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Flashback to 1983 -- Return of the Jedi Internet Discussion

Most fans around today were present for the initial reactions to the latest Star Wars films, that is the prequel trilogy. Most remember the hype, the criticism, the arguing of "bashers" and "gushers", the exploration of new themes, upcoming plot points and future twists. Although the prequels provoked way more discussion and polarized way more opinions than any of the original films--if only due to the web culture unto which they were released--many fans wondered "what would we be saying if the internet had been around during the original trilogy's run?" Well, the internet was around. And there are archived discussions from that time.

Although the internet as we know it now did not exist, net-connected discussion groups did. These groups communicated through an e-mail based network--usenet. It exists today as a popular networking means, as many of you may know. Although small in scale back then, there were specialty networks based on different categories, such as movies, and even specialty sub-categories--such as Star Wars discussion. Unfortunately, such technology only brings us as far back as 1981, and most groups only go back to 1982 or 1983. At that time, Star Wars was a huge phenomenon but one that had begun to move away from the mass-audience powerhouse hit of 1977 and towards a somewhat more niche fanbase. The films were also becoming increasingly criticised--Star Wars was the biggest hit of the year, while Empire had fans and critics divided, but with Return of the Jedi many felt the material did not live up to its potential. Within these postings you'll witness Star Wars at its twilight; many of the comments and criticisms are surprisingly familiar, while others seem amusingly dated (it seems that there was a mass net trend in 1983 to term the Force ghosts "holograms" for some strange reason). Speculation also frequently turns to what the prequels and sequel trilogies will be like. A sample below gives us some reactions from May and June 1983:

"I saw the movie last Friday, and I must admit, although I liked it a great deal, the ending left a great deal to be desired.  I thought it was just *too* happy and too predictable, with the good guys winning (with little or no harm done - except for a few Ewoks) and the bad guys all dying. Be serious, George! "

"I couldn't hardly understand Yoda, either. But then, I could never understand Fozzie Bear from the muppets, and of course, they sound exactly alike. It looked like they were using a different puppet for Yoda than last movie. Anyone else think that? "

"These are some impressions of Return of the Jedi. The visuals are nothing short of fantastic.  I especially liked Jabba's floating `barge'. Before I go further with specifics, let's hit a few general points. SW-ANH and TESB were good enough to stand by themselves. NO WAY for this flick. There was very little continuity of action, and contrary to other folks who have said that Mark Hamill can't act, I feel that he had the only believably written part in the story.  The dramatic pace of the show was very badly handled, and many important scenes weren't believable. "

"Perhaps not quite as crafty an ending as I had hoped, but a reasonably satisfying ending.  I felt very good leaving the theater... The crowd for the first showing at Atlanta's Phipps theater (the only Atlanta 70mm
print) applauded and cheered many scenes throughout the movie, and gave a standing ovation at the end. Of course, some of these folks were die-hards who camped out all night to be first in line. "

"ROTJ was a fine film, but not as good as the other two.  First, it was too busy getting all the things done it had to, and second, it was not nearly as imaginative.  There were no surprises.   So it's Leia - whoopdedo.
So Vader told the truth - tralala!  I may not have predicted these things, but the reason I didn't was because they were too obvious, and from TESB I got the impression Lucas liked the "Big Surprise"...What extra power does the Emporor have that he can shoot blue bolts from his fingers?  We have never seen the force ever do anything like that  before.  Just who is the emporor anyway?  Is the force strong in his family?  Is he a member of the Skywalker Clan?  Are the Skywalkers like the Amber family?  What about Obiwan's family.  I guess that Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru were not truly related to Luke. "

"The reactions I hear from folks out here are varied. Most seem to have liked it. I suspect only the hard core
finds it a disappointment... Sort of like the James Bond movies. They peaked with Goldfinger for me and have been silly since then... The movie may have been a poor execution or interpretation of the SW epic--but the plot wasn't that bad. I even think there is reason to suppose that Lucas made the plot up BEFORE he was turned to the Dark side of the Force of money--and gave in to those begging for more merchandisable
muppet toys in the film, more cuteness, more salability. ...I think JEDI has been a success so far because it is receiving the credits from the first two movies. It is LIKE those movies from the point of view of what appears on the screen--If they intercut scenes from the Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars with those of Return of the Jedi you would be hard pressed to say where they were from. The problem is that in Jedi the emotional content of the story is lost. It's played as though the audience didn't CARE about the deeper tones--the fatal flaw, a kid's movie made by adults who don't think kid's have discerning viewing capabilities. "

"I like Byron's idea (V7 #20) that burning Vader's body released him to join Obi-wan and Yoda in hologram land.  Watching carefully tonight, I did notice that Anakin faded in after Yoda and Obi-wan in the last scene. Did anyone else see them as a trinity?  The Father, the muppet, and the Holy Ghost, perhaps? "

"If you get a chance to see it when there are lots of little kids in the sudience, pass it up.  Go to the midnight show if you have to, but the second time I saw it, some nearby tots made me wish I had the powers of the Dark Side.  The first time I saw it (at the first local performance), the crowd went wild, and the tension in the scene where Vader is deciding whether to grab the emperor ran high -- chants of "Do it!  Do it!"  Great. "

"It may sound from my flames above that I didn't like RotJ. This is not true. I truly enjoyed it, but I was disappointed because it left the spirit of episodes IV and V. It was simply TOO CUTE to 'be believed'. I am afraid that I will not pay to see this movie again, as I did SW (17 times) and TESB(12 times), at least not in the near future. Oh, well. I hope that Episodes I-III and VII-IX (if they are made) return to the spirit of adventure that was in SW and TESB, but seems to be lacking in RotJ."

Other discussion ranges from topics such as why Darth Vader's body didn't disappear, whether or not R2-D2 could be considered the real hero of the films, and whether or not Leia was really the 'other'. (Intriguingly, this post states that producer Howard Kazanjian gave a slide presentation for Revenge of the Jedi--and the crowd gave him flack about how revenge is not a Jedi trait; could fan reaction such as this have influenced the decision to revert back to "Return of the Jedi" for these very reasons some time later?)

Just like Star Wars internet discussion today, these should not be taken as a completely accurate cross-section of fan opinion, being (especially for that time) a specialised section of fans (most seem to be posted from tech students at universities), but it gives an interesting historical insight into the thoughts and opinions of certain viewers of that time.

For a full viewing of postings--which go straight through the 1980's and into the 1990's with some groups (interesting to track the prequel anticipation)--start with net.movies.sw. The earliest postings begin at May 1983.

For an alternate source, one might also want to check out net.sf-lovers. A general sci-fi network rather than a Star Wars specific one, the franchise is frequently discussed, and posting archives go even farther back to 1982. A general movie-discussion network, net.movies, also goes back to 1982 and contains much Star Wars discussion. Google usenet archives also contain many other Star Wars newsgroups from the early and mid 90's that may be of interest for tracing the speculation and buildup to the prequel announcements.

06/19/07

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