My 10 favourite episodes of Inspector Morse

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* The Wolvercote Tongue (25 December 1987) – American tourists, an Anglo-Saxon artifact and the Ashmolean Museum.

* Last Seen Wearing (8 March 1988) – a schoolgirl has gone missing and Morse is convinced she’s been killed.

* Last Bus to Woodstock (22 March 1988) – a woman is found murdered in a pub car park.

* The Infernal Serpent (3 January 1990) – the death of a college fellow leads to dark secrets within a master’s family.

* Driven to Distraction (17 January 1990) – Morse identifies a secondhand-car dealer as a killer, but can he prove it?

* Masonic Mysteries (24 January 1990) – Morse is accused of murder, but an old adversary is framing him…

* Second Time Around (20 February 1991) – the death of a retired policeman reopens an old case that Morse worked on years before…

* Absolute Conviction (8 April 1992) –  guest stars galore (Sean Bean, Diana Quick, Richard Wilson, Tony Steedman, Robert Pugh, Cheryl Hall, Steven Mackintosh, Jim Broadbent, Phil Davis, Sue Johnston) feature in this prison-based episode.

* Cherubim and Seraphim (15 April 1992) – Morse’s niece gets tragically caught up in the rave scene.

* The Remorseful Day (15 November 2000) – Morse mort.

Honourable mentions: The Dead of Jericho (6 January 1987: the first episode), The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn (13 January 1987: a deaf academic is killed), Promised Land (27 March 1991: Morse and Lewis head to Australia), The Day of the Devil (13 January 1993: a devil-worshiper goes on the run).

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Return of the Jedi: Special Edition (1997, Richard Marquand)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

WHICH VERSION? This is a look at the notable changes made to Return of the Jedi for its 1997 special edition. For research, I watched the film on a 2004 DVD, for which some additional alterations were made. My review of the original cut can be found here.

* The 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm logos have been updated.

* Although I’ve not seen it, the 2011 Blu-ray release altered the shot of C-3PO and R2-D2 approaching the entrance of Jabba’s palace – it’s much wider now, so the droids seem even more dwarfed by the door.

* Inside Jabba’s palace, the house band now performs a different song. Additionally, whereas there used to be three musicians – called Max Rebo, Droopy McCool and Sy Snootles, according to the internet – there are now loads of them. The most heavily featured new member is a CGI creation called Joh Yowza, who sings the lead vocals. The replacement song is high-tempo tosh called Jedi Rocks. The way it’s staged and filmed like a music video is horrendously out of place for the scene.

* Some new close-ups of dancing girl Oola were specifically mounted for the special edition (the same actress returned after 14 years).

* New cutaways of Boba Fett in Jabba’s palace establish his presence a bit more strongly. In one of them, he’s flirting with two of the dancers. The dog.

* There’s a new shot of Tatooine’s surface, which features a herd of banthas (woolly mammoth-type creatures also seen in Star Wars).

* The Sarlaac has been significantly changed. Rather than just a big hole in the ground, the creature now has a CGI beak and extra tentacles.

* The scene with an unmasked Darth Vader was untouched in 1997. For the DVD release seven years later, however, Anakin’s eyebrows were digital removed because the upcoming prequel, Revenge of the Sith, had the character being heavily burnt. His eyes have also been tinted to match those of Hayden Christensen, the actor who played the character in the prequel series.

* The Death Star blows up with that favourite effect of the special editions: an energy ring.

* As well as celebrations on Endor, the downfall of the Empire is marked by new CGI shots of people cheering and dancing on the planets Bespin, Tatooine, Naboo and Courascant. Whether the tone of the Tatooine image – a mass outpouring of civic jubilation – fits what we know of its seedy, crime-driven streets is another matter. The Naboo footage was only added in 2004, after the planet had been seen in the prequels. A Gungan shouts “Weesa free!” – is it meant to be Jar Jar Binks? The Courascant shots were tweaked in 2004 to take into account some design decisions from the prequel films.

* The distinctive Ewok music (“Jub jub!”) has been thoughtlessly ditched, which might be the most objectionable change in the whole trilogy (that doesn’t feature Han Solo not shooting first). In its place is a new panpipe-laced theme, written and recorded especially for this special edition. It’s pleasant enough but, vitally and sadly, is *not the Ewok celebration music*.

* In the versions of the film released from 2004 onwards, Anakin’s ghost is played by Hayden Christensen. It’s a bit nonsensical, this. Both Yoda and Ben look as they did when they died – whereas Anakin looks like he did when he became Darth Vader. It ties the film in more closely with the prequels, but it does rather undercut Anakin’s redemption within Return of the Jedi itself.

REVIEW: A mixed bag. The new Sarlaac is an improvement, while the celebrations on other planets help round off the trilogy’s story arc. But the tiresome song in Jabba’s palace, the loss of the Ewok music and the addition of Hayden Christensen mean a mark gets knocked off from the original cut’s score.

