Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983)
Release Date: May 25th, 1983 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Richard Marquand Actors: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Ian McDiarmid, James Earl Jones, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew
an Solo (Harrison Ford) has been imprisoned in carbonite and delivered to the notorious, overweight gangster Jabba the Hutt to become a wall decoration. Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), R2-D2, and C-3PO devise a complex plot to rescue him from Jabba’s palace, with the final piece of the puzzle being the arrival of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), now a full-fledged, black-cloaked Jedi Knight. It’s been about one year since the events of “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.” Several particularly thrilling fight sequences open the film, starting with an underground battle with a hulking behemoth, moving to a hostile encounter at an execution site in the middle of the desert, and culminating in the explosive destruction of Jabba’s sail barge. Plus, Leia dons a metal bikini that will forever be engrained in pop culture.
After Han is freed, Luke journeys back to Dagobah to finish his training with Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz), only to learn that his last mission and ultimate destiny is to once again confront Darth Vader. This task is made more difficult by the presence of Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), the shriveled, gravelly-voiced commander of the Galactic Empire, who wishes to turn Luke to the dark side of the Force. Meanwhile, Han volunteers for the task of leading a ground force to the forest moon of Endor to knock out an energy shield generator that protects the Death Star II, a new replacement battle station being constructed by the Imperial army. If Han’s team is successful, Lando’s squadron of starships will strike in a fashion similar to the initiative against the first Death Star – by travelling to the structure’s core and causing a chain reaction explosion (perhaps the film’s weakest idea, as it too closely mirrors the solution from the original 1977 masterpiece).
Considering that the Mos Eisley Cantina from “Star Wars” was so immensely iconic and fun, serving as a place to feature a wide variety of alien species and galactic inhabitants, it’s not surprising that this third part would return to Tatooine to a dwelling even more vast, labyrinthine, and brimming with spectacular creatures. Pig-faced Gamorrean guards, tentacle-headed majordomo Bib Fortuna (Michael Carter), cackling little court jester Salacious Crumb, the gigantic armored Rancor beast residing beneath the throne room, and of course, the blubbery slug-like monstrosity of Jabba the Hutt himself are all introduced, each more impressive than the last in detailed garbs, makeup, and puppeteering. With creative practical effects like these, there’s simply no need for computer graphics – plus, the old-fashioned visuals stand the test of time far more admirably.
For this third outing, Han has lost some of his edge as a romanticist and his dialogue is tinged almost entirely with sarcasm and jealousy. Aside from Ford’s moments of comic relief, the general level of heightened seriousness from the other roles – first found in “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” – returns for the scenes in Jabba’s palace and on the Death Star II. Perhaps the greatest criticism and biggest stretch in tone is with the introduction of the Ewoks – the cuddly, furry, Teddy Bear-like critters native to Endor. As kooky as they are, it’s not unnatural for this series to include such juvenile inventions. And the powerful, frightening scenes with the Emperor make up for it.
Although the overall story isn’t as inspired as in the previous two entries, the character designs, hair-raising adventure, and the return of the thundering theme music by John Williams is sublime. And the climactic space ambush involving hundreds of starfighters and colorful laser bolts flashing across the screen, which should have been included in the attack run against the first Death Star, is a stunningly chaotic sight to behold. With an enthralling resolution that brings the epic story of Darth Vader to a close through revelation, sacrifice, and redemption (and a long-awaited unmasking), “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi” is a must-see final chapter to one of the grandest science-fiction sagas ever filmed.
– Mike Massie