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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

19 Comments

  1. David Ainsworth
    March 6, 2017 @ 4:05 pm

    Jedi has always been my favorite of the original trilogy.

    I do think the post-colonial reading ends up being more complex than you present, with the Ewoks actually being even more empowered in that they themselves don’t actually appear to have been colonized yet. The Imperials don’t construct their bunker with Ewok slave labor, have an Ewok “Friday” on-site; they don’t have a stockade full of “vermin Ewoks” or keep them as pets; they haven’t even displaced the Ewok village. Either they haven’t yet gotten around to doing so, or they just don’t care enough about the Ewoks yet to do anything.

    Within that context, we’d expect more of a cargo-cult response. But the actual Ewok motivation turns out to be remarkably principled and deeply associated with themes of slavery running through the movies. It is a droid, after all, who the Ewoks identify as the superior being when they find our heroes. C3P0’s comment that impersonating a god is against his programming demonstrates the extent to which his subsequent actions empower him; further, his attempts to free the others only bear fruit when he demonstrates (through Luke) that he has Force powers, while the lack of a connection between droids and the Force has been an undercurrent justifying their continued servitude and status as property.

    And once freed, our heroes gather Ewok support, but not because the Ewoks have a long list of grievances against the Empire based upon their past enslavement. Instead, they incorporate Han, Luke, Leia and Chewbacca into their tribe (meaning that Luke’s victory is now the Ewoks’ victory), and they turn against the Empire on the basis of the story C3P0 tells: in effect, they oppose imperialism not because of what it has done to them, but what it does to others.

    Then the “primitive savages” who can’t match Imperial technology manage to win their battle. The subset of fans disgusted by this sequence for its unrealistic qualities (“Logs beat an AT-ST?” Cue recital of armor thickness and tensile strength or claims that Wookies would have been better) have missed that the whole battle is a metaphor for a larger struggle against imperialism. The Rebels include both former Imperials and their slaves/victims; the Ewoks express such strength because they are neither, yet, instead being outside the system, the “soon-to-be-oppressed.” No wonder the movie refuses to translate their speech or to subtitle it. These are not Tonto-figures speaking pidgeon English as “noble savages,” but an independent polity worthy of respect and acting out of principle to destroy the Empire. Given the chance at cargo-cultism, they opt to worship droid technology, specifically, and thus align themselves with the enslaved over the slavers, the servants over the masters. No wonder a specific subgroup of the fandom despises them.

    Reply

    • Josh Marsfelder
      March 7, 2017 @ 5:14 am

      Funnily enough, I believe the MythBusters (at least two of whom actually worked on Star Wars as VFX designers) demonstrated the Log vs. AT-ST scene was realistic: Those logs have a lot of mass, and get them going fast enough and you’d be surprised at what they can do. Royally fucked up a 4X4.

      Reply

  2. Jack Graham
    March 6, 2017 @ 5:47 pm

    Rome never looks where she treads.
    Always her heavy hooves fall
    On our stomachs, our hearts or our heads;
    And Rome never heeds when we bawl.
    Her sentries pass on—that is all,
    And we gather behind them in hordes,
    And plot to reconquer the Wall,
    With only our tongues for our swords.

    We are the Little Folk—we!
    Too little to love or to hate.
    Leave us alone and you’ll see
    How we can drag down the State!
    We are the worm in the wood!
    We are the rot at the root!
    We are the taint in the blood!
    We are the thorn in the foot!

    Mistletoe killing an oak—
    Rats gnawing cables in two—
    Moths making holes in a cloak—
    How they must love what they do!
    Yes—and we Little Folk too,
    We are busy as they—
    Working our works out of view—
    Watch, and you’ll see it some day!

    No indeed! We are not strong,
    But we know Peoples that are.
    Yes, and we’ll guide them along
    To smash and destroy you in War!
    We shall be slaves just the same?
    Yes, we have always been slaves,
    But you—you will die of the shame,
    And then we shall dance on your graves!

    • A Pict Song, by Rudyard Kipling

    Reply

    • Martin Porter
      March 11, 2017 @ 10:23 am

      A fantastic poem, but a very strange one for an arch Imperialist to write.

      Reply

      • Roderick T. Long
        March 19, 2017 @ 5:03 am

        Kipling was complicated. He wrote “The White Man’s Burden,” a clear paean to western/white supremacy. He wrote “The Ballad of East and West,” celebrating mutual respect between westerners and nonwesterners as equals. And he wrote “Letting in the Jungle,” celebrating the triumph of jungle over civilisation. One can find similar complications in Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard.

        Speaking of Howard, I suspect Kipling’s poem influenced Howard’s fascinatingly strange obsession with the Picts:
        https://aaeblog.com/2008/08/08/he-picked-picts-to-depict/

        Reply

  3. T. Hartwell
    March 6, 2017 @ 7:29 pm

    Return was far and away my favorite as a kid, but to be honest the more I watch it now the less and less I like it (though I have to say the Ewoks have always been one of the highlights for me, and the backlash against them is ridiculous. It says a lot about SW fandom that the two most overtly “kiddie” films (this and TPM) are by leagues the most hated in the franchise).

    My big problem with Return has always been the awful things it does to Leia–the slave bikini is obviously as bad as everyone says, but more damaging to me is the sister retcon, where Leia becomes quietly devalued as an individual character and starts to exist only as a counterpart to the men–instead of being “Leia”, she’s now effectively “Luke’s Sister” and “Han’s Girlfriend” (even Force Awakens, with all the strides it makes towards better female characters, can’t help but put her in those same functions).

    The whole film just doesn’t allow her to really exist in of herself anymore–what little she gets in the Boushh costume is devalued by her almost immediate damseling (which is so ridiculous–there’s absolutely no reason for Luke’s plan to be this convoluted, and the film seems to tie itself up just to get her in the slave outfit), and once we actually get to the rebellion it’s Han and not her that gets to actually lead the squadron. The film as a whole seems to only want to put her in stereotypical ‘feminine’ roles–the damsel, the maternal figure, the supportive counterpart to the Brooding Man Hero. It’s probably the most embarrassing film in terms of what it does to its female characters, which is saying quite a bit for the Star Wars franchise.

    Other than that I just dislike how simplified the film becomes–the more complex morality introduced in Empire gets squared away here in favor of an over-the-top Big Bad, retconning Vader’s choices as being the result of an Evil Corrupting Influence, and the whole thing just feels like a dumbed-down version of the original film. Add on top of that the bad structuring (the Jabba sequence is overindulgent to the extreme–there’s no way the plot function there demanded two entire setpieces) and the rather limp direction and SFX work (outside of the astounding puppetry it’s the cheapest looking of the original films), and yeah, this one just hasn’t held up for me.

    Reply

    • Josh Marsfelder
      March 7, 2017 @ 5:16 am

      I’ve never been a Star Wars fan so I don’t even know why I’m commenting, but it’s the treatment of Leia that always killed this movie for me too, for much of the reasons outlined here.

      Big ups Ewoks.

      Reply

  4. Tim B.
    March 6, 2017 @ 8:49 pm

    The Leia reveal really is down to Lucas just wanting to avoid having to deal with resolving a love triangle (although the whole implied celibacy of becoming a Jedi could have dealt with it quite adequately).

    A more interesting resolution that could have been developed out of the revelation would have been for both Luke & Leia to confront The Emperor & Vader at the climax.

    Reply

  5. Scurra
    March 6, 2017 @ 9:31 pm

    Personally, I find it hard to rate Return at all. It’s got the best fifteen minutes or so of the entire series in it, but it’s also got the worst other ninety minutes.
    The opening bit at Jabba’s Palace never worked for me. I can see the arguments for it, and the notion that the whole (six-part) Trilogy is really just a sequence of these half-hour serial episodes, where three or four have been edited together to make a single movie is really quite an interesting one. (And it shows why Star Wars itself is a rogue element that needs to be discarded or drastically restructured in order to properly fit this newer model.)

    I quite like the middle bit on Endor. There’s still very little that matches the speeder bike chase for sheer visceral excitement (but then again, I like the Light Cycles sequence in Tron too.) And the whole implication that the Ewoks are going to eat their prisoners is nicely underplayed.