Nine delusions of grandeur out of 10

 

Dracula (1958, Terence Fisher)

TITLE: DRACULA (1958) ¥ PERS: LEE, CHRISTOPHER ¥ YEAR: 1958 ¥ DIR: FISHER, TERENCE ¥ REF: DRA015CJ ¥ CREDIT: [ THE KOBAL COLLECTION / HAMMER ]

An occasional series where I watch and review works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: Jonathan Harker’s first diary entry is for 3 May 1885, the day he arrives at Dracula’s castle, which is near Klausenburg (modern-day Cluj-Napoca in Romania). After 30 minutes or so, we cut to German city Karlstadt.

Faithful to the novel? Roughly, though the chess pieces have been moved around the board somewhat. Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) is no longer a solicitor, but visits Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) to be his new librarian. In fact, Harker knows that Dracula is an evil vampire before he even arrives. Also in the castle is a vampire Bride (Valerie Gaunt), who claims to be the count’s prisoner. A few days later, Dr Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) shows up looking for Jonathan; unlike in the book, they’re old friends. He searches the now empty castle and finds a vampiric Harker in a coffin… Van Helsing then returns to the city, where he tells his friend Arthur Holmwood (Michael Gough) about Jonathan’s death. Arthur’s sister, Lucy (Carol Marsh), is Jonathan’s fiancée. Unbeknownst to the men, however, Dracula is already seducing Lucy. As she falls ill, Dr Seward shows up: a major character in the novel, here he’s reduced to just a GP. Van Helsing and Holmwood have to kill Lucy when she turns. They then hunt down Dracula’s coffin. Meanwhile, Arthur’s wife, Mina (Melissa Stribling), is also being targeted by the count. Van Helsing chases Dracula to his castle and they fight – the vampire is burnt to death by sunlight when Van Helsing pulls down a curtain.

Best performance: Peter Cushing as Dr Van Helsing (not a professor, and sometimes called just Helsing). Like all his other roles, he plays it so sincerely that you forget what ropy old nonsense this is and believe in the terror.

Best bit: The nighttime graveyard encounter with Vamp Lucy. It’s pure psychological horror. (Carol Marsh as Lucy is hamming it up something rotten, though.)

Review: Of course, this film was Christopher Lee’s debut as Count Dracula – a role he returned to numerous times (for both Hammer and other film companies) until the mid 1970s. He’s actually not in it that much, but is a very strong presence. The script is pacier of plot than the book is – it’s a decent adaptation that makes plenty of economic changes but keeps the essence of the story intact. (The use of diaries and phonographs also nicely tie in with Stoker’s book.) Though why the bulk of the action is moved from Victorian London to a vague central European city is a mystery.

Eight crucifixes out of 10

The Empire Strikes Back: Special Edition (1997, Irvin Kershner)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

WHICH VERSION? The special edition of The Empire Strikes Back, which added computer effects and new footage to the original version, was released in cinemas in 1997. For this review, I watched the DVD that came out in 2004. As I’ve already discussed the 1980 cut of the movie, this is a list of the notable changes made in the 1990s and since…

* The 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm logos have been updated.

* During the early sequence where Luke is attacked and captured by the bear-like wampa, newly filmed inserts give us a better look at the creature. After Luke cuts off its arm – seriously, what is it with George Lucas’s obsession with dismemberment?! – we see the wampa writhing in pain. The 1997 footage cuts in seamlessly.

* The scene between Darth Vader and the Emperor was untouched in 1997. However, there were significant changes when the film was prepared for DVD release in 2004. The original performance of the Emperor (by extra Elaine Baker and voice actor Clive Revill) was replaced by newly shot footage of Ian McDiarmid, who played the character in every Star Wars film from Return of the Jedi onwards. Bringing this film in line with the others is a nice move. Lucas also took to opportunity to tweak the dialogue so the Emperor now specifies that he knows Luke is the son of Anakin Skywalker.

* Although not altered in 1997, when the Special Edition came out on DVD Boba Fett’s dialogue had been dubbed by Temuera Morrison (the actor who had recently played the man from whom Fett was cloned in Episode II).

* The lengthy sequence in and around Bespin’s Cloud City has had a picturesque overhaul. Existing exterior scenes have been graded to push a more sunset-time vibe; a few new simple CGI shots establish the Millennium Falcon coming in to land; and whenever the city is seen in the background of shots or through windows, it’s now busier, even more artful and tonally warmer. All the additions work really well: they open out the previously studio-bound city and, by being so summer-evening-y, provide a nice contrasting bookend with the Hoth sequence.

* There are new shots – one of real actors, one a CG cityscape – showing people reacting to Lando’s panicked Tannoy announcement on Bespin.

