Growing up, this one was always my favorite of the trilogy. As I look back, this is not surprising at all. George Lucas has stated that when he originally made Star Wars, his target audience was a much younger audience, specifically 12-year-old boys. Yet he ended up creating a universe that appealed to a much broader audience. For The Empire Strikes Back, a lot of people stepped in to help him with this universe and at the time he was much more willing to listen as he didn't direct the movie or write the screenplay. I'm sure he still had a huge say in what happened, but compared to the other five movies, his stamp is less present. What resulted was a simple, yet deep movie that I think resonates a lot more with adults than kids. Yes, I still enjoyed the movie as a kid, but it felt a lot more dark and incomplete. I didn't fully understand the deep themes or appreciate the relationships and well-developed character arcs. In general, it's safe to say that I didn't appreciate movies as much as I do now. Thus when we put in Return of the Jedi, I was much more entertained because this is the chapter that has a lot more action from start to finish. It doesn't rely as much on deep themes or complex relationships. It also has a happy ending. It was perfect for a kid like me. Yet that's the thing. As I watched this time around, I realized that Return of the Jedi does a much better job at fulfilling Lucas' original goal of making a fun movie for 12-year-old boys.
Please don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that this is a bad movie or is a movie only for 12-year-old boys. I'm just saying that with The Empire Strikes Back there was a lot of stuff that I appreciate a lot more as an adult and a fan of film that I realize is less apparent in Return of the Jedi. This is a much safer film that doesn't dive as deep as The Empire Strikes Back in terms of story, themes, and characters, deciding to focus instead on action and adventure. As a kid, I had no problem with this. I just enjoyed watching a fun movie. As an adult, I still like sitting down and watching fun movies, which is why I still really like this movie, but I also have learned to love analyzing and critiquing movies. It's fun to dive deep and pick movies apart, discussing which elements worked and which didn't. In writing reviews, my number one rule is to be completely honest with both myself and my audience, regardless of whether or not that puts me with the flow or against it. All of this makes it even that much more rewarding when I do run into a perfect movie or a near perfect movie such as The Empire Strikes Back. So yes, I will be honest here. I have to be honest. No, it's not fair to expect every movie to be at the level of The Empire Strikes Back, but Return of the Jedi does have it's fair share of flaws and I'm going to talk about those along with the good elements.
Once again following the pattern set by its two predecessors, the plot of Return of the Jedi is a very simple one and can be divided into three main parts. With this review, we're going to go through chronologically instead of jumping around a bit like I did with The Empire Strikes Back. That means we get to start with Jabba's Palace, which I think is actually a pretty fantastic introduction. For two movies now, we've referred to this mysterious character named Jabba. Don't let George Lucas deceive you. Jabba does NOT show up in the first Star Wars movie. Adding that scene ruined the build-up. It's better that we don't know Jabba. All we know is that he's not someone you want to get mad. When we finally introduce him, it's pretty great. The master plan by Luke, Leia, and Lando is to send the droids first. C-3PO is terrified. He knocks on the door and quickly tries to get out of it by saying no one answered. Yet R2 is persistent. He has a message to relay and when R2 is told to relay a message, he doesn't give up until the message is relayed. So the doors open and R2 bravely gets them directly to Jabba. Then we finally see Jabba and even brave, little R2 becomes terrified and lets out his scared beeps. After being so brave in getting them there, he actually hesitates in giving the message, which is a warning from Luke that he's a Jedi Knight and is coming to negotiate.
In my review of The Empire Strikes Back, I dove pretty deep into what makes a great villain. I'm not going to rehash that here, but I will say that Jabba is a pretty dang good villain. He lacks the attributes needed to make him a great villain like Darth Vader, but in this case he doesn't need to be great because he's just there to start our movie off with a bang and in that he succeeds. First off, his look is disgusting. In a good way, of course. You see him and are just repulsed. He's a big nasty, slug-like character with a lot of power and influence. Every creature there in his little palace is there to serve him. If they make Jabba mad, they quickly turn into entertainment for Jabba because he loves watching people die. And he probably has one of the best laughs in movie history that just makes him sound like a scumbag. Added to that is the fact that the guy has no soul and no heart. Carbonite Han was a great decoration for him. Scumbag bounty hunters are his favorite. You make him mad, you end up in the little pit with that monster that'll eat you. Because of this disgusting atmosphere around him, he also attracts a bunch of weird, creepy creatures and a few odd humans. This makes our rescue mission to save Han pretty great.
