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Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi back to product details

All things must come to an end... even a classic space saga.
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written by JTurner1 September 2, 2005 - 3:34 PM PDT
This final entry in George Lucas's Star Wars movies is often regarded as the weakest of the lot. However, this is not to say that it is a totally worthless entry in the series. On the contrary. Sure, it's not as groundbreaking as its predecessors and a bit more slow-going at times, but Return of the Jedi still offers a lot to warrant the price of admission.

The first third of the movie, where Luke and his friends rescue Han from the palace of Jabba the Hutt, is a classic. Jabba, a truly disgusting blob of bloated flesh who speaks in his own language, not only makes a great villain, but a memorable one, too. It must have been a nightmare to construct this giant puppet, much less give it the spark and life that we see on the finished product. Actually, what also makes this sequence fun is the clever use of puppets for the various members of Jabba's court, including the intimidating, slavering Rancor and scary Sarlaac pit monster. It builds masterfully to its climax and pulls punches all the while.

Things get a little bit slower around the second act, where Luke discovers that he and Leia are related by blood and when we travel to the forest planet of Endor, home of the cuddlesome yet stalwart Ewoks. Most of the complaints about Return of the Jedi that I've read seem to be centered on these furry creatures, in that they somehow disrupt the tone of the saga. I don't totally agree with that, although this moment is probably played out a bit longer than it should. However, their leader, Wicket (played by Warrick Davis) is a delightfully memorable creation, and watching how they handle the Imperial Troops' technology with their simple, natural weapons provides a nice contrast.

By the time we get to the third act, though, the pace picks up again, as we intercut between the Ewoks battle against the troops, Lando and the Rebel Forces launching an attack against the Empire's all-new half-completed Death Star, and Luke's final showdown with Darth Vader and the Emperor. The latter ties with the Jabba Palace sequence as the highlight of the movie. Mark Hamill flexes his acting chops once again as Luke Skywalker in these scenes, and watching him as a fully matured Jedi Knight makes for an unforgettable performance. Also, as iconic as James Earl Jones' voice as Darth Vader is, he is rivaled only by the shriveled, crone-like Emperor, played with deliciously raspy, frightening evil by Ian McDiarmid. The tension between this trio heightens the excitement of this climactic moment, which is appropriately darkly lit and menacingly underscored.

The Star Wars movies have always set standards for special effects, and the technical work in Return of the Jedi can easily hold a candle to its predecessors. The space battle fights are as exhilarating as always, and the speeder bike chase through the forest is a knockout. Of course, given that this movie was made after A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, it probably shouldn't be so surprising that the special effects have reached an even greater level of excellence. The acting is classic Star Wars fare; Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher all mature and deepen into their roles, and Anthony Daniels provides more hilarious moments as C-3PO. Frank Oz's Yoda only appears in two scenes, but he makes the most of it. And yes, there's also John Williams' music.

All told, while Return of the Jedi falters a little bit in the middle, the first and third acts deliver in style, making this a rather satisfactory finale to one of the greatest sagas ever.

In 1997, George Lucas re-released the classic Star Wars in digitally restored (and revamped) "Special Editions", which featured added-in effects and/or shots as well as some enhancements. Of the three, Return of the Jedi appears to have caused the most commotion with Star Wars fans. Perhaps it can be due to the jarringly out-of-place (albeit funny if you're not so easily offended) "Jedi Rocks" musical number in Jabba's Palace, which, although technically amazing, does disrupt the flow of the film. However, I did like the ending montage scenes where we see victory celebrations occurring on the various planets of the galaxy. This DVD version features yet more tweaking--we get to see more montage finale scenes (notably on Naboo, where we hear what sounds like Jar Jar Binks screaming, "Wesa free!"), and, in what is probably the most controversial change, Hayden Christensen as the specter of Anakin Skywalker in the closing scenes. Probably due to the intense (and unfair) disdain fans have for his somewhat shaky work in Episode II: Attack of the Clones, it seems inevitable that fans would put this edition down for that alone. However, if you're watching the Star Wars saga chronologically (and contemplating about it), chances are you may react a little differently. Nonetheless, it is an issue that fans have raised, so it's probably best to be warned beforehand.

As nice as it would be to have Lucas release the original versions of these three classic films, he nonetheless stands by what he said about these revamps being the "definitive" editions of his classic trilogy, and, when viewing the Star Wars movies altogether as one complete saga (as Lucas intended), it actually makes sense to keep them technically and aurally consistent. The original films will always be engraved in our memories, but these new incarnations are just as much fun, if one can give them a chance.


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