* In order to salve a plot hole, Darth Vader’s dialogue has been changed from “Bring my shuttle” to “Alert my star destroyer to prepare for my arrival”. We then see him boarding his shuttle and arriving on the mother ship (in footage stolen from Return of the Jedi). It’s not subtle, but it does tidy up the moment in the original cut where Vader appears on the ship rather suddenly. The new dialogue sounds awfully like someone doing an impression of James Earl Jones…

REVIEW: There are far fewer changes than there were in the special edition of Star Wars. And the big, noticeable alterations actually enhance what was already a pinnacle of popular culture. Childhood nostalgia is the only thing that stops me admitting that this version might be the better one.

Ten negative power couplings out of 10

Star Wars: Special Edition (1997, George Lucas)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

WHICH VERSION? In 1997, writer/director/producer/corporate-bigwig/beard-wearer George Lucas returned to his masterpiece and rejigged it for a cinematic reissue. This new edit added some then-state-of-the-art special effects and features some never-before-seen footage. Irritatingly, this ‘special edition’ has since become the default version of the movie for home-video releases and TV screenings. Further minor tweaks were made for a 2004 DVD (that’s the version I watched for this write-up) and again for a 2011 Blu-ray box set. I’ve already reviewed the original film – so instead this is a discussion of the changes made in the 90s. It’s not a definitive list; just a look at the ones I spotted and thought interesting…

* The vintage 20th Century Fox logo has been updated, while a Lucasfilm logo has replaced its old text credit.

* The film has the subtitle ‘Episode IV – A New Hope’, which had actually been on the original too from a 1981 rerelease onwards.

* We get a few new establishing shots of Tatooine. They’re nice enough. R2-D2’s encounter with the Jawas has been colour-timed to make it seem more like dusk.

* The scene of Stormtroopers finding the crashed escape pod has had an overhaul. It’s longer now, with some newly filmed Stormtroopers and computer-generated dewbacks (we only had static models of these elephant-like creatures in the old version). They’ve been digitally added to some existing shots too.

* A nice model shot of the Jawas’ huge sandcrawler vehicle has been replaced by a CGI version, which is pleasant enough and more dynamic.

* Similarly, there’s a new establishing shot of Ben’s house, which is more detailed (and more digitally) than the old one. It tells us that his hideaway is on top of a hill and he has a nice view across the wastelands.

* Luke and Ben’s arrival at Mos Eisley is a lot more elaborate now. There’s new CGI footage of the city streets as their speeder drives into town. It’s crammed full of people and creatures and vehicles – some on newly shot film, some computer-generated. There’s even a bit of comedy. Great in theory, as it expands the city and brings it to life, but the additions stick out a mile – especially the cartoony shots of the speeder.

* In the cantina scene, one of the strange creatures seen in the montage of customers – a wolfman – has been replaced by a new frog-headed hipster alien who’s wearing a beret and smoking a pipe.

* In Han Solo’s confrontation with Greedo, Han no longer simply kills the guy rather than deal with him. He now shoots only in self-defence, after Greedo takes a shot at him. At point-blank range. And misses. This is a justifiably ridiculed, infamously unpopular change, which undermines Han’s entire character arc for the film. It’s like painting in eyebrows on the Mona Lisa or dubbing a new bassline onto a Beatles song.

* The Stormtroopers searching Mos Eisley now have little floating devices following them around (cameras, I guess?).

* An entire unused scene from the 1976 shoot has been added in. Han returns to the Millennium Falcon to find Jabba the Hutt and his cronies waiting for him, and has to use his silky charisma to buy more time before he has to pay off his debt. Jabba is a computer-generated character and is pretty corny-looking (he was even worse in the 1997 cinema version, but the DVD I watched carried out some repair work). The raw footage featured actor Declan Mulholland playing Jabba, but George Lucas claims he shot the scene that way only as a guide. The notion, he says, was that Mulholland would be replaced in post-production, probably by a stop-motion puppet. Well, that’s clearly bullshit. Not only was Mullholland is full costume, but Harrison Ford walks behind and in front of him and even touches his chest at one point – not things you’d get an actor to do in 1976 if the intention is to matte in a special effect. (Han also calls him a ‘wonderful human being’ in the dialogue, though admittedly he’s being sarcastic.) The whole thing is awful. On a story level, it adds little and slows down the momentum. It robs the viewer of first seeing the Millennium Falcon through Luke’s eyes. And the clash of 1970s film and 1990s technology is nothing but distracting. The worst moment comes when, in the original shot, Harrison Ford walks behind Jabba. When later designed for Return of the Jedi, Jabba was given a huge tail – so how can Han avoid it? The solution – to have Han walk up and over it, and for Jabba to grimace in pain – is a pathetic idea and looks absolutely terrible. On the plus side, although not part of the original shoot, Boba Fett has been digitally added to the scene. Nice touch.

* There’s a new shot of the Millennium Falcon taking off.

* When Dantooine explodes, it does so mainly with a focused arc of energy for some reason. The Death Star does the same later on.

* The Death Star hanger now looks more like it does in Return of the Jedi.

* The gag of Han turning a corner on the Death Star and bumping into six Stormtroopers has been altered: he now finds dozens of them.

