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35 Years Later: ‘Return of the Jedi’ Is Still the Perfect Ending to the Perfect Trilogy

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This year marks thirty-five years since Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi closed the book on the original Star Wars trilogy. Over the years, subsequent films have diminished Jedi’s role as the final word in the Star Wars saga, but for sixteen years it stood as the definitive end to the most popular film series of all time. In many fans hearts, it still does.

ewok-celebration

Yub Nub Bitches!


Return of the Jedi
may not be the best of the first three films, but it is the most fun. The creatures are more fantastical, the space battles more epic in scope, and the Emperor’s scenery chewing is just delightful. Ian McDiarmid’s portrayal of Palpatine is wonderfully over-the-top, and one of the best performances in the whole saga.  

Jedi is really two films: the first part is a rescue mission to free Han Solo from the clutches of the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt (basically so George Lucas can redo the cantina sequence from A New Hope with better masks), and the second is a last-ditch effort by the Rebel Alliance to destroy the Empire once and for all. Jabba’s Palace is like the Mos Eisley cantina on steroids, a dark wonderland of creatures and oddities brought to life by puppeteer and stop-motion wizard Phil Tippett. Each alien is more exotic and dangerous than the last, but the crown jewel in Return of the Jedi’s menagerie of grotesqueries is Jabba himself. It took three puppeteers to bring Jabba the Hutt to life, and the results are amazing. There’s a certain “realness” you get when actors are in the same room with a physical prop that you just can’t get reacting to a green screen, and with Jabba, it’s like Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill are sharing a scene with another actor (one that just happens to be a giant slug) rather than a special effect.

leia-and-jabba

Don’t worry, in a few minutes she’s gonna strangle him to death

The Jabba sequence also serves as an introduction to an older, wiser, and more capable Luke Skywalker. From the moment he enters Jabba’s palace and takes out two Gamorrean guards with just a wave of his hand, it’s clear that this is not the same wet-behind-the-ears wannabe Jedi that got his butt kicked at the end of Empire. In truth, all three of the main characters have matured since their last outing. Leia is more proactive and less of a damsel in distress; Han is no longer a self-centered loner, but instead, a man who cares so much about his friends he’s willing to give up his most cherished possession — the Millenium Falcon — in order to accompany them on a possible suicide mission. At the end of the day though, the original trilogy is Luke Skywalker’s story, and Return of the Jedi is its climax.

Return of the Jedi is Mark Hamill’s finest performance as Luke Skywalker (and yes, that includes his turn as “Jake” Skywalker in Rian Johnson’s weird fanfiction experiment, The Last Jedi). Hamill portrays Luke as a man trying to fulfill his destiny without a clear blueprint for how to do so. With all of his mentors either dead or dying, it’s up to Luke to figure out how to be a proper Jedi Knight, and he doesn’t always do the right thing. Despite his best attempts to control his emotions, Luke gives into his anger frequently. He tries to resolve things with Jabba diplomatically, but when that doesn’t work, he doesn’t hesitate to switch to Plan B: kill everyone. Seriously. When Anakin Skywalker murders a whole encampment of Tusken Raiders in Attack of the Clones, the camera cuts away right before the slaughter begins; in Jedi we see the entire Sarlacc Pit massacre from start to finish.

saila-barge-battle

Luke Skywalker: Savage AF

Luke loses his shit again in the emperor’s throne room, cutting off Darth Vader’s hand and coming within an inch of killing his father altogether. He ultimately chooses not to commit patricide — despite Obi-Wan, Yoda, and even the Emperor all urging him to kill Vader — an act of rebellion that leads to Vader’s own redemption. Luke goes through so many emotions during his final battle with Vader, including confidence, doubt, rage, remorse, and finally resignation, and Mark Hamill portrays them all flawlessly.

Despite acting as the perfect climax to the greatest story ever told (no offense to the New Testament), Return of the Jedi often gets a bad wrap. Some people see Jedi as a dry run for the prequels, while others look at it as the start of Star Wars as toy commercial. Both arguments have some merit, but are ultimately unfair. There may be more special effects on display in Return of the Jedi, but it’s a still a far cry from the kitchen sink approach George used on the prequels.

