“Return of the Jedi” rounds off the epic Star Wars trilogy with excitement and inspiration. Though it may not be as brash as “A New Hope” or have the same sense of discovery as “Empire,” it remains an exhilarating resolution to the story of Luke Skywalker, the fate of the Rebel Alliance, and the fall of Darth Vader and the Galactic Empire. It is a movie that feels both new and familiar.
The film opens with a shot of a second Death Star being built. Darth Vader arrives, and informs the Commander that the Emperor will be arriving to oversee its final stages of construction. Vader warns the Commander of his “apparent lack of progress,” and we wonder if the poor Imperial chap will end up receiving the same fatal demotion that Vader so fruitfully gave to his former colleagues in the last installment. Fortunately for him, he lives through the meeting. We then cut to Tatooine, where a plan is in motion to rescue Han from Jabba the Hutt. Luke sets up the rescue in stages before he makes an appearance himself. We find out that his knowledge of the Force has improved, and that he is now a skilled Jedi.
The entire first act at Jabba’s Palace is new and invigorating. We are introduced to two loathsome monsters: the one under Jabba’s chamber, and the other being the Sarlacc pit. Luke’s rescue is daring and entertaining. I have read that the sequence entitled “Jedi Rocks” was an addition on the Blu-Ray. As far as Lucas’ changes go, this one fits in seamlessly. There is another addition much later involving Vader that is less than satisfying. Our heroes split up after their escape. Luke returns to Dagobah to complete his training, while Han and the others meet up with the Rebel Alliance. Meanwhile, the Emperor arrives on the Death Star. His entrance is eerie and sinister.
“Return of the Jedi” is a picaresque journey full of visual delight and adrenaline. It is also an introduction to life forms less sublunary than our own. We meet Jabba, the variety of aliens living in his Palace, the monsters, the squid-like admiral for the Rebel Alliance, and the fanatically hated Ewoks. Regarding the Ewoks, I have never been bothered by them. I don’t find their disadvantaged triumph over the Empire to be so far-fetched. Granted, I’m sure there were some marketing motives behind their inception.
The big payoff is the confrontation between Luke and Vader, which is intercut with the Battle of Endor. The Original Star Wars duels have always been marked with emotion and less refined choreography. They feel personal. There is a moment in this one where Luke snaps and enrages into more of a swinging contest than a lightsaber duel. It is one of the best of the entire trilogy. He overpowers Vader and disarms him by cutting off his hand. Luke looks upon the wires coming out of his father’s arm. He is reminded of how twisted and evil he could become. He throws away his lightsaber and faces the Emperor. He is a Jedi.
There is another scene I’m especially fond of. Han is piloting the Imperial ship with the landing party, and attempting to get the Imperials to lower the shield. The code they submit is scrutinized by the Imperial officer, and Vader inquires over the shuttle’s destination. The scene contains good suspense, as we wonder if Vader will allow the Rebels to land on the planet. He decides to take care of them himself, as his desire to allow his son to come to him is too great to escape his ego. The ship is cleared to land, and Vader watches as the ship descends upon Endor. We hear a subtle excerpt of the Imperial March from John Williams, who produced another stellar score.
It seems the Empire has a habit of letting Rebels that spell certain doom land on planets when they shouldn’t. In “A New Hope,” C-3PO and R2-D2 landed on Tatooine in an escape pod and ended up being the sole reason the Rebels could launch an attack on the first Death Star. If it were not for the landing party destroying the shield generator on Endor, the Rebels wouldn’t have been able to destroy the second Death Star. Someone should have submitted a memo.
“Return of the Jedi” is my favorite of the Original Trilogy. I tend to favor the last of a trilogy. There is a sense of completion and fulfillment that isn’t there in the other ones. All our questions which we have held over the course of the story are answered. That’s not saying that “Return of the Jedi” is only focused in resolutions. There are still more twists and character discoveries, as well as a bit of eye candy that we aren’t expecting. Luke created a new lightsaber, and its blade is now green. I like small things like that. “Return of the Jedi” gives us all our favorite characters battling it out for victory in one movie. The space battle is especially exciting. It is amazing how Lucas and Co. managed to top themselves with each installment.
It’s the extra level of detail though that makes the Star Wars saga come to life. Other movies might just approach the special effects or character introductions. In fact, Star Wars has never spent much time on introductions. We are simply thrown into the story and become familiar with the characters as the story goes on. They are meant to be relatable, and since we can see ourselves in the story, we are completely wrapped up in the events. Nothing can compare to the seamless conjunction of the imagination and ideas behind the Star Wars movies. They are complete entertainment, full of imagination and creativity. They are also a visual feast. But above all, they are magnificently pure fun.