* There are some new CG shots of the Falcon approaching Yavin.

* The Aztec-style temple on Yavin 4 now looks a lot more weatherworn.

* In the original cut, Luke goes from maudlin about Ben’s death to excited about the upcoming battle very quickly. Now we can see why: a deleted scene of him bumping into old pal Biggs Darklighter has been slotted in. (Biggs’s other deleted scenes from the shooting script haven’t been used – it seems the footage hasn’t survived in good enough quality.)

* We get new computer-generated shots of X-Wings taking off from Yavin 4, then shots of them approaching the Death Star have been replaced by CG versions with significantly more craft. A few CGI shots have been slipped into the main battle montage too. As a surgical bit of editing, it works really well: the geography of the dogfight is a bit clearer and none of the urgency is lost.

* James Earl Jones is now credited for playing the voice of Darth Vader. It’s astonishing to realise he wasn’t listed originally.

REVIEW: First and foremost, it’s really enjoyable to see a good quality copy of Star Wars. Little restoration work was done to the 2006 DVD release of the original cut, allegedly because Lucasfilm felt guilt-tripped into releasing it. So it’s smashing to see the movie shining and gleaming and popping through the TV screen. Most of the alterations in this version are good in theory and liveable-with in practice, but the two big changes to the Mos Eisley sequence – Han and Greedo, Han and Jabba – damage the film significantly. Let’s knock a mark off because of that.

Nine explosion rings out of 10

Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948, Charles Barton)

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An occasional series where I watch and review works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: Initially in London, then Florida in 1948.

Faithful to the novel? This film was the first in a series where comedy duo Abbott and Costello (playing different characters each time) met classic villains from Universal Pictures’ run of horror movies. Dracula, for example, is played by Béla Lugosi – the only time he ever reprised his role from the 1931 adaptation of the book. The Count’s ‘corpse’ and that of Frankenstein’s monster (Glenn Strange) are being transported to an American museum. When railroad delivery clerks Chick Young (Bud Abbott) and Wilbur Grey (Lou Costello) drop the crates off, however, the two horror icons wake up and the Count wants swap the monster’s brain with that of Wilbur’s. Dracula can morph into a bat, an effect achieved by some nice animation. Later, the Wolfman (Lon Chaney Jr) arrives to stop the Count’s evil plan, while the Invisible Man makes a cameo at the end (voiced by an uncredited Vincent Price).

Best performance: Lou Costello – the shorter, fatter, dumber one – is very silly and very funny.

Best bit: Wilbur keeps seeing Dracula in and out of his coffin, but it only happens when Chick is out of the room. A section of the sequence involves a candle sliding about on Dracula’s coffin lid as the Count lifts it up – the joke had also been in used in A&C’s earlier film Hold The Ghost.

Review: Funny, likeable stuff, but also played for frights at times. Despite the film’s title, Dr Frankenstein doesn’t appear.

Seven insurance investigators out of 10

Ewoks: The Battle for Endor (1985, Jim Wheat and Ken Wheat)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

When the Ewok village is attacked and Cindel’s family are killed, she and best mate Wicket must go on the run…

WHICH VERSION? This TV movie was first broadcast on ABC on 24 November 1985. It got a UK cinema release in April 1986.

GOOD GUYS

* Wicket (Warwick Davis) can now speak fractured English, which presents something of a problem when dating these films. He clearly can’t talk like a human in Return of the Jedi, yet everything else – including Lucasfilm’s official publicity – places this film as a prequel to Jedi. Maybe he forgot what he’d learnt by the time Han Solo and co turn up? Anyway, captured by the bad guys, Wicket and Cindel escape to a cave. He then knocks up a skin-glider, A-Team-style, from some discarded bones. It comes in handy when Cindel is snatched by a dragon-type monster and Wicket has to give chase. When Cindel is later captured by the bad guys (again), Wicket and new pal Noa sneak into a castle to save her. The plan involves the old standing-on-someone’s-shoulders-and-using-a-long-coat-to-disguise-the-fact-there-are-two-of-you trick. Our heroes then retreat to Noa’s starship, where there’s a rerun of Return of the Jedi’s improvised-weaponry battle.

* Cindel Towani (Aubrey Miller) and her family are preparing to leave Endor as the movie begins – it seems to have been a while since the events of Caravan of Courage. However, her parents and brother are murdered by, and Cindel needs rescuing from, the evil Sanyassan Marauders. She and Wicket then encounter a grumpy old man called Noa, but Cindel is soon captured again. Miller is just as rubbish as she was in the first movie.

* Jermitt Towani (Paul Gleeson) has been recast with a more famous actor, but he’s quickly killed off when the marauders attack and steal his ship’s power unit.

* Mace Towani (Eric Walker) also dies in the opening-act attack. So does the family’s mum, but we only see her corpse in order to avoid paying an actress.

* Teek (Niki Botelho) is a bizarre little creature about the size of an Ewok who can run at lightning speed. After bumping into them, he shows Cindel and Wicket an apparently abandoned house in the woods, which they take over as their own.

