The last movie in the first Star Wars trilogy gets a bad rap in my opinion. People complain about Ewoks, just as they did about Jar Jar Binks, and while they are annoying, they don’t detract from the good aspects of this film to make it terrible. Or even not awesome. Return of the Jedi has some of the best action in the series. From rescuing Han Solo (Harrison Ford) from Jabba the Hutt, to the amazing finale set around the newly constructed second Death Star. We also got to see the redemption of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, which since we’d watched his fall over five movies was so satisfying.
Jedi picks up not long after the end of Empire Strikes Back. Han Solo is encased in carbonite and being held in the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt’s palace on Tatooine. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) returns to his home planet to save his friend, with the help of his rebel crew. On the other side of the galaxy, a new Death Star has been constructed and the rebel alliance has learned that both Vader and the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) will both be overseeing the final stages of its construction. This is too good of an opportunity for the rebels to pass up so they plan an assault on this new battle station, which may bring an end to the evil empire once and for all.
I love how this film wraps things up so well. All of the arcs that have been set up in the previous films are resolved here. Anakin Skywalker redeems himself when he refuses to let his evil master kill his son. We find out that Luke and Leia (Carrie Fisher) are actually brother and sister, and we finally get to see Luke fulfill his destiny and become a Jedi Knight. It is a rewarding movie that the audience has waited three (and sometimes six) movies to get answers to. The most satisfying moment is easily seeing Vader finally turn on Palpatine. He has been a loyal foot soldier for decades, but the one thing he can’t allow is the reason he turned to the Dark Side in the first place – preventing the death of his loved ones and his love for family. It is an emotional moment that still brings the feels over and over again with every viewing. The moment Luke removes his helmet to finally see his father’s face for the first time is a sight to behold and such a satisfying and brilliant way to wrap this trilogy up.
Of course for the longest time, we thought this was the final Star Wars film. A few years ago Disney bought Lucasfilm and announced there would be new movies, but up until then, these were the final moments we shared with the characters and it was nice to see that everything had been resolved happily, just as it should have been.
Of all the CGI additions to the original trilogy that George Lucas decided to make, none irritates me more than the singing alien at Jabba’s palace. I feel the need to lead with this, because I’ve yet to discuss these “improvements.” Most of them I have no opinion about. Adding blinking eyelids to the Ewoks– whatever. Some, like the added Jabba the Hut scene in Episode IV, don’t make much sense (This interaction adds nothing to the story, but rather repeats lines from other scenes).
But this lipstick wearing alien…ugh. She irks me to the point where I feel the need to get it off my chest before diving into my review. I’d love to ask Lucas why this part is integral to his overall vision, because I just don’t get it.
Anyway… Return of the Jedi is a fun romp. It’s probably my least favorite of the original three, but not far behind Empire Strikes Back. I love Luke’s newfound seriousness. It’s great seeing him grow from a bratty kid into a capable Jedi knight, and I’m looking forward to seeing him embody that again in Episode VIII. Han finally shows his soft side, with Leia cheekily throwing his “I know” back at him. She must really be in love, because I’d have replied with a curt “Thank you” before saving his life. Leia continues to be awesome in other ways as well. Whether she’s strangling Jabba to death with her own chains or hopping on a speeder to chase down storm troopers, the boys are always trying to catch up to her, and I love that.
The only scene I wish were better developed is Darth Vader’s redemption. His turning on the Emperor to save Luke never rang completely true to me. I’m sure the prequels were meant to remedy this, but given how little chemistry Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman had, I’m still not buying it. There needs to be something more here, an acknowledgement that Luke is like his mother in even a small way. Maybe he needs her eyes or something, a la Harry Potter, I don’t know. Better yet, I’d love to have seen that necklace Anakin gave Padme around his neck. Can you fix that up please, George?
Otherwise, Return of the Jedi is pretty near perfect. Had the series stopped here, I would have been satisfied with the happy ending. I’m even warming to Christensen’s Anakin replacing the bald Vader ghost at the end. Must be going soft in my old age…