A song came up on my iTunes shuffle the other day.
“Yub Nub” – John Williams (1983)
In the original 1983 release of Return of the Jedi, “Yub Nub” signals the finale of the Original Trilogy. It wraps everything up and gives the audience a sense of closure. There’s that great sequence of Luke at Vader’s funeral pyre with Williams’ “May the Force Be With You” echoing in the background. We don’t just get a sense of how far Luke has come in this story, but also how far he’s changed as a character. The camera pans up to the Endor skyline as starfighters and fireworks dance across the sky in equal measure. And then… stormtrooper helmet drum solo?
It doesn’t work at all.
Forget the song’s terrible title. Almost seven hours of sweeping galactic space fantasy and this is what they settle on for resolution? Bad bad bad. Meeting Chewie’s family during the Holiday Special bad.
What’s the deal with the creepy man-child chorus? Who is singing this anyway? This is less “Ewok” and more “neutered group of estranged choir singers forced at gunpoint.”
Context is key here. The Rebel Alliance just blew up the Death Star. Again. Luke resisted the temptations of the dark side and with the help of his newly redeemed father, destroyed the Emperor. The film should end with something that reflects that. “Yub Nub” sounds like Rogue Squadron stumbled home after a kegger and immediately started banging on the contents of their trash compactors. Imagine Aragorn’s coronation ceremony being held in the Green Dragon instead of Minas Tirith. “Yub Nub” is not quite at this level of inappropriateness, but it’s pretty damn close.
Fortunately, things get better.
“Victory Celebration” – John Williams (1997)
George Lucas gets a lot of shit for messing with his movies. That’s no secret. Despite that, “Victory Celebration ” stands as his one (and likely only) change that makes sense.
The err… original version, which came attached to 1997’s VHS Special Edition release, featured a brand new piece written by John Williams along with a slew of digitally-rendered cityscapes. That meant we got to see the crucial planets of the saga. Yes, that inevitably meant adding Naboo at some point, but hey we also get Tatooine, Cloud City, and of course Coruscant. The scourge of the galaxy has just been vanquished. It stands to reason that we should revisit some of the saga’s more memorable locales. It’s our right, dammit!
And then there’s the score. This new version keeps that same tribal inspiration from “Yub Nub” but doesn’t make it corny. And whereas the former is essentially everyone singing one melody, this has layers. It’s a bit more complex, and while I won’t try arguing there’s a whole mound of subtext to unpack with Return of the Jedi’s ending, “Victory Celebration” is clearly a change for the better.
None of which is to say I endorse the slew of implications the updated scene brings with it. The most obviously caustic is slapping Hayden’s mug on Anakin’s ghost with the added defense that all Jedi spirits appear in their true form.
But that doesn’t make any sense because Anakin fucking repented as an old man anyway. GAHHH now I’m mad again.