Smith’s Verdict: ***
Reviewed by Tanner Smith
It’s often that the final chapters of trilogies are usually the weakest (with a few exceptions, of course), with examples usually being “The Godfather Part III” and “Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.” The possible answer as to why that’s usually the case is the filmmakers/storytellers played their cards too early and what brilliance they crafted before pale in comparison due to less innovation and so few new things to offer. In the case of “Return of the Jedi,” the last chapter of the original “Star Wars” trilogy (and the end of the series, for that matter, until “The Force Awakens” is released next month), its success rides on seeing familiar characters gain resolution and its failure comes from what it takes to get to said-resolution. It’s sad to say this is kind of a “hokey” film with quite a few silly and/or disappointing moments but just enough good moments in it that keep it from being “bad.”
Let me put it this way—would I care about “Return of the Jedi” if Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Darth Vader, Chewbacca, C-3P0, R2-D2, and Lando Calrissian were replaced by characters we were newly introduced to? My answer is “no,” and that is my biggest problem with “Return of the Jedi”—it only feels like a “Star Wars” film because these characters are still involved. I’ll get to my biggest issues with the film soon, but for now, I’ll list some positive things about it.
For one thing, the actors have truly grown into their roles. In particular, Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker has grown up and is not the whiny farmer boy he was in the first “Star Wars” film—Hamill does a good job showing Luke’s maturity and delivers a strong performance. Luke’s conflict (knowing Darth Vader is his father and wanting to save him without turning to the dark side) is a fascinating one and it’s portrayed very well. His resolution is also very satisfying, without giving anything away.
For another positive aspect, the first 40 minutes are exciting, as Luke, Leia, C-3P0, R2-D2, and Lando rescue Han Solo from the clutches of Jabba the Hutt, a big, disgusting blob who is a crime lord for the planet of Tattooine. It’s a tense opening half with a truly nasty antagonist and a mysterious intenstine-like monster in the sand of the desert.
There’s also the Emperor, played by Ian McDiarmid. McDiarmid plays the Emperor as evil incarnate—a cunning, devil-like ruler who knows just what to say in order to manipulate people and get what he wants (it’s no wonder Luke’s father was able to turn to the dark side; this is also made clearer in “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” released many years later, but I’ll get to that later). And he’s clearly enjoying every minute of it. He may even be more intimidating than Darth Vader ever was. The scenes in which he tries to win Luke over to the dark side are very tense.
And of course, the characters are the friends and enemies we have come to know. Han and Leia still have good chemistry, C-3P0 and R2-D2 are still funny, Chewbacca is still loyal, Lando gives us another human hero to root for, and Darth Vader is still imposing (though not as much as in the previous films).
And now for the negative things I have to say about “Return of the Jedi”…
Is it any surprise that among them are the Ewoks? Many people seem to hate these indigenous teddy-bear-like creatures, and I can see why. They’re unbearably cute and were probably only brought in to bring more kids in after the dark turn the series took with “The Empire Strikes Back.” That’s another problem with this film—after the complex darkness introduced in the previous film, it’s disappointing that this film decided to play the “cute” route.
Another big issue I have with the film is the resolution involving the love triangle between Luke, Han, and Leia. Luke’s relationship with Leia is unbelievably forced, as if George Lucas didn’t want to think too much about how this small conflict could be resolved with Han getting the girl, so he took the easiest way out, worthy of soap-opera status. (Though, I do love Han’s reaction upon hearing from Leia who Luke is in relation to her.)
Then there’s the final battle between the rebels and the Empire. It’s underwhelming; you don’t feel nearly as much weight as you should, given what was being built up all this time.
On top of all that, the special effects don’t hold up as well today. There’s too much obvious green-screen action and not enough practical effects to satisfy. The central chase sequence in which enemies chase heroes through a forest with hovercraft is not entirely convincing and it’s distracting enough to notice the white outlines on actors’ bodies.
But with that said, “Return of the Jedi” is undoubtedly the weakest entry in the original “Star Wars” trilogy, but it’s still a fun watch. It doesn’t have the same sense of enjoyment as the original “Star Wars,” but it’s still, in a way, a worthy chapter in the trilogy, if not the best one to go out on. It still has the familiar characters, some good sci-fi action, and enough entertainment to make the running time of two hours and 11 minutes go by quickly. It’s enjoyable even if it might not be what most “Star Wars” fans were expecting.