* Noa (Wilford Brimley) owns the house and isn’t happy when he returns to find it occupied. He chases Cindel and Wicket away, but soon mellows. He has a secret: he’s hiding a star cruiser in the forest. He crashed on Endor years earlier, but his ship is now powerless and his co-pilot, Salak, went missing. When Cindel is kidnapped, Noa and Wicket mount a rescue. Afterwards, Noa’s able to restart his space ship (thanks, MacGuffin!) and he leaves Endor with Cindel in tow.

BAD GUYS

* The Sanyassan Marauders are a group of post-apocalyptic thugs who torch the Ewok village. They look like medieval knights kitted out as Mad Max-style vigilantes. Assuming the knights were ape-like aliens, that is.

* Charel (Sian Phillips) is the (human) leader of the marauders. She can transmogrify into a crow, but is terrified of her boss, Terak.

* Terak (Carel Struycken) is the marauders’ king. He has a faded blueprint of a starship and is obsessed with learning the secrets of technological power. After Cindel – who he assumes can teach him about technology – escapes, he gives chase and ends up fighting Noa mano-a-weirdo. (Noa wins.)

BEST ACTION SEQUENCE: The Marauders attack the village.

BEST COMEDY MOMENT: The shot of Salak – a cutaway to his manacled skeleton in a dungeon – made me laugh out loud, though it wasn’t meant to.

MUSIC: The score is by Peter Bernstein and is decent enough.

PERSONAL CONNECTION: I saw this when it came out on video in the mid-80s. In 2004, I bought both Ewok films on DVD, but doing these reviews was the first time I’d put the disc in the player.

REVIEW: The first Ewok special had a twee, Disney vibe, but this is more in keeping with macabre 80s kids’ films such as Return to Oz or The Dark Crystal. Cindel’s family are killed off violently in the first 10 minutes, for example, while there’s plenty of old-school stop-motion monsters. There’s basically a general sense of *strangeness*, which works really well. The production designer was Joe Johnston – who went on to direct the fun Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, the stylish The Rocketeer and the terrific Captain America: The First Avenger – and he really went to town on the brutal, twisted, scary look of the bad guys and their trappings. Thankfully, there’s also more of a robust plot than Caravan of Courage had. It’s both darker and more engaging than that first one.

Five power things out of 10

My 10 favourite episodes of Warehouse 13

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* Pilot (episode 1.01) – a classy, smartly written introduction to the show’s concept and characters. Loads of fun.

* Claudia (1.04) – a new regular arrives but causes chaos. Knock knock.

* Merge With Caution (2.08) – Pete and Myka swap bodies.

* Where and When (2.10) – Pete and Myka travel to the 1960s. This is the best one of them all.

* Trials (3.02) – Myka’s feeling out of the loop after her time away from the team.

* 3… 2… 1… (3.05) – the same case takes place in three time zones and involves three groups of Warehouse agents.

* Don’t Hate the Player (3.06) – Fargo from Eureka creates a computer game version of Warehouse 13.

* Emily Lake (3.11) – HG Wells returns, but tragedy soon strikes.

* Fractures (4.06) – a number of plots collide with each other in brilliant style.

* The Big Snag (4.13) – a film-noir spoof, doll face. In black-and-white.

Honourable mentions: Magnetism (1.03: an early, clever case-of-the-week), Duped (1.08: Myka’s body is taken over by Alice of Wonderland), Nevermore (1.11: an Edgar Allan Poe-influenced story in which we meet Myka’s parents), Mild Mannered (2.02: Kaylee and Simon from Firefly guest star in a superhero spoof), Beyond Our Control (2.03: a gloriously inventive comic story), Love Sick (3.03: Vanessa and Hugo return, while Pete and Myka think they’ve slept together), Queen for a Day (3.04: Pete’s ex gets whammied on her wedding day), Past Imperfect (3.07: we learn what happened in Denver), The Greatest Gift (2011 Christmas special: a terrific pastiche of It’s a Wonderful Life ), Savage Seduction (5.04: a bonkers send-up of Spanish-language telenovellas).

Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure (1984, John Korty)

Caravan of Courage

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The Towani family crash their space cruiser on the forest moon of Endor, and the two children go missing…

WHICH VERSION? This TV-movie spin-off from Return of the Jedi was shown on ABC on 25 November 1984. Over here in the UK, it got a cinema release (in May 1985). I first saw it on VHS back in the day. For this review I watched it on a DVD released in 2004.

GOOD GUYS

* Narrator (Burl Ives). Yes, we get a narrator – a necessary evil, given that most of the characters can’t speak English.

* Jeremitt Towani (Guy Boyd) is the father of the human family who have crashed on Endor. We see him and his wife early on, searching for their kids, but then they’re menaced by a giant monster called the Gorax…

* Catarine Towani (Fionnula Flanagan) is Jeremitt’s wife.

