MORE MACHINE NOW THAN MAN, TWISTED AND STUPID: A Bitter Old Man’s Reflection on Return of the Jedi by John E. Meredith

Return of the Jedi taught me about disappointment.

Okay, technically Sea Monkeys did it first.

For those of you who aren’t as old as dirt, Sea Monkeys were wondrous creatures that looked like little underwater people. They had cute aquatic antenna on their heads and formed their own expansive cities for your personal delight. There were Sea Monkey fathers and mothers, Sea Monkey brothers and sisters, and even Sea Monkey kings who wore little Sea Monkey crowns. Ads for them were found throughout the 1960s and 1970s in the pages of comic books. Mostly because only six-year olds would be stupid enough to believe that’s what they would actually get.

When they arrived in the mail, little Johnny would squeal with delight and run to his room in hopes that he could watch an alien world be born. If you’ve ever been poor, desperate, or stupid enough to try “Shrimp-flavored” Ramen noodles, then you might have some idea what to expect in a package of Sea Monkeys. Because they were brine shrimp. They were krill, good only as a source of protein for penguins, squid, and poor divorced bastards who can barely afford to live. Maybe they form colonies, like termites or bacteria, but they sure as shit don’t build underwater cities. Look as long as you want, but you won’t find a single one of them wearing a crown. Sea Monkeys were just a cruel lie, an elaborate story made up by a greedy corporation to take money away from children.

Fuckin’ Return of the Jedi, man. Like the Sea Monkeys of the cinema.

Oh, there was a lotta buildup leading to it. There was Star Wars, of course. That’s when it was just called Star Wars, before it thought to give us new hope or anything. It’s easy to dismiss it now if you weren’t from that time (and even if you were), but the world hadn’t seen anything like it. All kinds of futuristic stuff from a long time ago. Old republics and new empires. Badass weapons that every kid wanted. Weird-ass aliens every adult wanted to see more of. Heroes buckling plenty of swash, villains that might have been twirling mustaches under their masks.  Both children and grown adults were totally in love with that galaxy far, far away.

Then we got The Empire Strikes Back. It was everything that Star Wars was, but better, and you could love it even if you weren’t a kid anymore. Like, at the ripe old age of eleven. Not only were there more creatures and greater battles, but it ended on a more realistic note. Leia tells Han she loves him just before he’s turned into a chunk of frozen lava and dragged away. Luke gets his hand cut off and finds out the most evil person in the galaxy is his father. It got pretty dark in that far away galaxy, but that shit was exactly like junior high.

Yeah, yeah, you’re probably thinking that I sound like some kind of bitter old man. Okay, maybe, but just listen up.

There were three years between movies then, and no internet to hold us over. But there were magazines: Starlog and Fantastic Films, these were the bible of Star Wars geeks. After about a year’s worth of both mags giving us all kinds of behind-the-scenes stuff and squealing omigod, did you see this????, they started in with the speculation about the third movie. Just like now, many of these ideas were way better than anything we ended up seeing.

The ones that stayed with me most were from a December 1980 issue of Fantastic Films, in an article written by Bill Hays. Before I was a grumpy fifty-year old bastard, I was a grumpy thirty-year old bastard expecting his first child, and I put together a scrapbook of my own childhood and teenage years. Surrounded by various images of lightsaber battles and amazing monsters, Hays’ article took up a prominent place in that scrapbook.    

Here’s just some of what he had to say: “The evolution of Darth Vader is interesting. In the second script, he started as an intergalactic bounty hunter, tracking down and murdering Jedi Knights for the Empire. Then he became a Dark Lord, with religious overtones, and Lucas created Boba Fett from the early concept of Vader as a bounty hunter.”

There’s the scene where Luke leaves Dagobah to rescue his friends. The ghost of Obi-Wan says he was the only hope, but Yoda replies that there is another. The article continues: “Another? Another what? Another fully trained Jedi besides Luke? Lucas says there is another and ‘there has been for a long time.’ The mystery deepens, but Lucas says it won’t be completely explained until the saga ends with Episode 3 sometime in 1992 . . .”

