Director: Richard Marquard
Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, Frank Oz, Ian McDiarmid and James Earl Jones as Darth Vader
Plot: The Rebels are in disarray, Han Solo (Ford) is captured by Jabba the Hutt and the Empire are building a new Death Star. All is lost. Then a lone Jedi arrives in Tatooine to turn the tide.
Return of the Jedi opens with one of my favourite half hour’s in cinema out there. The entire assault on Jabba’s palace sequence could very well be my top Star Wars moment (perhaps just being beaten by that incredible lightsabre duel Empire Strikes Back finished with). For one, it includes all my favourite Star Wars characters from the unbeatable Boba Fett to the loathsome Jabba the Hutt. They have been operating on the fringes of the Star Wars universe for some time now, but finally they are given the centre spotlight, as they find themselves directly in Luke Skywalker’s cross-hairs. Everything about these scenes are done to perfection. The atmospheric griminess of the palace, the tension thick in the air during any execution scene and the return of all of our favourite characters. I love the use of the Rancor and the Sarlacc, the two best monsters the Star Wars universe has come up with so far. And to top it all off, we get a stunning, explosive battle on Jabba’s barges. This could very well be its own movie, but this is just Marquard’s opening gamble. It is a stunning piece of popcorn entertainment and a fine way to kick off what, at the time, looked like the final chapter in the Star Wars trilogy.
It is almost a shame to get back to usual business with Vader and the Emperor. That being said, there are some good points to compliment. Ian McDiarmid adds fresh malice to these scenes, his drawling gruesomeness adding yet another iconic visual to the long line of Star Wars trademarks. Vader is, on the whole, much more interesting this time around. As much as we like the black and white villainy of his earlier character arcs, there is something appealing about watching this agent of evil’s internal struggle, which has one of the best pay-offs in cinematic history. This is made even better when juxtaposed with Mark Hamill’s swaying judgement. Hamill is much stronger than before with Return of the Jedi and finally he begins to step out from Harrison Ford’s shadow, evolving into the hero we’ve always wanted him to be. Maybe the reason the second half of Return of the Jedi feels so tired is because, after Jabba’s palace, there is a sense we have done all of this before. There is a mandatory big battle in space (with yet another Death Star and only one major cast member), bickering between love-birds Solo and Leia and the usual Stormtrooper shoot-out. It is enjoyable cinema, sure, a major highlight being a chase sequence between Skywalker, Leia and a gang of scouts on futuristic hovering motorbikes.
On the scale of the original trilogies, this is nowhere near as powerful as the dark tone of Empire Strikes Back. It is more enjoyable than the initial attempts with A New Hope, but seeing as that was the movie that created this universe, it deserves more praise. Return of the Jedi, as a result, is the weakest of the three. And I can pretty much blame this on one thing: the fucking Ewoks! The thing that made Empire Strikes Back so iconic was the fact it took what is arguably a fairly silly Space Opera and made it serious. When Vader revealed he was Luke’s father, no one laughed. Return of the Jedi can do serious when it wants to (the showdown between Skywalker and Palpatine, for example), but there are too much comedy being used in the wrong places. The Ewoks take up far too much screen-time. The pace of the finale is ruined when the main characters end up in a Ewok camp for twenty minutes. The power of the Empire is under-mined when an army of teddy bears manage to take them out with sticks and rocks. Other moments also just kill a good moment. Boba Fett’s demise is terribly written, killing the bad-ass figure Empire Strikes Back created. Silly alien sidekicks hurt a tense space battle. Don’t get me wrong, Return of the Jedi is phenomenal cinema, a fine send-off to one of the greatest trilogies out there, but it must be said, that is is hardly the perfect film we want it to be.
Final Verdict: The Star Wars trilogy ends with a slight wobble, but it has some stand-out moments like Jabba’s palace and a terrific finale lightsabre duel between Luke and Vader.