'80s Movie Month: "Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi" Review

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The film is set approximately one year after The Empire Strikes Back. Rebel leader and Jedi Knight, Luke Skywalker struggles to bring Darth Vader, who is his father and a fallen Jedi, back from the Dark Side of the Force.
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'80s Movie Month: "Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi" Review

Rating: PG (sci-fi action violence)
Length: 134 minutes
Release Date: May 25, 1983
Directed by: Richard Marquand
Genre: Action / Adventure / Fantasy

1980's "The Empire Strikes Back" proved that George Lucas wasn't just trying to pander to young audiences with his science-fiction trilogy; the film's dark ending was many young filmgoers' first exposure to the idea that sometimes the good guys just didn't win in the end. It certainly set the stage for an epic conclusion to the series, with the heroes scattered, demoralized, and incapacitated, and record audiences turned out to see how the story would end. "Return of the Jedi" largely did not disappoint.

The film opens some time after the conclusion of "Empire," with Luke coping with the realizations that his ultimate enemy was actually his father and that the frozen Han Solo was in the clutches of repulsive crime lord Jabba the Hutt. The heroes stage a daring rescue, facing off against mercenaries and monsters to steal Jabba's prize and return their friend to the Rebellion. After Luke makes a stop for one last visit with his Jedi Master, Yoda, he returns to the Rebel fleet with his friends, where they learn of a possible way to end the civil war that is tearing apart the galaxy.

The Empire is rebuilding the Death Star, the superweapon capable of destroying entire planets, but its rebirth offers a potential opportunity. If the Rebels can destroy the station before it becomes operational, they have a chance to wipe out Darth Vader and the Emperor, leaving the Empire leaderless and freeing the rest of the galaxy from its grasp. To succeed, they will need to infiltrate the Empire's defenses on a nearby planet with the help of some unlikely native assistants. All the while, Luke has his own mission—to face his father and try to redeem him to the Light Side before it's too late.

While it is difficult to single out anyone as the star of the film, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) provides his usual lovable rogue character with some heart this time around, and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) gets some unexpectedly intense moments as he faces ultimate failure in the film's climactic scenes. Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) has her own showcase moment as she befriends a curious but fierce Ewok, providing the heroes with vital support in their darkest hour. Protocol droid C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) has his own star turn as he gets to play the role of an angry, vengeful god with a little help from Luke's Force abilities. As always, Darth Vader (David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones) is an imposing and inscrutable menace, and Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) provides a glimpse into the true evil at the heart of the Empire.

The action and set pieces are everything fans of the series could ask for, with lightsaber combat and space battles galore. The final attack on the Death Star truly highlights the expertise of Industrial Light & Magic, with swarms of ships filling the screen in a desperate last stand against the Empire's wrath. However, the film's undoubted high point comes during Luke's confrontation with Vader and the Emperor, as his calm assurance of victory begins to crack under the revelation that not everything has been as it seemed, and the evil duo tempt him to save his friends by joining them. When Vader threatens someone close to Luke, his rage and fear boil over into a frantic attack on his father, showing him the true power and depth of the Dark Side.

As usual, the film serves as a showcase for new aliens and spaceships, with dozens of unique characters that only get a few moments of screen time. Unfortunately, it becomes obvious that one of the ultimate goals of "Return of the Jedi" was to sell toys, and many fans criticized the obvious embrace of the marketing juggernaut that lay behind this popular film series. Even the most transparent toy bait remains entertaining, however, and because much of that marketing machinery has fallen silent since the second Star Wars trilogy, it may not be as obvious to modern audiences.

What is more controversial is Lucas's repeated attempts to "fix" his original movies. Several times Lucasfilm has gone back into the Star Wars trilogy to tweak effects and clean up misframed shots, but also to change parts of the story and replace entire sequences. These alterations range from unnoticeable to extremely obvious, and those who grew up with the Star Wars movies may find them extremely jarring when memories don't line up with what happens on the screen. A particularly controversial change involves the replacement of an actor in one of the film's final scenes in order to tie this chapter more firmly to the subsequent trilogy of films.

Ultimately, however, "Return of the Jedi" serves as a fine capstone to the original saga and nicely wraps up the story of these valiant heroes. Fans of the series may want to take the opportunity to brush up on the movies that started it all, before the newest Star Wars film hits the screen in the coming years.

Rating: 4 out of 5