Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)
Film review #508
Director: Richard Marquand
SYNOPSIS: Luke Skywalker and his friends attempt to rescue Han Solo from the clutches of Jabba the Hutt, meanwhile, the evil Galactic Empire are busy building a new death star, leading to a battle between the empire and rebels that will determine the fate of the galaxy…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi is a 1983 science-fiction film and the final film in the original Star Wars trilogy. Set one year after the events of previous film, in the opening we see Luke Skywalker and his friends attempting to infiltrate the palace of Jabba the Hutt and rescue their friend Han Solo, who was frozen in carbonite at the end of the previous film. Like in Episode V, the gap between films presents a bit of an issue plot-wise, perhaps more so here. For example, the opening title crawl just casually outlines the fact that the empire is constructing a new death star, which was not hinted at or set up at the end of the previous film, and to just reveal this significant plot-point (regardless of it being a bit recycled from the first film) as a bit of text in the opening seems to dilute the impact of what could have been a significant moment in the film. The first act of the film as mentioned takes place one year after the events of the previous film and is essentially a rescue mission to free Han Solo. Again, there’s issues with the plot that immediately surface: why did they wait a year to rescue Han Solo? Why do it now when the empire is constructing a new death star? The Empire Strikes Back had a similar problem with it’s three-year gap between it and A New Hope, where it seemed like the relations between the characters hadn’t changed much in three years. It just seems to be a consistent thing in these films that the gaps between them aren’t well thought out (perhaps due to the fact that the trilogy wasn’t planned out in advance). The first act itself is a good set-up, with all of the heroes working together in their own ways to help free Han Solo, and it closes the arc with Jabba the Hutt set up over the trilogy, but in the context of the wider story it seems like it takes up too much time when the fate of the galaxy is on the line and the main rebels take time out to save one person. The scene with Luke taking a big detour to see Yoda, just so he can confirm that Darth Vader is his Father, is of little significance, and I’m not sure why it was kept in. Apparently it was filmed because they needed to confirm that Vader wasn’t lying about him being Luke’s Father, but as a viewer, this didn’t seems like an issue that arose for me, and even if it was, it could have been handled some other, quicker way, instead of making a big detour, and an extended death scene that just tries to be overly-dramatic for some reason. The film refocuses itself after this and sets the stage for the final battle well and also giving enough space for your favourite characters, but there are definitely some issues with the story which are harder to overlook than the ones in The Empire Strikes Back.
All of your favourite characters return in the film, and they are for the most part consistent with what we know about them. There’s not much development, but I think everything is pretty set up for the climax character-wise. Luke attempts to come across as a hardcore Jedi now as he calmly walks into Jabba’s palace and decimates him with his plan, but Hamil as an actor still doesn’t have that feel of someone who is bad-ass, or can lean into the more dramatic moments, like Yoda’s death. Leia’s character doesn’t have a specific arc, but her response to finding out that she is Luke’s sister, that she has “somehow always known” is a bit weird, particularly in the context of the love triangle between her, Luke and Han that was part of the first film, and her kissing Luke on screen twice. Apart from that, she’s still a strong character, but the plot just doesn’t seem to affect her on a personal level. Han’s character feels pretty diluted in this film: he mostly just reacts with grumpy quips about every situation. he’s still one of the most definitive characters, but his character just isn’t doing much new. Apparently one of the original plans was to have him die, but George Lucas overruled it on account of the potential to hurt merchandise/action figure sales. You can probably trace a lot of the decisions about the film to Lucas being concerned about merchandise sales (which was his main source of income for the films). The new characters, such as the new stormtrooper designs on Endor, Admiral Ackbar, and especially the Ewoks would no doubt drive a new wave of merchandise sales, particularly among younger people.
In terms of the villains, Jabba’s villain arc is quite nicely closed off, even though he is only mentioned and appears briefly throughout the films. Nevertheless, we have a good idea of who he is and what he does. Vader’s story in this film shifts a fair amount: he changes from a ruthless ruler killing his own people in the previous films, to a bit of a lackey to the Emperor in this one. Maybe this again an attempt to not make him too scary to children, but also I guess it ties into the sub-plot of Luke attempting to “save” his Father and turn him away from the dark side. This is something that just suddenly happens in this film, and is in no way is Vader set up as someone who can be saved in the previous films, so it seems like an odd direction to take it. The Emperor, who we see in the flesh for the first time in this film, takes full control of the villain role, but we know so little about him, and the fact that he interacts only with Luke makes his impact severely limiting. I’m not sure what we can say about Boba Fett: the entire trilogy seemed to set him up in the background as a fearsome bounty hunter, but he meets his end at the end of the first act without really doing anything, and just being shot by Han in his half-blind state. I’m going to designate him as another victim of being an action figure first and a character second.
When the film gets going with it’s space battles and lightsaber fights, it has that same energy that Episode IV had, and plenty of spectacle and suspense. The film works best in this simplicity, where inconsistencies in the plot don’t slow it down. The ships look great, the puppetry is good, and everything is vibrant and colourful when it needs to be. The soundtrack is an improvement over Episode V simply because it doesn’t use the “imperial march” every five minutes.
I’ve been looking at these Star Wars films as a non-fan, and of the position that I’m probably never going to change my mind, so they may seem overly-critical. Return of the Jedi is a decent action/adventure film that is simple, but effective. However, it is much easier to pick out issues with the story here than in The Empire Strikes Back: there’s a lot of decisions in the script I’m really not convinced by, and there’s a lot of moments where the film plays it safe (placating Han’s character, downgrading the threatening Vader), or there’s definitely an eye on introducing new characters to make merchandise from. It’s essentially just more Star Wars, so if you like that, then you’ll like this, but even fans can certainly find things which are lacking (not just the annoying ewoks).