Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (Richard Marquand, 1983)


Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Billy Dee Williams (Lando Carlrissian). Screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas. Directed by Richard Marquand. Rating: U. Running time: 134 minutes.

So the third episode arrived, and with it the confrontation the whole series had been working towards. After years of plotting and emphatic battling, the Rebel Alliance leader and Jedi prophet, Luke Skywalker, finally reaches a level at which he can fight his father, and after one more film of adventure and exploration, that is exactly what we are treated to in the saga’s final scenes.

That ending makes the film very hard to criticise. It’s incredible; it’s irresistible. In the presence of the Dark Lord, Emperor Palpatine, Luke arrives on the new and superior second Death Star and tests his father’s true nature to its limits. Obi-Wan had told Luke his father was dead, and insisted he hadn’t been lying by saying that. Darth Vader is nothing like the original Anakin Skywalker. He resembles him in no shape or form, neither mentally nor physically. But Luke resists Palpatine’s calls for him to channel his anger and frustration into his fighting, and instead allows the Dark Side to monopolise those emotions alone. As you no doubt already know, it is in this context that the Dark Side self-destructs, and Vader is left dying but redeemed, watching on as his son doesn’t fall for the trap that he did.

I have to say it again: it truly is the most dramatic and perfect of endings. But Return of the Jedi‘s problem is that this sequence of scenes aside, it really does lack the magic and drive of the first two episodes. Not only does Star Wars actually become forest and desert wars – with most action occurring amongst the trees with a bunch of cuddly bears and in Jabba the Hut’s administration – it also fails by forgetting for too long why the first two worked so well: they were always gifted with the presence of humans. In its opening scenes, which are supposed to set up an action sequence in which Han Solo is released from freezing, we’re overwhelmed with a bunch of new characters that are neither as fun as the ones we’ve previously been introduced to, nor as understandable, instead coming across as alien thugs that make sounds even whinier than Chewbacca’s and generally feeling like they lack all sense of purpose.

Nor do the later battles feel like they have the thought and drive behind them that they used to have. When the Alliance plans its next attack on the second Death Star, it’s not an intricate and enthusiastic farewell to the men setting off into space à la New Hope variety. It feels like a formality, as does most of the pointless fooling around Leia and Han get up to with the droids in the forest.

The ending, as I said, rescues an otherwise disappointing sequel. The sets, explosions and chases are no doubt as costly and ambitious as they were before, but they no longer feel as awesome as they did in the earlier films. And the reason for this is, unfortunately, to do with more than the mere fact that the series was getting older. It just ran out of steam a little too soon.

One Response to “Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (Richard Marquand, 1983)”

  1. 1 Joshua Dixon

    I would probably agree about the film as a whole, but like you say I think the ending redeems everything. Vader’s redemption when he has to choose between the Emperor and his son and he finally chooses his son, picking up the Emperor… genuinely brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it. My favourite film moment.

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