Let’s pretend that we can see July of 1986 through the Force, and Episode 1: The Clone Wars has just opened in San Francisco theaters. The story opens with young Obi-Wan Kenobi pushing his way through a crowded, far-off city, when he senses a tremor in the Force. He follows it to a slave boy surrounded by an angry crowd . . . the mark of a slave s a steel collar around the neck . . . it started to crush his windpipe. Out of blind self-preservation, the boy used the Force. Like Luke, he had no idea it existed, but in his last desperate moment he willed his Master to know exactly how it felt to die. To his surprise, he discovered that the illusion of suffocation was just as deadly as the collar itself . . .”

The penalty for killing a Master was death, but Obi-Wan intervened. He purchased the boy at a fair price, recognizing him as a lost Jedi offspring. The boy gave his name as Darth Vader, but when he tried to call Obi-Wan “Master”, the great warrior admonished him sternly. Upon their return to his ship, the Millennium Falcon, Obi-Wan watched carefully as the boy met the Falcon’s pilot, Anakin Skywalker. Carefully, because he had recognized Vader as an identical clone of Skywalker . . . ”

That was just some of the back story leading up to the next chapter, and that chapter was still being called Revenge of the Jedi. I mean, holy shit, is revenge even a Jedi thing? Who was getting revenge? Was it Luke, or was there some other Jedi waiting in the shadows? What the hell was gonna happen?? Even at the age of eleven, my thoughts were pretty dark. I’d seen some shit at home. I’d endured some shit at school. My favorite books that weren’t Star Wars were all by Stephen King. I didn’t want a damn cartoon, especially not after everything that’d gone down in The Empire Strikes Back.

I wanted some of what Bill Hays was talking about . . . 

We had been told that Vader betrayed and murdered the pilot Skywalker. But Luke’s father had actually left behind another charred body. He donned a disguise and had been working alongside the Imperial troops for years, hiding Jedis and telling Vader they were dead. Matter of fact, when Luke entered Cloud City, Anakin fired a shot at him. Not to hit him, but to warn him of Vader’s presence. What other explanation could there be for one of the deadliest bounty hunters in the galaxy to miss a shot like that? That’s right, Boba Fett was actually Luke’s father.

Or his mother, as some speculation suggested.

Maybe Luke and Vader are both clones of someone else, someone whose original designation of OB-1 had become Obi-Wan. Just think about that for a moment. Obi-Wan as the first clone. Wow. He was a Christ-like figure, appearing like a savior in the desert as he did to Luke. In fact, an early draft of the Jedi script actually had Obi-Wan returning from the dead. So there might be some kind of massive Jedi resurrection just when the Empire was poised to shroud the galaxy in ultimate darkness.  

And there was this about Luke: “He’ll wake up from nightmares with terrible pain in his artificial hand. Leia will diagnose it as psychosomatic, explaining that Luke’s subconscious is trying to avoid another confrontation with Vader, because he now believes he will lose. He can’t control the lightsaber as well with the artificial hand, but he compensates by practicing with the Force’s power over other minds. When Leia resists his romantic advances, out of loyalty to her absent Han, Luke agonizes that he could make her love him by planting the suggestion in her mind, and she would never know. Thus, Luke discovers his own Dark Side.”

Whoa.  

In the early stages of production, Steven Spielberg was slated to direct Revenge of the Jedi. He was part of the Director’s Guild, however, and they had a problem with none of the actors’ names appearing in the beginning of the movie. The next choice was David Lynch, who had just done The Elephant Man. Though Lucas would still have kept a tight rein on his baby, the mind reels at what kinkiness Lynch might have nonetheless slipped into the story. David Cronenberg was in the running too, but reportedly “didn’t show enough enthusiasm,” which makes me laugh deep and long.

So we ended up with Richard Marquand, a Welsh director who had done the totally lackluster horror flick The Legacy and Eye of the Needle, a British spy film with Donald Sutherland.

And we ended up with Ewoks.

