In 1980, Irvin Kershner delivered not only one of the best sequels of all time, but quite possibly one of the greatest films ever made in “The Empire Strikes Back.” Only three years later, director Richard Marquand concludes the original “Star Wars” trilogy with “Return of the Jedi.” It seemed almost impossible to fulfill expectations after the masterpiece that was “Empire,” and unfortunately, that seemed to be true.
Set a year after the events of “Empire,” “Return of the Jedi” follows Jedi Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) as he confronts the evil Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) while attempting to bring his father, Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones), back to the Light Side of the Force. Meanwhile, a band of rebels led by Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) attempt to destroy the second Death Star and end the Galactic Civil War once and for all.
As the film begins, the main characters find themselves on Skywalker’s home planet of Tatooine where they are rescuing Solo from the slug-like gangster, Jabba the Hutt. The gangster’s palace is filled with an array of colorful aliens and memorable moments. These scenes in the film are arguably the most entertaining and exemplify the talents of the film crew, whether it be costume, puppeteering, or just set design. Unfortunately, these scenes are merely just a segment in the grand scheme of things.
The rest of the film begins to lose steam fairly quickly. Sets become less appealing and it feels as if it runs too long. Not to say that there aren’t other great things in the film, such as the music, the character progression of Skywalker, or the ever-growing romance of Solo and Leia. However, there is one piece of the film that sticks out like a sore thumb. Ewoks.
Ewoks, although not terrible on their own, represent to me the decline of quality in the Star Wars franchise. They are a small alien race of teddy-bear like creatures that seem to have been created for comic relief and to sell toys. They don’t belong in the “Star Wars” franchsie and ultimately detract from some emotional moments the film provides. Again, they are not the “Citizen Kane” of bad movie characters, but they are annoying and blemish what could have been an excellent film.
As far as standout performances, the prize would go to Hamill. When we first met Skywalker in the original film, he was a whiny self-entitled farmer, but as the trilogy progressed, so too did the character of Luke. He has now become a Jedi Knight, and with it comes wisdom, selflessness, and a certain sense of elegance that Hamill is able to effortlessly provide.
Other elements of the film that worked was of course the score, once again provided by John Williams, and the entertaining space battles. There’s just something so nostalgic and graceful about seeing the Millenium Falcon soaring through the vacuum of space, and luckily, this film provides a great deal of that.
As the concluding chapter of one of the most beloved trilogies of all time, “Jedi” does its job. It entertains and completes the journeys of our main characters. Unfortunately, it never feels as crisp or as emotional as its predecessors. That’s not to say that it isn’t a classic piece of sci-fi, but it just isn’t as impactful as the likes of “Star Wars” or “The Empire Strikes Back.” Although it struggles to achieve the same impact and craftsmanship as the two previous films, “Return of the Jedi” is an entertaining piece of film that will rest firmly in the hearts of fans of the franchise.