* Deej (Daniel Frishman) is an Ewok whose has builds a skin-glider – a primitive hang glider made of, um, skin – so he can fly above the forest to look for two missing sons. While up there, he spots the crashed space ship.

* Wicket (Warwick Davis) is a character carried over from Return of the Jedi (although, this seems to be a prequel). He wants to help dad Deej on his search, but gets left behind. He later strikes up a friendship with the Towanis’ daughter, Cindel.

* Weechee (Debbie Lee Carrington) and Widdle (Tony Cox) are Deej’s other sons. The trio investigate the crashed ship on the way back to the village. It seems deserted at first, but then they discover…

* Cindel Towani (Aubree Miller) is the five-year-old daughter of the human family. When taken in by the Ewoks, she collapses – so everyone heads off to a special healing tree to find medicine. She and Wicket become friends.

* Mace Towani (Eric Walker) is Cindel’s hotheaded brother. He’s a kind of Luke Skywalker figure who’s initially hostile towards the Ewoks, but calms down when they overpower him and tie him up. Essentially a decent lad, he cares about his sister’s wellbeing more than his own. Despite the Ewoks’ hospitality, though, he and Cindel do a runner in the middle of the night and go and search for their parents. They get chased by a stop-motion monster, but the Ewoks show up and save them. Together, they all form a caravan that crosses a desert and a mountain range, then reaches the Gorax’s fortress. Mace uses a magical stone to zero in on his parents’ whereabouts, then after some Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade-style obstacles, they find Jeremitt and Catarine locked up in a cage.

* Logray (Bobby Bell) is an Ewok leader who uses a zoetrope-type device to show Mace and Cindel where their parents are being held. The Ewoks then choose to help on the rescue mission – but not before Logray bestows on them some totems of ancient legendary Ewok warriors. (The character was also in Return of the Jedi.)

* Chukha-Trok (Kevin Thompson) is an Ewok who lives in the woods and joins the team but doesn’t survive the mission.

* Kaink (Margarita Fernández) is an Ewok princess the caravan meets along the way.

BAD GUYS

* The Gorax is a behemoth of Endor, who captures the Towani parents and keeps them in a cage.

* There are various other monsters, including a rubber giant spider that Wicket kills.

BEST ACTION SEQUENCE: The skin-glider sequence.

BEST COMEDY MOMENT: There isn’t any.

MUSIC: The score is by Peter Bernstein, who’s doing a sugary take on the Star Wars house style. It quotes Return of the Jedi at times.

PERSONAL CONNECTION: I saw this on video in the 1980s, when I think I assumed it was a fully-fledged Star Wars films. (Forgive me: I was about six.) This was my first viewing of it in nearly 30 years.

REVIEW: Much more of a kids’ film than the parent series, this even has a narrator who sounds like he’s telling a bedtime story. It’s simplistic and earnest, while the middle section has a huge amount of padding. Aubrey Miller, the girl who plays Cindel, is especially tiresome: all her close-ups feel like take 73 of an insert that’s had to be shot piecemeal for performance reasons.

Three life-monitors out of 10

Return of the Jedi (1983, Richard Marquand)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The Rebel Alliance discover that the Empire is building a new, even deadlier Death Star…

WHICH VERSION? The original cut from 1983 (as available on a 2006 DVD). Officially, the film is called Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi.

GOOD GUYS

* R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) begins the film by going with C-3PO to the palace of Jabba the Hutt, the gangster who has Han Solo captive. It’s part of a convoluted rescue mission. After delivering a message from Luke, R2 is press ganged into serving drinks on Jabba’s pleasure barge – which is a stroke of luck, as this puts him where he needs to be for our heroes’ escape attempt. He goes with Luke to Dagobah, then with him and others to the forest moon of Endor.

* C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) is taken aback when Luke gives him up to Jabba (don’t worry, it’s all part of a master plan). Before being rescued, he acts as the mobster’s interpreter. Later, the natives on Endor – short, bearlike creatures called Ewoks – assume he’s a god. He explains the series’s plot so far to them, a story that comes complete with authentic sound effects.

* Commander Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) turns up at Jabba’s palace in a hooded cloak and throws Jedi mind tricks around, but Jabba’s not impressed and chucks him into a pit with a huge monster called the Rancor. Luke is more confident now, especially with his Force skills, and his meticulously planned rescue of Han succeeds. As he lost his original lightsaber in the last film – the one Ben gave him, which used to belong to Luke’s dad – he now has a new (green) one. After saving Han, Luke nips off to Dagobah to see Yoda, then joins the others on the mission to destroy the Death Star. In a fantastic scene that’s quoted in the trailer for 2015’s The Force Awakens, he tells Leia that she’s his sister (oh, and Darth Vader’s their dad). He believes he can ‘save’ Vader, so gives himself up to the Imperial forces in order to get close to him. He’s taken to see the Emperor, who taunts Luke until his anger boils over and he duels with Darth Vader. Luke bests him and chops his hand off, but then has a moment of clarity and stops attacking him. He refuses to murder his father, so the Emperor decides to kill Luke – but then Vader comes to his son’s aid. Luke then has a nice moment of reconciliation before Vader dies.

