The Return of the Critic

In the fall of 1983, Scott King CdeP 1984, was witness to the much loved, but often maligned film, The Return of the Jedi.

Scott King went on to produce, write, and direct several films, including the 1999 film Treasure Island which won the Special Jury Prize for Distinctive Vision in Filmmaking at the Sundance Film Festival. His 1996 documentary Shotgun Freeway: Drives Thru Lost L.A. has been called “one of the most ambitious documentaries on Los Angeles ever attempted” by the Los Angeles Times.

When asked to reflect on his critique of George Lucas’s Return of the Jedi, King recently opined:

Yeah, it’s depressing and wonderful to know that my movie reviews haven’t changed one whit.  I’m still obsessed with what the critics think, how they’re wrong, and giving stuff away.  Sigh.  Though there are some clunkers I wouldn’t allow in today, it’s got some good bits for such a young one.  I suspect that the writers you’ve got today have a higher standard, what with the exposure to the internets and so on.  I certainly stand by it, though if I had known the depths that Episodes 1 through 3 would put us through, I would have praised Return of the Jedi to the heavens.  But only because George Lucas reads my work obsessively.  Another missed opportunity.  I’d say one thing, whoever hearkens back to the golden age of filmmaking has a selective memory: they forget all the trash, and polish the trash they do remember.  Not sure how you polish trash, but I hadn’t really thought through that sentence. Hey, there’s another similarity! 

What follows is his “movie review” that appeared 30 years ago in The Thacher Notes.

I hate critics. There is a logical reason for this, as I like to think everything has some rationale behind it (with the notable exception of “SilverSpoons,” an exceptionally vile television program that defies nearly every natural law of existence). Why I liketh critics not: they are repressed doers; they crave secretly to create paintings/sculpture/music/books/plays/film but haven’t got it, that little ember that one needs. Of course, not every critic is like this, but it wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing to say: “I dislike most critics some of the time.” That phrase just doesn’t sing and so I went the way I did.

This summer, critics gave me another reason to dislike them; they lauded films that had every reason to be great, because of the persons working on them, but were in fact worth little more than the celluloid they were exposed on. I will now speak in direct reference to that movie of supposed brilliance: Return of the Jedi.

How could anyone praise this Herculean hunk of trite dialogue and cardboard characterization? Who could endorse this monument to “read-from-the-cue-card-dear” acting and plot twists that are understood before the credits finish? WHY? Money? Fame? Chicks? I don’t know. Perhaps it has something to do with their being repressed doers: by praising a film, they somehow relate themselves to its greatness.

What follows from here is an official review of Return of the Jedi. If you haven’t seen it, and you want to, DON’T READ THIS! Go elsewhere and be thrilled by the article on why facbrats really enjoy grammies or be intrigued by the trials and tribulations of a lowly freshman as he forages his way through the dining hall for the first time. Read something else.

And now…

Return of the Jedi was not all that good and this is why:

Acting: The acting was, quite literally, painful to watch. I can’t talk about it.

The Plot: The way I like to think about it — it is unpredictable the same way cartoons are; you think of what will happen next, then eliminate your first thought because it was too ridiculous and no one would do that, and then you think of something else. And after you’ve planned what they’re really going to do, they (George Lucas and co-Commies, that is) go right ahead and execute what you thought of first. The audience can only let their orifices drop in shocked disbelief.

The cartoon metaphor is a good one, I think, because this movie is basically Saturday morning animation without all that mucking about with messy paints and backgrounds. There is no, or at least very little, violence that looks like it could actually hurt anyone, and when someone dies, it is someone we’ve never met, whose only emotional impact on us is a pretty explosion. None of the main characters die and when they annihilate the big, bad Empire (utterly, we assume because of the rejoicing at the end), there is no sense of sacrifice, which is what real war, not cartoon war, is about. The one moment we sense that ‘Hey, guys! there’s a war going on’ is when an Ewok dies, and it is quite obvious that Lucas put this scene in as a piece of tawdry sentimentality.

Of course, I go too far: how can anyone want an anti-war message in entertainment and who is this critic-guy anyway? I don’t want any sort of anti-war message, what I want is something on the screen to show me that these hero people are taking some sort of risk fighting the invincible Empire. Otherwise, how in the world can I sympathise with them? After all, in Star Wars, we saw the smouldering skeletons of Luke’s Aunt and Uncle, and Obi-Wan gave up his life. Both of these are valid demonstrations that these Empire Dudes can mean business.

Realism: It’s up to you to figure out the answers to the following questions ‘coz I don’t know them.

What difference in the plot of this particular film did it make when we found out Luke was Leia’s brother?

What is the stormtrooper armor for if three-foot high renegades from F. A.O. Schwartz can kill (not bruise, not injure, but kill) those wearing it? With rocks (nay, pebbles!) and twigs?!?

Who, for one moment, believed any of the ‘Jabba the Hut’ sequence?

What happened to the Empire’s fleet after the Death Star was destroyed? Did they just give up, seeing that they were in the presence of True Goodness in the form of the Rebels?

Why did Lucas, of all the overdone, trite endings, put in fireworks? And a family portrait?

Who even dared to let one small part of his brain conceive such painfully forgettable lines as: “Someone who loves you,” or “You rebel scum!”

How could pilots who had trouble six years ago flying into a trench, zip through a tightly-squeezed tunnel without a mistake?

Why (and this is a big why) didn’t somebody out of the hundreds of people who saw the script of this film come up to Georgie, slap him around a bit and say: “Your screenplay is absurd. Try again.”?

Sadly, I think I know the answer to this one. After Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, George Lucas was the God of movies. And to question God is, well, it’s heresy.

Sure, there were good things. And all the talent involved: There was Lucas, and Lawrence Kasdan, whose involvement with four of the six top money-makers of all time will probably make him the next Hollywood deity, if he isn’t already; and Harrison Ford, whom I like rather a lot, despite his popularity.

But it all wasn’t enough. The film was garbage. Very expensive garbage to be sure, but the smell of the city dump is still there.

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