Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983) Directed by Richard Marquand. With Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Kenny Baker, David Prowse and James Earl Jones.
Working from a screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas, Welshman Richard Marquand takes the director’s chair for this climatic instalment in George Lucas’ Star Wars series. Last we knew, Luke Skywalker was having serious daddy issues, while Han Solo had been turned into a frozen coffee table. All was not well in the galaxy far, far away.
Let’s not beat around the Bantha here – no, it isn’t as good as The Empire Strikes Back, but then again, how many blockbusters are!? What Return of the Jedi is, is vastly superior, space-fantasy entertainment that happens to be an audaciously thrilling finale to two of the greatest and most popular films ever made. People often forget to mention that when they dismissively say – “it isn’t as good as Empire”.
After the dark intensity of ‘Empire’, we take a tonal jump back to the light. After briefly catching up with Darth Vader, we’re back on Tatooine, the spiritual home of the series, as C3-P0 and R2-D2 travel to Jabba The Hutt’s palace with an important message. This long sequence harks back to the fun of the original movie, almost like an extended ‘Cantina‘ sequence in which we’re introduced to all manner of aliens, congregated around Jabba – a grotesque giant slug with a taste for swallowing live frogs. That, and feeding scantily-clad dancing girls to his pet monster in the cellar, for kicks. Did I say this was a step back to the light!?
The story imperative of ‘Jedi‘ is to complete the journey of the hero. This is, above all, the story of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Sadly, that means that, dramatically, Princess Leia and Han Solo (so vital in the previous two films) are given little new of their own to contribute. For the first hour, Carrie Fisher barely speaks as she’s ‘dressed’ in that gold bikini and told to shut up by the script. Harrison Ford too, seems somewhat absent as his character is thrown into the fight against the Empire while Luke goes after Vader.
This is where we come to the nuts and bolts of the entire saga. Luke vs Vader was one thing, but now we have Ian McDiarmid’s Emperor Palpatine to contend with. McDiarmid comes close to stealing the show, playing the deliciously nasty Sith master with absolute relish – rarely has evil been such a delight. The first time we see it, the peril Luke finds himself in is genuinely felt by the audience, especially after the scars Empire left us with.
I can’t review ‘Jedi’ without bringing up those pesky Ewoks. Whether their role in the film was inspired by the Vietnam war, or a need to sell cute merchandise – they tend to leave a grubby stain on the original trilogy, in the eyes of many people. Personally, I’m so wrapped up in the story by this point, that their presence isn’t anywhere near as problematic as some observers pretend.
After all the mind-blowing space battles, white-knuckle speeder-bike chases through the thick forests of Endor and the John Williams-led stirring final confrontation between father and son, it’s hard to deny the sheer entertainment value of Return of the Jedi. Yes, the Ewoks are a silly diversion but that’s all they really are. A fitting final chapter then to the greatest space saga. 4.5/5
Great review Garteh man! Looking forward to the Force Awakens!
Thank you, Martin. That’s kind of you to say. I’m looking forward to The Force Awakens too. From what I’ve seen and heard, the right creative people are involved. I predict a stunning return to form for the saga.
What I despise about Jedi is Lucas spitting on his initial audience and regressing to a more child-ish presentation (as opposed to the child-like genius of his first two films).
That forest moon was supposed to be a planet of Wookies. Lucas shrunk them and instead of wook-EE made them EE-wok harming the credibility of his narrative for the sake of humoring kiddies. (The moon battle would make far more sense with Wookies fighting.)
Han Solo, a man you’d easily trust your life to, is now bumbling comic relief since, in Lucas’ mind the only way to make Luke look mature is to make the others look incompetent. These are but two of several grievances.
I respect your position my friend. I just wish there was a pill to remove bitter disappointment when a man you admire grievously insults your loyalty, affection, and intellect. 😦
What a great comment! Thank you for sharing your insight. I’m really sorry to hear that Jedi is such a disappointment to you. You’re absolutely right about the Wookies being a more natural fit for the moon battle. Given your affection for Star Wars (I can never get used to calling it ‘A New Hope’) and Empire, it’s understandable that you’d be frustrated by the things that are clearly askew in Jedi.
For me, though, there is still so much to love about it. I saw it as a 7-year-old with my Dad and the things about it that are clearly wrong, somehow don’t annoy me as much as they might in another film. (I’d guess a lot of people feel this way). The music, the action, the sense of wild adventure – it was all there for me, and it remains so to this day. The first time I saw it, I remember feeling nothing but awe, which despite the flaws, will never wash away – even into adulthood. I also loved (and still do) the Luke/Vader/Emperor standoff, as well as the alliance assault on the 2nd Death Star.
What are your thoughts on what we’ve seen and heard about The Force Awakens?
First, I envy you your relationship with Jedi. My issues only get compounded with Phantom Menace, Hayden Christensen, re-editing Greedo shooting first and so on. It’s a ripe mess and I probably need therapy.
