Return of the Jedi (1983) / Fantasy-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: PG for violence
Running Time: 134 min.
Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Billy Dee Williams
Director: Richard Marquand
Screenplay: Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas
Although it's the weaker of the three entries in the Star Wars episode 4-6 story arc, Return of the Jedi is still as thoroughly entertaining a final chapter as anyone could have reason to hope for. Lucas decides to go for more of an emotional feel to the story, concentrating much more on the relationships that the middle chapter, The Empire Strikes Back, set in motion. As a result, there is a tendency to be a little looser with the material than the last two films, letting the quieter moments linger, and injecting a nostalgic feel. Like the moment when Han looks sadly at the Millennium Falcon because he senses it will be the last time he will see it, we too have that sense that the book would close for these characters and settings we've grown to know and love over the course of three films. It's a softer approach, perhaps even a little soggy at times, but a Star Wars lover's delight through and through.
This final entry sees the Empire creating a new Death Star, a feat with such magnitude, even the Emperor himself has come to oversee the progress. Meanwhile, a rescue attempt is underway to try to spring Han Solo from his icy trap in Jabba the Hut's lair. Luke has grown in his Jedi training, but only a confrontation with Darth Vader will make the transformation complete, and its a showdown Luke wants to avoid now that familial ties have been revealed. The Rebellion once again plans to destroy the Death Star before it becomes functional by eliminating the force field surrounding it generated by a base on a nearby planet, but the Emperor isn't a fool, and has a few surprises up his sleeve.
For years, I have struggled with some mixed feelings in regard to Return of the Jedi. While I've always been content with the film as a whole, there was a level of annoyance at certain aspects that were largely absent from the previous two films. Much of this has to do with a large upswing in the "cuteness factor," much of which involves the introduction of the "Ewoks," the cute furry creatures that inhabit the planet containing the generator for the Death Star's force shield. For years, I had wanted to drop kick every single one of these Care Bear look-alikes, somewhat offended that such an already lucrative franchise would need to stoop even lower to gain our cash by having every boy and girl want one of these furry animals for themselves. As big a Star Wars fan as I am, I even avoided the spin-off film, The Ewok Adventure out of disdain.
I must be softening in my old age, because my tolerance for the Ewoks and for the schmaltzy aspects of ROTJ have dissipated over the years. I credit my own growing nostalgia for this change of heart, and even though I still wish a different direction had been taken in certain moments and scenes, they have grown on me in time. I may never really want to hug the Ewoks, but the visions of chasing them down with a riding lawnmower are mostly gone. (A big thank you to rehab...I feel much better now.)
The film starts off with my least favorite sequence...the rescue of Han Solo amid a grotesque version of "The Muppet Show." There's a certain silliness to these scenes, from the funny costumes, bad music, and obvious puppetry of most of the characters. Perhaps the worst aspect of the scenes is that it lasts about 40 minutes, or roughly a third of the total running length.
Once they are off Tatooine, the movie finally beings to heat up, especially in setting up the father/son confrontation that results in one of the most exciting battles in all three Star Wars films. Along the way, there's some funny bits, especially involving C-3PO, whom the Ewoks think is a god of some sort. There's a heavy soap opera aspect to the proceedings, with Han and Leia's romance and jealousy, Luke's meeting with Yoda and Obi-Wan (don't ask, just see the movie!), and lots of wrangling about Luke's destiny. While it isn't always pithy, it works, mostly because we really do like the characters. Then there's a completely riveting final half hour, and you know you are watching big time movie magic.
Return of the Jedi is not a stand alone film, so viewing Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back is absolutely essential. Conversely, viewing this final chapter is also essential to anyone who has seen them, so think of the trilogy as a complete story. It may not be the best of the three, but the chemistry is still as strong as ever. Whatever flaws it may are easily covered over by the charm and good cheer the movie generates, as well as the immense intrigue, making this a goodbye so satisfying, the most emotional moment in a film full of them comes when the credits roll and you know it is finally, sadly, over.
© 2003 Vince Leo