Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) battles the horrible Jabba the Hut and the cruel Darth Vader to save his comrades in the Rebel Alliance and triumph over the Galactic Empire. Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) reaffirm their love and team with Chewbacca, Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), the Ewoks, and the androids C-3PO and R2-D2 to aid in the disruption of the Dark Side and the defeat of the evil emperor.
The original trilogy of Star Wars is almost universally considered to be the strongest of the bunch. There certainly are people that prefer either the prequels or the sequels, but most are in agreement that the originals are the most well-written, exciting, and simplistic yet great stories told in a galaxy far, far away.
With that being said, however, it seems as though most people also agree that Richard Marquand’s Return of the Jedi is the weakest of the three original installments. I also have to agree with this belief. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie; it’s an amazing movie filled with tons of excellent stuff to enjoy and serves as a beautiful conclusion to the original trilogy, but it does have a few problems along the way and doesn’t manage to reach the highs of the first two entries.
Some of the writing, in particular, feels a little bit stiff in Return of the Jedi, and that’s probably because it was co-written by George Lucas. It’s so interesting because, without him, we never would have gotten Star Wars, but for whatever reason, it seems as though Lucas usually writes the worst dialogue in the saga. Remember that awful “I don’t like sand” monologue from Attack of the Clones? Well, guess who wrote that movie.
Gratefully though, the character development on display here is just as terrific as it was in A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. This script further explores the inner conflict within Darth Vader, and excellently demonstrates how he feels deep down inside. Throughout the first two, it was hinted at that Vader wasn’t one-hundred-percent evil. Luke had always believed that there must be some good left inside his father, and he wants to do whatever he can to show Vader that he can become Anakin Skywalker once again, and leave his path of evil behind.
This leads to a third act which is both beautiful and emotional as Luke and Vader battle on the second Death Star while the villainous Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) watches them in amusement. Palpatine tries to convince Luke to join the dark side. He says that he is more powerful than he can ever understand and by giving in to the anger and hate, he will possibly become the strongest Sith there is.
As we know, Anakin Skywalker was told the same exact things a long time ago in his life, and he gave in to the anger. He turned his back on his loved ones and the Jedi Council in pursuit of a new life. A life that would end up causing him more pain than it did good. During the ending lightsaber battle in Return of the Jedi, Luke manages to slice Vader’s hand right off, just as Vader did to Luke in Empire Strikes Back. An angry Palpatine decides to take matters into his own hands and shocks him violently with electricity that comes out of his fingers.
Luke is now in agony, screaming and withering in pain on the ground as his father watches on. For a while, it seems as though Vader is going to let Palpatine kill his only son right in front of his eyes, but eventually, something inside of Vader snaps. He simply cannot let this man kill his own child right before his eyes.
Finally leaving the dark side of the force and betraying his master, Vader lifts Palpatine into the air and throws him down a long reactor shaft, saving Luke’s life. Just moments later, Luke and Anakin try to make their way out of the Death Star before it blows up, seeing as how Luke’s allies are attempting to destroy the superweapon once and for all.
But it’s too late. Anakin is about to die and he can’t walk any further. This leads us into perhaps the most emotional moment in the whole trilogy, the moment in which Anakin asks Luke to take his mask off, to which he agrees, and we see a heavily burned and charred Anakin having a final conversation with his son before he dies.
This is where Return of the Jedi truly shines. It tells a beautiful and powerful story of family and love. How far would you be willing to go to save the ones you love? This third installment explores this question in a brilliant way. And it also goes to show that anybody can change their evil ways from bad to good. Everybody thought that Anakin Skywalker as a man was dead when he left the Jedi Council and became Darth Vader. He became the evilest and vile man in the entire galaxy next to Emperor Palpatine. But deep inside, Vader felt conflicted. He felt a pull to the light side of the force that he didn’t want to acknowledge, but after having a conversation with Luke, he could no longer keep it buried inside of him.
Where Return of the Jedi sadly falters is within its visual effects to start things off. The previous two entries in the saga had a genuinely amazing use of practical effects and everything looked incredibly real, despite these movies taking place in space. It’s because the filmmakers used real objects and put them in front of a camera, so no computer-generated-imagery was necessary for some sequences.
But this time around, you can tell that a lot of CGI was incorporated and even some green screen moments that took me right out of the story for a bit. This is most evident in the scene early on in which Luke and his friends battle Boba Fett and attempt to free Leia from the clutches of Jabba the Hutt.
Also, the inclusion of the strange musical-style number within Jabba’s palace felt incredibly out of place and a little bit awkward. The Cantina Band sequence from A New Hope worked because it just featured a couple of creatures playing some music and that was that. It’s goofy, yes, but it wasn’t too goofy to the point of hilarity. In fact, the Cantina Band scene doesn’t feel too far-fetched considering the vast and wild world of Star Wars. But this moment in Return of the Jedi was just bizarre and unexplainable.
And of course – the Ewoks. These felt like characters that were only included in the movie in the hopes that toys of the creatures would sell. And they did. What’s even more ridiculous is that this film depicts the Ewoks as genuinely dangerous creatures that are capable of eliminating Stormtroopers with ease, and I simply don’t buy that. They are small creatures that only throw rocks and shoot bow and arrows. Stormtroopers have blasters. So why can’t they simply shoot the Ewoks and be done with them? It doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Nevertheless though, Return of the Jedi is a brilliant and emotionally strong conclusion to the original trilogy, even if it can’t quite reach the highs of the previous two installments.
Overall Grade: A-
MPAA Rating: PG for sci-fi action violence
Directed by: Richard Marquand
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: May 25, 1983
Running Time: 132 minutes