    But then you get to the grand finalé where Lucas gets too self-indulgent by making the final battle split three ways so that he can cut between them to make it feel as though there is more tension than there actually is.
    And yet, despite the fact that the confrontation with the Emperor definitely severely diminishes Vader’s role, that sequence is so good as a payoff to one of the best bits of retconning ever, that it still works for me. The rest of the battle is just filler though. Sure, there’s some barbed political commentary going on, but it never really felt real to me (I wonder if that’s because I found the politics in the prequels much more interesting and subtle?)

    I’m glad that Phil’s final list goes so flagrantly against the general consensus, although that was clearly his intent from the start, and I think he mostly gets away with it. 🙂

    Reply

  6. Jack
    March 6, 2017 @ 11:39 pm

    I remember an interview with Lucas in Rolling Stone-and bear in mind, Lucas has always been a bit of a mythologist about his long term story telling plans, so how he told a story in 1983 wasn’t really how he told it later-that the choice to make Leia Luke’s sister was decided in the writing of Return, where they needed a reason for Luke to become angry enough to fight Vader and “Vader threatens to turn Leia!” was what they decided on.

    Which sure sounds like Lucas and his cavalier way of writing movies. And in a lot of ways makes what happens to Leia in this movie worse, since if it wasn’t just Lucas pulling stuff out his ass in an interview, it means that she was made Luke’s sister really late in the game, in an utterly half-assed fashion. And the character has suffered ever since, since even the EU versions only made grudging motions towards being a Jedi and was defined, as Phil said, to the end as “Luke’s sister” and “Han’s girl.”

    Reply

    • Nathan Mahney
      March 8, 2017 @ 11:44 pm

      If true, it makes me wonder what Yoda’s line in Empire “There is another” was about. I always thought it foreshadowed Leia as Luke’s sister, but now I’m thinking maybe it’s referring to Vader.

      Reply

      • Random Comments
        March 9, 2017 @ 5:13 pm

        That line was meant to give the idea that we could lose Luke and not end the story, so people might think he’d actually die. The idea became to introduce his sister as a new character, perhaps in a second trilogy. And then they hurriedly resolved both aims with “Leia is his sister.”

        Reply

  7. Ciaran M
    March 7, 2017 @ 12:18 am

    Another beautiful ‘frock’ moment is the crying owner of the Rancor. Always stuck in my head along with the Ewok death as one of the purest moments of pathos in the saga.

    Reply

    • Ozyman.Jones
      March 7, 2017 @ 2:43 am

      The Rancor trainer/handler’s moment of utter despair at the loss of his beloved pet/monster is ‘the moment’ of the entire original trilogy for me. It’s one of the rare moments, (even though played for laughs) of verisimilitude that made me believe in the universe around the main characters.

      Reply

      • Jarl
        March 8, 2017 @ 3:25 am

        To me, Star Wars is always at its best when it’s humanizing the alien (“alien” in this case including humanoids with alien cultures or behaviors). That scene is probably one of the best, but I always felt the cantina scene worked well not just because of the sudden flood of weird aliens in it, but that they’re all just lounging around, getting out of the heat, enjoying a drink, betting and dancing and having a good time. They’re aliens, sure, some of them are straight up monsters, but they’re still people.

        Reply

    • Jack
      March 7, 2017 @ 2:56 am

      I always loved that moment. Sure, it was a giant murder machine, but it was HIS giant murder machine.

      Reply

      • Martin Porter
        March 9, 2017 @ 6:35 pm

        I found it easier to empathise with the grief of the keeper of the Rancor on the creature’s death – it was after all an animal kept captive for the enjoyment of a psychopath – than to empathise with Luke on Vader’s death.

        Vader, let’s face it, was a genocidal fascist who tortured most of the leading characters during the orginal trilogy. Going gooey over his sprog at the end didn’t really redeem him.

        Perhaps worse, Vader was someone who got promoted, despite making a complete hash of everything he tried, just because he was in the same minority cult as the big boss. People like that I really hate.

        Reply

    • Nick R
      March 13, 2017 @ 10:15 pm

      Reply

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