Growing up, I always said Return of the Jedi was my favorite Star Wars movie. It wasn’t until years later I realized I was in the minority by saying that. Watching it again, I now know exactly why I enjoy it so much, why others don’t, and why we’re both completely right. Welcome to the final installment of our Star Wars rewatch.
Here’s why I love Return of the Jedi: I’m a sucker for a happy ending and that’s what Return of the Jedi is all about. From the very start of the film we realize this is the final film in the trilogy so George Lucas and his crew are going to throw so much Star Wars at us, we were going to explode. He’s also going to wrap up most of the storylines that have been left hanging from the last two films and send everyone off into the sunset in a satisfying, rousing way.
And yet, that finality removes the complexity, the darkness. If the first Star Wars was amazing for creating this world and The Empire Strikes Back was great for turning it on its head, the inevitable correction of that, by definition, can’t be as impactful. Seeing your heroes win is exciting in the moment but it doesn’t leave you with much to think about or feel. Which is why I totally get why many people feel Jedi is less striking than Empire.
But there is a lot of great stuff in this movie. Take Jabba’s Palace, for example; this is arguably the most visually stimulating scene in the entire franchise. Every corner of every frame is packed with something weird and cool. Creatures, droids, music, games, oddities—it’s just insane.
Plus, we get to see the whole team hatch a plan, which is something we don’t get in the other movies. Usually the plans are on a bigger scale or just feature one or two characters, but at Jabba’s you’ve got Luke, Leia, Chewie, Lando and the droids all coming together to rescue Han. After the gut-wrenching ending of The Empire Strikes Back, that’s a pretty fulfilling resolution to that storyline. Add to that the Rancor, the Sarlacc, the Max Rebo Band, and it’s just an amazingly cool, fun series of events (even if Boba Fett does die in such a crap way).
You also tend to forget that, after Jabba is killed, the movie basically moves into an ultra-extended third act. “We’ve got Han back, now let’s try and blow up another Death Star.” It’s an incredibly compact narrative. You then get another plan that will bring the entire gang together.
And yet, on the second go around, it might be too much. When you keep having all of your heroes together in the same place, it seriously constricts your story. Thankfully, Luke does have the insanely important and fascinating aside on Dagobah when Yoda and Obi-Wan lay out all the Jedi stuff and, eventually, he goes off to fulfill his destiny with Darth Vader and the Emperor. Luke can’t be in the equation for too long because he’s too big of a threat.
So the entire second and third act is the plan on Endor and the attack on the Death Star, which has its ups and downs. There’s the speeder bike chase, which still holds up as an exciting technical marvel. But the ensuing space battle is chock full of so many new ships and characters, none of which are primary characters (unless you count the Falcon), making it a little less dramatic.
Then there’s... (you knew it was coming) the Ewoks. Everyone hates the Ewoks and points out that they’re the shining example of why Return of the Jedi isn’t that great. I find myself straddling both sides of the fence on this issue. I agree it’s frustrating to have this random set of characters introduced to help the Rebels save the day. What would have happened if the Ewoks didn’t show up? Thank god they brought the protocol droid along with them, right? It all feels way too coincidental. Plus they’re so cute and cuddly, they’re not particularly interesting.
And yet, they’re phenomenal in a fight. They have no fear, they come up with inventive contraptions and hatch smart plans to help the cause. It’s the Ewoks who tell Han Solo about the back door, who distract the Scout Troopers, and who eventually do the bulk of the destruction with rocks and sticks. The Ewoks may look cute, but they’re not inconsequential. Even if they just happen to show up, they do save the day.
For any ill will the Ewoks may bring, Jedi has plenty to counteract it. There are a long string of touching moments: Leia’s reunion with Han, Yoda’s death, C-3PO’s story to the Ewoks, the stuff with Luke and Leia, the Force Ghosts and of course, Luke and Darth Vader at the end. There’s also huge excitement with Luke’s rescue at the Sarlaac, the speeder bike chase and Luke’s duel with Vader and the Emperor. It hits lots and lots of notes that make Star Wars, well, Star Wars.
The actors are way more comfortable and confident this time around. And the banter is more snappy than previous installments. In particular, Mark Hamill does a ton of the heavy lifting in this movie, going from frightening badass, to loving friend, brother, son and more. Luke’s emotional journey in Return of the Jedi is the payoff and anchor of the entire Star Wars series.
In the end, is Return of the Jedi the least awesome of the original Star Wars trilogy? Yes, but I don’t believe that’s an argument against it. It’s still a Star Wars movie filled with new ships, aliens, and answers. Even 30 years removed, I still love it. While I can admit it’s not the best of the original trilogy, it’s also my favorite.
And with that, my Star Wars rewatch has come to an end, just in time for Episode VII, The Force Awakens. We’ll have a review up on Wednesday and maybe I’ll give it the Star Wars rewatch treatment in 2017 before Episode VIII. For now, thanks for taking this journey with me, enjoy the movie, and may the Force be with you.
Here are the links to the entire Star Wars Rewatch.
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