Ah, Return of the Jedi, my last Star Wars write up before I go to see The Force Awakens. This is probably the film of the original trilogy that stands the least well on its own but it is still significant. I would not offer this one to anyone who has not seen the previously two films, though.
The film starts off tying up the loose threads from the last film. They rescue Han from Jabba the Hutt. The first half hour is dedicated to this plotline and, well, it’s not really that bad. Jabba is a gross and intimidating antagonist. He certainly has a memorable design. I like the different aliens in Jabba’s audience chamber. The rancor fight is memorable. And the fight over the sarlacc pit is fun.
The film then takes a quick detour back to Dagobah where Yoda lives just long enough for him to part ways with Luke. …And to leave him hanging with mention of another Skywalker. Fortunately, Obi-Wan’s ghost appears to fill in the necessary information. And to retcon a few things. “From a certain point of view,” my ass. Grumble, grumble…
Most of the rest of the film takes place on Endor. I understand that the Endor scenes were shot in a redwood forest somewhere in California. A forested area leads a unique look to the film to distinguish it from the settings of the other films.
The effects do not quite hold up as much as the other films’ effects do. There are a few instances, especially the speeder bike chase, where one can clearly tell that the actors are in front of a blue screen. But for the most part, the effects have that charmingly antiquated look to them.
The film meanders in the middle when we are introduced to the Ewoks. I heard that they were originally supposed to be Wookiees but Lucas wanted something more cuddly so he cut the Wookiees in half and we got a bunch of tribal care bears from them. Seriously, I can see why trooper armor may not protect against blaster bolts. Modern body armor can barely protect against bullets. But when your armor cannot fend off arrows? That’s a huge fail, there.
The climax combines a lightsaber fight, a huge space battle, and a shootout in the forest. The tone is a little disjointed between the intense space fight and seeing the cuddly Ewoks go wild on Stormtroopers. But the space battle and the scenes in the emperor’s throne room more than make up for it. The Battle of Endor has never made a space dogfight look so good. The idea of destroying another Death Star is a tired one at this point but the visual of seeing the Falcon and the fighters maneuver through the interior is striking. And seeing the Executor crash pointy-prow first into the Death Star is satisfying.
The lightsaber fight at the end is one of my favorite parts of the franchise. It probably ties with the lightsaber fight in Empire Strikes Back as my favorite fight scene. This one did not have as amazing choreography but it was much more emotional. Watching Vader tempt Luke with threatening his sister and then having Luke beat the snot out of Vader’s helmet while a whole choir moans is intense. I even like having Vader kill the emperor, as if the prophecy of him being the one to bring balance to the Force was finally fulfilled in a roundabout way.
And I would be remiss if I did not mention the scene at the end where Luke cremates his father’s body and looks upon the ghosts of his predecessors and they acknowledge each other. The entire trilogy has come to this point and it is such a poignant somber moment.
I remember liking this film well enough when I was a child and I would marathon the original trilogy endlessly. It has not quite held up since then, but it is still a good film. If I had to rate the films in quality, I would put A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back in a tie for first place. Return of the Jedi would follow. Then comes Phantom Menace and then Revenge of the Sith. Attack of the Clones drags behind.
I do not know how The Force Awakens will rate. Here’s hoping…