Release Date: May 25, 1983
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Richard Marquand
Release Format: Theatrical
In Loving Memory of Kenny Baker
You Were The Droid We Were Looking For
There is a common theory that out of all the sequels in a franchise, it’s usually the third film that’s the worst. X-Men: The Last Stand, Spider-Man 3, Robocop 3 and Alien 3 are all guilty of this. However, unlike those films, Return Of The Jedi isn’t terrible. It just so happens to be the weakest in the original trilogy. There were so many franchises, like the ones I’ve mentioned, that dropped the ball at the finish line. With that said, Return Of The Jedi is a good film, just not a great one. It gave the original Star Wars trilogy a fine conclusion, it just could have been a lot better.
One year after the events of The Empire Strikes Back, our heroes decide to rescue Han Solo (Harrison Ford) from Jabba The Hut (Larry Ward). Yeah, I’m not sure why they waited so long. I mean, they clearly knew where Han was being taken but whatever. In their attempt to rescue Han, they get caught themselves and Leia undergoes a change of wardrobe. I’d say this was unnecessary but it’s Leia in a gold bikini so I can’t complain. After an opening action sequence that seems to go on forever, they finally rescue Han, kill Jabba and escape. Luke (Mark Hamill) goes back to The Dagobah System to finish his training with Yoda (Frank Oz), only to find out that the great Jedi Master is on his death bed.
After Obi-Wan’s force ghost explains to Luke why he didn’t tell him about his father, he then reveals another head-scratcher; Leia (Carrie Fisher) is his sister. You guys ever seen Eurotrip? “Oh, here’s a fun fact… You made out with your sister, man!” So Luke realizes he must confront Darth Vader (James Earl Jones / David Prowse) but is obviously conflicted about killing his own father. Meanwhile, the rebellion learns that the Empire has almost finished building a new Death Star. Only this time, The Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) will be on board to oversee the production. As Luke confronts Vader, Han and Leia join the rebellion and the Ewoks on the planet Endor to take down the Death Star’s shields and destroy the empire once and for all.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead
So, why do I and so many others consider Return Of The Jedi the weakest in the original trilogy? Well, for me, much of the film feels like it’s on autopilot, especially the climax. It’s the rebellion taking out The Death Star and we’ve seen this already in a more thrilling film. After the climax of A New Hope, I sat back and said to myself, “that was intense.” When they blew up The Death Star in Return Of The Jedi, I sat back and said, “meh.” With the exceptions of it being a half completed Death Star and The Millennium Falcon joining the X-Wings in the fight, it is almost the exact same scene, just not done as well.
And, I’m sorry, I have to dwell on this; how in the heck did the Empire manage to almost complete construction on another Death Star AND make it fully operational in the span of a year? It took almost two decades to complete the last one and make it operational and now they have the manpower to do it 5% of the original timeframe? I know it sounds like a nitpick but it just doesn’t add up. Unless Magneto is aboard that Death Star, I’m just not buying it. I can’t say the space battles don’t look good. There’s still great effects work and impressive action but nothing really feels new or inventive about it and coming off the heels of two movies that thrived on doing just that, this just feels a bit underwhelming. Not terrible, just not great.
The first act raises another issue for me in that it feels in complete disconnect with the rest of the story. I don’t have a problem with them getting Han. This was actually something we were all waiting to see after The Empire Strikes Back ended. That being said, it takes up the entire first act of the film and goes on for way too long. You could have cut out so much of what happens in this first act and nothing would be different. Now, I like looking at Leia in a gold bikini like every other man on the planet and, to be fair, the sequence is pretty cool. Jabba The Hut is also a cool villain. I love his menacing voice, I love his look, I love that he’s a gangster. Furthermore, I’m actually annoyed they killed him so quickly instead of using him more.
But, again, it’s just too long and needed to be edited down if only to give the film a more even flow because in regards to the rest of the movie, it doesn’t add much. They get Han back and kill Jabba and that’s it. That is honestly all that happens of importance in this entire sequence and it doesn’t connect to the Empire or the Rebellion striking back at the Empire or the destruction of the new Death Star or Luke confronting Vader. It’s just something that happens. It looks cool but, for the most part, the entire sequence is feels like filler. On top of that, why did it take so long for them to get Han? Leia and Lando knew he’d be taken to Jabba’s palace so why did it take them a year to get there?
Funny enough, the one thing in Return Of The Jedi everyone seems to hate about this film is the one thing that doesn’t bother me that much. The Ewoks aren’t as bad as everyone makes them out to be. Now, let’s clear the air here. Originally, this final battle was going to take place on Kashyyyk, the Wookiee planet, and the Wookies were going to help take down the Empire. However, budget constraints prevented that from happening, causing writers George Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan to create the Ewoks and Endor instead. I also understand the frustration that after a sequel that was so dark, we now have walking, gibberish spewing teddy bears.
