The Cynical Optimist : The Ultimate Edition Pt. 4


As a kid, “Return of the Jedi” was my absolute favorite movie. The VHS tape played on infinite loop in the family VCR throughout my childhood as I played for hours on end with those classic Kenner action figures.

Jabba’s palace was a dream come true for a little kid obsessed with monsters. In the dimly lit corridors and chambers of Jabba’s lair lurked all sorts of creatures to behold. The Gamorrean Guards, Bib Fortuna, The Max Rebo Band, Ree-Yees, Weequay and of course, Boba Fett.

When you’re talking about “Return of the Jedi,” you’ve got to mention those other creatures, the Ewoks. People either love them or hate them, they’re the Gungans of the original trilogy. Other new characters included Emperor Palpatine and his Royal Guard – those mysterious guys in red cloaks with the awesome helmets.

In the 1997 Special Edition of “Return of the Jedi,” George Lucas added several new scenes and altered sequences to update the film’s special effects and give the ending bigger impact. In my opinion, it didn’t really work…

I’m Adam Frazier, Moviehole’s Cynical Optimist, and this is Part IV in an epic, sprawling saga of Special Editions and the changes that made them. We’ve reached the end of the road, as this edition of the Cynical Optimist will conclude my Ultimate Editions commentary on the future of the Star Wars saga.

In the 1983 theatrical cut of “Return of the Jedi,” the Max Rebo Band music sequence was set to “Lapti Nek,” a song that translates to “Work it Out.” Lucas felt that Snootles’ lips weren’t articulate enough to pull off the scene and so when it came time for the Special Editions, a new musical sequence was inserted called “Jedi Rocks.” New band members were added and Snootles got a computer-animated makeover.

The song just isn’t as good. “Lapti Nek” felt more set in the Star Wars universe, the instruments played otherworldly notes and rhythms, while “Jedi Rocks” felt like a Star Wars parody of an American pop song. What’s worse, the whole sequence feels like a lip-synched music video – it just doesn’t seem real. Lucas needs to totally rework this scene by reinstating the “Lapti Nek” song with yet another makeover of the band, being as the special effects that bring Sy Snootles to life are out of date and straight-up comical. The 2004 DVD editions didn’t bother to make any updates to her look, whereas the Jabba scene in “A New Hope” was redone. Why Lucasfilm? So you can release further editions? Obviously.

One great thing Lucas has made changes to is the Rancor. The 1997 and 2004 editions removed matte lines around the Rancor and made the whole sequence cleaner and more believable. Further work could be done, but I’m not complaining. The sequence looks great – now if only we could get an update on that Rancor Keeper. I want to see his chest hair and blubbery belly in high definition, dammit!

The 1997 Special Edition gave the Sarlacc a beak. This is yet another pointless change Lucas has made to the saga that was not only necessary, but ultimately degrading as well. Its inclusion is as pointless as Jabba’s appearance in “A New Hope.” In 1983, the Sarlacc was just as intimidating with its gaping mouth lined with razor-sharp teeth and nasty tentacles. If you want more dynamic action out of the scene, George, why not remove the beak and replace its motions with more tentacles, pulling helpless skiff guards and thugs to their slowly digested demise.

As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, the key is to add realism. Luke’s heroic exploits above the Pit of Carkoon are legendary, but after seeing everything a lightsaber is capable of in the prequels, it stings to see Luke swinging his laser sword at Gamorrean Guards and somehow killing them without at least giving them a nasty cut. I’m not asking for decapitations or anything, I just want to feel like Luke is swinging a real weapon and not just a stick with some reflective tape on it.

And for God’s sake, there has to be something we can do with that jarring scene on the desert skiff where Boba Fett shoots his grappling hook at Luke. Boba shoots upward, then we cut to a reverse shot of the rope wrapping down and around Luke. It’s a poorly shot scene and I can’t believe it even made it into the original theatrical cut to begin with!

While we’re at it, can we put a small scene of Boba escaping the Sarlacc? Look, I know it’s unnecessary and completely hipocritical of me to ask for such a scene but c’mon, who doesn’t love the Fett? Just put someone in Mandalorian armor and film them crawling out of the damn thing! Lucas mentions in the commentary for “Return of the Jedi” that he thought about filming this very scene, but said it had no bearing on the rest of the story he was trying to tell. Oh, like Jabba in “A New Hope” or the “Jedi Rocks” sequence? Yeah, that really deepened the plot.

In the Special Editions, Lucas inserted scenes of other planets celebrating the defeat of the Empire. Shots of Cloud City, Tatooine and Coruscant were included with the celebration on Endor, and the original song was replaced with a new track entitled “Victory Celebration.” The 2004 editions added the Jedi temple and the Senate to the Coruscant backdrop and Naboo joined the celebration.

The idea of showing the galaxy’s freedom from an oppressive empire has merit, but the way it is shown is jarring and out of line with the original trilogy. Reinstate the wonderful “Ewok Celebration” theme by John Williams and update these brief glimpses of other planets to the level of CGI quality we’ve grown accustomed to. The planets chosen seem unbalanced as well. We never really witness the plight of Tatooine or Cloud City, being as one is controlled by the Hutts and the other didn’t have problems with the Empire until Billy Dee betrayed his old pirate buddy.

Kashyyyk would be a great planet to show, as we know the Empire enslaved the whole planet. It also keys into the importance of Chewbacca’s role in the Empire’s defeat. It could be slightly confusing though, flipping back and forth between Endor and the Wookiee homeworld – but still, it’d have more weight than Cloud City.

Another controversial change was the inclusion of Hayden Christensen as the Force Ghost of Anakin Skywalker in the 2004 DVD editions. I like the idea of Hayden as Anakin here, as it makes more sense. Obi-Wan states that Darth Vader betrayed and murdered Luke’s father, and from a certain point of view that’s true. The good man that was Anakin ceased to be when he became Vader so it makes more sense to see Anakin as he was.

It’s also more relatable for Luke, to see the warrior his father was rather than the old broken man he became. My only problem is Anakin’s robes. He’s wearing traditional robes, something we’ve never seen him in. Lets just replace those with his dark robes from Episode III and call it a night, shall we?

When people talk of further changes the idea of a flashback scene for Leia is always mentioned. During Luke and Leia’s revealing discussion on Endor, she mentions that she barely remembers her mother. A lot of people wonder how this is possible, but as we know – Jedi can see the past, the future, visions of friends long gone. When Luke is on Dagobah, he feels that there is something familiar about the planet – perhaps he had dreamed of such a place before.

Same with Leia, visions of her mother at a young age would dominate her memory. She tells luke she really only remembers images, feelings really. I think some fans would like a brief flashback of Padme inserted, but I don’t really see the point in it. It would be as pointless as showing the Emperor on Coruscant or Bail Organa on Alderaan in Episode IV.

Whew, well that’s it. The Ultimate Editions are finished. The circle is complete. Then again, this series of columns was really only “25 to 30 percent” of what I originally intended it to be. You know what that means? The Super Ultimate Special Editions! Nah, I’m only kidding… honestly. But if column technology advances in the next 10 years, we’ll talk about it.