As for the toys, Kenner was milking the franchise for all it was worth well before Jedi came along. They even made a Cloud Car Pilot action figure, and the fact that you now have to Google “Cloud Car Pilot” to have any idea what I’m talking about just proves my point.

Pssst … it’s the guy on the right

However, no discussion about Return of the Jedi’s perceived faults would be complete without the Ewoks, so let’s get it over with. On the surface, the idea of attacking stormtroopers with sticks and stones seems laughable. However, if you view the Ewoks as stand-ins for the Viet Cong, like George Lucas intended, it makes more sense. Think of them less as teddy bears, and more as cunning warriors using guerilla tactics to take out a technologically superior foe. In fact, if you squint, the whole Battle of Endor can be seen as an allegory for the Vietnam War. Before anyone asks, yes, in that analogy the Empire would be America. Make of that what you will.

Still not convinced that the Ewoks are secretly badasses? How about the fact that the fuzzy little psychopaths wanted to eat Luke and his friends for dinner? They even got as far as tying Han Solo to a spit — the only thing missing was an apple in his mouth. The furry scamps also have a penchant for turning the severed heads of their foes into drums, and then wailing on them like some Scandinavian Black Metal band. Look up the word “Hardcore” in the dictionary, and you’ll find a picture of an Ewok doing his best John Bonham impression on a kit made from Stormtrooper skulls.

Still, it’s hard to make a case for Return of the Jedi when both George Lucas and Disney have done everything in their power to tarnish the film’s legacy. When Lucas altered the original trilogy for his “Special Editions,” Return of the Jedi got hit the hardest. Subsequent “improvements” introduced through various home video releases only made things worse. Lucas reworked Jedi’s ending to show various planets across the Star Wars universe openly celebrating the death of the Emperor, as if there weren’t still millions of stormtroopers stationed on every planet in the empire, and then there’s Jedi Rocks, the blinking Ewoks, and Hayden Christensen as a force ghost…but the less said about all of that the better.

special-edition

This is what Hell looks like

Not to be outdone, Disney released a sequel trilogy that undermines any closure Return of the Jedi brought to the saga. The Force Awakens was great, but that doesn’t change the fact that its very existence ruins Jedi’s ending. Any victory won against the Empire is now temporary, as is Han and Leia’s union — and don’t get me started on what happens to Luke. Disney took one of the greatest happy endings of all time and crapped all over it.

In the end, however, all the CGI yuzzums and green breast milk in the world can’t change what Return of the Jedi is: the greatest third act in any trilogy ever. Period. Individually, the Star Wars movies may not be contenders for “Best Movie Ever” (though Empire probably makes the top 10), but as a trio of films, no one can touch them. Not pirates, not superheroes, not even Hobbits.

To borrow a quote from Clerks 2:

“There’s only one ‘Return’ okay, and it ain’t ‘of the King’ it’s ‘of the Jedi’”

They don’t call it the holy trilogy for nothing.

Zack Zagranis is a stay-at-home dad by day and a writer by night. Occasionally those two get switched around. His interests include Star Wars, Batman, his family, and transcending space and time...but not necessarily in that order.

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Film

70 Best Movie Posters of 2019

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Best Movie Posters of 2019

Deciding the best movie posters is no easy task…

I remember when I was younger, I used to head to the video store and rent movies I’d never heard of based solely on the movie poster art. This was, of course, a different time— sure, the internet was a thing, but we didn’t have countless websites, not to mention social media platforms, promoting new movies online with news stories, movie stills, featurettes, teasers, trailers and so on. Not to say that sort of marketing didn’t exist in the past, because it did, but it wasn’t always in your face. For better or for worse, the internet changed the way studios market movies, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the use of a poster to help build excitement and anticipation for an upcoming film. Most posters continue to be an important marketing tool for filmmakers worldwide and so once again, we’ve decided to collect images of our favourite movie posters revealed over the past twelve months. If you checked out our list of the best movie posters of 2018, you’ll remember it included posters for indie gems, thrillers, horror movies, foreign language films, Hollywood blockbusters and everything in between. This year is no different, although it should be said that some marketing campaigns were so good, we’ve decided to include more than one poster for a few select films. Also worth noting, we didn’t include any fan-made poster art below. That out of the way, here are the best movie posters of 2019.