However, when you actually think about it, the Ewoks, despite looking like Care Bear castaways, actually serve the story. They fight with the Rebellion, their home is the planet at stake and when they need to they know how to throw down. It would have been cooler to see the Wookies but the Ewoks aren’t useless like so many say they are. Furthermore, it creates a nice commentary on Nature vs. Technology, which is something I’ve liked in many other movies. I even like the way they react to some of the other characters. It leads to some sweet and even funny moments. I thought them worshiping C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) as a golden god was hilarious. Yeah, they seem a bit too cute for a movie like this but they just never bothered me. Unlike the Jabba sequence, they at least have purpose in the story.
My last complaint about this film is actually the reveal of Leia being Luke’s sister. Now, I’m not saying it was a bad reveal or even that it wasn’t welcome. After the connection they had on Bespin, it kind of makes sense. However, what does this reveal add to the movie or even to the series? Leia didn’t act or do anything different after it was revealed so what was even the point? When you stop to think about it, it feels like such a superfluous addition to the series. Again, it’s not a bad idea, it’s just kind of a throwaway one. It does nothing to service the story. Yeah, Darth Vader taunts Luke with his sister towards the end and it makes him go nuts but the scene could have easily done without that. You didn’t need this reveal to make that work, it was already working.
So after all my complaining about Return Of The Jedi, I’m sure you want to hear about what I actually like about it. First and foremost, The Emperor. Ian McDiarmid’s performances is frightening, poetic and one that truly stands the test of time. I absolutely love this guy. He’s old and frail but he has such a strong, dark, intimidating presence. When Darth Vader is taking orders from this guy, you know he’s the real deal. Whenever he shot a stare at any character, I got chills. When Luke arrives, he doesn’t attack him right away. No, he taunts him to no end. This allows us to see the darkness inside of Luke, making us wonder if he really will turn to the Dark Side. And in a few shots, it looks like he’s about to.
There’s actually a really cool shot in the movie after Vader and Luke begin fighting, where Luke is hiding from Vader and the lighting is on half of his face while the other half is covered in darkness. It’s a perfect visual representation of Luke’s inner conflict. In that moment he can go towards the Light or the Dark Side. Something Return Of The Jedi plays on beautifully is the relationship between Luke and Vader and their interactions together. We see Luke trying to save him from the Dark Side, telling him that he feels the good in him.
This all leads to a thrilling climax where they do battle and Luke refuses to kill him. When the Emperor tries to kill Luke, Darth Vader kills his master, saving his son’s life. After all the killing and destruction Darth Vader’s caused, it was an act of love that ultimately ended his life. The final scene of Luke and Vader is perfect, with Vader instructing Luke to take off his mask so that he can look on Luke with his own eyes. He doesn’t say something cliche’ like “I love you, son” or “Tell your sister I love you both.” No, he says “You were right about me. Tell your sister, you were right.” This scene, for me, was the most heartbreaking moment in the original trilogy. The fact that something so meaningful and sad came from the lips of Darth Vader was just mind boggling. It was perfect.
Lastly, while I stated earlier that the fight on The Death Star during the climax did nothing for me, The Battle For Endor is fantastic. In fact, most of Endor is fantastic. It looks great, there’s beautiful cinematography and set designs and the speeder bike chase is always fun to watch. And, I’m sorry, watching The Ewoks, these little teddy bear creatures, beat the empire to a pulp is both hilarious and awesome. There’s even some great moments with Han and Leia. That scene where they reverse the whole “I love You”, “I know” line from Empire was a nice touch. Furthermore, I always loved that look Han Solo gave the troops when they tricked them into coming out. I mean, look at that grin. He’s Han Badger, Han Badger don’t care.
Overall, Return Of The Jedi is a bit of a mess. Some of the film feels like it’s on autopilot and it has some superfluous moments that don’t add much to the story. However, the stuff that is good more than makes up for that. The Battle For Endor is great, the action is awesome and the whole story regarding the actual Return Of The Jedi really pays off in the end. Everything done with Luke and Vader was incredibly well handled and The Emperor is just a ton of fun. And again, I appreciated the theme of Nature vs. Technology regarding The Battle For Endor. Many things don’t work but for every bad thing in this movie, there’s a good thing. It isn’t a perfect ending to this trilogy, but it’s a satisfying one. Return Of The Jedi is simply a satisfying conclusion to a great trilogy.
Just a fun little tidbit, one of the Ewoks, Wicket, was played by Warwick Davis, who would later go on to star in another George Lucas production, Willow.
Another Ewok was portrayed by Kenny Baker, who played R2-D2. Rest In Peace, Kenny. We miss you.
- The Emperor
- Luke & Vader's Relationship And Interactions
- Good Action
- The Theme Of Nature vs. Technology
- Rehashed Climax
- Another Death Star? Really? It Took How Many Years To Build The Last One And You Somehow Have A New One In Less Than A Year? C'mon.
- What Does Leia Being Luke's Sister Add To Anything?
- Why Did They Wait So Long To Rescue Han?