This film can be considered both a decent conclusion and the beginning of the end for Star Wars. While the quality of this film is not of the same as its two predecessors, it’s still a good enough end to the original trilogy, thanks to a few really good combat scenes. It’s the pandering to children and selling toys that started the decline in the Star Wars films, and there are quite a few moments of that as well.
The film picks up shortly after the events of the last film, a plan is set in place to rescue Han (Harrison Ford) from the gruesome gangster Jabba the Hut. When Leia (Carrie Fisher) attempts to disguise herself as a bounty hunter and free him, she is captured as well, and joins Han, Chewbacca, the two droids, and Lando (Billy Dee Williams) in Jabba’s palace. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), now an even more experienced Jedi, attempts to pull off a rescue attempt of his own but fails, leaving them to be executed over the pit of Sarlacc, where they will be eaten.
Luke frees them, and they escape, starting the plan to destroy the Empire’s second death star, this time with Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) on board. Han and Leia will lead a troop on the moon of Endor to knock out the Death Star’s shield generator, Luke will engage Darth Vader and the Emperor, and Lando will lead the space fleet to try to destroy the ship. The finale, cut in three parts, is messy, but shows the final battle take place.
The biggest drawback to this film is that, on Endor, the battle is aided by a small tribe of Teddy-Bear creatures known as Ewoks, and these puppet creatures really deflate the tension of having our main characters attacked by StormTroopers without Luke there to help them. Instead, it becomes much like the Gungan scene in The Phantom Menace where an important battle is ruined by comedic effect. Lucas ruins the tone here, where those scenes are cut in against a final battle between Luke and Vader that involves evil temptation, a nasty Emperor, and father/son legacy. These scenes are very cartoon heavy, and where there is CGI, it looks really dated and doesn’t hold up as well as the practical effects of the first two films. It also shows the growth of Mark Hamill as an actor, who has begun to settle in, but often doesn’t have enough to do.
The plotting of this movie just seems thrown together, and although some scenes are really good, there is no second act to this movie. We open with the Tatooine scene with Jabba, which is very, very good, and then we go straight to the three-part battle. Lucas doesn’t do enough building of the story in this one, relying on the way the first two films used different locations and characters to signify the rising and falling action of the story. Here, the film doesn’t obey that archetype, and is instead paced very poorly. It also signifies the start of ‘Star Wars Jibberish’ as I call it, where instead of relying on visuals or true feelings to showcase the story, it goes instead to corny lines like “I can feel your anger,” things like that. The legacy of the first two films used very human relationships between human and even non-human characters to keep the story of adventure and strange places to a very personable tone. Here, that doesn’t really occur, and like the three prequels, too much of the story is told in a third person setting where characters explain other parts of Star Wars lure to another. It’s not quite midi-chlorians level obvious, but it takes you out of the movie when you see how hokey this movie becomes at some parts.
Sadly, Return of the Jedi doesn’t hold up in the way that I would like to remember, and although the Jabba’s Palace scene and the bike chase scene on Endor, and the final battle between Luke and Vader are all incredible, there’s a ton of problems that are evident. It’s better than Revenge of the Sith and Attack of the Clones, but just barely, where this one’s quality is higher, but the stakes were bigger in ‘Sith’ and ‘Clones’ has some guilty pleasure moments. So, they will all get similar scores. It just isn’t even in the same league as its predecessors.