Speaking of rescue mission, I was at first going to criticize this plan and execution. Luke is now trained with the force and a light saber. He could've easily just walked into the place, killed everyone in his path and saved Han. Easy. But he doesn't. Why the heck not? Why hide his light saber in R2? Why use the force to get to Jabba and then not use it after he gets there? But then it hit me. This is the first sign that Luke has started to become a seasoned Jedi. Compare this to the whiny, impatient kid at the start of the first movie and we see one of the greatest character arcs that I've ever seen in any movie trilogy. Obviously he cares about his friends, yet instead of impatiently running into the place and causing immediate destruction like Anakin did in Attack of the Clones when he was out to save his mom, Luke exercises a lot of patience. He walks into the place and kindly offers to make a deal with Jabba, giving Jabba plenty of chances to make things right. He doesn't attack until the very last moment when him and his friends are about to be thrown into the mouth of that scary sand creature thing that will slowly digest you over the course of a thousand years. Yeah, this could be seen as a ploy to make the movie suspenseful by unrealistically dragging things out, but I actually think this is a great way to showcase the maturity of Luke. More about Luke later when I talk about the finale of this movie.
Before I move on from Jabba's palace, there's a couple of things that I need to address. The first of this is slave Leia. As I've emphasized in the other two movies from this trilogy, Leia is no damsel in distress. In fact, she's a very strong female character who definitely doesn't need a ton of help from others. In fact, she's leading the way in most of her scenes when it comes to the fights. So why turn around and sexualize her by putting her in this skimpy slave outfit? Was this necessary? No. The movie could've done without it. However, I do think this is a bit different than what they did with Padme in Attack of the Clones. In that movie, Padme makes the personal decision to wear these tight, revealing outfits and the movie makes the dumb decision to randomly cut off half of one of her outfits for no apparent reason other than to show more skin. That was a dumb move by the movie. Leia, on the other hand, didn't choose her outfit. And it's not handled in a dumb way. In fact, if anything it reflects more on the scumbag that is Jabba that he would take this strong female character and force her into this with no remorse. This, of course, backfires in a big way and subsequently adds to the character of Leia when she turns around and chokes Jabba to death. No, she doesn't need Luke to save her with his light saber or Han to save her with his blaster. Despite being chained up to Jabba while being forced to wear almost nothing right in front of the people that she cares about, she takes matters into her own hands and saves the day. You go Leia!
Finally we move to this second act. This is where things could've really picked up, building towards the great finale. Yet this is where things slow down. Remember how I spent the first three paragraphs explaining why I think that this is a movie that works more for kids than adults? This is where that is evident. First off, I do have to admit that the story is recycled. Remember how Star Wars was a movie where the evil empire builds this Death Star in order to easily destroy the rebel alliance? Yeah, our squadron of heroes came and destroyed that. As epic and fun as that was, this universe that was created is so huge. There so many different things that could be done that would make for a fascinating ending to the trilogy. Yet we pick the same exact story as the first movie? Empire builds Death Star. Rebels destroy Death Star. Did we need to do that again? I give a lot of points to Lucas for his high level of creativity with this universe. Yet I do have to admit that he loses a few points here. I don't need to describe the specifics of the plot, but nevertheless because of this new Death Star, our heroes gather on the Forest Moon of Endor in order to enable them to destroy the Death Star while our new squadron led by Lando go to attack this new Death Star.
