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Review: "Return of the Jedi" fitting end to "Classic Star Wars Trilogy"

Star Wars - Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

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“Star Wars – Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” (1983)

Hamill, who also provides voice talent for various animated projects, reprises his role as Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker in 2015's "Star Wars - Episode VII"
Photo by Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images

Also known as “Return of the Jedi”

Written by Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas, based on a story by Lucas

Directed by Richard Marquand

Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Frank Oz, Alec Guinness, David Prowse, James Earl Jones (voice of Darth Vader), Ian McDiarnid, Sebastian Shaw

I am a tremendous “Star Wars” fan; I know the story means an enormous love to me. I love the characters. - Richard Marquand

According to “Star Wars” creator George Lucas, the original “Star Wars” Trilogy is structured along the lines of a three-act play.

“Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope” represents Act One. This is usually where the characters, situations, and parts of the backstory are usually introduced.

“Star Wars – Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” represents Act Two. In a play or even in literature, this is where the characters are more fleshed out, the conflicts and situations are developed, and all the elements for a climax are put in place.

“Star Wars – Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” represents Act Three. This is the part where all the plot points that were left hanging in the previous act are resolved, both visually and emotionally.

The Saga Continues….

As co-written by George Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan, “Return of the Jedi” must resolve the central issue of the “Star Wars” Trilogy: Is Darth Vader really Luke Skywalker's (Mark Hamill) supposedly-murdered Jedi dad? If he is, will the son follow in his footsteps and fall to the Dark Side of the Force? Or will Luke resist temptation and usher in the resurgence of the Jedi Order and help defeat the evil Emperor?

There are, of course, other concerns and hanging plot threads which Jedi needs to address. Luke Skywalker has to keep his promise to Master Yoda (Frank Oz) and return to Dagobah to complete his Jedi training. Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is still frozen in carbonite and serving as Jabba the Hutt's "favorite decoration." Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) must choose between her duties to the Alliance or help rescue Han. Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) must redeem himself after his betrayal of Han and Leia at Cloud City.

And in the context of the Galactic Civil War, the Rebellion against the Galactic Empire is apparently at its nadir. The base on Hoth has been conquered by Imperial forces, and the Rebel fleet is trying to form a single great armada for one final battle with the Empire.

After a brief prologue which depicts Darth Vader arriving at a new and unfinished Death Star in the Endor system, “Return of the Jedi's” first act centers on how Luke, Leia, Chewbacca the Wookiee (Peter Mayhew), Lando, R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) mount a daring rescue of Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt's fortress-like palace on Tatooine.

The sequences which depict Luke Skywalker's efforts to free his friends from the clutches of the vile slug-like gangster (modeled to some degree to resemble Sidney Greenstreet, who played Ferrari in “Casablanca”) resemble the Saturday matinees of the 1930s and ‘40s. We are treated to clever infiltration schemes that go awry, a fight with a monster in a dungeon, a melee aboard Jabba's Sail Barge and its escorting skiffs which could have been "lifted" from an Errol Flynn swashbuckler movie and a life-or-death struggle with the gangster inspired by a scene in “The Godfather.”

This first act is merely the overture to the film's main events: the Rebellion's all-or-nothing attack on the unfinished Death Star and the long-awaited final confrontation between Luke and Darth Vader.

It’s also a battle of wits and wills between the galaxy's last Jedi-to-be and the evil Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid).

The Emperor: Come, boy, see for yourself. From here, you will witness the final destruction of the Alliance and the end of your insignificant rebellion.
[Luke's eyes go to his lightsabre]
The Emperor: You want this, don't you? The hate is swelling in you now. Take your Jedi weapon. Use it. I am unarmed. Strike me down with it. Give in to your anger. With each passing moment you make yourself more my servant.
Luke: No.
The Emperor: It is unavoidable. It is your destiny. You, like your father, are now mine.

“Return of the Jedi” seems to be the "runt" of the Classic “Star Wars” Trilogy, even to die-hard fans. This is partly because "third acts of plays," as co-writer Lawrence Kasdan says in the audio commentary track, "are the least interesting parts."

Another reason: Many fans dislike some of the movie's secondary plot points, especially the Empire's defeat at the hands of the teddy bear-like Ewols.

Interestingly, most accounts of the making of the “Star Wars” saga state that the Ewoks were originally Wookiees. Lucas, who had seen how the Americans and French had lost two wars against the Vietnamese in Indochina, wanted to show how a "primitive" fighting force could defeat a mechanized army.

His first idea, which was to have the Wookiees acting as the “Star Wars” equivalent of the Vietnamese guerrillas, was discarded after he had established Chewbacca as a tech-savvy individual who was comfortable with machinery and tools.

Lucas wanted a race with no knowledge of sophisticated gadgets and could be considered to be an insignificant threat to Imperial stormtroopers and their armored transports, so he shrank his creatures from tall, furry giants to small, furry bears.

However, lots of viewers and fan boys despise the Ewoks, saying that they are not credible adversaries of the mighty Empire and - even worse - that they're too cute and intended to appeal to younger kids.

Another complaint which was common before the Prequels were created and released was that Vader's redemption at the end and Luke's sensing that there is still some good in him seemed to come out of left field.

In the previous films, Vader was originally perceived by the audience as the personification of evil, so even when his back story was partly revealed in a scene between Luke and the Force spirit version of Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), the resurgence of Anakin Skywalker does seem abrupt (even though it also seems inevitable).

Now, with the addition of the “Star Wars” Prequels and the “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” television series, Vader's redemption flows a bit more naturally and makes sense. Now we can see Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader more as a tragic figure who was used and victimized by the series' true villain, Palpatine.

While “Return of the Jedi” isn't most fans’ favorite “Star Wars” movie, it is still a good conclusion to the Original Trilogy. Director Richard Marquand (“The Eye of the Needle,” “Jagged Edge”) did an excellent job with the actors and even provided the voice of EV-9D9, the evil supervisor droid in Jabba’s Palace. Marquand also acquitted himself well in handling the complex process of directing a movie with many special effects.

The special effects by Industrial Light and Magic are light-years ahead of those in 1977’s “A New Hope.” This not only reflects the vast advances in the tools of the trade, but also the dedication of the artists who worked on the movie to give Lucas and Marquand the best possible effects sequences in the days before CGI.

As usual, the score by composer/conductor John Williams adds more luster to “Return of the Jedi.” Not only does Williams introduce such new themes as “Luke and Leia,” “Parade of the Ewoks,” and “Jabba’s Theme,” but he also interweaves motifs from the previous movies to give the music a sense of continuity.

Blu-ray/DVD Availability

“Star Wars – Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” is currently available in the 2011 and 2013 Blu-ray/DVD box sets which contain the Original Trilogy. These include the “Star Wars: The Complete Saga” six-film set featuring the six Episodes released by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment before the Walt Disney Company’s purchase of Lucasfilm Limited. Earlier DVD editions from 2004, 2006, and 2008 are no longer in print, but may be found on eBay and other third-party sellers on Amazon Marketplace.