The circle is now complete.
Return of the Jedi, also known as Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi, is directed by Richard Marquand and written by George Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan. Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, and Frank Oz all return to reprise their roles from the previous film(s).
The lofty heights achieved by Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back could not be reached by Return of the Jedi, considered by many to be the least meritorious entry in the original trilogy. And while Return of the Jedi certainly has problems that I'll get into and discuss later, it is by no means a bad film on its own. The story had reached a point where the best that Lucas and Kasdan could do was give closure to everything that was still open by the end of The Empire Strikes Back, because why would Lucas continue to dish out more blaster battles and galaxy travelling if they were bound to be answered eventually with diminishing returns? A quick side note: I encourage you to look at the Jurassic Park series for the best example of diminishing returns. If we pretend like no other Star Wars film exists outside of the original trilogy, then it's not hard to feel satisfied by how Lucas was able to bring everything together and deliver a trilogy finale that you can look at and say, "Yes. The story can stop here and I won't feel any worse off if we never get another Star Wars film." But then the prequels happened, and now the sequel trilogy is under way. However, the prequels and sequel trilogy should do little to nothing to influence how you might feel about Return of the Jedi. Minor alterations were made to Return of the Jedi when it was re-released many years after its theatrical run, but for the sake of spoilers, I won't share them here.
On to the plot. Some time after The Empire Strikes Back, the Empire has undergone the construction of a new Death Star in order to end the Rebel threat for good. The Emperor arrives to oversee the final stages of the construction. Meanwhile, Luke Skywalker and company devise a plan to rescue Han Solo from the clutches of Jabba the Hutt. After this mission proves successful, Luke and company meet up with the remaining Rebel forces who are preparing to launch a full-scale attack on the Death Star. The plan requires a group to travel down to the forest moon of Endor to destroy the shield generator protecting the Death Star. Luke is greeted once again by the spirit of Obi-Wan Kenobi, who tells Luke that he must confront Darth Vader again if the Empire is to fall.
From start to finish, Return of the Jedi is on point with its story and characters, opening with the confrontation against the nasty Jabba the Hutt and easily transitioning into the final showdown with the Empire. One thing worth noting about the production history was the question of would Harrison Ford make a return appearance? Ford was in the midst of considerably the best stretch of his career, becoming even more of a star on top of Star Wars with the releases of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Blade Runner (the latter was misunderstood until many years later). It was producer Howard Kazanjian who convinced Ford to come back, even though Ford's contract was for just a two picture deal. Ford was hoping for Han to play a self-sacrificial role during the film, but Lucas rejected the idea. George Lucas also decided on a happy ending as opposed to a more bittersweet one so as to not impact the marketing and merchandise sales in any negative way.
- Return of the Jedi is able to recapture a lot of the entertainment value and sense of fun that made Star Wars such a stand out during its initial release, featuring plenty of space combat, lightsaber swinging, and blaster fire to satisfy. The film doesn't feel anywhere near as long as its 134 minutes, never featuring a dull moment that would throw a wrench into the plot. The way the film opens is similar to that of how Revenge of the Sith opens, throwing you right into the midst of a confrontation. Revenge of the Sith begins right in the middle of a heated space battle over Coruscant, where Return of the Jedi places us directly in the zany palace of Jabba the Hutt, and it doesn't take long for a fight to ensue between Luke and Jabba's pet rancor monster. Between the three original films, I'd say Return of the Jedi has the least amount of exposition, largely because a lot of the story has been told already, and now all that's left is to bring everything together in a finale.
- Ian McDiarmid makes what was his first appearance as The Emperor, a villain who further enhances the Star Wars watching experience, just when you thought Darth Vader himself provided for enough menace. No one in the Star Wars universe embodies evil the way that the Emperor does, and McDiarmid plays the role magnificently, utilizing a croaky voice that fits The Emperor perfectly, as well as avoiding elongated moments of bad guy laughing so as to never seem ridiculous or over the top. The Emperor does have a memorable bad guy laugh, though.
- So there's a lot of good to be had with Return of the Jedi, but there are also some issues that need to be addressed. Easily the worst problem in Return of the Jedi is how tonally confused it is. Star Wars focused on having fun, while The Empire Strikes Back was dark, serious business. Return of the Jedi, tone wise, is wedged somewhere in the middle. This leads me to the one thing that everyone seems to point their fingers at when someone asks, "What's wrong with Return of the Jedi?" The Ewoks. Ah, the Ewoks: those primitive, midget teddy bears that come to assist the Rebels after they take up C3PO as some kind of god. They are never referred to as Ewoks by anyone during the film, and it's hard to take them seriously simply because of how impossible it is to not think of teddy bears when you see them. The Ewoks battle the Stormtroopers with sticks, rocks, and logs, as well as utilizing the element of surprise. Oh yes, and the Stormtroopers still can't shoot anything, so the Ewoks have that going for them too. It all plays off as goofy banter, which I think would be acceptable if sequences of the Ewoks vs. Stormtroopers weren't juxtaposed with the dramatic confrontation between Luke and Darth Vader. Having the tone be all over the place is not the ideal way to send out this terrific trilogy.
- The script doesn't really try to take any risks, but I bet on that being because George Lucas felt that nothing could top or at least come close to matching the revelation that Darth Vader is Luke's father. If there's anything I can say about all of the Star Wars episodes (well, probably not the prequels), it's that they find a way to squeeze in at least one memorable surprise. Return of the Jedi takes comfort in being a straightforward sci-fi adventure, and considering what Return of the Jedi is following up on, a lack of surprises isn't something to get too upset over.
So no, Return of the Jedi isn't another legendary piece of cinema like A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, but it has everything you'd want in its efforts to close out the trilogy on a high note: entertaining sci-fi action and an ending that would've been as good of a way as could be for the Star Wars saga to go out permanently. As George Lucas gives the original trilogy closure with this film, Return of the Jedi is our opportunity as an audience to be truly thankful to Lucas for giving us a sci-fi galaxy that will forever be loved and adored by people far and wide. The world will always be a happier place with Star Wars around.
Recommend? Yes, but watch A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back first.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: