Return of the Jedi (1983) Director: Richard Marquand
“The Force is strong in my family. My father has it. I have it, and… my sister has it.”
In another box office smash for Star Wars, George Lucas entirely financed Return of the Jedi himself (it was his goal to free himself from the constraints of Hollywood with the Star Wars movies). Also, as in The Empire Strikes Back, Lucas decided to hire an outside director, initially considering his friends Steven Spielberg and David Lynch, however when they declined, he settled on Richard Marquand, a Welshman who is today best known for directing this film. Legendary screenwriter Lawrence “Larry” Kasdan once again returned to co-write this screenplay, as well. The film was originally to be titled “Revenge of the Jedi” but the name was changed because George Lucas didn’t think it was appropriate for a Jedi to seek revenge.
In contrast to the dark, barren, frigid, and swampy landscapes of The Empire Strikes Back, in Return of the Jedi we are treated to lush, growing forests on Endor. Whereas Empire was filled with tragic dearth and deprivation, in Jedi we are reminded that Star Wars is a heroic comedy, rife with themes of Arthurian legend and pulp science fiction, along with Western and Samurai tropes. Now, the Empire is rebuilding its massive Death Star weapon that was destroyed in the first film (A New Hope). The Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) is scheduled to visit the newly reconstructed Death Star soon, but a larger workforce is needed to complete construction. Meanwhile, Luke, Leia, and Lando have launched a plot to rescue Han Solo (still frozen in carbonite) from the criminal gangster Jabba the Hutt. After a dramatic entrance to Jabba’s Palace by Luke, Leia (in disguise) unfreezes Han from his frozen block of carbonite while disguised as a bounty hunter but she quickly becomes enslaved. Then Luke appears and is forced to battle the rancor beast which is chained beneath Jabba’s lair for entertainment. In a surprise to everyone, Luke triumphantly demonstrates his refined Jedi skills as he slays the massive beast. This leads Luke and Han (who is blinded from the carbon freeze) to be fed to the Sarlacc pit, a snake-like creature that lives in a rather nasty hole in the ground in the middle of the Tatooine desert. But unwilling to go down without a fight, Luke enacts a daring plan in which he springs into action, revealing his new light saber –a bright green color. Luke is now a more confident and capable Jedi, a battle-tested hero in contrast to his dark and distraught struggles in Empire. Meanwhile, Leia strangles Jabba to death and Han accidentally “kills” Bobba Fett (a move Lucas later regretted as he didn’t realize how popular a character Bobba Fett would become). Later lore has reinvigorated Boba Fett. At any rate, Luke returns to Dagobah hoping to complete his training but he finds an old and tired Yoda dying in his hut as he confirms to Luke that Darth Vader is indeed his father. Obi-Wan appears as a ghost to inform Luke that Leia is the “other Skywalker” –she is, in fact, his twin sister. Luke must now confront his father, Darth Vader, again.
Meanwhile, the rebel alliance learns of the new Death Star being constructed. From their bunker on the forest moon of Endor, they hatch a plan to destroy the shield generator for the new station. This allows for an all-out X-wing assault on the new Death Star. Luke travels to join the rebels on Endor, but he fears that he has endangered the mission when he senses Vader’s presence. On Endor, the rebels encounter the cuddly Ewok tribal creatures who eventually accept the rebels as allies. Luke tells Leia that she is, in fact, his sister and that Vader is their father. Luke then surrenders himself to imperial troops so that he will be brought before Darth Vader (Luke hopes to convert Darth Vader back to the light side of the force again). Upon reuniting, Vader takes Luke to the Death Star to meet the Emperor. It will be Luke’s ultimate test as a Jedi Knight. The Emperor demonstrates to Luke the power of the new station as it easily destroys one of the rebel starships. Then a lightsaber battle is staged between Darth Vader and Luke, and this time Luke defeats Vader, severing his prosthetic hand, but Luke refuses to kill his father, thus remaining a Jedi, so the Emperor begins torturing Luke with force lightning until the final moment when Vader heeds Luke’s advice and tosses his master, the Emperor, down a deep chasm while still being attacked by his force lightning (electrocution). Meanwhile, Han and his crew arrive at the shield generator on Endor (thanks to help from the Ewoks) and the new station is attacked by the rebels (Lando and Chewbacca and X-Wing fighter pilot Wedge Antilles deliver the ultimate blow to its main reactor). The Falcon flies away from the station along with Luke on an escape ship with the body of his father, Darth Vader. Just before his death, Vader asks Luke to remove his helmet and we finally see the face of this powerful sith lord moments before he dies –a tender moment which reveals his frailty amidst all the twisted, evil of his machinery. The rebels regroup on Endor as Leia and Han embrace and Han learns of Luke and Leia’s familial ties. Luke burns his father’s body on a funeral pyre in the manner of the ancient Greeks: it is a sorrowful moment which is quickly turned to joy as the rebellion celebrates the decimation of the empire. Luke smiles as he sees the force ghosts of Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Yoda united once again.
Initially, the ending for the film was to have Luke walk off into the sunset, as an exhausted hero a la a Spaghetti Western, however Lucas opted for a more optimistic, triumphant conclusion. Filming for Jedi took place in England, California, and Arizona. Apparently, there was a strict code of secrecy surrounding the production of the film. Harrison wanted desperately for Han Solo to be killed off in Empire, but Lucas demanded that Han Solo be brought back into the fore as an essential character. Ian McDiarmid plays the newly introduced character of the emperor, a purely evil figure who looms in the shadows over the two previous films. McDiarmid reprised his roles in episodes I-III as well as the more recent Star Wars films from Disney, and Lucas’s “Special Edition” releases in which he was dubbed into the previous originals. Sebastian Shaw also appears as the aging Darth Vader in this film when we finally see his face before he dies.
Return of the Jedi was always my favorite as a child, though as I have grown up, I lean more toward the complexity of The Empire Strikes Back. Nevertheless, Return of the Jedi is an amazing film –the visual effects alone are unparalleled for the time. People tend to criticize the addition of the Ewok creatures (though surely the Ewoks are not as terrible as the Gungans in episodes I-III). Typically, the criticism of the Ewoks concerns a serious question of how a group of cuddly teddy bears could destroy the impenetrable Imperial attack force. But despite these squabbles, Return of the Jedi is a masterpiece (rare for a third sequel of an original cult blockbuster classic). The best scenes in Jedi are owing to a string of extraordinary special effects as well as Marquand’s excellent directing. Jedi offers a satisfying and iconic end to the great Star Wars saga (or at least, in hindsight, what should have been an end to the saga).
Pingback: Reviewing the Star Wars Series | Great Books Guy