THE EMPIRE FALLS…
When I told a friend of mine that I had recently reviewed the first three Star Wars movies and reached the conclusion that the third film is inferior to the others, he objected. That’s the most entertaining chapter of them all, he argued, and I used to agree with him. But Return of the Jedi suffers from a case of the cutes and it never really recovers no matter how earnest much of the material is.
Freeing Han Solo
A new Death Star is being constructed, one that will supersede the powers of the old one. Before our heroes get a chance to stop the Empire’s plans, they have to rescue Han Solo (Harrison Ford), still encased in carbonite, who is being held by the mighty gangster Jabba the Hutt on the planet Tatooine. Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) frees Han from his carbonite prison, but they’re captured by Jabba’s men. When Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) arrives at Jabba’s headquarters he gets a chance to show him just how well he has learned to handle the Force. After the rescue, Luke heads back to Dagobah where a dying Yoda confirms that Darth Vader is indeed Luke’s father; the spirit of Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) also tells Luke that he has a twin sister.
When he returns to his rebel friends, Luke joins a team headed for the forest moon of Endor to deactivate the generator that powers the shield protecting the new Death Star; Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) is set to lead the forces attacking the Death Star once the shields are gone. On Endor, Luke, Han and Leia encounter the friendly and furry Ewoks, as well as Empire forces. Eventually, Luke does what Yoda told him he must do – confront his father once and for all.
Balances heart and darkness
The film is divided into three acts. The first one depicts the rescue of Han Solo on Tatooine, the second events taking place on Endor and the third the final confrontation between Luke, Vader and the Emperor on the new Death Star. The story doesn’t really dig any deeper the way it did in The Empire Strikes Back (1980), but it does provide good entertainment. The visual effects are of course first-rate, the fights on Endor very fast-paced and imaginative (so is the struggle against Jabba and his crew, reminding us of old swashbuckling movies) and Luke’s meeting with Vader is both exciting and emotional. The film balances the heart of the first film and the darkness of the second. It’s interesting to see how much Luke has changed, from an eager kid to a grim-looking, maimed adult always clad in black.
However, much in the film is too child-friendly. The Ewoks are a cute bunch, but added to the freaks and muppets residing at Jabba the Hutt’s court they all become a little overbearing – and it’s disappointing to see that George Lucas is unable to take the story to even more interesting places after everything that went on in the second film. The Hamill-Fisher-Ford performances are admittedly charismatic but simple; Vader, whose face we never see until the end of this film, has more charisma.
The sequence that perhaps best emphasizes the value of this franchise to me is the one where Luke and Leia chase stormtroopers on speeder bikes. The sheer thrill of that scene is what the Star Wars movies are about. If things get a little darker and more complex than that, it’s fine… but not if they get sillier.
Return of the Jedi 1983-U.S. 131 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Howard Kazanjian. Directed by Richard Marquand. Screenplay: George Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan. Music: John Williams. Visual Effects: Richard Edlund, Dennis Muren, Phil Tippett, and others. Cast: Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew… Alec Guinness. Voices of Frank Oz, James Earl Jones.
Trivia: Alternative title: Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. David Lynch, Steven Spielberg and David Cronenberg were allegedly considered for directing duties. In the 1997 re-issue of the film, Hayden Christensen was inserted into the final sequence. Followed by two TV movies featuring the Ewoks, The Ewok Adventure (1984) and Ewoks: The Battle for Endor (1985).
Oscar: Special Achievement Award for the visual effects. BAFTA: Best Special Visual Effects.
Last word: “I played a very important part in bringing Harrison back for ‘Return of the Jedi’. Harrison, unlike Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill signed only a two picture contract. That is why he was frozen in carbonite in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’. When I suggested to George we should bring him back, I distinctly remember him saying that Harrison would never return. I said what if I convinced him to return. George simply replied that we would then write him in to ‘Jedi’. I had just recently negotiated his deal for ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ with Phil Gersh of the Gersh Agency. I called Phil who said he would speak with Harrison. When I called back again, Phil was on vacation. David, his son, took the call and we negotiated Harrison’s deal. When Phil returned to the office several weeks later he called me back and said I had taken advantage of his son in the negotiations. I had not. But agents are agents.” (Kazanjian, Star Wars Interviews)