This sequence on the Moon of Endor starts out pretty great. We have stormtroopers on the moon, making things very complicated. We get these chase sequences between the stormtroopers and Luke and Leia on these bike things. In addition to stormtroopers, the Empire sends more of the coolest weapon they have, the AT-AT Walkers. Those things are boss. This could lead to a duel that is super fun and epic. Then we get the introduction of the most controversial creature that kinda derail things. The Ewoks. These things divide Star Wars fans like none other. A lot of people hate them and a lot of people love them. Where do I lie? Right in the dead center. I don't hate the Ewoks. I think they are fun, cute, cuddly characters. I would love to own a tame Ewok. They are like living, over-sized teddy bears. But this movie spends way too much time with the Ewoks and there are way too many of them. Having an Ewok or two show up would be great. Having a whole colony of them was overkill. And the whole sequence where our main characters get captured by the Ewoks, taken to their colony, and almost prepared for dinner is actually pretty boring. Imagine for a second if Ewoks were replaced with Wookies. Running into a colony of Wookies would be amazing. Then using the Wookies to help fight for them would be great. I want to see a real Wookie battle in Star Wars and that's something that we've never really had outside a brief, unsatisfying minute or two of CGI Wookies in Revenge of the Sith.
The overuse of the Ewoks is my main argument for why this is a movie that seems like it's more geared towards kids than adults. They could've done something epic with this battle, instead George Lucas decided to create a cute, fun group of characters for the kids to love instead of doing something much more epic. The other reason why I say this doesn't work as well is that they don't dive very deep into the relationships. The Empire Strikes Back establishes several great, complex relationships that they could've built off in Return of the Jedi, but they don't. They're not cringe-worthy, of course. It's nothing like Anakin and Padme in Attack of the Clones that literally made me want to fast-forward the movie. But coming off of near perfection in The Empire Strikes Back, the lack of depth is a bit disappointing. Take Lando, for example. Last time Han saw him, he was turning Han over to Vader. Shouldn't a strong personality like Han be at least a little upset next time he sees Lando? Then we have Han and Leia. Stuff almost happens here. Han is clearly jealous of Luke when he's certain Leia is in love with him. There could've been some great tension between the two like in Empire, but instead Jedi mainly avoids it. They're in love now. No tension needed anymore, right George? Speaking of Luke and Leia, Luke drops a huge bomb on her. They're brother and sister and Darth Vader is their father. This could've broken Leia, troubling her for the rest of the movie. But no. She just accepts it like she's known all her life, which is weird because she just made out with Luke not too long before.
Like I said, very little depth to this movie. Ewoks playing a big role. No tension. No drama. Our biggest sense of danger comes with wondering if our main characters are going to be eaten alive by a bunch of cute teddy bears. This isn't Star Wars like it should be. And for a while I was wondering if I was going to give this a much lower grade than I initially thought I would. But then after a fun first act and an underwhelming second act, the final act gets back to what Star Wars should be. Deep. Thought-provoking. Intense. What saves Jedi is what I spent most of my Empire review talking about. Darth Vader and Luke. Luke quickly realizes that going to the moon of Endor has jeopardized this mission because Vader can sense him and so Luke decides to do what Yoda told him to do and that is face Vader. Now first off, a few things I don't completely understand. What's the logic behind force detection? Why is Vader always able to detect Luke, but not Leia? Does it have to do with him training with the force? Vader can't detect him until Luke activates his force usage? But Leia sensed Luke in the second one. What's the deal with that? Shouldn't that make Vader be able to sense her? But after Yoda and Obi-Wan revealed to Luke that Leia is his sister, then Vader can detect her? Does George Lucas even know the answer to this or is it all just random? Because when George revisited this in the prequels he messed it up in all sorts of freaky, weird ways. Need I mention young Anakin and midi-chlorians?
The other thing I realized I don't misunderstand is the motivations of the Emperor and his methodologies. Why is he so intent on Luke joining him? And has just telling trained Jedi that they are now his apprentice worked in the past? It seems like it would take a very weak mind to give into things so easily and while Luke hasn't quite arrived, he's far from weak at this point. Yet after only like 5 minutes of an attempted persuasion, the Emperor just gives up so easily and decides to kill him? Okay. He looks sinister and crazy, his talk is super creepy, and he can shoot people with lightning, so I'll give him a pass as a good villain. But not a great one. Speaking of our great villain in this movie, we definitely know Darth Vader's motivation for wanting to turn Luke. And it's pretty rock solid motivation. Luke is his son. He loves him. Despite him being crazy and sinister, he yearns for this relationship and he's doing his best to convince Luke, but it's not working. But then he says something that hits a nerve with Luke and in my opinion is the turning point in this relationship. Vader finally is able to sense Leia and threatens Luke that if he won't turn to the dark side, maybe she will. Luke cares deeply about his sister and if there is one thing you don't do, you don't threaten to harm or turn his sister. Luke then completely unleashes and attacks Darth Vader with a level of pure, raw emotion that you don't see at any other point in the Star Wars saga.
