Should I Watch..? 'Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi'
What's the big deal?
Star Wars: Episode VI - Return Of The Jedi (released simply as Return Of The Jedi) is an action sci-fi film released in 1983 and is the concluding part to George Lucas' original trilogy. Like The Empire Strikes Back before it, Lucas became an executive producer instead of director, resulting in Richard Marquand stepping in. The film opens with the daring rescue of Han Solo from the clutches of Jabba the Hutt before ending with a final stand by the Rebel Alliance in the shadow of a newly built Death Star to prevent its completion. Meanwhile, Luke struggles to face his destiny as the Emperor's diabolical plans slowly reveal themselves. Amid a huge amount of anticipation, the movie smashed its way to global box office takings of $572 million. Like A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, the movie received a digital makeover before a new prequel trilogy was launched with The Phantom Menace in 1999.
What's it about?
Reeling from the revelation from Darth Vader about his true origins as well as the capture of his friend Han Solo, Luke Skywalker initiates a daring plan to rescue Solo from the palace of Tattooine gang boss Jabba the Hutt. Along with Princess Leia, R2-D2, C-3PO, Lando and Chewbacca, they discover Han still frozen alive in carbonite in Jabba's throne room along with Boba Fett and a number of unsavoury characters. With Han released, Luke returns to Dagobah to complete his training with Yoda but the venerable Jedi master is dying. The rest, meanwhile, link up with the rest of the Rebel Alliance in preparation for an attack on a new Death Star.
There is a problem, though. The unfinished space station is protected by a shield generated on the nearby moon of Endor so Han leads a team to infiltrate the Imperial base and deactivate it, allowing Lando in the Falcon to lead an assault on the Death Star. And it soon appears that the Rebels have another incentive when Emperor Palpatine himself visits the station to oversee its construction - meaning the Galactic War could soon be over for good...
Princess Leia Organa
Billy Dee Williams
Yoda (voice & puppet performance)
Darth Vader *
Lawrence Kasden & George Lucas *
Release Date (UK)
2nd June, 1983
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Special Achievement (Visual Effects)
Academy Award Nominations
Best Set Direction, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Original Score
What's to like?
So why is this film my favourite of the lot, despite generally considered being the weakest of the original trilogy? First of all, the film throws us right into the deep end - no point wasting time by bringing us up to speed - with the timeless rescue of Han from Jabba's floating palace. From the hideous Rancor to Leia's iconic gold bikini, this sequence alone illustrates just how great the series had become - the endless number of alien creatures, the dialogue, the culture, the danger. Even the Rancor's keeper, whose tears at the beast's demise are as real as any I've seen, gives us a glimpse that this is one part of a much bigger galaxy and we are only privy to a small piece of it.
By now, we're all familiar with the characters and given the shocking revelations regarding Luke's parentage, the film needn't do too much to give us the conclusion we're clamouring for. Instead, the movie focuses on being more of an action picture with three different style clashing at the end. The thrilling space battle beyond the Emperor's window is every bit as gripping and exciting as the duel between Luke and Vader while down on Endor, the jungle warfare between the Imperial Storm-troopers and the Ewoks is as rousing as it is ridiculous. And at the centre is McDiarmid's wonderfully vile Palpatine, pulling the strings and embodying evil like few have before him.
Crucially, it's the first time I remember really cheering for the good guys - normally there's a sense that everything will be OK at the end, regardless of what happens. But during Return Of The Jedi, I cared about these characters and what happened to them. Take the shot of one Ewok being killed in battle and his comrade mourning his loss - it's genuinely touching, despite the furry suits obscuring facial expressions. Star Wars has never gotten close to making me care so much about its characters than I did here which is, for what is basically one long series of action sequences, astonishing.
- Nien Nunb, Lando's co-pilot on board the Millennium Falcon, speaks a Kenyan dialect called Haya and are actual translations of the English dialogue. Apparently, Kenyan audiences were delighted to find their language in the film spoken in the proper context.
- Originally titled Revenge Of The Jedi until Lucas decided that the concept of revenge wasn't befitting of a Jedi. Early posters had the original title on and had to quickly be recalled. Ironically, it also prompted a name change for Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan which was going to be called The Revenge Of Khan but that was changed to avoid confusion with this film. In the end, neither film used the word 'revenge'.
- McDiarmid and Prowse have never actually met. During McDiarmid's scenes, Vader was played by Prowse's stunt double, Bob Anderson.
What's not to like?
I will concede that the film does have a couple of glaring issues and seeing as I've been discussing the Ewoks, I'll start with them. Originally written as Wookies, one suspects that the decision to scale back was not just due to budget - Ewoks would be much more commercially viable than Wookies (who, frankly, all look the same to me anyway). I'm also not sure that a supposedly primitive species armed with little more than sticks and stones could fend off a whole battalion of the Emperor's finest troops but hey, it makes the kids want to buy the toys, right? Commercial interests dictated other factors in the story - Ford's return as Han Solo (who was supposed to die during The Empire Strikes Back), the AT-ST vehicles and jet-bikes seen on Endor as well as the reappearance of characters like Boba Fett all smack of allowing Lucas to make the most amount of merchandise.
The story is noticeably weaker than The Empire Strikes Back but seeing as that brought all the cards to the table, it's hard to imagine what other secrets and lies could have been exposed here. Between the barn-storming opening sequence and the epic climax, the film does slow down while Luke revisits Dagobah to help sell Yoda toys to the audience. The subplot involving the ever-irritating C-3PO being mistaken as a god felt like needless filler and the screenplay maintains Lucas' love of creaky dialogue. But in truth, you have to concentrate very hard to notice any of this because you're having too much of a good time. You're also wondering what to get your kids for Christmas...
Should I watch it?
It might lack the magic and wonder of A New Hope or the atmosphere and story of The Empire Strikes Back but the one thing that this film has in spades is excitement, thrills and gripping action from the start. Return Of The Jedi is kinda like playing with your own Star Wars figures and crafting a rambling but exciting story linking them all together. With the same dependable cast, gobsmacking visuals and stirring John William soundtrack, there isn't much to touch this for sheer excitement.
Great For: Star Wars fans, toy store owners, collectors, action junkies
Not So Great For: cynical critics, the Star Trek faithful
What else should I watch?
Younger viewers will probably be more familiar with the prequel trilogy which spent three movies flooding us in CG and ruining the plot twist in The Empire Strikes Back. The only one you need to bother with is Revenge Of The Sith which shows us the destruction of the old Republic and the founding of the Empire with Palpatine and Vader at the helm. It's no classic but it's still better than either of the first two films which only really set the backstory for the third episode and inflicted Jar Jar Binks on the world.
Older viewers, however, will fondly reminisce over the original trilogy. It was A New Hope that changed cinema forever, giving audiences a look at something that wasn't only different but entertaining and cool. Younger viewers will no doubt feel the same about The Force Awakens which combines old and new faces and throws the lot of them head-first into a believable post-Empire world. The modern technology is pushed to its limits but thankfully, the ultra-smooth HD realism of CG is kept to a minimum, meaning the film has a lot of the thrills and spills of these earlier pictures.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox