Star Wars: Episode 6 – Return of the Jedi (1983)

When asked the question “What is the greatest film trilogy of all time” the answer most will give resoundingly is Star Wars the original trilogy. A strong argument can be made for it without much protest to the belief that these 3 films shouldn’t be in the conversation. Return of the Jedi subtitled is only the 6th chapter in this massive galactic saga, but it also represents a finality to these characters stories that we have been introduced to since the first film A New Hope. Following the events of Empire (the pinnacle of this trilogy) Return spends most of its runtimewrapping up each thread, eradicating evil and finally bringing lasting peace to a galaxy that fought so bravely to achieve.

In terms of story, the events of Return of the Jedi pick up narratively 1 year after the events of Empireleft our heroes scattered from one another. The bold proclamation has been given from the evil Darth Vader (portrayed by David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones) to Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) who also just lost his right hand. Empire was not kind to Luke the most out of everyone. Second to Luke, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) was captured by Boba Fett and Jabba the Hutt, frozen in carbonite and hung on the wall like a decoration for all the underlings of Tatooine to gawk at.

Somehow in the span of time since the first Death Star was destroyed by the rebels and now, the emperor, Sheev Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) has been busy constructing a second Death Star near the forest moon of Endor. Several Bothans died to get us that information of a second Death Star as proclaimed by Mon Mothma (Caroline Blakiston).  But first things first, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Luke come up with a plan to infiltrate Jabba’s oversized palace to rescue Han with Lando (Billy Dee Williams) well undercover.

Roughly 45 minutes into Return and the Hut crime lord is the focal point. The mood is tense and agreeable from all creatures because well, whoever dares to defy Jabba becomes food for his pet, the rancor – no one survives that. If the plan included for all of our heroes to be captured, then mission accomplished. Jabba’s palace is the place to be for numerous species of aliens, loud music and bending to Jabba’s will. Jabba stays planted on his platform, getting fed and having his twi’lek prisoners dance for him.

Paradise can only last for so long.

The first half comes to a spectacular conclusion during an elongated action sequence that continuously builds the tension until the subtle signal for action is given. There are stakes added throughout this film and if one wrong move is made, death will come by 1,000 years of slow excruciating digestion from the sarlac. Composer John Williams’ score, who has brought sound to a vacuumed space booms outward, bodies fly through the air, gunfire hails from Jabba’s ship and Luke’s new lightsaber does its damage. Our heroes are saved to fight another day. And prepare to fight they do. Luke fulfills his promise and returns to Dagobah to finish his training with Yoda (Frank Oz) and the remaining head back to the rebel fleet to plan their attack and lower the new Death Star’s deflector shields.

It’s a sound plan – Han, Luke, Leia, Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), R2-D2 (Kenny Baker), and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) head to the forest moon while Lando pilots the legendary fastest ship in the galaxy, the millennium falcon, leading the ariel attack. For a brief moment, Return defines a man’s relationship with his ship – cinematographer Alex Hume puts the camera right on Harrison Ford as he takes in one final look at his baby. What a sweet, intimate moment we get to share with Han uninterrupted.

Following in Empire’s path, Return is directed by Richard Marquand off a story conceived by George Lucas and a screenplay co-written by Lucas and Empire writer Lawrence Kasdan. Return keeps the cohesive plot elements that were set up previously but with majority of the 132-minute runtime wrapping up the conclusion, the same level of risk rarely gets explored. Instead, we get to visit a new planet and meet a new race of beings known as Ewoks – the furry little cuddly creatures who may just be the most deadly species in the galaxy.

Consider this, once Leia befriends an Ewok, the two travel to the colony. After a brief conflict between Han and Luke, Leia resurfaces in a completely different outfit than what she traveled to the forest moon in. That dress was probably owned and worn by another woman who the Ewoks killed and ate as the plan was to cook Luke, Han and Chewy alive if not for 3PO’s magic. If that wasn’t enough proof, toward the very end of the film, the Ewoks can be seen using the helmets (and probably skulls) of the enemy as musical instruments. I rest my case.  

6 years removed from A New Hope and the quality of the special effects has only improved. Puppets, matte paintings and the use of miniatures are all put to good use. Explosions are loud and planet shattering while the scope of the galaxy makes us all feel small. Look at the scale of R2 and 3PO when they make it to Jabba’s palace – the structure alone gives new meaning to how well a practical effect can be utilized for a film like this.

40 years later and the effects of this original trilogy still stand up to the measure of today’s technology.

For the third time playing these roles, Mark, Harrison and Carrie all shine through their now lived in and comfortable roles – they are synonymous with Luke, Han and Leia for eternity. The chemistry these three have with one another will be difficult to replicate and even harder to forget.

Cinematographer Alex Hume makes the most out of the on-location shooting. The redwood forest is perfect for the forest moon and the chase sequences are elevated by the dense wood and sky-scraping trees. Each ship has a lived in feeling to them and as expansive as they are, there’s an intimacy that can be felt in every corridor and on every bridge.  Every planetary location as shown from a cockpit is a work of art, the stars are truly infinite.

Return of the Jedi caps off an impressive feat of filmmaking, bringing all these elements together without so much as a hiccup and delivering on an experiential storytelling event. Infused in these films are immeasurable amounts of heart and charm, choice, humor, darkness, destiny, and most importantly hope. The foundation of this trilogy has always centered around hope – the hope that good will always triumph over evil. The hope that where you’re born will not be the place you end up. Destiny doesn’t define you, it never defined Luke, his choices always came first. Luke may not be the hero we expect to come out of a sweeping sci-fi epic but he’s the one we and this galaxy deserve.

Screenplay By: Lawrence Kasdan & George Lucas

Story By: George Lucas

Directed By: Richard Marquand

Music By: John Williams

Cinematography: Alan Hume

Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Frank Oz, David Prowse, James Earl Jones, Ian McDiarmid

Where to Watch: Disney Plus

Edited By: Sean Barton, Marcia Lucas & Duwayne Dunham

Release Date: May 25, 1983

Running Time: 2 Hours 15 Minutes

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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