`Jedi' Returns In Force

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 14, 1997; Page G01

"The Return of the Jedi" is unquestionably the weakest chapter in George Lucas's cosmic trilogy, but it still towers above such contemporary claptrap as "Twister," "Dante's Peak" and "Independence Day."

Though the 1983 film's effects seem almost quaint by today's awesome standards, "Jedi" has something the newer movies don't: characters we care about, not to mention a plot that involves both them and us. When it comes to "Twister," the only memorable character was the flying cow.

Like "Star Wars" and "The Empire Strikes Back," which are still in the box office Top 10, "Jedi" has a remastered soundtrack, enhanced effects and new footage. The special edition fleshes out a musical number that takes place in Jabba the Hutt's palace; shows more of the sand-pit-dwelling carnivore, Sarlacc; and most spectacularly expands upon the victory celebration following the destruction of Death Star II.

The changes no doubt ease Lucas's mind, but "digitalized recompositing" and whomped-up sound really have little to do with the films' astounding success. It's not something new, but something old that brings audiences back after 20 years. Despite their celestial settings, the tales hark back to ancient mythology as well as Eastern and Judeo-Christian theology. They speak to the psyche as well as the pulse.

But if the trilogy were made today, it would undoubtedly be stripped of both metaphysics and mythos, the better to showcase special-effects technology. As in "Independence Day," "Dante's Peak" et al., the substance would be sacrificed for show and worthy opponents for bigger saucers and spectacular natural disasters.

Aliens, especially the critters in "Independence Day," really had nothing against earthlings. They were basically extraterrestrial locusts come to loot the planet and go on their way. It's not like it was personal or anything. And the same can be said of volcanoes that blow their stacks.

It's always more interesting when the enemy has a human face. Even if he's a storm trooper in an opaque plastic war suit.

Since the first two parts of the "Star Wars" trilogy were reissued, 33 million people have seen them. It's hard to imagine that anyone will be seeing the reissue of "Dante's Peak" in 20 years.

Return of the Jedi, at area theaters, is rated PG.

© 1997 The Washington Post Company