* General Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is still frozen in carbonite, but his pals mount a rescue. When woken up, his eyesight takes a while to return. His relationship with Leia is warmer now that they’ve admitted they love each other; he’s also getting on fine with Lando and even lends him the Millennium Falcon. (I suppose Han has had plenty of cooling-off time since their row in The Empire Strikes Back.) At some point, this selfish smuggler who only got involved because of the money has been raised to the rank of general by the Rebel Alliance – he was called ‘Captain’ in the last film, so was he promoted in absentia while frozen? He volunteers to lead the strike team that’ll destroy the Death Star’s defences, so takes Chewbacca, Luke, Leia and the droids to Endor, the moon that contains the force-field generator. After a misunderstanding that almost involves Han and Luke being roasted alive, the Ewoks agree to help with the mission. At the end of the film, Han graciously says he’ll step aside and let Leia be with Luke, seeing how she clearly loves him. When she patiently explains that they’re siblings, Han’s expression is 50 per cent “ARE YOU SHITTING ME?” and 50 per cent “I’m getting some tonight!”

* Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) is first seen seemingly being sold by a bounty hunter to Jabba the Hutt. It’s a ruse to get him into the palace. On Endor, he’s distracted by a dead animal hanging from a tree and sets off a trap that snares the gang in a net. He later yelps like Tarzan as he swings through the forest.

* Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) pretends to be a bounty hunter in order to infiltrate Jabba’s palace. Once inside, she defrosts Han – but they’re caught by Jabba. He then forces Leia to sit by his throne in a kinky slave-girl outfit, which [COMMENT REDACTED]. When it all kicks off, she strangles Jabba with the chain he was using to keep her in place (GO, FEMINIST SUBTEXT!). On Endor, she’s knocked unconscious and found by a young Ewok called Wicket. She later learns that she’s Luke’s sister – she claims that somehow she’s always known this, but why she was snogging him in the last film is not mentioned. After her superb scene with Luke, she has a similarly classy moment with Han – he gets the wrong idea about her emotional state, but still comforts her when she’s upset. During the fight at the bunker, Leia is shot in the arm. As Han squats down to see if she’s okay, stormtroopers surround them. Out of their view, Leia draws a gun. “I love you,” says Han, well aware that repeating classic dialogue in a new context is often a pleasing moment in a movie. “I know,” she replies knowingly before shooting the bad guys.

* General Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) has already inveigled himself into Jabba’s retinue by the time the movie begins. During the rescue attempt, Han saves Lando’s life, which is good of him considering what happened in the last film. Lando is now a general in the Rebel Alliance. They just hand these things out like Jaffa Cakes, don’t they? He leads the fleet as they attack the Death Star – using a borrowed Millennium Falcon, he flies into its core and sets off a huge explosion.

* Yoda (Frank Oz) seems older than the last time we saw him (“Sicker I have become, old and weak…”) and conks out minutes after Luke arrives to say hello. He has just enough puff in his body to tell Luke that he must defeat Darth Vader in a duel in order to be a proper Jedi, and confirm that Vader is Luke’s father. Yoda then fades away, like Ben did in Star Wars.

* Ben ‘Obi-Wan’ Kenobi (Alec Guinness) shows up as a ghost again to retcon the information he gave Luke in film one. “What I told you was true,” he says, morphing into Peter Mandleson. “From a certain point of view…” He also fills in Yoda’s blanks by telling Luke that he has a twin sister – Luke guesses correctly that it’s Leia.

* Admiral Ackbar (Timothy R. Rose) commands the Alliance fleet, He’s half-man/half-prawn and has a slobbering voice. “It’s a trap!” he bellows at one point, creating a catchphrase.

* Mon Mothma (Caroline Blakiston) is a high-ranking rebel leader who gives the pre-mission briefing. Many Bothans died to bring them this information.

* General Madine (Dermot Crowley) helps with Mon Mothma’s slideshow presentation.

* Wicket (Warwick Davis) is the Ewok who finds Leia and takes her to his camp. The Ewoks are an alien race made up of warriors, witch doctors, tribal music and simple natives easily impressed by metal and the beauty of a white woman. They initially want to cook (and presumably eat?) Han and Luke, but Luke uses his Force powers to fool them into thinking C-3PO is a malevolent god who will punish them if they don’t toe the line. The Ewoks then risk life and limb to help the rebels’ mission, proving that – in the Star Wars universe, at any rate – guts, guile and Heath Robinson gadgets can overcome hundreds of well-funded troops with armour, tanks and masses of weaponry. (Kenny Baker was originally going to double up to play Wicket, but he was ill on the day of filming so the part was hastily recast with 11-year-old supporting artist Warwick Davis.)

* Wedge Antillies (Denis Lawson) is now X-Wing red leader and takes part in the assault on the Death Star.