The Best Movie Posters of 2019

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TIFF

The Piercing ‘Marriage Story’ Is Noah Baumbach’s Best Film to Date

TIFF 2019

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Marriage Story

In 2010, director Noah Baumbach began divorce proceedings with his now ex-wife, Jennifer Jason Leigh. The divorce was finalized three years later, and since then Baumbach has been in a relationship with actor and director (and occasional collaborator) Greta Gerwig. It’s impossible to view his newest film, Marriage Story, without taking into account his own dissolved marriage; this is a searching, seething work of recriminations and longing that pits two all–too–human parents against each other, and invites the audience to not only imagine which bits of psychic trauma are his own, but also to consider our own relationships, successful or not.

Marriage Story stars Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver as Nicole and Charlie, a married couple living in New York City with their young son Henry. The film opens with a montage as Nicole recites the things she most loves about her husband, from the way he can cook and doesn’t mind waking up with their son, to his skill as a theater director. In turn, Charlie narrates his favorite aspects of Nicole, his regular lead actor. There are plenty of opportunities for tears here, but the unguarded emotions of these confessions might get them started right from the beginning. But just as they finish reciting these traits, we’re brought back to reality; these confessions were things that they had written down to read to each other as a kind of peace offering at the start of their mediation following a separation that has led up to their divorce. But Nicole doesn’t like what she has written — or at least doesn’t want Charlie to hear it. And if she won’t go, then it’s not really fair for him to read his. So neither tells each other what they most admire in the other, and instead stop seeing the mediator.

It’s the first strike in Nicole and Charlie’s mutually assured destruction agreement. Though they initially plan on avoiding using lawyers, Nicole gets tipped off to a well-regarded attorney (a funny and ice-cold Laura Dern) who advises her to take a maximalist position in order to ensure she gets half of everything she wants — at the very least. Once she has a lawyer, Charlie tries out a variety of legal counsels (a soothing Alan Alda and a fiery Ray Liotta), but the real conflict comes down to location; Nicole has taken Henry to Los Angeles while she films a pilot, and wants to stay even after it’s finished. Charlie, however, thought they would move back to New York. Each escalation in the feud necessitates an opposing reaction, and the two are driven further and further apart, even as they try to stay close for the sake of their son.

Marriage Story

Baumbach has admitted that some details of the film are based on his own divorce, but he’s also said he interviewed many of his friends who divorced around the same time, as well as lawyers and judges involved in divorce cases. In some ways, Marriage Story isn’t just a portrait of a couple separating, but a primer on divorce court that far surpasses something like Kramer vs. Kramer, which was out of date even in 1979. The film is also an opportunity to observe two of the best living actors at the top of their game. Johansson and Driver have a knack for finding the sweet spot between un-actorly naturalism and the stylistic ticks that we recognize as compelling acting. It gives us a sense that these people were actually a family, and really cared for each other. Baumbach’s script helps; it’s maybe his best writing ever, filled with so many painfully open moments, yet leavened with just the right amount of humor. He’s also as fair as he could be, and neither parent comes off as too saintly or self-centered.

Marriage Story ends in a circle of sorts with the discovery of Nicole’s notes about Charlie’s best qualities. Their marriage was effectively over before the film even started, but I kept thinking back to that lovely introductory scene. How might their journey to divorce progressed if they had the courage to speak openly to each other in that one moment? Perhaps something might have been better. Marriage Story doesn’t harbor any of those romantic illusions, however; once it’s over, it’s over.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on September 12, 2019, as part of our coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival.

