stories, the characters, their galaxy– I got as many toys, comics, posters and magazines as I could about Star Wars and its incredible sequel “Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back”. Then the third movie came out… and I went to it… and I came out… so confused.
I couldn’t put it in words, I didn’t hate it, but the effect was that I never bought another Star Wars comic, toy, or poster again unless it was about the other two movies. I came to realize “Return of the Jedi” was a giant let-down.
The reasons it fails are numerous. First, it’s all a giant hand-holding romp; just a victory lap without ever building any real stakes. Second, it is totally disjointed as a story. It tries to give moments to all the characters without doing justice to any. Third, The Jabba rescue was totally inane. Forth, The Ewoks are overdone and (embarrassing) they save our heroes asses. Fifth, Everything Han does turns out wrong. Etc. Luke finished the last movie as a total punk with a few days training and a missing hand– but now suddenly he needs no more training? Suddenly Vader now worries about how it’s too late for him? None of this was keeping with the Empire Strikes Back. Empire was brutal. Jedi is a musical. They just don’t match.
Ah, but in comes SpencEdit and his Final Cut.
This fan edit has answers to all these problems and more. There is so much concern here for trying to make ROTJ fit the original Two-logy and, I am happy to report, it revives a dead film. The RETURN OF THE JEDI, um, Returns!
Spence’s strategy is simple: This edit removes the giant narrative dog-leg from the middle of the film which has Luke run off to Degobah for an exposition dump. Instead, as would more naturally follow the ass-whipping he received in Empire, the first thing Luke Skywalker does is go to Degobah for more training. So not only is this Luke more consistent with who he was, but the viewer of this story gets to identify with Luke right away as he hears he must face Vader and discover who “the other Skywalker” is. This turns the rescue on Tatooine into a test for the newly trained Jedi; it allows the mission to Endor to naturally flow out of getting the heroes back together; and it makes all the gravity between Luke and Vader feel organic. To support these grand ideas, this edit also tackles the pace of every sequence to remove as much cushion as possible. Now, when people get shot on Endor, it really hurts. Capping it all off strategically is a giant idea that I don’t want to spoil– but let’s just say destroying the Death Star won’t necessarily get the Rebels everything they want now. Now the personal Luke story has more stakes than ever.
Execution is first rate. The best example for me is the scene I’ve always hated between Han and Lando, where Han makes Lando take the Millenium Falcon. This has always felt and looked fake to me. But Spence does something brilliant, he follows it up by letting Han’s last look at the Falcon from inside the Imperial Shuttle go as a silent observation– no one but the audience gets to notice how he feels. It makes the whole thing authentic and beautiful; character driven and smart. That’s a good metaphor for the effect of this entire edit. All the characters feel more on target, stripped of their schtick and yet still given their chance to shine (the new intro of Chewie is especially effective). And not enough can be said about how this has become a fitting finish of the Luke Skywalker story (not to mention a few effective musical choices that make this a fitting finish to the Anakin Skywalker story as well– this truly completes the Saga). The final twenty minutes of this thing is perfect. I never knew this was what the footage held– it’s so much more effective and exciting.
There are only a couple things that I can take issue with– first, the way Spence chose to edit two tiny scenes jarred me a little and second there seemed to be a mix issue where the music felt muffled and then jumped up a level. I’m not technical enough to describe exactly what was wrong, but let me say that neither is enough to worry about. Download and watch this if you have any interest in a BETTER version of RETURN OF THE JEDI.
It’s almost exactly the movie I wish I’d gotten when I waited in line all those years ago. This would have kept me buying toys and comic books. Very impressed. Very happy.