Return of the Jedi (1983) Director: Richard Marquand
In another box office smash, George Lucas financed Return of the Jedi himself (it was entirely his goal to free himself from the constraints of Hollywood with the Star Wars sequels). Also as in The Empire Strikes Back, Lucas decided to hire an outside director, Richard Marquand, a welshman who is today best known for directing this film. Several other directors were considered by Lucas, including friends Steven Spielberg and David Lynch. Lawrence “Larry” Kasdan co-wrote the screenplay with Lucas (Kasdan was a writer on other great films like Raiders of the Lost Ark). Originally, this film was to be called “Revenge of the Jedi” but this was changed because George Lucas didn’t think it was appropriate for a Jedi to seek revenge. The film employed the use of THX certification for authentic sound quality.
The plot: The Empire is rebuilding its massive Death Star that was destroyed in the first film (episode IV). The Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) is scheduled to visit the newly reconstructed station soon, but a larger workforce is needed to complete construction. Meanwhile, Luke, Leia, and Lando have launched a plot to rescue Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt. Leia unfreezes Han from carbon while disguised as a bounty hunter but she becomes enslaved. Then Luke appears and is forced to battle the rancor beast below Jabba’s lair as entertainment. However, he kills the beast so he and Han (who is blinded from the carbon freeze) are sentenced 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. 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 in the film, 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 Bobba Fett would become). Luke returns to Dagobah hoping to complete his training but he finds Yoda dying as he confirms Vader is Luke’s father. Obi-Wan appears as a ghost to tell Luke that Leia is the “other Skywalker” –she is his twin sister. Luke must confront Vader again. Meanwhile, the rebel alliance learns of the new Death Star. 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 assault on the new Death Star. Luke travels to join the rebels on Endor, but he fears he has endangered the mission when he senses Vader’s presence. On Endor, they encounter the Ewok tribal creatures who eventually accept the rebels as allies. Luke tells Leia that she is his sister and that Vader is their father. Luke then surrenders himself to imperial troops so that he will be brought to Vader (Luke hopes to be able to turn Vader to the light side of the force again). Then, Vader takes Luke to the Death Star to meet the Emperor. It will be Luke’s ultimate test as a Jedi Knight. The Emperor shows Luke the power of the new station as it easily destroys one of the rebel starships. Then a battle is staged between Darth Vader and Luke, and this time he beats Vader, severing his prosthetic hand, but Luke refuses to kill Vader, so the Emperor begins torturing Luke with force lightning until the final moment when Vader heeds Luke’s advice and he throws 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 (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 a ship with the body of his father, Darth Vader. Just before his death, he asked Luke to remove his helmet and we finally see Darth Vader’s face just before he dies. They all regroup on Endor as Leia and Han embrace and he learns of Luke and Leia’s familial ties, and Luke burns his father’s body: Anakin Skywalker (a.k.a. Darth Vader’s) which is reminiscent of a classical Greek pyre in 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 together.
One initial intended 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 happier ending. 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 he be brought back into the fore as an essential character. Ian McDiarmid plays the newly introduced character of the emperor, a purely evil figure that 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 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 Empire Strikes Back. Nevertheless, Return of the Jedi is an amazing film –the visual effects are absolutely incredible. People tend to criticize the addition of the ewok creatures (though surely they are not as terrible as the gungans in episodes I-III). Typically, the criticism concerns how a group of cuddly teddy bears could destroy the strongest attack force in the galactic empire. 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 the extraordinary effects as well as Marquand’s excellent directing. Jedi offers a satisfying and entertaining end to the great Star Wars saga (or at least in hindsight what should have been an end to the saga).