This illustration is from Thomas Hughes' 1857 novel, Tom Brown's Schooldays which is set in the English public school, Rugby, which Hughes attended himself as a boy. The scene in question is from a chapter entitled "The Fight". In it, Tom Brown agrees to fight Slogger Williams -another student- and almost of the other school boys turn out to watch the match.
My sister who is home schooling her kids showed me a writing exercise her eldest boy completed last week. The assignment was to write a description of a certain Aesop fable: "The Ass And His Driver". Being an innocent young home schooler, he only knows the word 'ass' to mean 'donkey'. His description of the fable was unintentionally funny, and we laughed over it like immature school girls.
Return Of The Jedi was released in 1983, the third film in the Star Wars trilogy. From the first, the filmmakers had an extremely difficult task: making a film which could live up to the promise of The Empire Strikes Back, which was a financial and critical success. Unfortunately Jedi isn't, in my opinion, anywhere near as good a movie as Empire. Let me start out by saying that Jedi isn't horrible, and if placed next to the prequels, it begins to look like Lawrence of Arabia. But it does have a number of flaws which were, had we but known, omens of problems which would burgeon to gargantuan proportions in the next films. Before starting in on my criticism of the film, however, I'll point out a few things about the movie which are fine.
To begin with, I'm glad that it was decided to complete the Han Solo/ bounty hunter story arc rather than just forgetting about it. It does take away from the time allotted for the main plot line, but considering how a lot of that was handled, perhaps it's just as well. The rescue of Solo also provides an opportunity to see how Luke Skywalker's Jedi skills have improved since The Empire Strikes Back. In addition, it highlights the fact that he still has some way to go in attaining the proper Jedi attitude of nonaggression as, when Jabba refuses to bargain, Luke seems glad to have an excuse to exact revenge on the corpulent criminal and his henchmen. He smirks and tells the Hutt that "This is the last mistake you'll ever make" in a rather smug tone. This is not the correct attitude for a Jedi, since we've been told that they are supposed to only use the Force in self-defense, not for vengeance, etc. This will become important later in the movie.
As for Leia's now-controversial slave girl outfit, I don't actually have a problem with it, because it fits the story line. We know that Jabba is a skeezy perv, and it makes sense that he would be creepy and force her to wear the revealing outfit, especially since he had fed her predecessor to his pet and had a job opening. Contrast that with this shot of Carol Marcus in Star Trek: Into Darkness, which was pointless and obviously gratuitous.
Unfortunately, there were some lost opportunities to make the whole Jabba escapade more suspenseful. These seem rather obvious, so I'm not sure how the writers missed them. The most obvious of these is the script's treatment of Lando. We are never in doubt as to who he is: right from the start he pulls open his helmet and shows the audience who is underneath. This seems an odd choice; surely it would have been a lot more dramatic to wait until they were at the Sarlacc pit to reveal who he was, and have him leap to help his friends at that point. Also, because we know that Lando is embedded in Jabba's guard, we know when Chewbacca is brought in that it's a set up, rather than wondering if the Wookie has been legitimately captured. This is a drama killer.
As to Yoda trying to keep the truth about Luke's parentage a secret, I find this manifestly stupid. Sure, it made for high drama in Empire when Darth Vader spilled the beans, but frankly, keeping Luke in the dark seems a very short-sighted decision to make. Surely if Yoda knew that it was imperative for Luke to face Vader and was seeking to prepare him for this eventual meeting, it would have been useful to arm him with this knowledge. Apparently Yoda assumed that this information would weaken Luke's resolve which, admittedly, is true. But by not informing him of the truth, they left this weapon in the hands of Darth Vader, who could basically tell Luke, "Your friends lied to you. Everything you believe is based on this lie." The danger of Luke being turned by this seems to me to be the greater risk. In my opinion, it would have been a better strategy to tell Luke, "This is what happened, this is what defeated your father, and this is what you must guard against." Incredibly, even when Yoda is dying he tries to avoid telling the truth and, indeed, leaves it too late to tell him about Leia. What if he had died before Luke got there? You'd think that the information that there was another trainable ally would be important enough that Yoda would at least leave Luke a note or something. Really, for a supposedly all-wise Jedi Master, Yoda seems to have completely mishandled all of this.
This brings me to the reappearance of Ghost Ben. Really, I think the character of Obiwan Kenobi is the most wasted one in the Star Wars series. In my review of A New Hope, I gave my reasons for thinking that Kenobi was a complete idiot to let himself be killed the way he did. Also, he stated at the time that he would become hugely powerful if Vader struck him down, and here we are two movies later and all he's done is show up a couple times to give a few words of advice to Luke. Huh... some power. So here he is again, and naturally enough Luke wants to know why Ben lied to him about his Dad. Kenobi tries to get himself off the hook by saying that what he told Luke was true, "from a certain point of view." These are weasel words. The fact is, there's only one truth about anything. People may interpret facts differently based on their point of view, but that doesn't change the truth itself. Regard with suspicion anyone who says something like: "This is my truth." No, it's not; it's their opinion and they obviously don't have any facts to back it up.
