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

A long time ago in a galaxy we call our own, an anxious 12-year-old me sat in my bedroom floor. In front of me, a mass of Kenner Star Wars toys lay spread out like a Thanksgiving feast. My imaginary battlefield was littered with action figures by the dozens, a Tie-Fighter, an X-Wing, an Imperial walker, an AT-ST, even a Tauntaun for good measure. Yet another battle between the Rebel Alliance and the evil Galactic Empire was about to break out on our tan and beige carpet.

That may sound like a suspiciously vivid memory, but it’s really not. That was a routine event in my room. I was (and in many regards still am) a massive Star Wars fan. And I would play for hours, reliving George Lucas’ stories with my toys and making up some new ones as well. I once had Star Wars toys galore, Star Wars storybooks, Star Wars blasters, a Star Wars lightsaber, Star Wars pajamas, Star Wars posters, you name it.

And it was all because of the movies. I’ve watched the original trilogy more than any other movies in my life. And I remember the experience of seeing them for the first time. In the early summer of 1983, all I could think about was “Return of the Jedi”, the third and final film in Lucas’ original trilogy. You couldn’t gauge my excitement for it. It was off the charts. And the movie didn’t disappoint. Even better, it’s still just as good, even a little weightier considering all of the Star Wars storytelling we’ve had since “Jedi” was first released.

This time Richard Marquand directed from a script written by Lawrence Kasdan and franchise mastermind George Lucas. The story picks up after the events of “Empire” and hands us a terrific opening that is Star Wars in a nutshell. We get a classic location, our favorite heroes, alien creatures galore, a slimy new villain, and a daring rescue. It was a delightfully energetic jolt back into the world.

From there the movie sets the table for its big conclusion. We learn that the evil Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) and Darth Vader (David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones) are nearing completion of a new planet-killing Death Star. It sits under construction in orbit of the forest moon of Endor. The Rebels hatch a plan to destroy the Death Star similarly to how they did in the original movie. But to get a shot at the space station they’ll need to lower its protective shield which is powered by a generator on Endor.

Enter our heroes. Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), accompanied by droids C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker), lead a team to Endor to destroy the shield generator. In the meantime, Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), piloting the Millennium Falcon, lead the Rebel assault on the Death Star. The movie ends with an epic three-pronged finish as one team battles on Endor, another in space above, and Luke on the Death Star finally confronting Darth Vader.

While there is an argument to be made that the Endor scenes get a little bogged down with the introduction of a furry primitive tribe of creatures called the Ewoks, I love both the story’s buildup and its payoff. The back-and-forth editing between the three big climactic clashes in exhilarating and the story as a whole culminates in an epic finish that’s thrilling while also packing a strong emotional punch. And again, that punch is only amplified by the wealth of Star Wars storytelling since that has propelled Anakin Skywalker (aka Darth Vader) as a centerpiece of the saga.

Along with the fun space opera story and the great character work are the visual effects which were truly cutting edge for its time. Sure, some haven’t aged particularly well which is highlighted most in the high-definition editions that have released over the years. And some of Lucas’ digital tinkering definitely works better than others. But you can’t dismiss the amazing work of Lucas and the team at Industrial Light and Magic in bringing the story to life. Rewatching it for this review, I still found myself swept away.

Without fail “Return of the Jedi” ignites a near childlike enthusiasm inside of me every time I watch it. You can chip away at some aspects of the storytelling, and it’s not one of those sequels that holds up as stand-alone movie. But at that point Star Wars had firmly defined itself as a trilogy and “Jedi” offered a near perfect conclusion. Over time, fans have spent countless hours examining and dissecting it. Creators are still building upon it and expanding it. The influence of “Jedi” (and the original Star Wars trilogy as a whole) has gone well beyond the first three films and it still entertains legions of fans today. Much like it did 12-year-old me all those years ago.

VERDICT – 5 STARS

11 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Star Wars: Episode VI – “The Return of the Jedi” (1983)

  1. The three pronged battle at the end sets up so many similar multiple storylines being featured in other films. It felt very innovative. [as an aside, Kasdan did not direct Empire, you know that but you have it wrong in this post]. I sat on Hollywood Blvd for twelve hours to see this at the first midnight screening, a guy bought tickets for his whole fraternity and we got bumped to a 3 am show, which was still packed but we were near the front of the line this time and got prime seats. When we walked out of the theater the line for the six am show was going in, so we bought tickets and saw it again immediately. Then we went home, took a nap and went to a 3 pm show with our friends. So three times opening day. So worth it.

  2. Great review! For me, “Return of the Jedi” is a mixed bag, as I love the opening Jabba the Hut set-piece and the Luke & Vader battle with the Emperor, but the movie seems to run out of gas by the end. But it’s a solid conclusion to the original trilogy. Especially when so many “third” films fail to wrap up their respective trilogies (I’m looking at you, Spiderman 3 & Dark Knight Rises.)

  3. This is a film that I do enjoy and I rate it quite highly as it has these little bits that I love. Especially how Vader is really the good cop instead of Palpatine. Yeah, I’d rather tell the truth to Vader and let him choke the life out of me instead of being zapped by some crazy old fart.

    I also love the moments where Luke Skywalker surrenders to Vader as he accepts the fact that Vader was once Anakin Skywalker and Vader refuses to acknowledge that aspect of himself.

    I’m really enjoying the Obi-Wan series as I love that little girl who plays the young Leia. She definitely captures the sassiness of her parents.

  4. Thanks for reviewing this classic, that was a very enjoyable read. And your memory isn’t suspiciously vivid, I was 9 years old when my mom took me and a friend to see the original, and I remember it as vividly as if it was yesterday. I have probably shared that story in comments before because it was one of those times you look back and wish you could freeze that perfect moment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s