Of the three original trilogies, “Return of the Jedi” has always been considered acceptable, but not overly good. Made in 1983, just three years after the superlative “Empire Strikes Back”, the final installment in George Lucas’ space adventure ends with a whimper. The film is mostly saved by the continuation of Luke Skywalker’s journey from farm boy to adult Jedi, as well as Luke’s confrontations with Darth Vader and the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid). And the other thing the film does right is give fans of the franchise a reasonably good and satisfying resolution.
“Return of the Jedi” picks up where “Empire” left off, with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) frozen in carbonite and held in the palace of intergalactic gangster Jabba the Hutt. When Solo’s friends finally locate him and attempt a rescue, all does not go well. Leia (Carrie Fisher) ends up captured and Luke, now a full-fledged Jedi, has to rely on an elaborate plan to save the day. Han Solo, meanwhile, has since been freed from his position as a wall ornament. But since this wouldn’t be much of a movie if the good guys didn’t win, the good guys of course win in a battle in the desert, where popular bounty hunter Boba Fett redefines the word “lame” by getting himself eaten by a giant plant or some such.
With Jabba dispatched and Solo freed, the good guys rejoin the Rebel fleet, now preparing for a final strike against the Empire. It seems the Empire has started construction on a new Death Star, and this time the Emperor himself will be present. The Rebellion sees this as a chance to end the war once and for all, but first they have to destroy the forcefield station located on a moon orbited by the Death Star. Can Han Solo’s strike force bring down the shield in time? Will Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) trash the Millennium Falcon? Will Luke Skywalker defeat the Emperor and at the same time keep from turning to the dark side? What are you, kidding?
Taken as the final chapter in a 3-story arc, “Return of the Jedi” is a success. The trilogy’s many story arcs are all resolved in a satisfactory way, and I don’t think fans will be disappointed by how everything turns out. And really, who can be disappointed with the sight of Princess Leia in slave get-up? But as a standalone episode, “Jedi” has the distinction of trying to have its cake and eat it, too. Most of all, the movie suffers from tonal imbalance. It wants to be dark and brooding, but that’s a bit hard with Harrison Ford’s entire dialogue consisting of him cracking wise. And don’t even get me started on the Ewoks.
One curious thing to note about “Jedi” is that the special effects hasn’t progressed as far as one expected. In fact, much of “Jedi” looks cheesy from a technical point of view, which is a surprise because tech has always been something the films excelled at. Lucas and company have returned to mostly practical effects, and this is most obvious in the Ewok battle scenes. The Special Edition treatment is clearest in the space battles, where CGI ships have been added to give the battle a cluttered, frenzied feel. They look good, but the fact that all the participants are second-tier characters makes them, well, less important.
Which leads me to this conclusion: the Special Editions have, for the most part, added few reason to even exist in the first place. As such, I’m really not sure why the original prints were even tarnished to begin with. Does having 10 more Tie fighters or 10 more Stormtroopers in a given scene really make a difference? I think not.
Where the Special Edition does make itself most known in “Jedi” is at the end. With Darth Vader killed, his spirit returns the way Obi-Wan’s “spirit force” did, and there is a scene where the elder Darth Vader, now back to his old Anakin self, stands with the deceased Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi to witness the rebels celebrating their victory. The Special Edition has taken out the elder Anakin and replaced him with a younger version that looks to be in his ’30s. (Online reports have said that the younger Anakin is in fact actor Hayden Christensen, who played Anakin Skywalker in “Attack of the Clones”, and is scheduled to play Anakin again in the third prequel, “Revenge of the Sith”.) Is this true? I don’t have a clue, except to say this: if it was Christensen, the makeup was brilliant.
As to rather the above alterations make a difference depends entirely on your feelings toward the trilogy. As a cursory fan, I could do without them. What difference does digitally replacing the older Anakin with a younger version make? To tell you the truth, I don’t know why Lucas even bothered. Does adding a couple of more creatures in the background, or tinkering with a scene here and there, make the films any better? This reviewer thinks it was all a big waste of time and money.
With hindsight firmly in hand, I believe “Return of the Jedi”, although not great, was a nice way to cap off the trilogy. The scenes with Luke Skywalker as he confronts the Emperor and Darth Vader are worth having to endure the brutal insanity of watching heavily armed, armored, and (supposedly) well trained Imperial Stormtroopers get beaten to a pulp by midgets in furry costumes flinging rocks, rocks, and more rocks. Really, it’s all a bit silly and childish, and coming off the grittiness of “Empire”, something of a letdown.
(Ironically, most people wouldn’t have been so disappointed by “Jedi’s” lack of sophistication if it hadn’t been for the greatness of “Empire”. And again, I must question why George Lucas insists on doing almost everything himself. The hokeyness of “Jedi”, no doubt, came straight from his typewriter.)
Richard Marquand (director) / Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas, David Webb Peoples (screenplay)
CAST: Mark Hamill …. Luke Skywalker
Harrison Ford …. Han Solo
Carrie Fisher …. Princess Leia Organa
Billy Dee Williams …. Lando Calrissian
Anthony Daniels …. C-3PO
Peter Mayhew …. Chewbacca
Ian McDiarmid …. The Emperor