I'm a big proponent of telling the truth upfront- the actual truth. Morality aside, playing fast and loose with the facts generally comes back to bite you on the butt. Telling Luke the truth wouldn't have left him open to such a mental and emotional blow delivered to him by dear old Dad. It might have even convinced him not to leave his training early: "You're not ready to face Vader and here's why..." If nothing else, it would have prevented Luke from having a make-out session with his sister. Ewww. Thanks for nothing, Ben Kenobi. So those are my thoughts on the first part of Return Of The Jedi; more later on the rest of the film.
This Sunday's movie was the football film Remember The Titans from 2000. I'm not, as I believe I've mentioned before, a big fan of most sports movies, but this is actually one which I don't mind watching. It stars Denzel Washington- who is quite possibly the most likable actor working today- as the coach of a high school football team in Virginia in 1971, when the schools are integrating. Not only does the team have to worry about winning their games and making it to the championship: they must also contend with the racial tension between teammates and the wider community as a whole. The film is based on a true story and while it follows a fairly typical sports movie plot line- team is formed, doesn't get along, learns to work together, there are complications, etc.- it has more to say than your typical sports film. It's well worth watching, and it doesn't matter if, like me, you don't know much about football.
“The moment you say that any idea system is sacred, whether it’s a religious belief system or a secular ideology, the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible." -Salman Rushdie
So... ages ago, I started reviewing all of the Star Wars movies and got as far as The Empire Strikes Back before getting distracted and going on to other things. I suspect that this has something to do with the fact that they're not my favourite films- or alternatively, I may just be using this as an excuse for lack of focus. Either way, I thought I should get back at it, so here we are: Return Of The Jedi. ROTJ picks up about a year after the events of Empire, and we have returned to the planet on which the trilogy started: Tatooine. This is where the bounty hunter has taken Han Solo: to the lair of the corpulent gangster Jabba the Hutt. R2D2 and C3P0 arrive at his compound carrying a message for Jabba from Luke Skywalker. He asks for a meeting to discuss freeing Solo, and also gives the droids to the crime lord.
Jabba has no intention of giving up his favourite wall decor: Han Solo, frozen like a fish stick. A bounty hunter arrives with a captive Chewbacca, to Jabba's delight. The Wookie is locked up by a guard who turns out to be Lando Calrissian. Meanwhile, the bounty hunter sticks around for the party for reasons which become obvious when, while Jabba's court is sleeping it off, he releases Solo from his carbonite prison. Solo is sick and temporarily blind but otherwise unharmed, and the bounty hunter removes his helmet to reveal that he's actually Princess Leia. Unfortunately, they are caught by Jabba and his henchmen; Solo is dragged off to lockup, while Leia is forced to don the infamous slave girl bikini and be chained to Jabba.
Luke Skywalker arrives, looking all Jedi-y in a dark cloak, and uses his powers to get in to see Jabba who tells him- through C3P0's translation- that there will be no deal. He then drops Luke into a pit with his pet monster, which Luke fights and kills. An enraged Jabba has Luke, Han, and Chewie dragged in front of him and announces that they're being taken out to the Sarlacc pit and thrown in, where they'll be slowly digested for a few millennia. Jabba and his court make a picnic of it, travelling out to watch on the gangster's flying barge, on which R2D2 is serving drinks.
The gang's all here, and when they reach the pit, R2D2 shoots Luke's lightsaber to him and the fight is on. The friends, including the recovering Han, tussle with the guards, knocking many of them into the Sarlacc Pit. Meanwhile on Jabba's barge, Leia takes advantage of the confusion and panic and garrotes Hutt with her chain. She is then freed by R2D2 and they join the rest of the group, speeding away as Jabba's barge explodes, Luke having turned the barge's laser canon on itself. As they leave the planet to rejoin the rebellion, Luke (and R2D2) separate from their friends and head for Dagobah to see Yoda.
Luke finds an enfeebled Yoda who, at 900 years old, is not as spry as he once was. He is, in fact, dying and Luke, dismayed, says that Yoda can't die because he needs to complete his training. Yoda tells him that he needs no more training and, surprised, Luke asks if he's a Jedi now. Yoda says no, because he must face Darth Vader again. Luke, recalling what Vader told him at the end of Empire, asks Yoda if it's true; is Darth Vader his father? Yoda prevaricates, but at Luke's insistence finally admits the truth- he is. He also says that it's unfortunate that Luke rushed to face Vader when he was unprepared to do so and Luke, at first angry about being lied to, apologizes for not staying to complete his training. Yoda seems to be struggling to tell Luke about someone else with the Force, but he dies before he can impart this knowledge.
As Luke leaves Yoda's abode, ghost Ben Kenobi shows up, and Luke angrily asks him why he lied about Darth Vader killing his father. Ben says that when Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader, the good man he had been was destroyed, so what he told him was true, from a certain point of view. Uh huh. Ben tells Luke that he's going to have to take Vader down, but Luke says that he can't kill his own father. Ben says that, if that's the case, the Empire has already won. Luke points out that Yoda mentioned someone else who could be trained, but Ben says that person is Luke's sister, Leia. Egad.