When it comes to the last chapter (until now) in the ‘Star Wars’ story I find myself at a bit of a dilemma. I already know, before even starting this review that there are moments of ‘Return of the Jedi’ that are simply not as good as the other two and do not hold up as well as they do either. However that being said most of my favourite moments from the entire franchise come specifically from this film, the psychological games between Luke and Vader, the assault on the second Death Star, Yoda’s final words to Luke and Vader’s death (spoiler I guess, even though it’s over 30 years old) additionally, this one was always my favourite at a young age but as I have grown older I have come to appreciate the other two more. So what do I do?
Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) prepares to confront his father Darth Vader and meet his destiny with the force as the Alliance and the Empire enter a final standoff with the freedom of the galaxy at stake.
Notice how I missed out the fact that a quarter of this film is spent wrapping up the cliff hanger from the end of ‘Empire Strikes Back’. This is not necessarily a bad thing but the first half an hour almost starts to feel like another film, by the time they finally escape the clutches of Jabba the Hutt and rescue Han Solo you almost forget the main villain of the film is still at large, or at least you might had they not included snippets of the preparation of the Empire’s masterstroke for the upcoming battle which is useful to lessen the disjointed nature, but sadly it does not quite irradiate it.
Speaking of that Imperial masterstroke though, is it not quite a convenient plot device that the Empire is able to build a second Death Star, especially as the first one took decades to build and this one was (assuming they started again once the first one was destroyed) six years in the making. However maybe it was an easier task after completing the design once before, or maybe they hired contractors (fans of ‘Clerks’ I hope you got that).
But moving on, one thing that is very commendable of the first part of the film is the design of each creature in Jabba’s palace, from the Rancor pit to Jabba himself, they are all wonderful triumphs in puppetry and practical effects. One amazing moment that was pointed out by Roger Ebert in his review of ‘Return of the Jedi’ (which he gave a perfect score of 4/4 stars) where he noticed the way in which the Rancor’s tamer starts crying when he realises the hideous creature is dead, as Ebert noted, it summarised how ‘everything matters to someone’. Is it just me or does that draw an oddly compelling parallel between Luke and Vader, to most people Vader is the tyrannical force of evil. Yet Luke is willing to fight for his salvation and even cries over his corpse. Vader matters to him.
Speaking of which, the final confrontation between Luke and Vader is by far the most interesting part of the film. The way they manipulate each other, while they are both manipulated by the Emperor, is fascinating and highly emotive. You get a great sense of how it his more than just two people duelling with Lightsabers, there is a definite ideology that we are watching the battle for Luke Skywalker’s soul. It serves as an amazing finale to Luke’s character arc, having gone from naïve, to wounded and now conflicted. It even adds an additional character arc we never saw coming in the form of Vader’s redemption.
Supporting characters are slightly downplayed in their development, as if Han and Leia reached their full development by the end of ‘Empire Strikes Back’ and have nothing left to do here. There are a few moments in which the script could have furthered their dramatic output but choose not to. Some have suggested maybe Han Solo should have dies to give the film more weight but I disagree with this for two reasons now; 1) we wouldn’t have had him return for ‘The Force Awakens’, 2) because he’s Han freaking Solo is why. However, Han and Leia still contribute to the plot and I think there’s something to be said for the subtle way in which the interaction between our main trio displays their development. They are beyond simple squabbling and have a mutual respect for each other, not bad for a farm boy, a princess and a smuggler.
Not all of the effects are as polished as the previous two, with an overreliance on green screen effects that do not age as well. To be fair this method seems to suit the action scenes more and I’d rather have less convincing effects in an action scene rather than just rehashing one from a previous instalment. They also use some nifty editing and creative camera movements to minimise the issue, but it is still noticeable. The space battles are much larger, and in the best way. The previous films used similar methods but in a different execution to create a different effect, from the adrenaline of the first film’s sequence, the cat and mouse style of the one from ‘Empire Strikes Back’ to the spectacle of this one.
That is yet another thing that ‘Return of the Jedi; and every film in this trilogy do perfectly, they stand apart from one another. There is never much of a sense of rehashing something from the last movie as each sequence is unique and creative and spectacular in its own way. That is why for me it remains the greatest trilogy of all time.
‘Return of the Jedi’ may not be as technically impressive in its writing or effects as ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Empire Strikes Back’ yet it still evokes a great sense of emotional involvement to keep me hooked for its entirety.