It would've been great to see this level of depth and emotion with our other characters, but at least we got to see it with Vader and Luke and the way this wraps up is absolutely beautiful. After what I call the best light saber duel in all of Star Wars because of this level of raw emotion, Luke strikes down Vader and is ready to kill him for threatening his sister. This is no small feat. Yes, Vader is older. But he's proven in the last two movies to be a pretty dang good warrior still. After this, the Emperor foolishly interrupts. If he really wanted Luke to turn to the dark side by killing Vader, he should've just kept his mouth shut because Luke might've actually killed Vader. But the Emperor speaks out his praise and this is the moment where I feel Luke officially arrives as a Jedi Knight. He's been troubled, he's been tempted, he's be tried, and he almost breaks, but then he looks at the situation and turns off his light saber. He isn't going through with it. So then the Emperor shocks him like no other with the intent to murder him. This is where Vader arrives. And it's not forced one bit. I attribute this to Leia. To me, I feel like Vader saw how much Luke cared for his sister. Seeing that high level of love followed by Luke's sacrifice makes Vader realize that none of this dark side stuff is worth it. He has a choice to make as he watches the Emperor killing Luke and he chooses his children over the Emperor, sacrificing his own life to save his son.
Wow! After seeing a fun beginning and mediocre middle, I was ready to downgrade this movie, but this finale really got to me. So much emotion. So much depth. This is Star Wars. The final interaction between Luke and his father, who I'll now call Anakin is touching. Anakin asks Luke to take off his mask so he can see him with his actual eyes and I nearly lost it. Such a beautiful scene. Such a high level of triumph. Luke then escapes from the Death Star before Lando blows it up and gives his father a proper Jedi burial. A burial that only Luke witnesses, which is something that I never caught until Chris Stukmann pointed it out to me in his Return of the Jedi review. I think I'll be talking more about this in my Force Awakens review, because based on the trailers, I think J.J. Abrams will be better at picking up on all these small little details than George Lucas himself was. But anywho, Return of the Jedi ends with two very powerful scenes, both of which George annoyingly changed. The first is seeing OLD Anakin up in the sky next to Obi-Wan and Yoda. The later addition of Hayden Christensen was offensive to me and made no sense. Neither did taking away the Yub-Yub song, which is the second powerful scene. I absolutely love the Yub-Yub song. It might be my favorite Star Wars song. I've always hated how George took that away. And it never made sense to show the whole galaxy celebrating. Seeing this small group of rebels celebrating their victory makes a lot more sense.
I think this is now paragraph 16, which makes this the longest Star Wars review yet. If you've made it this far, having read the whole thing, congratulations. You win major points. And if you've read every word of all six of these reviews that I could now probably put together in one decent-sized book, give your self even more points. I've had a ton of fun with this series of reviews and I'm super excited for this to come to an end with me reviewing The Force Awakens. In wrapping this up, this really is one of the best trilogies of all time. Yes, Return of the Jedi is a little under-whelming when compared to The Empire Strikes Back as it focuses on creating a fun adventure for teenage kids instead of giving us a deep, thought-provoking finale as shown by the lack of depth in most of the relationships and the decision to spend way too much time with the Ewoks, but any flaws are made up for in part by an incredible finale with Luke and Darth Vader. Luke becoming a Jedi Knight and Darth Vader becoming Anakin once again. I have a feeling that The Force Awakens is going to take this idea and run with it and I'm stoked, because it's fantastic. But we'll get to that later. Now it's time to grade Return of the Jedi. Halfway through I thought I was going to give it a 7.5 or 8. But that ending took it up a notch and now my final grade is a 9/10.