BAD GUYS

* Moff Jerjerrod (Michael Pennington) is the nervous commander of the under-construction Death Star. Unlike Moff Tarkin in Star Wars, he is clearly Vader’s underling.

* Darth Vader (body: David Prowse, voice: James Earl Jones) arrives on the Death Star to oversea the building work. It’s over schedule, apparently. He then goes to Endor when Luke gives himself up, and in a blisteringly well written scene we learn Vader’s real name: before he turned to the Dark Side, he was called Anakin Skywalker. Luke begs him to search his feelings for any remnants of goodness. In a line that elegantly justifies the entire movie’s story arc, Vader sadly says, “It is too late for me, son…” However, he later redeems himself when the Emperor is trying to kill Luke. Wheezing, and now missing a hand, Vader looks on in horror. (Seriously, even with a mask on, his emotion turmoil is obvious.) Picking a side, he lifts up the Emperor and flings him down a vertical tunnel. Close to dying himself, Vader asks Luke to remove his mask: “Let me look on you with my own eyes,” he says. Now played by Sebastian Shaw (it would’ve been a different film if it’d been David Prowse under the mask!), he touchingly asks Luke to “tell you sister you were right” about him not being all bad. He then dies, so Luke holds a private cremation. Anakin later makes a ghostly cameo, joining Yoda and Ben Kenobi in the afterlife.

* Bib Fortuna (Michael Carter) is Jabba the Hutt’s aide-de-camp. He has squid-like appendages and talks in a strange language that sometimes sounds rude (“Deh Jabba wanga!”).

* Jabba the Hutt (voice: Larry Ward, who also voiced Greedo in Star Wars) is a Tatooine crime lord who we finally see after he was mentioned in the previous two films. He’s a giant slug, with many hangers-on and cronies. He doesn’t think twice about torturing droids or killing dancing girls, and has former employee Han Solo on show in his palace, encased in a block of carbonite. When our heroes turn up to rescue Han, Jabba underestimates them…

* Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch) is hanging out at Jabba’s palace, but during the skirmish gets knocked into the mouth of the Sarlacc – a desert-dwelling monster with a huge, vagina-dentata gob and lots of tentacles. It burps after swallowing him.

* Malakili (Paul Brooke) is the overweight, sweaty, topless keeper of the Rancor, who cries like a girl when Luke kills it.

* The Emperor (now played by Ian McDiarmid) visits the not-yet-finished Death Star as a way of motivating his workforce. He’s a manipulative, prune-faced man who wants Darth Vader to find – and turn – Luke, and has a devious plan to break the rebellion. McDiarmid takes great delight in the panto dialogue, putting chilling emphasis on terms such as ‘fully operational’, ‘Dark Side’, ‘complete’ and ‘So be it… Jedi.’

* Admiral Piett (Kenneth Colley) returns from The Empire Strikes Back.

BEST ACTION SEQUENCE: If the whole film were just two hours of the stunning model work used for the space battles, it would still be worth seeing again and again. The Millennium Falcon flying into and through the Death Star takes your breath away, even after 32 years.

BEST COMEDY MOMENT: Wicket tries using some bolas during the battle with the stormtroopers, but ends up twatting himself in the face. Maybe it’s because I first saw this film at a very young age, but I’ve never had a problem with the Ewoks. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of comic relief (even if there’s a whiff of racism in their portrayal).

MUSIC: John Williams’s score is another magnum opus. The Ewok celebration music at the end, meanwhile, will be stuck in my head for the rest of my life. We also get a cabaret song in Jabba’s palace.

PERSONAL CONNECTION: This was the first Star Wars film I can remember coming out. I was too young to go and see it, but can recall the publicity. I assume it was what motivated me to want to see the first two on video.

REVIEW: Return of the Jedi has a few problems. There’s a certain untidiness about the plotting, for example. The opening 35-minute sequence – fun though it is – isn’t really connected to the bulk of the film. It’s an extended James Bond prologue (though rather than the exciting climax of an unseen mission, this is mopping up the last movie’s cliffhanger). Other than Han now being free again, nothing in it affects the rest of the story. Another issue is that when we get to the main storyline, it’s an all-too-familiar mission: destroy yet another Death Star. If this were a weaker, less popular series, wouldn’t we be castigating film three for simply copying film one’s big action beat? Additionally, after the beauty of The Empire Strikes Back’s striking colour palette and subjective cinematography, this is sadly a step backwards. A few moments aside – Leia’s treetop chats with Luke and Han, for example – there’s a sense of just-point-the-camera-at-the-well-lit-actors. However, we’re splitting Ewok hairs here. It may be more predictable than Empire, and more simplistic, but Return of the Jedi still sits at the top table of geek cinema. The emotional journeys that Luke, Darth Vader and to a lesser extent Leia go on are superbly dramatised, while the crash-bang-wallop action and derring-do escapades are as terrifically thrilling as always.

Ten gold bikinis out of 10