Saturday 13 April 2024

Star Wars Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi (1983)


Stjernekrigen: Jedi-ridderen vender tilbage

It is always a guilty pleasure to watch the original Star Wars movies. Although the third instalment is the poorest of the three, it still provides a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.

When we left “The Empire Strikes Back”, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) had been dry-freezed into a carbonite slab to be handed over to the giant gangster slug Jabba the Hutt, so “Return of the Jedi” naturally opens with a rescue mission at Jabba’s palace. This includes Leia (Carrie Fisher) in a golden bikini and a showdown on the rim of the mouth of a giant monster. Jabba’s palace is the scary version of Muppet Show, but at least it is sinister and gloomy.

Mission accomplished, the movie jumps straight to the finale. Here we have three parallel stories taking place simultaneously with plenty of cross-clips. A new death star is being build in orbit around the Sanctuary moon (Endor). Luke (Mark Hamill), Leia, Han, Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and the droids go to the moon to deactivate the shield protecting the death star. Luke, however, quickly leaves for the death star to try to turn back his father, the infamous Darth Vader (David Prowse, James Earl Jones), from “the dark side”, and in the third storyline Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Willams) is leading an alliance attack on the death star. Something that will only succeed if the mission to the moon is successful.

The narrative here is super simple. Being the finale movie of the trilogy, this was bound to be a final showdown of epic scale. This we do get, the scale is grand and, as such things have to be, the stakes are great. The way it plays out is unfortunately a little too straight forward. Gone are the twists of “The Empire Strikes Back”.

Gone too is the darkness and pervading doom of the middle episode. Rather than leaving the comic relief to the droids, a job they carried very well in the two first episodes, “Return of the Jedi” is crammed to the brim with comic relief. It is a change of formula that reduces the age (real or perceived) of the audience and makes parts of it more Muppet Show than space opera. The common criticism is the native inhabitants of the Sanctuary moon, the teddy bear like Ewoks. They are cute and sweet and a bit naive, but they are also an eighties version of the Minions and silly is a description that only scratches the surface. Of course, we smile and laugh at the cute little teddies, but honestly, is this the movie we are watching? Is saving the universe depending on cute teddies?  At least at Jabba’s palace, there is a level of darkness, but already there I feel it has gone too far down this mistaken road.

I still feel excitement watching the space battles and the adventure story of good versus evil and we are still lightyears (literally) ahead of the prequels, but learning that both David Lynch and David Cronenberg were considered to direct this third instalment of the Star Wars trilogy, I cannot help wondering what that would have done to this movie. Certain it is, that it would not have been half as cute, but a lot more interesting than what we ended up with.

The version I watched was the cinematic release version, to get the experience cinemagoers would have had back in 1983 and frankly, the technical side holds up well. Sure, there is some green wall sequences (like the speeder rides through the forest) that look a bit clumsy, but there is a texture to the world that later CGI fail to deliver. For lack of a better term, the world looks more real. A sidenote: I had one of those speeders as a toy back then... cool stuff.

“Return of the Jedi” ended the trilogy, and it would take a decade and a half before the universe was revisited. For many of us, these three movies will stand as the real universe, but as much as we complain about the later movies, the downward trend started already with “Return of the Jedi”. The elements we do not like in the prequels are the same elements that makes “Return of the Jedi” the weakest of the three.

Yet, when all is said and done, I still enjoy watching it. There is enough of the things we like, and we do get closure. Just maybe a little too predictable.



  1. I agree. It has a special place for me, but it's the weak link of the original trilogy.