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Don’t Be Sad ‘A Rainy Day in New York’ Never Made it to Manhattan

Spend this rainy day playing a board game or something

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Rainy Day in New York

You do not come to late-era Woody Allen for anything resembling true originality. He is the drunken piano man, riffing off the same old hits in the same old bar, hoping that nostalgia will hit a chord with somebody. As in Midnight in Paris, Blue Jasmine, or even Irrational Man, his output over the last decade can still bring up moments of true inspiration and fresh-feeling angles on the same old tales, even if the plot-lines feel somewhat familiar. In the best humanist cinema, like that of Rohmer or Ozu, this repetition can make you see the same thing in a slightly different way. The same cannot be said of A Rainy Day in New York, a film so derivative it feels like it came out of an auto-generator, making me feel nothing but contempt for the waste of so much talent. If you are an American Woody Allen fan sad that this movie never made it to Manhattan, there’s honestly no need to be.

Timotheé Chalamet stars and narrates in a performance so poor that he must be happy this film hasn’t released back in the States. He plays Gatsby Wells, a student at upstate Yardley College, a place he detests yet tolerates because his beloved girlfriend Ashleigh (Elle Fanning) — heiress to a rich banking empire in Tucson — also studies there. As a writer for the University paper, she gets the chance to interview famous director Roland Pollard (Liev Schreiber), giving them the possibility to explore New York together. Yet when they arrive there, a series of misunderstandings, mishaps, and fear of missed opportunities keeps them perpetually apart, handing them the chance to explore romance with others — including old flames, movie stars and, of course, high-priced escorts. 

Although his first name is Gatsby, Wells better resembles the other great male of 20th century American literature: Holden Caulfield. Like the protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye, he is born of massive privilege, shunning his supposedly phoney origins while still visiting the fanciest hotels and drinking in the fanciest bars. There is perhaps some kind of interesting modern portrait of New York privilege in here, but Woody Allen is simply not the right director for the material. It’s like asking a jazz pianist to bash out a techno tune. 

And just as Allen’s blinkered view of New York blinds him to the real world and its contemporary concerns, Chalamet’s nostalgia act cannot find a way to escape Woody’s wooden writing. The sensitive, pretentious, sensual young man who turned in such a deeply felt performance in Call Me By Your Name could be a natural fit for a Woody Allen character, if only he actually leaned into what makes him a great actor instead of trying his best Woody Allen imitation. While some actors can do Woody Allen well (Kenneth Branagh is uncanny in Celebrity, while Larry David is great in Whatever Works), Timotheé Chalamet has neither the studied talent to impersonate well, nor the arrogance to put his own distinctive stamp on it. Elle Fanning is similarly dire; playing both an intrepid, impetuous journalist and a thick floozy, she carries neither the charm nor the wit to make her a compelling co-lead.  

A Rainy Day in New York

I don’t blame either actor; they’re young, and there’s a feeling that they weren’t given much direction. In fact, almost every aspect of A Rainy Day in New York feels underdeveloped, underwritten, and under-thought. This is a film so lazy that it even recycles the ending of Midnight in Paris, perhaps hoping that the audience developed amnesia since 2011. Even Allen’s trademark eye for Manhattan is missing. Filming here properly for the first time since 2009, the city no longer seems like much of a character by itself, and instead comes off as it would in a generic TV Christmas Movie. 

While Allen’s early 00s work — easily his worst period — is characterised by its TV-movie lighting, his collaborations over the past ten years with cinematographers such as Darius Khondji (Midnight in Paris, To Rome With Love), Javier Aguirresarobe (Blue Jasmine), and Vittorio Stororo (Cafe Society, Wonder Wheel) elevated his films’ look considerably, even when the writing may have been lacking. Sadly here, the legendary cinematographer behind Apocalypse Now and The Conformist — despite what seems like his best efforts to light generic hotel rooms with warmth and vibrancy — cannot save A Rainy Day in New York at all, which feels even more rushed and cut-to-pieces than usual. This is really only for die-hard Woody Allen completists; casual minds need not bother.

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