It’s a place where Western Culture has evolved to allow women to walk around bare breasted, where each and every human impulse is catered for in safe booths; there are ones for masturbation, suicide and the consumption of Dan Brown’s novels and in which film history reads differently. To our eyes it would look like the inane etchings of a bored and socially dysfunctional film journalist. You’re invented to be more thorough in your analysis.
In our reality the Star Wars series was dealt a fatal blow by its own creator with the interminable photo-chemical faecal matter known to some as The Phantom Menace (1999). Lucas’ prequel read like a tabloid horror story in which a kind and loving father had snapped and taken a claw hammer to his family as they slept. No-one could understand why he did it. Millions took to the Skywalker Ranch in Marin County to cry in solidarity and hold up placards with the word “why?” scrawled across them. But in a galaxy far far away, the series turned a lot earlier. In 1982 Lucas invited maverick director and neo-noir maremaker David Lynch to helm the final movie in the trilogy, Return of the Jedi. He accepted. What happened next killed a franchise. Now read on for our transdimensional sister site’s review from the archives.
Review: Return of the Jedi (David Lynch, 1983)
Star Wars provided the revenue for George Lucas to fund an empire. With the second movie, The Empire Strikes Back, he built it. As a sat in the Ziegfeld Theater on New York’s West 54th Street watching David Lynch’s conclusion I was a witness to the last days of Rome and that’s not just a comment on the narrative, because in handing this piece to the Eraserhead Director, Lucas might have made the biggest mistake of his life.
As the now familiar chords of John William’s bombastic score sung over the end credits and the title “directed by David Lynch” appeared, almost like a taunt ““ imagine your rapist handing you their business card afterwards, one was struck by the deathly silence in the theater. Three years ago, following the revelation that Darth Vader had spawned weasel voiced Mark Hamill, there had been deafening applause from the Lucasfilm faithful. They whooped, they hollered, they threw Polaroids of their naked partners at the screen ““ the partners moved quickly to retrieve them and on it went. This time however, there was nothing. As a critic I hadn’t seen anything like this since the intermission for Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate; the “End of Part I” announcement after a half day of movie prompting two patron’s to kill themselves and third to kill two patrons.
The Director’s recent Oscar nomination for the Elephant Man brought him to Lucas’ attention but the Star Wars creator was warned that Lynch would insist on full creative control, something he was initially reluctant to cede to another filmmaker. Negotiations between the two men were fraught. Lynch would respond to Lucas’ frequent phone calls by answering in a series of foreign accents, sometimes pretending he couldn’t speak English at all. Consequently Lucas couldn’t be sure who he was talking to and was forced to leave numerous messages which Lynch would later pretend he hadn’t received. Lucas, progressively disillusioned by the lack of progress, was gearing up to hire the pliable membranes belonging to Richard Marquand when a breakthrough occurred. Lynch would settle the matter using the ATARI game based on the original Star Wars picture. If he successfully destroyed the Death Star on a single credit, Lucas would be forced to sign a legal agreement that signed across both creative control and final cut to the maverick filmmaker. If Lynch failed, he’d direct an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune instead. Given the finished product, Lucas will be kicking himself that it didn’t go the other way.
Lynch’s sequel finds the principles in an altogether different league of dire straits, which makes the ending to Empire Strikes Back look happy and confected by comparison. Lucas’ original treatment imagined space gangster Jabba the Hut as a giant slug but Lynch’s conception casts Dennis Hopper as a sadistic, space ore dependent serial womaniser whose palatial den looks suspiciously like an intergalactic harem. Leia (a returning and uncomfortable looking Carrie Fisher), is Hut’s sex slave and the abuse she receives is vastly out of step with the child friendly space operatics of the first two films. She’s obliged to lick Hopper’s face, rest her head in his crotch and beg to be clothed while a manic hopper tosses scraps of meat at her from his throne.
Lynch’s twist on the Star Wars universe is to show the Empire’s rule as a force for perfidiousness in the collective moral psyche. This is a disgusting universe in which cruelty in very much in vogue. If Lucas imagined the Empire as a relatively benign fascist allegory ““ cartoon Nazism, then Lynch is obsessed with the detail of that setup; absurd decadence and sexual violence. When we last saw Harrison Ford’s Han Solo he was encased in space concrete and sent off to Hut as an ornament. Here, that would be an easy let off. Knowing that Leia desires Solo but is repelled by him, Hutt teases the princess with the threat of her lover’s death. Solo is momentarily unthawed, given a drug to induce arousal and re-set. Each time Leia repels Hopper’s increasingly grotesque advances, one part of Solo’s anatomy is blasted off. The climax of this sequence has the unhinged gangster snapping off Solo’s engorged genitals, prompting Leia to grab the carbonite phallus in a fit of intense grief and beat Hutt to death with it. This is a dream for psychoanalysts but a nightmare for Star Wars fans who must contend with the emasculation and death of one of their heroes and the psychological retardation of another in the same scene.
If Lynch wants to unsettle his audience and remind them that no one is safe in his version of the Star Wars universe then he succeeds magnificently. By the time the action shifts to Luke’s encounter with Daddy Vader and oedipal gigantism, we’ve endured the defenestration of Yoda by an angry Luke, an Obi-Wan turned insane in the Jedi afterlife who tells Skywalker the younger that “the stars don’t know shit” and a three minute conversation between space fleas on the floor plate of the Millennium Falcon. The climatic showdown between Skywalker, Vader and his Emperor is unsettling, not least because Luke is converted to the dark side of the force and slaughters his father to become the Dark Lord’s new apprentice. It’s a curious payoff for the millions who’ve made the first two movies in this trilogy box office champions, but that’s Lynch ““ unapologetically unconventional, more concerned with the dark underbelly of human nature than tidy endings and fearless. The movie may bomb, and early figures suggest it will do just that but as I was reminded on the way out by one optimistic fan, it could have been so much worse. “Lucas was going to have a planet of teddy bears in his version” he told me. Just imagine it.
Key scene (screenplay by David Lynch and Lawrence Kasdan):
INT. JABBA’S PALACE – DAY
Jabba is tugging hard on the chain affixed to Leia’s neck.
Woah, now now little lady, don’t you be tryin’ to go someplace. Remember, I own you, I own your fucking head, legs, tits, the lot ““ you got that? I’m the overlord of you.
He inhales another line of space ore from the arm of his throne.
I have powerful friends Jabba, you may not live to regret this.
Oh, you’ve got powerful friends? Powerful friends huh, listen ““ I chewed off a Rancor’s balls this morning. That was breakfast. Do you understand? I don’t do fear. I hand it out, I’ve got the motherload. You think this is hell? This isn’t hell my sweet, hell is what happens when you don’t do exactly what I say. You want me to destroy you? I’ll fucking destroy you. I’ll annihilate your space atoms and suck them up with my ass.
I’ll enjoy watching you die.
Ho ho ho. Listen sugar tits, I’ll tell you when its time to die. We can all enjoy the moment. Maybe you’ll be nesting on my space wang when it happens, know what I mean?
(Goes on a similar vein for 10 minutes).
Next Week: Michael Bay’s Schindler’s List!