I am keeping an extremely subdued general optimism for Force Awakens now that I know Darth Lucas’ paws won’t be helming it. (Man, maybe I do need therapy.)
VII doing well and Disney releasing the original theatrical non-enhanced versions of IV, V, & VI on Blu Ray will certainly begin the healing process for me. *crosses fingers*
Another great Star Wars review Gareth (I plan to revisit the original trilogy myself over Christmas once I’ve seen The Force Awakens), I doubt anyone would claim that Jedi is superior to Empire but it’s a strong conclusion to the original trilogy. Where do you stand on the Special Editions? I think Jedi suffers more than A New Hope and Empire, there are some terrible CGI additions in this one (and if you have the Blu-ray, Vader’s added “nooooooo!” scream when he ‘dispatches’ the Emperor just makes things worse)!
Thank you, Chris. I’ve never been happy with the Special Editions – particularly the Jabba and Greedo scenes in A New Hope. The CGI has dated badly and many of the scenes don’t work. Like you say, the CGI in Jabba’s throne room is horrible and really takes you out of the movie. The Vader “Nooooo” ruins the climatic moment of the entire saga. It’s frustrating to be such a huge Star Wars fan, yet feel so much frustration toward its creator. With hindsight, it’s fairly obvious, judging what Lucas did with the Special Editions, that the prequels would end up being a casserole of CGI nonsense.
Agreed – Han definitely shot first – there is however the odd nice addition, the expanded flee of X-Wings in A New Hope and the Cloud City scenes in Empire. But that awful musical scene in Jedi…oh god…Noooooo!!!
You’re right about the positives. I also like the way they cleaned up some of the effects shots on Hoth, making the the cockpit surroundings of the Snowspeeders more opaque against the white of the landscape. Of course, they did great work in cleaning and restoring the original negatives, too. That said, there is some awful saturation-gone-mad alterations in the Blu-ray release of the films.
Very true, I hadn’t thought about the scenes on Hoth and also the addition of Ian McDiarmid’s Emperor as well! If only more balanced versions could be edited!
I’m usually against editing an original actor out, but I can see why that one makes sense. I’m still a bit unsure about the dialogue and the delivery in that scene, though. It seems to jar a bit more than I remember in the original version. The Hayden Christensen at the end of ‘Jedi’, though – I absolutely despised that decision. Sebastian Shaw has such a kind, warm face and it was incredibly reassuring to see the embodiment of the tortured man Luke revealed under that mask, standing so happily next to Obi-Wan and Yoda.
Oh yeah, I definitely agree with you on the Hayden Christensen debacle – it’s such a disservice to Shaw and his contribution to the story.
Aww, what a fun review! I’m so going to have to rewatch these soon!
I’m just glad to see somebody review Return of the Jedi without letting its flaws ruin the entire thing.
I’m not in denial, either. There’s a joy to ‘Jedi’ that makes it easy to forgive the missteps. There’s also a hell of a lot of great stuff. The speeder chase, the space combat, the Luke/Vader/Emperor scenes. All this while John Williams pumps out another incredible score. Not many people left the cinema disappointed in 1983.
I think this is the “weak link” in a very strong chain. It’s the least impressive in the series in the same way your pancreas is less impressive than your brain or heart. It isn’t the best but it’s still vital. The final confrontation between Vader and Luke is one of my favourite fight scenes in all of film and perfectly encapsulates the appeal of Return of the Jedi. It’s all about progression – that starry-eyed kid who looked up to the stars and wondered what his place is, is now going toe-to-toe with the galaxy’s greatest evil. John Williams score is also a thing of beauty and perfectly reflects the ceremony and tension of the confrontation. I could go on but I fear this comment is already too long. Love hearing your thoughts on this, reminds me that it’s almost time to start my Star Wars marathon before December 18th
Our collective blog feeds are about to be inundated with original trilogy Star Wars posts, and I’m looking forward to solidifying and making more friendships in the process. You’re absolutely spot-on in your assessment, I reckon. I love that you highlight the progression from “starry-eyed kid”, – Jedi forms the completion of that arc in a very satisfying way.
isn’t it episode VI??
You’re absolutely right! Thank you so much for pointing that out/saving me any further embarrassment.
Good review. ROTJ is close to my heart because it’s the first I was old enough to see in the theatre. I think I dragged my parents to the cinema to watch it three times in total. Sounds like we were about the same age when we first saw it and I think that makes it easier to see the good. Because there’s no doubt that ROTJ is flawed, but despite the issues it’s still a great movie and I think it overcomes its flaws to give us a perfect end to the original trilogy.
Thank you Sean, you’re absolutely right in all you say – great point about our childhood love of ‘Jedi’ masking its flaws, although I see many of the so-called ‘flaws’ as charms.
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