Return of the Jedi

Year: 1983

Production: Lucasfilm / 20th Century Fox

Director: Richard Marquand

Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Ian McDiarmid, David Prowse

Screenwriter: Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas

Based on a story by George Lucas. Novelization (1983) by James Kahn

132 minutes; Color


Crisp and entertaining for the most part, with dazzling special effects, Return of the Jedi still seems weaker than its predecessors, Star Wars (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980), perhaps because it is more sentimental. Han Solo (Ford) is rescued from literally toadlike Jabba the Hutt in the bravura opening sequence, and then the democratic rebels are pitted once again against a Death star fortress as part of their galactic struggle against the totalitarian Empire. The Emperor (a cleverly obscene performance from McDiarmid) is an even stronger incarnation of the Dark Side of the Force than Darth Vader (Prowse), who finally turns good, saves his son Luke, is unmasked and is then given a Viking funeral. The forest world of Endor, populated by Ewoks (teddy-bear lookalikes), is the venue for stirring battles. The appalling cuteness of the Ewoks and the harmless rubbery appearance of the monsters are surely Lucasfilm's acknowledgement, in this finale to the cycle (the threat of 6 further episodes having evaporated), that young children were now the series' main audience: even the potentially painful father-son conflict is more soap opera than oedipal myth. The Ewoks later resurfaced in 2 made-for-tv films, The Ewok Adventure (1984) and Ewoks: The Battle for Endor (1985).

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

The final chapter in the trilogy that also comprises Star Wars (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Return of the Jedi is the best of the series. According to Lucas, the originator and owner of the Star Wars property, the series is projected to run nine episodes in three disconnected series, of which the trilogy is diapters four, five and six. Thus it would seem, and the text of the film confirms, that Return of the Jedi represents the conclusion of the stories of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, C-3PO, R2-D2, Darth Vader and the rest of the characters introduced in Star Wars.

The film has its lapses. The Ewoks, for example, are clearly manufactured as lovable little teddy bears and in particular the sequence where Wicket (Warwick Davis) knocks himself over in the middie of a fight against the stormtroopors, though it always brings forth a roar of appreciation in the cinema, is too calculated a piece of film-making. Similarly, some of the special effects of the second half are only competent, especially in comparison to the perfecily judged sequence at the Sarlac Pit which begins with R2-D2 magicking Hamill's light sabre out of nowhere and must be one of the classic action set-pieces in the history of the cinema. But set against this is Lucas' marvellous recreating of the original story of Star Wars, the destruction of the Death Star by the democratic rebels with the added twist that this time the characters, especially Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, are given the mythic dimension they so sorely lacked in the earlier film. At the center of this transformation lies the double revelation that Vader is Luke's father and Princess Leia is Luke's sister. Thus, at one stroke, and with an economy that is breath-taking, the impersonal battle of Good versus Evil is given a mythical dimension which makes Hamill's Luke Skywalker no longer the simple, earnest hero he began life as but a man who must outfight his father in battle and yet save him - in Return of the Jedi even "the Force", previously one of the more embarrassingiy juvenile elements of the series, is given an added dimension too. This voyage into the mythic makes Luke a true hero, one whose acts bring salvation to those around him but can find no peace himself For as well as losing/ saving his father and finally losing Leia to Solo (as if that was ever in doubt) Return of the Jedi ends with Luke completely adrift, minus even the support of the various father figures who have supported him throughout the trilogy, his uncle, Guinness' Ben Kenobi and even Oz's Yoda. Fittingiy, the film ends with Luke alone gazing at his father's burning funeral pyre before joining the victory celebrations at the Ewok village. Of course, this fairy tale is only pulp poetry but its success is all the more remarkable for the unlikely beginnings it had in the simple gee-whizz heroics of Star Wars.

Furthermore, Marquand's restrained direction marvellously unites this deeply resonant personal story with the traditional verities of space opera that supports it. Thus once the characiers have been triumphantly re-assembled after the setting free of Ford's Han Solo from Jabba the Hut, Marquand and writers Kasdan and Lucas first send them on their separate ways and then cross-cut bctween the three climaxes they set up, Luke's battle with Vader inside the Death Star, the rebel fleet attacking the Death Star and the battle of Endor to knock out the defensive screen erected around the Death Star. Each intercutting between these battles accelerates the narrative pace and intensifies the other battles, melding everything together and creating a sense of emotional urgency that is finally satisfied by the victorious conclusion of all three battles. It is this interrogation of the adventure story until it finally slips into legend in the mythic confrontation of son and father that makes Retarn of the Jedi such a triumphant conclusion and envoi to the world of Star Wars.

The Overlook Film Encyclopedia - Science Fiction

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