December 6, 2013

Queer Review: Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983)

Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi
Director: Richard Marquand
Writers: Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas
Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Ian McDiarmid, Sebastian Shaw, Frank Oz, James Earl Jones, David Prowse, Alec Guinness, Kenny Baker

The weakest of the Star Wars movies, Return of the Jedi sends the saga on a note as as fuzzy and awkward as an Ewoks' pelt.

After rescuing Han Solo (Harrison Ford) from the clutches of the evil Jabba the Hutt, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and the rest of the gang head back to Rebel Alliance's fleet to discover that the evil Emperor had secretly begun construction on a new Death Star. This time around, the Death Star is being protected by an impenetrable shield that must be destroyed. Luke is selected to lead a strike team to destroy the shield, but after arriving on Endor, he abandons them to pursue a more dangerous mission: to convert Darth Vader back to the light side of the force.

The Queering
I would like to open up this review by asking the same questions every one else always asks about Return of the Jedi. Why do the stormtroopers wear armor that fails to provide any kind of obvious protection from blasters, arrows, or even bloody rocks? Given their inability to hit any of the heroes, it presumably is doing nothing to improve their aim... Also, why are there Ewoks? I said WHY?!

I mean, I sometimes find myself surprised at people who claim that the original trilogy is unquestionably better than the prequels. What I want to know is how exactly such people managed to block Return of the Jedi from their minds. Does the Ewok line "yub, yub" contain subliminal messaging for such a purpose? You will forget this scene! You will scrub our misbegotten existence from every corner of your mind!. The Star Wars films have never shied away from commercial appeal, but the Ewoks unfortunately function as little more than walking merchandise opportunities.

Now old movie serials are an obvious inspiration for the Star Wars saga and recently, my partner and I watched The Phantom serials but had to stop after only a few episodes. I would like to pretend to be all noble and say it was because of the really, really racist manner in which the Native allies of the Phantom were presented, but the real reason was because of the awful overall quality of that series. In any event, I bring this up due to the fact that the manor in which the "Native/Indigenous" characters were presented there, is exactly the same way the Ewoks are developed in Return of the Jedi.

Allow me to explain. In The Phantom serials, the Native characters are what could probably be categorized as "generic Hollywood primitives". The story is set in Asia, but their visual elements (clothing, homes, weaponry) are drawn from a much wider variety of sources, primarily African and Native American, with a few Amazonian elements thrown in for good measure. None of the characters look Asian themselves, nor does anything they wear, live in, or use. Of particular interest is the fact that the Phantom uses the Natives characters superstitions as a means of controlling them.

I bring this up, only because it's a recent example that's stuck in my mind but really, probably the presentation of any indigenous group from any serial would work just as well. This is after all, how the concept of genericness works. In any event, it's just a really obvious example for the template that the Ewoks were clearly based on. The use of superstition being a means to control the Natives being a particular important element. In any case, the point I want to make is that I don't think that using racist tropes to develop an alien culture makes those tropes any less racist.

Okay, onto the queer subtexts. They really are thin this time around, if they can be said to exist at all. We learn for example this time around that Han Solo can only say "I love you" to Princess Leia if she's holding a phallic-esque blaster near her crotch. I know, I know, I'm stretching things out here. Sorry.

Overall, Return of the Jedi manages to do some things right. The opening sequences where the gang rescues Han from Jabba the Hut are well executed, with the creepiness of Jabba's fortress oozing from every frame. Also, the three way climax between Darth Vader, Luke, and the Emperor are as intense and dramatic as one could hope. Now if only those scenes hadn't constantly been interrupted by Ewok action porn....

This Jedi film thingie is worth returning to the Star Wars saga in order to see, but only kind of.

The Rating
3 out of 4 stars


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