And another goddamn Death Star.

And Luke and Leia are siblings now.

Wait, what??? Hold on here, George. They kissed, you remember that??? Not just after they met in the first movie. You know, before they swung across that huge chasm in the Death Star, with all the stormtroopers shooting at them. For luck, you remember that? Yeah, sure, maybe you edited it a bit later, tried to play it down, but it happened. It happened again toward the end of the movie, too, when Luke was about to go attack the Death Star.

Then it happened again in The Empire Strikes Back, after he’s survived the Wampa attack. She laid a big one on him that time, there might even have been some tongue. Sure, I don’t have a sister – so I can’t say for sure – but I’m gonna go ahead and guess that she wouldn’t French me just to make her boyfriend jealous. Then, in what was now called Return of the Jedi, he tells her that she’s his sister. She replies, “I knew, somehow . . . I always knew.” Really, Leia??? Did you know when you were swapping spit and giving him a Jedi chubby?

Seriously, what kind of fucked-up family are these Skywalkers???

And there’s this new Death Star, “more powerful than the first dreaded Death Star.” Oh, really? But yet it’s still got the same damn weakness as the first one??? The infamous exhaust port, just below the main one, small enough for a one-man fighter to fly into the trench. Once inside, they can fire off a photon torpedo and set off a chain reaction that . . . yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever. It’s not like the entire galaxy doesn’t know what happened to the first “dreaded” Death Star. Maybe, with all of their Imperial money and wisdom, someone could’ve riveted a piece of tin over the fucking hole??? Or maybe not left an opening for some womp-rat shootin’ farm boy to find his way inside??

For real, it’s like these fuckers are no smarter than the CEOs of any major American corporation.

Return of the Jedi was released in 1983, so I was thirteen years old. I still had a bed full of stuffed animals. But I was already sitting in the theater, feeling the dull gray ache of disappointment settle over my soul as the movie unfolded. Sure, all the explosions were cool, the aliens were pretty neat, and who doesn’t love a lightsaber? But I wanted a bit more complexity. I wanted character development and consistency, and I wanted dialogue that was better than something I could have written.

I wanted the shit Bill Hays had talked about.

But I got Ewoks.

Fuckin’ Ewoks.

In earlier versions of the story, it was Wookies. But Lucas thought they were too technologically advanced to hurl boulders at Imperial war craft. There was also a version where Han Solo got killed, just like Harrison Ford wanted. He felt that the Rebels victory was a bit too easy and that Solo should sacrifice himself for the cause. That would have been a great character arc, no doubt. There was also a scene at the end, after he’s burned Vader’s body, where Luke basically walks off into the sunset, like a badass. Instead, he joins the happy teddy bear dance and stands around grinning like an idiot at the ghosts of Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Yoda. Because now that we’re dead, we’re all a big happy fucking family.

I didn’t wanna see Vader’s face. It’s not that Luke shouldn’t have taken that mask off, because that was actually kinda touching. But this was the baddest mofo in the entire galaxy, a badass in black armor that had magical motherfucking powers. This dude could make your throat close up or maybe even make your head explode with his mind. But now he’s always going to ultimately be some old white guy who really needed a hug and a trip to the beach. We could have gotten a reaction shot of Luke’s face, letting Mark Hamill do some of that acting stuff, and left the Dark Lord eternally a little more mysterious.

We won’t even talk about Boba Fett, the most feared bounty hunter in the galaxy, getting accidentally knocked into that huge vagina with the tentacles coming out of it . . .

Or Obi-Wan and his ‘what I told you was true, from a certain point of view’ bullshit . . .

Fuck you, Return of the Jedi.

(With these words, the author slinks quietly back to the bedroom in his now empty house. He slips under the covers and points the remote at the television, which throws light from a distant world across his face. Hugging an Ewok tightly to his chest, he grumbles as the opening scene of Return of the Jedi bursts to life in the tiny room. As he finally drifts off to sleep, a little smile nonetheless sneaks across his lips as he dreams of a galaxy far, far away.)      


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