Lucasfilm, LTD/20th Century Fox
Directed by Richard Marquand
Produced by Howard Kazanjian
Screenplay by George Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan
Story by George Lucas
Music by John Williams
Here’s the thing: most STAR WARS fans judge you by this standards: do you like the Ewoks and Jar Jar Binks or do you hate them? Now, I do not like to waste your time and so I will tell you up front that yes, I do like both the Ewoks and Jar Jar Binks. So you can now dismiss this review and go on to spend your Internet time in more productive pursuits. Because I would rather you do that rather than waste your time and mine in a useless conversation trying to convince me I’m wrong. Nothing you say will convince me otherwise.
I heard you snickering in the back, sister. You can leave this review right now. And take a big fat yub-yub with you
As for those of you who remain, be advised that while I will bash, knock and otherwise deride and criticize other aspects of RETURN OF THE JEDI, the Ewoks will not be one of them. Why? Because there are other aspects of RETURN OF THE JEDI that I personally feel are more abhorrent to me as a STAR WARS fan than the Ewoks.
Before I get to those elements, let’s get the obligatory plot summary out of the way, shall we? And I can think of no better plot summary than this:
Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) certainly hasn’t forgotten his friend Han Solo (Harrison Ford) now encased in carbonite and on display in a dubious place of honor as an ornament in the palace of Jabba The Hutt. In fact, Luke has put together a pretty damn good plan to place Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) in strategic positions inside Jabba’s palace in order to not only rescue Han Solo but to take down Jabba The Hutt and send a message to the rest of the galaxy that it is not a good idea to mess with Luke Skywalker and his friends/allies. That’s the first forty minutes of the movie and it’s the best part of RETURN OF THE JEDI. Oh, there are some parts later on that are worth the admission price. The redemption of Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker for instance. I recall seeing this movie during its original theatrical run and the scene where Luke Skywalker rejects The Emperor’s exhortations to kill Darth Vader, throws down his lightsaber and says; “I’m a Jedi Knight, like my father,” brought the audience to its feet with cheers and applause.
And there’s a lot of good moments like that in RETURN OF THE JEDI. But the problem is that for every good moment we get, there’s a moment whose only purpose seems to be to try and undercut that good moment.
Following Han’s rescue, Luke returns to Dagobah to confront the dying Yoda (Frank Oz) and the Force Ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) as to why they lied to him about the history of Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker and in the process discovers that Leia is his long-long twin sister.
Say what now? That’s just one of the groan inducing revelations in RETURN OF THE JEDI that led me to come to the conclusion that George Lucas was just shoveling a buncha Bantha poop in claiming for all those years that he had nine completely written STAR WARS screenplays locked away in a secret vault somewhere. I myself believe that Lucas simply did not want to risk angering his fans by having Leia choose between Luke and Han, both of whom she showed interest in as both men had qualities she was attracted to. And the tension between Luke and Han, competing for Leia all while becoming close friends in the process added a nice level to their relationship. Lucas threw all that out the window when he decided that Luke and Leia were siblings. I didn’t like it for a long time but I’ve come to accept it and by the time I saw THE LAST JEDI I even embraced it.
Meanwhile, The Rebel Alliance make plans to destroy the second Death Star before it becomes operational. being protected by an energy shield generated from the forest planet of Endor. Han, Luke and Leia lead a strike team down to the planet to destroy the generator station. Lando and the Mon Calamari Admiral Ackbar (Timothy D. Rose/Erik Bauersfeld) will lead the Rebel Fleet to attack The Death Star II once the shield generator is down.
However, in the now famous words of Admiral Ackbar; “It’s a trap!” The Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) has been manipulating events thanks to his Force ability to glimpse the future and knew that Luke would surrender himself in hopes of turning his father back to the Light Side of The Force. The Emperor is confident in his ability to corrupt and turn Luke to The Dark Side and have him replace Darth Vader as his #1 Boy. Lando and Ackbar find out to their horror that The Death Star II is fully operational and desperately try to keep from getting killed long enough for Han to stop his bumbling around and blow up that damn shield generator already.
I’ve heard a theory that Han Solo acts so different in this movie because he’s suffering from hibernation sickness due to being frozen in carbonite for so long. In fact, supposedly Han holds the record for being frozen in carbonite longer than anybody else and surviving. It would certainly explain why Han is now the movie’s comedy relief and acts like an oaf for much of the movie instead of the competent and resourceful rogue of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.
And while I love the resolution of the Luke Skywalker/Darth Vader conflict Lucas and his director Richard Marquand make the mistake of showing us the face of Darth Vader. Mind you, I understand fully Darth’s wish to look upon his son’s face with his own eyes but we, the audience should never have seen his face and his horribly scarred visage should have been left to our own imagining. As it is, when his helmet is removed we see that Darth Vader, the feared and hated Dark Lord of The Sith is just a tired old man and it hits us that the story of Anakin Skywalker is not a heroic one, after all. It is one of pain, betrayal, great suffering, opportunities missed, a life wasted and ultimate sadness. I dunno…maybe that was the point. But I still feel we should never have seen what Darth Vader looks like.
But I wouldn’t trade the speeder bike chase and that final space battle for anything. Even if I do think that something more imaginative than simply blowing up another Death Star could have been come up with. And after seeing SOLO, watching this movie gave an extra flavor to the scenes between Lando and Han that I liked.
RETURN OF THE JEDI is never going to be my favorite STAR WARS movie. In fact, if I had to make a list it would most likely be at the bottom. But that’s not because of the performances or the special effects, both of which are top notch. For me, it starts out as an excellent movie and after the rescue of Han Solo it’s as if George Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan took a break to go off to sniff powdered rhinoceros horn and chew white lightning before starting work on the rest of the screenplay. It’s a STAR WARS movie in spirit, that’s for sure but it also has that strong odor of “We’re Making This Up As We Go.”